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What is ATSC 3.0?


A TSC 3.0 is a suite of standards focusing on next-generation broadcasting for televisions created by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). These standards define exactly how television signals are broadcast and interpreted to support newer technologies, and this latest edition of the standard adds the ability to associate over-the-top (OTT) content with over-the-air (OTA) content. In addition, ATSC 3.0 includes HEVC (H.265) compression for video at up to 4K (2160p) at 120 frames per second resolution, wide color gamut, Dolby AC-4 and MPEG-H 3D Audio.

It also includes security and content protection systems, an application execution environment, datacasting capabilities, higher data rate reception for fixed (non-mobile) devices and a physical transmission system for more robust mobile reception. These features can enable targeted advertising, audience measurement and public alerts (such as Amber Alerts and weather warnings) that are only displayed by receivers in the affected areas.

OTA TV signals use version 1.0 of the ATSC standards first introduced in 1996, which enabled the switch from analog to digital TV that was finalized in the U.S. in 2009. Unlike the ATSC 1.0 standard, ATSC 3.0 can use both OTA signals and your in-home broadband service to deliver a hybrid broadcast/broadband experience similar to what cable and satellite deliver.

Because ATSC 3.0 was designed to support internet protocols, an ATSC 3.0 broadcast can include your typical OTA audio and video along with links to other audio, video and related content delivered via broadband (your home internet connection). ATSC 3.0 broadcasters and ATSC 3.0 capable receivers can take advantage of this hybrid system to offer exciting features such as additional audio and video for a given program, interactive home shopping and video on-demand (VOD).

Imagine watching your favorite football team on TV and being able to hear the audio normally, while also being able to select and hear either the sideline or crowd noise. Add to that the ability to select alternate video perspectives of the game, perhaps from overhead or either end zone (all with accompanying audio). Along with the audio and video, an ATSC 3.0-capable broadcaster could enable a consumer’s ATSC 3.0 receiver to display any player’s stats, the game clock, or the current score and down at any time via a broadcaster-delivered application.

ATSC broadcasts can also support highly immersive audio programming via the ability to deliver many audio channels and audio objects per program to an ATSC 3.0 compatible receiver.

The Path Forward

The first major deployments of ATSC 3.0 took place in South Korea, where the country's major television networks launched terrestrial ATSC 3.0 services in May of 2017 in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics. In November 2017, the Federal Communications Commission approved regulations allowing broadcast stations to voluntarily offer ATSC 3.0 services; however, they must be offered alongside a standard ATSC 1.0 digital signal, and there will not be a mandatory transition as was done with the transition from analog NTSC to ATSC.

While ATSC 3.0 has not yet launched in the U.S., there is major work being done to make this happen soon. There are multiple on-air trials underway, and the hope is that ATSC 3.0 services and receivers will be available to consumers in 2019.

The ATSC is holding meetings at the CTA Technology & Standards Forum held October 1-5, 2018, at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. For details, visit CTA.tech/Events.

Mark Levine

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