LAS VEGAS—The number of TV broadcast-related items on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has decreased over the last 10 years, but I was able to find a few RF items of interest to TV Technology readers in Las Vegas this year.
One technology I didn’t find in the main exhibit halls was ATSC 3.0 (often shortened to just ATSC 3), as most engineers still call it, or Next Gen TV, the more modern name used by people promoting the new standard to a wider audience. This wasn’t because manufacturers had given up on ATSC 3, rather the technology had matured enough that the next move will be the launch of real ATSC 3 products.
The integrated circuits needed for ATSC 3 receivers have been designed and it appears they will be available from multiple sources. There was an ATSC 3 signal available over-the-air and ATSC 3 devices were on display at CES 2019, but most were shown only by appointment off the convention floor. Channel Master was showing an ATSC 3 gateway at the Luxor. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get an appointment to see it.
When will ATSC 3 receivers become available? That will likely depend on when there are enough ATSC 3 broadcasts to justify a nationwide rollout of devices. This rollout could be through one or more “lighthouse” ATSC 3 stations in market carrying some major network programming, ideally in a format that shows off the potential of ATSC 3.
Could this happen in time for manufacturers to show devices at CES 2020 for distribution by Christmas that year? Perhaps. Broadcaster support for ATSC 3 is growing and the Phoenix ATSC 3 model market is providing an example of how ATSC 3 can be launched if stations cooperate.
There was one ATSC 3 demonstration being exhibited for all at CES. It was in the Westgate Pavilion, not the Las Vegas Convention Center, but it showed a practical example of ATSC 3 software that could be used to implement ATSC 3 reception now with currently available devices such as the Airwavz USB dongle.
The Wipro demo consisted of a Dektec software defined RF/modulator generating an ATSC 3 signal connected to an Airwavz Redzone USB receiver dongle hooked up to an NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV box running the Wipro software (Fig. 1). I saw the setup displaying video and a program guide and some other interactive functions.
It seems likely Airwavz will offer a version of the Wipro software to purchasers of its Airwavz ATSC 3 dongles, but I don’t have any information on pricing or availability at this time. I did learn Airwavz will be switching to a different demodulator at some point for future versions of the Airwavz dongle. USB ATSC 3 receivers may also be available before too long from other companies in China and possibly Korea.
Voxx’s RCA brand had some new antennas at CES 2019 that included elements for VHF, even low VHF. A representative said these were added as a result of more stations moving to VHF during the FCC incentive auction. There are two versions—the smaller amplified ANT850E and the larger unamplified ANT950E (Fig. 2) both designed for outdoor or attic installation and VHF and UHF reception. I wasn’t able to find an engineer to talk to, but it appears the VHF elements are single dipoles at least in the ANT850E, although the flat, enclosed elements in the ANT950E appear large enough to provide some benefit at high VHF. The tags for both antennas said, “Receives TV broadcasts including 4K and 1080 HDTV when available for highest quality picture and sound, both UHF and VHF stations.” Yes, make sure you don’t get stuck with an analog or standard-definition-only TV antenna. (Of course, I’m kidding—while antenna characteristics can affect the quality of digital TV reception, it has absolutely nothing to do with resolution.)
Now that TV broadcasting has switched to digital, the “cliff edge” effect where the signal goes from perfect to nothing with a small change in signal level makes antenna aiming difficult. RCA’s solution is to include an LED signal meter with some of its antenna products.
The representative I talked to said that it only works at UHF, but didn’t have details on exactly how it works. The bandwidth would have to be narrow enough to reject strong 700 MHz (and now 600 MHz) LTE wireless signals, but wide enough to catch at least one of the channels operating in a market. At the time this article was written, the company’s website did not have any information on these antennas.
In a previous column I mentioned how impressed I was with the performance of the small Antop indoor antenna with preamp. I had a chance stop by the Antop exhibit at CES. They didn’t have an open version of the antenna I was using but it appears the preamp was installed at the antenna and not in the coax line, as I suspected, which helped improve the performance of the small antenna. One similar model had two telescopic “rabbit ears” added for VHF.
3D was back with StreamTV Networks’ display showing “Glasses-Free 3D” with 8K panels. The images were simple but it seemed to work (Fig. 3). To learn more about it, see www.streamtvnetworks.com/ultra-d/.
The last item has no relevance to RF or broadcasting, except perhaps as a new ENG or camera platform, but Bell was showing their Nexus “air taxi,” a helicopter like transport that had six large rotors (like a drone, but rotors could be oriented horizontal or vertical). Bell had a computer-generated video on a large screen showing a flock of these air taxis flying through a city, landing and taking off from roof tops. People were lining up to have their picture taken inside the thing (Fig. 4). More info at www.bellflight.com/company/innovation/nexus.
What did I miss? Comments and questions are welcome. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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