HPA Tech Retreat: The State of ATSC 2.0

INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.: The next-generation technical standard for broadcast television will be done by the end of the year if not sooner, according to Jerry Whitaker, vice president of standards development for the Advanced Television Systems Committee.

“Understandably there’s curiosity about the ATSC 2.0 timeline,” he said. He said it could be completed by “maybe mid-2012; certainly by the end of the year.”

Known as “ATSC 2.0,” the standard was reviewed at the HPA Technology Retreat ongoing this week in Southern California. It’s often described as a marriage of broadcast TV with the Internet.

Sam Metheny of WRAL-TV talked applications. He noted that ATSC 2.0 reflects the direction TV consumption is already taking in the market. He cited projections for explosive growth of TVs with Internet connectivity, expected to reach 98 million by 2014.

“People who have internet-connected TV are interested in the kind of content I already produce,” he said. “We believe there’s an opportunity to engage the audience interactively.”

ATSC 2.0 will provide a variety of interactive capabilities to broadcasters not now available. For example, Metheny said, WRAL now pushes news alerts over wireless networks to smartphones. With 2.0, it could push those alerts to TVs, powered up or otherwise. He also described a scenario where a viewer could watch two channels simultaneously on a single screen.

“About 60 percent of people now watch TV and use their mobile devices at the same time,” he said. With ATSC 2.0, “you can check the weather and watch ‘Glee.’ You can do all that and stay in line with your channel instead of switching channels.”

Metheny also talked about in-home portable viewing; switching over to the tablet computer to go turn the steaks on the grill. Another opportunity for broadcasters involves second-screen advertising. He said 40 percent of consumers used mobile devices to look for more information after seeing a TV ad. Using ATSC 2.0, broadcasters themselves could capture that traffic.

Oren Williams of Dolby dug a little deeper into the workings of the developing standard. He said ATSC 2.0 augments the DTV data path with new types of data, and that the data path to the Internet resembles the ATSC data path to TV.

He listed as the building blocks of the ATSC data path connector system:
~ Internet Links
~ Signaling for Alternative Data
~ Internet Protocol Stacks
~ Access Control
~ Usage Management
~ Receiver Definitions

Williams said that modern TV receivers support the advanced graphical processing that can now be used by ATSC 2.0, and that it would allow broadcasters to author the user experience associated with a given service. He said the standard would allow scripted or hyperlinked references to Internet sites and content, and communications with broadcaster-operated servers.

This communication is achieved with “triggers” that are sent to signal the availability of ATSC 2.0 content. The trigger points to a data object, which defines the ATSC 2.0 content. The trigger also can signal states of a data objects such as run, stop or pause. Automatic content recognition allows data objects to transfer between connected devices.

The resulting environment allows a broadcaster to drive traffic to a website while simultaneously holding the viewer’s video position, Williams said.

Dr. Rich Chernock of Triveni discussed non real-time delivery, an option within ATSC 2.0. NRT content is delivered in advance of use and stored for later consumption.

“It allows broadcasters to take advantage of high-bandwidth wireless delivery of content to a variety of devices,” he said.

For example, they can deliver targeted ads based on users’ personal data interface patterns; get into pay-per-download services; or even develop personalized television. NRT 1.0 has passed the ATSC’s TG1 ballot, he said. Work on NRT 2.0 is underway.

The NRT standard comprises:
~ Support for fixed and mobile broadcasting, with as much commonality as possible.
~ Heavy use of IP mechanisms, including IP transport layer, and File Delivery over Unidirectional Transport--or “FLUTE”--and IETF protocol for file delivery-really meant for one-way transmission, Chernock said.
~ Signaling and announcement… what’s happening now, what’s happening in the future.
~ Support for future extensibility via versioning to accommodate various consumer electronics devices.
~ Support for application-level Forward Error Correction.
~ Use of wrappers and archives.
~ Essential capabilities, including a list of supported codecs and other elements that let receivers know if it should offer a service or content based on capabilities required.

That’s where consumer electronics manufacturer participation is critical. Three service categories have been defined in the NRT standards work in order help broadcasters determine what services to deliver, and CE makers what to build. These comprise browse-and-download, push and portal services.

“You don’t want the device to download something in a codec it doesn’t handle,” Chernock said.