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Here's the Skinny on ATSC 3.0: Broadcast's NextGen TV Standard

(Image credit: ATSC)

A new generation of over the air broadcasting is coming to the United States in 2020 in the form of ATSC 3.0 (aka NextGen TV). Several dozen of the country’s largest markets plan to deploy NextGen TV by the end of the year and consumer electronics manufacturers plan to debut TV sets with NextGen TV chips by the 2020 holiday shopping season. 

Here’s what you need know:

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM THE TRANSITION TO DTV?

Unlike the transition to digital TV two decades ago, the transition to NextGen TV is strictly voluntary; there are no government mandates or timelines to deploy NextGen TV. However the FCC does require broadcasters deploying NextGen TV to partner with other broadcasters in their markets to simulcast both NextGen TV and ATSC 1.0. Since there is no FCC mandate, there also is no government assistance to help consumers purchase DTV encoders either, nor is there a mandate to require NextGen TV tuners in TV sets or other consumer electronic devices. 

In addition, NextGen TV is not backward-compatible with current TV sets or devices. Anyone wishing to receive NextGen TV will need to purchase a set compatible with the new standard. 

During the DTV transition, the FCC passed rules that allowed multichannel video program distributors to carry broadcasters’ analog signals and phase in carriage of their DTV simulcasts. There are currently no requirements for MVPDs to carry NextGen TV. 

WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM NEXTGEN TV THAT I CAN’T ALREADY GET WITH ATSC 1.0?

The NextGen TV standard was developed from the ground up as a totally new standard that combines over the air RF transmissions with IP-based services. This combination will allow broadcasters to provide the following (not a comprehensive list): 

  •  4K resolution with High Dynamic Range and higher frames per second 
  •  Immersive audio (with the ability to listen in multiple languages) 
  •  Robust captioning (personalized in multiple languages) 
  •  OTT-DVR type services (Cloud storage allows broadcasters to offer on-demand programming with DVR-type controls) 
  •  Mobility: The OFDM modulation standard is better suited for mobility and provides better coverage 
  •  Advanced Advertising: Broadcasters will be able to use viewer data to personalize and geo-target advertising far more targeted than traditional methods 
  •  Emergency Alerting: Broadcasters will be able to send far more detailed information and graphical data to viewers during emergencies and in certain cases be able to “wake up” devices when an alert occurs 
  •  Datacasting: NextGen TV will also allow broadcasters to offer enterprise-level datacasting services to businesses and first responders 

IS NEXTGEN TV AVAILABLE ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD?

South Korea launched ATSC 3.0 broadcasts in 2017 and demonstrated its capabilities at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. TV sets with ATSC 3.0 reception are available at retail stores in South Korea and the country plans to eventually transition to all-4K over-the-air broadcasts. (Note, the term “NextGen TV” is a marketing term currently applicable to the U.S. only).  

WHEN CAN I BUY A NEXTGEN TV-COMPATIBLE TV SET?

At the 2020 CES, LG, Samsung and Sony all announced that they would offer up to 20 different TV sets with support for NextGen TV by the 2020 holiday shopping season. Most of the compatible sets are high-end OLED (or Samsung’s QLED) 8K sets, so the entry point for early adopters will be expensive. 

There are currently no NextGen TV-compatible tuners or mobile devices on the market and no plans have been announced to include such chipsets in any devices yet. However, Sinclair has dropped hints that there may be a NextGen TV-compatible mobile phone shown at the 2020 NAB Show in Las Vegas in April. 

Viewers will still be able to receive broadcasts via the same antenna setup they currently use. 

WHO ARE THE PLAYERS?

Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC): A coalition of broadcasters, manufacturers and related technology companies that developed the NextGen TV standard.

National Association of Broadcasters (NAB): The main lobbying group for broadcasters in Washington, D.C. The NAB provides broadcaster guidance and support for the rollout and R&D for future applications. 

Advanced Warning and Response Network (AWARN): An alliance of broadcasters, public agencies and manufacturers  promoting open standards-based, terrestrial broadcasting of public emergency alerts news and information. AWARN will have the capability to distribute rich media alerts simultaneously to an unlimited number of enabled fixed, mobile and handheld devices, indoors or outdoors across an entire television broadcast coverage area.

Pearl TV: A consortium of broadcasters and manufacturers tasked with testing ATSC 3.0 technology and analyzing market opportunities. The group sponsors the Phoenix Model Market project, which is currently testing ATSC 3.0 in the Phoenix area. 

HOW LONG WILL THE TRANSITION FROM 1.0 TO 3.0 TAKE?

When the FCC approved the ATSC 3.0 standard in November 2017, it required broadcasters currently broadcasting in ATSC 1.0 to  deliver “substantially similar” programming as the 3.0 channel for five years. However, it’s highly likely that the FCC will revisit this timeline and extend it based on broadcasters’ progress in deploying ATSC 3.0 and consumer market penetration.  

WILL ATSC 3.0 BE CARRIED BY CABLE OR SATELLITE?

ATSC 1.0 signals are still subject to mandatory carriage rights on cable and satellite TV systems, but there are currently no requirements to mandate ATSC 3.0 for carriage on MVPDs. 

HOW WILL BROADCASTERS TRANSITION?

The transition will require broadcasters who normally compete with each other in markets to cooperate. A station deploying ATSC 3.0 could arrange for a same-market station to carry either its 1.0 simulcast or the 3.0 feed. E.g., if just one station in a designated market area lights up 3.0, it could have the cooperating station host its 1.0 signal, or if two fire up 3.0, one could carry the next-gen transmissions and the other, the legacy 1.0 signals.

The host, also known as the “lighthouse” station, could initially carry all the 3.0 signals in a market, and as more 3.0 receivers are deployed, ATSC 1.0 transmissions could be finally carried by just one “nightlight” station. The FCC requires next-gen broadcasters to transmit “at least one free ATSC 3.0 video stream… at all times throughout the ATSC coverage area,” and that it be “at least as robust as a comparable DTV signal.”

HOW MUCH WILL THE TRANSITION COST FOR BROADCASTERS?

The costs to broadcasters to outfit their plants to broadcast ATSC 3.0 will depend on a variety of things, but it’s not expected to match the costs incurred when broadcasters transitioned to digital two decades ago. Those costs involved not only transmission, but also new acquisition and production tools to upgrade to HD. For most broadcasters, the minimal outlays could involve upgrades to antennas, towers, transmitters, gateways and system integration. 

This link provides more details.  

LATEST ATSC 3.0 STORIES

ATSC to Provide NextGen TV Progress Report in May

KGA Taps Acrodyne's Progira for NextGen TV Strategies

NextGen TV Receivers Not Ready for Consumers

Edge Networks to Use ATSC 3.0 to Build Cable Alternative

NextGen TV to Spur Transmission Market

Rohde & Schwarz Stakes Claim on ATSC 3.0 Transmitter Deployments

ATSC Optimistic About 3.0 Progress Despite NAB Show Postponement

Meredith, Nexstar Plan ATSC 3.0 Rollout in Portland

For more information, check the NAB’s helpful Next Generation Television (ATSC 3.0) Station Transition Guide and keep checking back with TV Technology for industry updates.