RF Shorts for Jan. 11, 2013

Random Observations on CES 2013

Walking through the exhibits at CES this year, it was clear that most manufacturers are ignoring broadcast TV. Qualcomm and Verizon showed LTE eMBMS broadcasting over a cellular network, but that was for specialized programming, not local TV. Unlike the years before the analog shutdown when many companies large and small were featuring ATSC tuners in new HDTV sets and converter boxes for older analog, you had to search long and hard to find any use of off-air digital TV outside the Mobile DTV displays I reported on previously. RCA and Terk had antennas for off-air, and there was some mention of off-air TV for use with streaming devices. SiliconDust showed their HDHomerun tuners--which receive ATSC or cable signals and put them on your home network--but the emphasis this year was on their tuners with CableCARD capability and DLNA to stream to multiple devices.

At previous shows several manufacturers displayed an array of small portable TV sets capable of receiving ATSC signals. This year the only ones I saw where at RCA’s booth, along with their 8-inch Android mobile TV tablet. With the exception of the HD Radio exhibit, standalone FM radios were hard to find too, as were separate MP3 players. However, I was encouraged to see FM radios appearing in more of the smartphones displayed at the show. NAB has pointed out that most smartphone chips include an FM tuner because of international demand for it, but U.S. wireless carriers blocked it. That may change soon, as Sprint announced FM radio and Entertain Me app bundle for future smartphones. Perhaps tablets with FM radio will be next.

Seeing the lack of interest in off-air TV, it’s easy to get discouraged about the future of broadcasting. It’s important to remember, however, that CES is about what retailers will be selling at Christmas next year, and less about what consumers are using now. Many people still rely on off-air TV.

There is hope that off-air television will return at a future CES. RCA showed that ATSC and ATSC Mobile DTV can be added to a tablet, although there is extra heft to the tablet likely due to the larger battery needed to provide four hours of ATSC television viewing. The Korean Broadcasting System and Samsung showed 4K UHDTV at 35 Mbps being broadcast via a 6 MHz TV channel using DVB-T2 modulation and HEVC coding.

While I didn't see Boxee at NAB, they have added an off-air option to their device and Roku is doing the same. SimpleTV provides another way to get off-air TV onto an IP network, as does the Hauppauge Broadway, which was shown at CES two years ago. Dune HD had a stick with an HDMI connection can plug into a TV and receive DVB-T/T2 off-air broadcasts. It also includes Wi-Fi so it can be controlled from a tablet or smartphone as well as an infrared remote control. These devices are likely to become more popular as consumers look for inexpensive ways to add content to the video they stream and download from the Internet.

Seeing what was on display at CES 2013 confirmed my belief we must take action soon to keep broadcasting technically relevant, including moving to an IP-based transport system and a more robust, more flexible transmission standard.

Comments and RF related news items are welcome. Email me at dlung@transmitter.com.

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.