Starting in May, LG and GatesAir plan to test their Futurecast broadcast system, one of several being considered by the ATSC as the ATSC 3.0 standard, using a moth-balled transmitter and antenna belonging to Tribune’s WJW and operating on ch. 31. Eventually, the facility will be turned over to the NAB for testing other next-gen technology for ATSC.
The proponents of the Futurecast broadcasting system, one of several vying to become the next-generation broadcast standard, are assembling a test station in Cleveland that will be used initially for Futurecast, but that will later pass to the control of the NAB and become a facility for evaluating other technology involved in the standards-setting process.
As work progresses at the Advanced Television Systems Committee on the ATSC 3.0 standard, says Sam Matheny, EVP and chief technology officer at NAB, a “neutral” broadcast facility will be necessary for the testing and validating of all the technology.
“We are going to be organizing that and helping to put it all together,” he says.
But before the facility is turned over to the NAB, it will serve the proprietary purposes of LG Electronics and GatesAir and their push for including all or part of Futurecast in the standard’s final “physical layer” or transmission system.
“We have first dibs on [the facility] because we have done the work of getting it on the air,” says Wayne Luplow, VP of LG’s Zenith R&D Lab.
According to Luplow, the facility is also the product of the diligence of consulting engineer Dennis Wallace and the generosity of Tribune Media.
Wallace discovered that WJW, Tribune’s Fox affiliate in Cleveland, owned a transmitter and antenna for ch. 31 and that it had not been used since the station converted from analog to digital in 2009. At the time of the transition, WJW opted to give up ch. 31 and broadcast on ch. 8.
Tribune was “very gracious” in allowing LG and GatesAir to take the station out of “moth balls” and put it back on the air, Luplow says.
The proponents hope to have the station up and running in May.
“After that, we will bring the field-test trucks and guys out and start taking a lot of data under various transmission conditions and various receiving conditions,” Luplow says.
GatesAir obtained authorization from the FCC to operate the station for six months.
LG and GatesAir had conducted over-the-air tests of their system at Quincy’s WKOW Madison, Wis., last October, Luplow says, but the tests had to be conducted between 1 and 4 a.m. so as not to disrupt the station’s regular service.
At those hours, Luplow says, it was difficult to do reception tests in all the places they wanted, particularly in buildings. “It was pretty limiting.”
Cleveland is an “ideal” market for the tests, says Jay Adrick, a GatesAir consultant. “It offers a variety of terrain — hills to the south and southeast, flat lands to the west and … the typical tall buildings [downtown].”
The Cleveland test facility’s antenna is located on a ridge south of the city in Parma, Ohio, Adrick says.
One thing that LG and GatesAir will not be testing initially will be Futurecast’s performance within a single frequency network — that is, by secondary stations operating on the same channel.
Single frequency networks will be necessary in many markets to insure stations’ blanket over-the-air coverage.
However, Adrick says, LG and GatesAir may conduct SFN tests later, using a secondary on-channel transmitter and antenna on WJW’s STL tower adjacent to its studio in downtown Cleveland.
ATSC President Mark Richer says he is pleased to see that proponents and the NAB were putting a transmitter on the air that would eventually be available for general ATSC work, but adds that more such facilities will be needed. “There will be more than one test station in the country, and [stations in] more than one country.”