Today at noon, the Capitol Broadcasting-owned NBC affiliate in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., began transmission of a next-gen ATSC 3.0 signal on ch. 39 under an experimental license from the FCC.
WRAL, the Capitol Broadcasting Co.-owned NBC affiliate serving Raleigh-Durham, N.C. (DMA 25), today at noon ushered in what many in the television industry are hoping will be a renaissance in over-the-air TV broadcasting when it launched commercial ATSC 3.0 broadcast service from its transmitter site south of the city.
James Goodmon Jr., VP-GM of CBC New Media, pressed the button to begin transmitting the next-generation of television signal — an IP-based TV broadcast system that offers broadcasters and viewers alike dramatically enhanced TV service — from the station’s new GatesAir Maxiva transmitter and next-gen TV exciter.
“ATSC 3.0 represent the next generation of television, but I actually think it’s a little bit bigger than that,” says Goodmon in a one-on-one sit down with TVNewsCheck. “When you really think about broadcasters, we’re the original wireless guys along with radio, and ATSC 3.0 will allow us to deliver over the air the highest quality video that will be available to consumers for the foreseeable future.”
WRAL launched 3.0 with a simulcast of its noon news in 1080p and a 22-minute documentary, Take Me Out to the Bulls Game, in 4K/UHD with high dynamic range.
The station inaugurated 3.0 service following a brief ceremony attended by Peter Sockett, WRAL director of engineering and operations; Sam Matheny, NAB EVP-chief technology officer; other station personnel; representatives of the vendors who helped to make the launch possible; and the local press.
WRAL’s launch of 3.0 is the latest in a long string of firsts. The station was the first commercial broadcaster to begin HDTV broadcasting, the first to launch an HD local newscast and first to transmit live ENG shots in HD from a helicopter.
WRAL is transmitting its new 3.0 service on ch. 39 under an experimental license from the FCC.
About two weeks ago, engineers from ERI-Electronics Research Inc. in Chandler, Ind., began installing an elliptically polarized directional antenna for 3.0 transmission about 1,740 feet above the ground on the same tower the station once used for its analog transmission. ERI also provided a filter assembly.
Together with the Maxiva UHF transmitter, the antenna is delivering 40 kW ERP on the horizontal plane and 32 kW on the vertical plane over WRAL’s main market in Raleigh.
The low ERP and directional antenna pattern were necessary to win approval from the commission as it grapples with the complexities of the incentive auction and spectrum repack, Sockett says.
In addition to ERI and GatesAir, several other vendors contributed their expertise and technology to make the 3.0 launch a reality.
Harmonic is supplying its HEVC UHD real-time broadcast encoder; Keepixo is providing a DASH packager; Triveni Digital is supplying a signaling, transport and ATSC 3.0 analyzer; and LG Electronics is providing a 3.0 receiver.
WRAL is also integrating AWARN, the advanced emergency alerting system, into its 3.0 service. Monroe Electronics is providing the emergency alerting technology.
Consulting engineering firm Meintel, Sgrignoli & Wallace also assisted WRAL with the launch.
Meanwhile, Sinclair Broadcast Group is testing single frequency network transmission of ATSC 3.0 in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor. SFNs are seen as a critical component of the new standard, providing broadcasters with greater penetration into buildings with their signals and making mobile service viable.
WRAL plans to continue transmitting its regular program schedule in 3.0 as 1080p and simulcast the 4K baseball documentary on a loop, Sockett says.
Last year, WRAL shot the 4K documentary on the minor league Durham Bulls in the RAW format. To prepare for the simulcast in ATSC 3.0, WRAL editors have conformed it to full HDR and ITU Rec. 2020 color space, Sockett says.
The station will begin regular monthly 4K production of its locally originated Out & About show, which looks at local merchants and others in the WRAL market, and air it on the 4K ATSC 3.0 digital subchannel, says Jim Rothschild, station manager of WRAL and co-owned Fox affiliate WRAZ. In the fall, the station’s documentary unit also begin producing all of its work in 4K as well.
“We will be generating as much 4K content as we can and are interested in airing 4K programming we can get rights to,” says Rothschild, adding the station is talking with NBC Sports about what 4K programming it plans to make available.
Within the past month, NBC Sports separately announced it will make one Rio Olympics event in August available per day in 4K on a 24-hour delay.
The station ultimately plans to use 3.0 to offer on-demand content, provide viewer access to other sources of video to enhance linear viewing and transmit other streams of television and radio around the clock by leveraging both over-the-air and broadband connectivity to viewers in the home.
WRAL also will leverage connectivity to viewers on their mobile devices as 3.0-enabled devices and gateways enter the market. The station was a pioneer in the use of the now-defunct Mobile DTV companion to ATSC 1, offering broadcasts tailored to riders of metro busses.
Next up for the engineering team at WRAL is to begin test and measurement of its 3.0 signal throughout the market, Sockett says.
“As soon as we figure out how to build a test rig, we are going to start driving radios [around the market],” says Sockett, who spoke to TVNewsCheck moments after the noon ATSC 3.0 kickoff.
“We are really interested in the test results coming from in buildings, penetrating buildings [using] smaller [receive] antennas, not antennas specifically cut for ch. 39,” he says. “I want to know what an antenna the size of my phone does for a ch. 39 receiver.”
The station plans to share the data it gathers from the tests as well as information gleaned from its real-world 3.0 transmission experience with the industry at large, he adds.
Currently, the only TV in the market that can receive WRAL’s 3.0 transmission is in the hands of the station.
While finalization of the next-gen TV standard is still on track for some time in the first quarter of 2017, broadcasters will need to win FCC authorization before they can begin offering the new service en masse.
Even after the new standard receives government approval, consumers will need to buy 3.0 receivers.
WRAL says it hopes consumer electronics vendors will offer those by late 2017 so early adopters in the Raleigh-Durham market can soon begin enjoying the next generation of television.
For Matheny, who worked for Capitol Broadcasting before joining the NAB, today’s launch of next-generation TV is important to the industry at large.
“This is a great day for broadcasting and a great day for WRAL. The importance of this cannot be overstated in terms of moving broadcasting forward,” Matheny told TVNewsCheck in WRAL’s transmitter building minutes before the launch.
“It [ATSC 3.0] is the next-generation of broadcast television, and the way that it is going to map into the connected world we live in is very important. It takes broadcasting and makes it a high-tower, high-power nationwide IP network. And WRAL is right at the front of it.”