The ATSC 3.0 Technology Group 3 has approved technology proposed by One Media and China’s National Engineering Research Center as a critical part of ATSC 3.0’s modulation and error coding component known as the physical layer. “At the end of the day, what we have is a wireless, data-agnostic IP pipeline,” says Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Mark Aitken. “That means the bits that flow across the Internet can flow across our spectrum.”
The Advanced Television Standards Committee has taken the first official step — small as it may be — toward approving a next-generation television standard.
Following a four-week balloting period, the ATSC 3.0 Technology Group 3 (TG3) has voted to confer candidate standard status on technology proposed by One Media and China’s National Engineering Research Center in Shanghai for a critical part of ATSC 3.0’s modulation and error coding component known as the physical layer. Balloting closed at midnight ET today.
The approved technology covers the system discovery and signaling component of the physical layer. “We call it the bootstrap internal to ATSC 3.0,” says Kevin Gage, executive VP of strategic business development and CTO of One Media, a joint venture of Coherent Logix and the Sinclair Broadcast Group.
“But it’s really the gateway to the physical layer [that makes it possible] to signal what is being carried within our waveform both in ATSC and outside ATSC.”
The bootstrap is the most important part of the physical layer because it resides by itself and signals what is coming next, says Mark Aitken, VP of advanced technology at the Sinclair Broadcast Group.
“By virtue of the fact that it is not constrained inside some framework of its own –it’s an independent signaling element- it means that in the future, if broadcasters wanted to, they could change the entire nature of how their data is carried,” he says.
“In other words, you could do in the future, something totally different than you are doing today without having to know what it is in the future you might want to do.”
Its adoption as a candidate standard is a sign that TV broadcasters are steering the ATSC 3.0 standards process to secure the future they desire, not merely accepting something developed by television set makers, says Aitken.
So dissatisfied with the ATSC process were Aitken and Sinclair a little more than a year ago that Aitken said the broadcaster was prepared to go its own way, developing a rival next-gen television transmission system that the standards body could take or leave. However, a lot has changed since then, he says.
“Going back to January, it was Samsung’s idea to develop the bootstrap,” says Aitken. “They were the ones who saw inside the One Media proposal this element of signaling and saw it as a way to meet the requirement of broadcasters to have a next-gen standard that could evolve.”
While Samsung does not own the intellectual property, the company truly enabled the possibility that ATSC 3.0 could be extensible by recommending that the One Media signaling component of the physical layer standalone as the bootstrap, says Aitken.
Another important change was how engaged broadcasters became in the ATSC standards process, he says.
“When broadcasters decided to spend enough time to look at what was going on in ATSC, they agreed that their interests were not being represented, and there needed to be a collective interest of broadcasters that got pressed upon the core of the ATSC participants,” he says.
A lot of the credit goes to Anne Schelle, executive director of Pearl, a partnership of nine major broadcast groups, for convincing broadcasters to take an active role in the ATSC process and by extension their technical future, Aitken says.
Schelle, however, downplays her role. “In the absence of broadcasters saying what they want, you will have CE manufacturers, including the set makers, saying what they want in 50 different areas,” she says. “In June , I saw this working out. I felt broadcasters would develop requirements, and CE manufacturers would work with us. Now the ATSC participation by both broadcasters and CE manufacturers has ramped up and that is good thing, a very good thing.”
The ATSC 3.0 bootstrap positions broadcasters to deliver more than simply robust video and audio programming to mobile devices and 4K Ultra HD to TV sets at home, Aitken says. It will enable them to become wireless broadband Internet providers that rival wireless companies like Verizon and AT&T.
“At the end of the day, what we have is a wireless, data-agnostic IP pipeline,” he says. “That means the bits that flow across the Internet can flow across our spectrum.”
“If we focus on being able to provide bits with a quality of service — with an effectiveness — that is on par with the wireless carriers, we will find extreme value in the bit distribution business for a whole variety of new services,” Aitken says.
The consolidation that has occurred in the television industry means that two or three large broadcast groups working together could cover the entire United States with wireless Internet service, he adds.
TG3 is likely to vote on the remaining portions of the physical layer in the third quarter of the year, says ATSC President Mark Richer. Those components include data framing, which is how bits are carried by an ATSC 3.0 waveform, and a descriptive preamble that informs receivers about the services being delivered, where they reside and what is required to decode them.
Next week, ATSC will conduct a boot camp on the next-generation TV standard as well as its 2015 Broadcast Television Conference in Washington, D.C. There, not only will the newly approved system discovery and signaling component be discussed, but also substantial progress in all technology areas that will be part of the new standard, Richer says.
“ATSC 3.0 is actually a suite of standards that fit together, so different standards will progress at different times,” he says.
“Anybody who attends the boot camp [May 13] will hear of great progress from every one of our specialist groups in every one of the area. We are really far along in every layer of the system.”
ATSC is on track with its timetable for having a final next-gen TV standard in the first quarter of 2017, he says. “2015 is the year that we expect each piece of it to go to candidate standard, and in 2016 the candidate standard status will continue as we work on finalizing the standard.”
The candidate standard phase gives the television industry and others the opportunity to test the candidate and make recommendations for improvements that ATSC will consider before putting a final standard out to a vote of its entire membership, Richer says.
Jay Adrick, a retired Harris Broadcast VP and now consultant to GatesAir, says that it’s important to remember that the One Media-NERC system discovery and signaling component is “only a small portion of the system, not the whole system by any means.”
GatesAir and consumer electronics giant LG have offered their own next-gen TV transmission system for consideration to ATSC called Futurecast, and work continues on its development.
This week in Parma, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, GatesAir and LG are putting on air a Futurecast signal for a long-term trial of the system. The test site, the current home of WJW-TV, will rely upon a transmitter and antenna used by the station for its DTV simulcast during the digital transition. Since the completion of the DTV transition when the station moved its DTV operation back to its original ch. 8 assignment, the temporary transmission facilities have gone unused.
“All we did was resurrect it, put it back in operating shape, change out the exciter and set the transmitter up for proper operation under an OFDM signal,” Adrick says.
The tests from the site will evaluate how well Futurecast performs delivering a robust OFDM signal for mobile reception, home reception in the suburbs and even for reception in the concrete canyons formed by skyscrapers in downtown Cleveland, says Zenith R&D VP Wayne Luplow.
Luplow is sanguine about the candidate standard vote on the One Media-NERC component of the physical layer.
“We recognized from the beginning that the ATSC process will not necessarily end up as all Futurecast kinds of things,” he says. “It will end up as bits and pieces perhaps of technology that comes from various proponents.”
What is learned from the Parma trials generally will be applicable to whatever ultimately makes up the ATSC 3.0 physical layer. “We are showing to the world and the broadcast community that mobile is feasible and possible,” Luplow says. “Whether it is exactly the way we have implemented Futurecast today or the way a final 3.0 will transpire, there probably won’t be huge differences. So we are kind of paving the way.”
For its part, GatesAir is at work on a next-generation exciter that will be able to be upgraded in the field to ATSC 3.0 and “support anything that comes out of the ATSC process for 3.0,” Adrick says.
Another important aspect of today’s candidate standard vote is what it says to the world outside of television industry. “I think people are going to understand that 3.0 is real,” says One Media’s Gage. “I think there was a period of time when there was some doubt about what potentially would happen with 3.0.”
One place that is particularly important is the FCC. Many TV industry advocates, including Sinclair’s Aitken, have been at the commission and on Capitol Hill “fertilizing the turf,” having conversations with regulators and lawmakers about the specifics of how a transition to a new television standard would work, he says.
“I sat in the office of the FCC a week and half ago simply to listen and learn what it needs to give us this capability, give us the right to use a new standard,” he says.
“There is every indication from the FCC that they are not against a new standard; they are not against new technology; but they are not going to hold up an auction waiting for it,” Aitken says.
“I think there will be a coalition of broadcasters in the next two months that will put on the doorstep of the FCC a petition for rulemaking that will spell out what we see as the essentials for a transition to ATSC 3.0, and the essentials in terms of what the FCC needs to know to grant what we want.”
The petition will cover what a transition to ATSC 3.0 would look like in terms of the spectrum it occupies, the interference that it creates and other “ho-hum engineering kinds of things,” he says.
“But at the end of the day, it will be a package that says as an industry: ‘We are committed to making this happen. Here’s how we’re going to make it happen. Give us the ability to make it to happen.’ ”