World standard? Try compatible, first …

There is a hidden, but closing, gorilla following in your shadow. This behemoth, or benefit, depending on your viewpoint, consists of two new ATSC standards called 2.0 and 3.0. These new standards will be applied in serial fashion, one after the other, perhaps years apart.

Think of ATSC 2.0 as an improved and backward-compatible version of today’s technology. ATSC 2.0 could become a candidate standard as early as this month. The ATSC 3.0 candidate standard will not be backward compatible, and it is years away from completion.

The ATSC 2.0 standard more resembles a software upgrade and is fully compatible with today’s DTV transmission system. It will enable non-real-time transmission, advanced video compression, enhanced service guides, audience measurement and conditional access. The standard will also enable interactivity by creating connections between live TV and Internet content.

ATSC 3.0 will be an entirely different, non-backward-compatible standard. It will support increased flexibility and efficiency and likely use different operating parameters for fixed and mobile services. The standard will accommodate Internet-connected television receivers, immersive content and personalization. The ATSC 3.0 candidate standard could be submitted to the entire ATSC membership for approval sometime in 2016.

But, don’t panic yet because ATSC 3.0 has not even been defined, and no one knows yet how complex the required changes might actually be.

“The parameters of the ATSC 3.0 system have not yet been established,” ATSC spokesman Dave Arland said. “And, any cost estimates at this point are premature.”

I’m less concerned about the actual elements within the standard than the actual roll-out of the standard. With mobile DTV, broadcasters were the early adopters. The consumer equipment manufacturers and service providers are still late to the mobile DTV game, providing few products and virtually no “CES-type hype.” This industry cannot push a string, and it will need the full commitment and muscle of the CES community to make the adoption of a new and non-backwards compatible standard a success.

Finally, in a recent Broadcast Engineering article, Arland said the work of the ATSC 3.0 Technology Group 3 (TG-3) will be shared with the Future of Broadcast TV group, with the hope to create a worldwide TV broadcast system. The broadcast group is a global consortium of 50 organizations on five continents. While establishing a global technological standard is a lofty goal, I don’t see it happening. The U.S. can’t even agree with the rest of the world and adopt the metric system.

However, I do agree that the new standard is likely to be compatible with other new DTV standards. And, it may increase the portability of viewing between geography. But, governments and large manufacturing sectors often hold the trump card when it comes to such decisions. Think NTSC, PAL, SECAM, Beta, VHS, 8-VSB, COFDM, DMB-T/H, DVB and ISDB; the list goes on.

But, that’s OK because the U.S. marketplace is sufficiently such that CES vendors can profitably create new products and services that support any new standard. As long as the roll-out of new technology comes simultaneously from groups, manufacturers and broadcasters, the new benefits accrue to everyone.

Brad Dick, editorial director