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What is ATSC 3.0?

I recently wrote a post on 4K television and what that means for indoor TV antennas. In that post, I talked a lot about ATSC 3.0, a new type of broadcasting standard that networks may adopt in the near future.

Even if you haven’t heard much about ATSC 3.0, you certainly will in the coming years. It will be a complete overhaul for antenna-based TV, or over-the-air (OTA) television. I’m going to cover everything you need to know about this new broadcasting standard, so you know what to expect and look forward to in the future.

What is ATSC?

ATSC stands for Advanced Television Systems Committee. It’s an international group of broadcasters, tech companies and television manufacturers.

The committee was originally formed more than 25 years ago to establish HDTV and what HDTV would entail. Now that we’re in the 4K era, it’s time for changes.

Although Ultra HD (i.e. 4K) televisions arrived pretty quickly, 4K content has not. Sure, we have some 4K content out there (and more will be coming in the near future), but we don’t have a whole lot just yet. As of right now, there aren’t any over-the-air broadcasts in Ultra HD.

That’s where the ATSC 3.0 standards come into play.

What is ATSC 3.0?

ATSC 3.0 is the next version of the broadcast standard for how OTA TV channels are distributed. With the new standard, you can get OTA channels not only on your television, but also on your phone, tablet, laptop and even your car.

How will this work? There’s a chip that will be built into televisions, laptops, tablets, cars, smartphones – anything with a screen.

This is really the biggest drawback with ATSC 3.0: you’ll have to get new devices if you want to pick up on the signal. It won’t work with any devices that you currently have – unless you’re reading this in the future.

How Exactly Will This Work?

With ATSC 3.0, broadcasters will be able to air their content through the chips in your devices – and without having to go through your wireless signal. So, you’d be able to watch OTA channels without eating through your Internet data. You’ll also have more access to more channels without having to have a bigger antenna.

In 2016, the ATSC finalized one of the major components of the standard, known as System Discovery and Signaling. It outlines how the new signal will be discovered by tuners.

There are five system layers:

  • System Discovery & Signaling (Finding the signal; Unique sequence)
  • Transmission (sending bits OTA in 6 MHz; OFDM)
  • Protocols (data organized as files and streams; Internet protocols)
  • Presentation (pictures and sounds; UHD, HD & SD, immersive audio)
  • Applications (software; screen is a web page)

Under ATSC 3.0, the resolution will be 3,840 x 2,160, better known as 4K or UHD. We’ll see frame rates up to 120fps.

There will also be multiple audio options for different languages and commentary tracks.

Advertisements and the Internet

Some of the content, mainly interactive and advertisements, will be fed through the Internet, but it won’t be bandwidth-intensive content.

Wondering why advertisements will be delivered over the Internet? The answer is simple: targeting. Under ATSC 3.0, television stations will be able to track your viewing habits and your location. That information will be taken into account when showing you advertisements. This will allow companies to charge more for targeted ads compared to non-targeted ads.

TV stations will also be able to tell if you’ve seen an advertisement. With ATSC 3.0, everything can be measured. Stations will know exactly who watched each show and who saw each ad.

It’s no wonder companies are so hyped about ATSC 3.0 – it’s going to make them a lot of money.

Along with a better picture and audio, ATSC 3.0 standards will also allow for custom weather alerts and Internet active news stories. If there’s a national or local emergency, you’ll know about it.

The new standards will greatly expand the capabilities of broadcast television. There are many perks for stations, particularly in the advertisement department, but that may also be good news for cord cutters. You’ll be able to access great content without having a cable or satellite subscription.

Perhaps one day soon, cable and satellite companies will be obsolete.

When Will ATSC 3.0 be Rolled Out?

The ATSC 3.0 standards have already been approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The standards are already being tested out in several markets, including:

  • Dallas, TX
  • Houston, TX
  • Raleigh-Durham, NC
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Seattle-Tacoma, WA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Orlando, FL
  • Detroit, MI
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Portland, OR
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Austin, TX
  • Kansas City, KS
  • Nashville, TN
  • Columbus, OH
  • Oklahoma, OK
  • Norfolk, VA
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Memphis, TN
  • Albuquerque, NM
  • Albany, NY
  • Mobile, AL
  • Providence, RI
  • Omaha, NE
  • Little Rock, AR
  • Davenport, IA
  • Burlington, VT
  • Charleston, SC
  • Syracuse, NY
  • Flint, MI
  • Springfield, MO
  • Rochester, NY
  • Charleston, WV
  • Chattanooga, TN
  • Santa Barbara, CA

To put things into perspective, just a few years ago, ATSC 3.0 standards were only being tested in two markets: Dallas, TX and Phoenix, AZ. Now, we’re at a point where the standards are being tested in virtually every major market and metro area in the country.

Will You Have to Buy a New TV and Antenna?

Yes – and no. Here’s the thing: the indoor antenna doesn’t matter. What really matters is your TV’s tuner. Your antenna, theoretically, should work regardless of what type of signal is being received. It’s the TV tuner that handles the signal type.

When ATSC 3.0 becomes the one and only standard, you’ll have to buy a new TV and other devices. But it will be quite some time before you have to worry about it.

Initially, broadcasters will have to engage in bandwidth sharing, so ATSC 1.0 tuners will still work well into the ATSC 3.0 transmission. And you’ll still have multiple options for getting the new signal on your older TV, like standalone tuners, HDMI dongles, etc.

We still have a long way to go, but things are moving quickly. 4K OTA broadcasts may be here sooner than you think.

June 17, 2019 ,

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Jack here. I’m the admin behind Best HD Antenna – a site for hardcore cord cutters. I’ve been struggling to find a way to help friends and family cut the cord