As tests of the next-gen standard get underway and demos are being offered in Las Vegas, Sinclair’s Mark Aitken and Pearl TV’s Anne Schelle see a commercial launch of ATSC 3.0 services possible in about two years.
LAS VEGAS — A day after an ATSC 3.0 Model Market trial began broadcasting in Phoenix, ATSC 3.0 proponents gathered at the NAB Show in Las Vegas Saturday to discuss the progress of current deployments and the near-term commercial viability of the next-generation digital broadcast standard, which is being demonstrated in several venues here.
Consumer education will definitely be a key component of making the new standard a commercial success. Several members of the panel “Field Deployments of the ATSC 3.0 Standard,” moderated by ATSC President Mark Richer, said that past public demonstrations have proven that many consumers have no idea that free over-the-air broadcasting in ATSC 1.0 is available, much less that a more powerful technology is coming.
Pete Sockett, director of engineering and operations for Capitol Broadcasting, described the various applications of ATSC 3.0 that WRAL Raleigh, N.C., has experimented with since launching ATSC 3.0 broadcasts back in June 2016. WRAL, which transmits its ATSC 3.0 streams from a 1,740-foot-high antenna at 40 kW using elliptical polarization, has shown 4K UHD footage from the last two Olympics and also tested 1080p HD, hybrid OTA/OTT content and advanced emergency alerting.
The station did a large public demonstration in February, showing ATSC 3.0 reception on LG and Samsung TV sets as well as portable tablets using USB dongles from Korean electronics institute ETRI.
“The most interesting part of the demonstration was how much I had to explain to people that the tablet was not getting a signal from Wi-Fi or cellular,” said Sockett. “Most people had no concept that we are available in the air [with ATSC 1.0] for free today, and they also didn’t know that we’ve been free in the market for the last 60 or 70 years.”
Anne Schelle, managing director of Pearl TV, the coalition of stations behind the Phoenix trial, recalled a similar tale from consumer tests of the ATSC Mobile/Handheld standard in Washington, D.C., several years back.
“We had to open the window and point to the TV tower to explain it,” said Schelle, who plans to do extensive consumer testing of 3.0 in Phoenix next year. LG is already supplying 3.0 connected sets to the trial, and a bevy of set makers will announce support for the standard Monday at NAB, she said.
In Raleigh, WRAL has been experimenting with different Physical Layer Pipes (PLPs) at different bit rates in its 6 MHz channel, said Sockett, trying to find “the sweet spot between a robust channel and a high-throughput channel.” The station has found good success with a “robust” 1080p/60 stream running at 4.5 megabits per second using QPSK modulation, combined with a “high capacity layer” of 4K UHD content running at 19.5 Mbps with 64 QAM modulation.
“You put them together and you’ve got both extremes of what we’re trying to do,” Sockett said.
WRAL has also tested advanced emergency alerting, which is an important new capability with 3.0, said Madeleine Noland, office of the CTO for LG and the new chair of the ATSC advanced emergency alert implementation team. She explained that the 3.0 standard will let consumer receivers monitor for alert information in a standby mode, and then “wake-up” to display alerts. She also noted that the standard allows both broadcasters and receiver manufacturers to create their own separate apps for displaying emergency information and 3.0 receivers will be able to handle either.
“The receiver understands what all the files are and how to present that information to the viewer,” Noland said.
LG is supplying 3.0 receivers to a demonstration in the NAB Futures Park here at the Las Vegas Convention Center and is also collaborating with NAB, ATSC and Sinclair on an autonomous shuttle bus that will be receiving ATSC 3.0 content and driving back and forth between the Central and South Halls.
Schelle and Sinclair Broadcast Group VP of Advanced Technology Mark Aitken, who is a key player in a business trial of Single-Frequency Network (SFN) in the Dallas market in partnership with Nexstar, Univision and American Tower, both emphasized the tremendous progress the 3.0 movement has made since early demonstrations at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2016.
Schelle said the Phoenix trial, which now involves 12 stations from eight groups and a bevy of vendors, came together in the space of four months after Pearl TV first petitioned the FCC last fall.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” said Schelle, who said a “second stick” broadcasting 3.0 in Phoenix is planned, perhaps later this year.
As previously reported by TVNewsCheck, the Phoenix trial will focus on enhancements to what Schelle describes as the “core TV service”, like 4K UHD, interactive content and targeted advertising.
The Dallas trial will also test dynamic ad insertion, but is also targeting mobile services and datacasting with a clear aim at generating new revenue by bringing brand-new players and services onto the broadcast spectrum.
“We have a mobile-first strategy,” affirmed Aitken.
On that note, Aitken said that a “surprising party put signals up in Dallas on the 4th” using 3.0 technology, and that the company will be formally disclosed soon. Aitken has previously suggested that 3.0 technology could be used by holders of NB-IoT (Narrowband-Internet of Things) spectrum to reach smart appliances or mobile devices, and that NB-IoT could also serve as a backchannel for ATSC 3.0 receivers. Dish Network, T-Mobile and Verizon are the biggest current U.S. holders of NB-IoT spectrum.
Aitken also said that Sinclair is working hard with chip manufacturers to get 3.0 technology into mobile devices and that by year-end such devices may be “in the hands of consumers.” He expects 3.0 to become a real business soon after.
“I see a commercial launch of ATSC 3.0 services in about a two-year timeline,” said Aitken, a timeframe that Schelle also agreed was possible.
Read all of TVNewsCheck‘s NAB 2018 news here.