TECH Q&A

Kim, Luplow Extol ATSC 3.0 Progress

Dr. Jong Kim, Zenith R&D president and LG Electronics SVP, and Zenith VP Wayne Luplow say ATSC 3.0 will revitalize TV broadcasting. Now that ATSC has moved the proposed standard another step closer to adoption, they explain why this latest decision is an important milestone and claim that, although the standard represents the technology of several system proponents, no compromises were made in adopting the best possible standard. Luplow (l) and Kim are shown above in the Zenith R&D lab in Lincolnshire, Ill.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee this week said the core transmission system, known as the physical layer, of its next-generation ATSC 3.0 digital television standard has been elevated to a candidate standard, the penultimate step in the ATSC process toward a final standard.

The announcement was a victory for several companies that contributed technology to the system. Prominent among them is South Korea’s LG Electronics. Through its Zenith R&D lab, it contributed major pieces to 10 of the 15 basic building blocks of system, including forward error correction, the OFDM framer, MIMO and guard interval.

In this interview with TVNewsCheck Tech Editor Phil Kurz, Jong Kim, Zenith president and LG Electronics SVP, and Zenith VP Wayne Luplow assert that the standard will revitalize broadcasting, explain why adoption of the candidate standard is an important milestone and claim that, although the standard represents the technology of several system proponents, no compromises were made in adopting the best possible standard.

An edited transcript:

In your press release hailing the ATSC announcement, you say that ATSC 3.0 will usher in a new “Golden Era” for television. What do you mean by that?

Luplow: There are a variety of things relative 3.0. As you know, and we have talked about, there are many things you can do with 3.0 that you can’t do with 1.0, including mobile, which is the biggest thing. The second biggest thing is that the larger data rate enables 4K. You can’t do that today with ATSC 1.0. Beyond that, ATSC 3.0 will provide the ability to do things like targeted advertising with two-way communication using the Internet for the backchannel.

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What is the relevance of ATSC 3.0 relying on Internet Protocol, IP, packets to transport bits rather than an MPEG-2 Transport Stream as is the case with ATSC 1.0?

Luplow: I believe the relevance is having compatibility with other sorts of data delivery. Think Internet. I think that is the biggest common denominator here. Everything seems to be going in the direction of Internet protocol, and I think that having that common denominator is the answer. ATSC 3.0’s reliance on Internet protocol raises the prospect of broadcasters delivering other services to IP devices in their markets over the air via their IP pipe.

You both have a history here. Zenith developed the physical layer used in the current ATSC 1.0 and was deeply involved in bringing that standard to fruition. Looking back, how would you compare that effort to development of the ATSC 3.0 physical layer?

Luplow: You certainly got it right. Zenith started working on what is now called the ATSC 1.0 system in 1988. As I think you know, it took until Christmas Eve 1996 before the commission said, “OK, let’s go.” Then we had that long transition period.

That early process, in some respects, was somewhat similar to the current process. There were a lot of different organizations involved, all pushing their technology.

The original advisory committee had 23 original proposals in it. I think today in the work of [ATSC] 3.0 for the physical layer there are at least 10 very active companies who have contributed or tried to contribute technology to the physical layer.

In some respects, it is somewhat similar. The names of players are somewhat different and of course the technology now is a few decades more mature than we had in that timeframe.

And from our viewpoint it is all kind of coming together. It is pretty much today a cooperative effort and a lot of people have technology that is in the physical layer.

Of course, we — meaning LG and Zenith together with our partner GatesAir — have a good piece of the technology that’s in 3.0, and we welcome and recognize the contribution of others as well.

With so many different players participating in the development of the physical layer — and every organization with its own ideas, its own intellectual property, its own business interests — how do you balance all of that when you are trying to come to an agreement?

Luplow: You know, everybody certainly is anxious to move forward on technology they believe is unique to them, but there’s also a kind of comradery in the industry and also a pragmatic approach, which says, “Look, I’m not going to win this whole thing.”

Maybe it is kind of like a marriage. I’ve got to give and take, and if I want to come away with something that is positive for me or my organization other people have to come away as well [with something positive] to create a win-win, win-win. How ever many times I have to say the word “win” for everybody.

Kim: Yes, I think each company has a strong point so that we can complement each other to make a better system. That’s what we are doing to make the ATSC 3.0 process collaborative.

Is it difficult to reach these compromises when creating the standard without compromising its performance?

Kim: We don’t compromise the performance. We select the best. That is what the ATSC process is. At some point, the comparison to lab tests and eventually the hardware components will reveal the details.

Luplow: All of these parts have been subject to some sort of computer simulations, so when you take one from column A, one from column B and one from column C, you can take those technologies and you can do computer simulations to look at the anticipated performance out of that.

And, as Dr. Kim points out, of course, the ultimate proof of the pudding is how it works in over-the-air testing. And of course we’ve tried to understand it ourselves by using our own technologies, which are not in many cases different from what is coming out of the combined ATSC process.

We took that to the field in Madison, [Wis.], and more recently in Cleveland, to get a warm fuzzy relative to as how these technologies actually perform in the field.

When the ATSC this week announced the physical layer was elevated to a candidate standard, ATSC President Mark Richer was quoted as saying he expected the move would make it easier for consumer electronics manufacturers to build prototype ATSC 3.0 receivers. Do you agree? How long until the prototypes begin showing up?

Kim: I agree 100% with what Mark Richer said. We have built prototype hardware based upon the process. I think candidate standard status is the basis upon which to build our hardware for in the field.

Luplow:  You asked about the receiver side, but clearly things have to happen in parallel on the transmit side, and we expect broadcast transmission companies, probably led by our cooperative partner GatesAir and others.

But they also have to step up to make the type of equipment we need to get a signal in the air. There is nothing we receiver manufacturers can do by ourselves. It obviously has to be an industry event.

When U.S. broadcasters went through the analog-to-digital transition, many broadcasters, particularly those in the VHF band, were unpleasantly surprised by the loss of coverage. Then a few years later mobile DTV comes along, but for whatever reason it didn’t play out how broadcasters had hoped. Do you feel confident they will get the performance out of ATSC 3.0 that they are expecting?

Luplow: Certainly all of the testing we have done with our own 100% LG-Zenith-GatesAir system has been extremely indicative of coverage and various type of performance, ranging from mobile handheld to 4K. We’ve been able to do that.

There is no reason to believe what will come out of the physical layer candidate standard of ATSC won’t be comparable to what we have already demonstrated.

In terms of shortfall in coverage, I don’t think so. I think most of them will be very, very pleased, and most will say, “We are staking our future on 3.0.”

In a press release you issued this week regarding the physical layer, you said LG has a hand in at least 10 of the 15 building blocks of the new physical layer candidate standard. Does that mean from a royalties point of view LG will earn two-thirds of the royalties associated with the technology?

Luplow: I don’t think you should walk away with that as any sort of conclusion. That is certainly not anything we would say. Because we have intellectual property in 10 blocks, doesn’t mean we are the only ones who have intellectual property in those blocks.

There are others who have intellectual property in the various blocks as well. And when you finally get down to how any of this would be licensed, it is way, way down the road and subject to many unknowns, such as patent licensing policy at that time frame. There are just many, many ingredients that go into that, and it is just way too early for us to go into any of that.

Certainly, we would not expect that you could equate who has what technology in which block to any sort of percentage of the licensing fees.

Kim: Those 10 blocks have so many components, and there are other companies that own some of that IP. There is no one company that has a corner on the technology.

Now that the physical layer is set as a candidate standard, and as far as I know there seems to be general agreement that HEVC encoding will be part of the standard, can you tell me what the payload capacity will be of a 6 MHz channel? In other words, how many bits and by extension how many UHD, HD and mobile channels will broadcasters be able to put into a single 6 MHz channel transmitting ATSC 3.0?

Luplow: A good example was how we used the total bit rate in Cleveland to do a 4K stream, a 720p HD stream and an SD stream. That was one example. One might be able to get close to being able to put two 4Ks. It’s extremely versatile.

The net total bitrate, if you just use it in a normal environment without having extremely robust mode is 36 Mb/s. But remember, we tend to think of this in terms of Ultra HD, HD and mobile, when in reality what we are setting up here is the first real nationwide IP network. (Update: Upon publication of this interview, LG contacted TVNewsCheck to say they had misspoken and that the actual maximum bit rate achievable with ATSC 3.0 is 26.4 Mb/s, a 36% increase compared to ATSC 1.0’s 19.39 Mb/s bitrate.)

So, while the payload numbers are accurate, there are other things that might be transmitted other than TV programs.

To stay up to date on all things tech, follow Phil Kurz on TVNewsCheck’s Playout tech blog here. And follow him on Twitter: @TVplayout.


Comments (2)

Leave a Reply

Ellen Samrock says:

October 1, 2015 at 12:40 pm

It all sounds great. However, the one question that wasn’t asked is: What will be the migration path for consumers? How can receivers purchased today not be rendered obsolete when 3.0 is enacted tomorrow? Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake has stated that the FCC will be asking those very same questions. How they are answered will determine if the Commission approves the new standard.

Cheryl Daly says:

October 1, 2015 at 6:14 pm

The article states that “one might be able to get close to being able to put two 4Ks (on a single 6 MHz channel).” Stations that elect to share a channel after the auction should take note that “might get close” is not the same as saying that two 4K streams can definitely occupy one channel. So while broadcasting’s competitors like Netflix are 4K in the future, one of the major broadcast networks might be relegated to antiquated 720p when it shares a channel with a 4K neighbor. And what happens when 8K comes into play as far as channel-sharing is concerned? Channel sharers are restricting their future options to be technologically relevant.


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