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Sinclair Demos HDR 4KTV Over ATSC 3.0 in Vegas

LAS VEGAS —Sinclair Broadcast Group, along with subsidiary One Media and Technicolor, report they have successfully transmitted high-dynamic range 4KTV over the air using the proposed ATSC 3.0 standard and a prototype reception device. Sinclair made the announcement, and said it had invited a delegation of 11 South Korean broadcasters to see the demo, which also leveraged scalable HEVC encoding from French compression specialist Ateme.

The broadcast was done at Sinclair-owned Vegas NBC affiliate, KSNV. The signal originated on KSVN’s facility on Black Mountain near Henderson, Nev., using a prototype Teamcast modulator and was received at KSNV facilitities 15 miles away by prototype receiver technology developed by Sinclair subsidiary ONE Media, and Technicolor, according to Sinclair.

The payload included HDR UHDTV using scalable HEVC—both base and enhanced layer—with 3D audio and other overhead in half of the 6 MHz channel. Scalable HEVC or SHVC, is the scalabilty extension of HEVC, and “provides support for spatial, SNR and color gamut scalability,” according to Fraunhofer’s Heinrich Hertz Institute. (Fraunhofer itself was not involved in these tests, but merely referenced to clarify the capability of the technology.) SHVC was leveraged in this case to accommodate high dynamic range, or HDR. The bitstreams were encoded using the only single pass live SHVC encoder available, according to a source at site.

The transmission methodology leveraged MPEG Media Transport, or “MMT,” over IP, which supports high-efficiency video coding, or HEVC. HEVC is said to provide around twice the compression of H.264/MPEG-4 without affecting picture quality. Current broadcast TV signals are encoded into MPEG-2, which has roughly half of the compression power of MPEG-4.

This means far more information can be packed into a 6 MHz television signal using HEVC with MMT over IP, including mechanisms for interactivity, multiple langauge audio tracks, immersive audio, simultaneous data transmissions, mobile signals and HDR 4KTV.

4KTV signals alone pack four times the picture information of HDTV. Over-the-air transmission of 4KTV is not possible using MPEG-2, which is required in the current ATSC transmission standard by the Federal Communications Commission, and compatible with the installed base of television sets in U.S. households.

The limited capability of the current transmission standard, as well as the upcoming spectrum incentive auction and subsequent channel repack, is driving the development of 3.0 by a large part of the U.S. broadcast community. The FCC has yet to weigh in, though sources on background say the agency is waiting for a fully baked proposition from broadcasters. One is expected as of the first quarter of 2017, according to ATSC President Mark Richer, who outlined the physical layer component elevated to Candidate Standard status in October. The physical layer represents the foundation of ATSC 3.0.

Korean broadcasters are interested in ATSC 3.0 for 4KTV in time for the 2018 Korean Winter Olympics. The board of the Advanced Television Systems Committee—the standards-setting body that is compiling ATSC 3.0—met with them in Seoul last June, and the first 4KTV-over-ATSC 3.0 test was conducted there in September. (See “ATSC 3.0 Tested With 4K, Mobile in Korea by LG, SBS.”)

Then last month, broadcasters from around the world met in Shanghai for “Plug Fest 2015,” to test ATSC 3.0 systems compatibility. TV Technology alum and contributor James E. O’Neal attended and filed this report.

Mark Aitken, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s vice president of Advanced Technology, said this demonstration was a preview of another that will be done during CES 2016 in January by Sinclair, the Pearl TV consortium and Samsung. All three agreed to a Memo of Understanding in June to “collaboratively to support the development and the implementation” of ATSC 3.0. (See “Samsung, Pearl and Sinclair Gear Up for ATSC 3.0 Dry Runs.”)

Sinclair and Technicolor pulled off their first ATSC 3.0 4KTV broadcast last October. This week’s test in Las Vegas builds on experimental transmissions of HDR 4KTV done by Sinclair and Technicolor last April. This week’s test differs in that it used an end-to-end 3.0 system with all the major components of the standard. Also, it used scalable HEVC, which divides the signal into a base HD video component, and an enhancement component—a separate stream—that builds off of the HD component, providing for HDR. April's test also was done with DVB-T2, the European DTV broadcast standard. This test was entirely ATSC 3.0 compliant.

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