10 Tech Predictions For The Coming Year

What issues are likely to keep engineers, managers and other tech types awake at night in 2016? TVNewsCheck’s Phil Kurz offers his predictions of next year's trends that range from ATSC 3.0 to a serious rethink of how to define the business of television.

Twitter aficionados know they can, with a few clicks of the mouse, easily find out what is trending. Not so with television technology, sadly.

Rather, readers must rely on humble correspondents like me to report, analyze and try to make sense of the dynamic amalgamation of stations, groups, networks, vendors, standards bodies, inventors and consultants that comprise the television technology industry.

So, this is my list of the 10 tech trends — presented in no particular order of importance — that will impact the television industry in 2016. How risky is this? Well, not even Twitter predicts the future.

Tech Trend 1: Next-generation television will advance several steps with standardization of ATSC 3.0 nearing completion.

Regular, over-the-air field testing of the new standard transmitting on UHF and VHF spectrum from the Big Stick and also via a single frequency network will be done. Tribune’s WJW Cleveland will host tests as will Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which will focus on SFN service in the Baltimore-Washington  area.

An ATSC 3.0 “plugfest” in the spring will follow the inaugural “plugfest” in Shanghai in October 2015. For the first event, vendors building equipment supporting ATSC 3.0 tested some 150 different parameters and scenarios, says Sam Matheny, NAB EVP-CTO. Events like these are working out the kinks, making it easier to turn ATSC 3.0 into reality.


Consumer electronics heavyweights Samsung and LG also are likely to take big steps forward with ATSC 3.0 sets and receivers to support over-the-air 4K transmission of the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February 2018.

Tech Trend 2: Hundreds of television stations will begin replacing aging DTV transmitters as they relocate to new channels.

While it’s unclear how many stations will be affected, industry analysis projects between 800 and 1,200 stations may ultimately have to move. Doing so will require entirely new RF infrastructures — transmitters, antennas, waveguide and ancillary components for many.

Cornelius Heinemann, VP of transmitter and amplifier systems at Rohde & Schwarz, expects hundreds of new transmitters to ship out the door by the latter part of the year. GatesAir and Hitachi-Comark spokesmen expect similar numbers.

The repack will also provide an impetus for a major transition away from tubes to solid-state transmitters for high-power UHF applications.

Tech Trend 3: Broadcasters struggle mightily to change channel assignments.

While transmitter vendors say they have a grip on delivering the units needed for stations to execute the TV band repack, other critical pieces of the puzzle won’t come so easily.

Finite tower crews, construction resources, structural engineers and antenna manufacturing capability make it extremely difficult to see how broadcasters can complete the spectrum repack in the 39 months they have been given by the FCC.

Testifying before Congress, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has acknowledged the difficulty and expressed a willingness to work with broadcasters.

A proposal to regionalize the transition so the industry can concentrate technical resources — similar to how Sprint-Nextel regionalized the 2 GHz BAS transition — has been proffered. Even so, more time will be needed.

With the prospect of losing their broadcast license hanging over their heads, TV licensees will have every reason to push the RF infrastructure resources of the vendors and consultants to the limit.

Tech Trend 4: Virtual and hybrid sets, as well as augmented reality, will shine not just for networks but local broadcasters as well.

Campaign and election coverage, new augmented-reality tools for weather and traffic reporting and economics will help to drive greater adoption of these technologies.

Station groups such as Gray Television will leverage virtual set technology to give viewers in multiple markets new, fresh, on-air looks without having to build new hard sets for each station. In the same way, virtual set technology will make it more affordable to produce a variety of new local shows, such as Friday-night studio football programs.

On the technology side, there’s no shortage of systems to accomplish this, with solutions available from Ross Video, WSI, Vizrt, ChyronHego-Hybrid TV, Avid-Orad and others.

Tech Trend 5: High-profile broadcast and production trials and installations help guide the industry on its way to IP-based operations.

Disney/ABC Television Group’s much-heralded migration to cloud-based master control and playout and ESPN’s rollout of its 193,000-square-foot IP-based Digital Center 2 are two new showpieces of what IP-based production, playout and master control can do, but they won’t be the last.

The LiveIP Project, being run by the EBU and Belgian broadcaster VRT, seeks to demonstrate how multiple vendors — including Axon, Dwesam, EVX, Genelec, Grass Valley, Lawo, LSB, Nevion, Tektronix and Trilogy — can collaborate to make live IP-based production a reality.

The real-world lessons learned here and from installations such as those by Disney/ABC and ESPN should help to make deploying other high-profile IP-based facilities easier, creating a snowball effect. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges along the way.

Tech Trend 6: The rise of IP “splinter-operability.”

A frequently cited benefit of IP for broadcast is the ability to use less-expensive, common off-the-shelf (COTS) computer technology — such as blade servers, IP routers and switches — to process and transport audio and video IP packets in a manner that at a minimum enables the functional equivalent of transport and processing baseband video.

The lynchpin to making this a reality is interoperability. For an industry that’s grown accustomed to connecting HD-SDI connectors to HD-SDI I/Os, regardless of the type of equipment or manufacturer, and just having things work, anything less is disappointing.

Things appear to be getting off to a rocky start. For example, the AES-67 standard for audio-over-IP interoperability was written to allow vendors to select one of four methods of system discovery, which in essence splinters what might have been plug-and-play interoperability into competing camps.

On the video side, the situation is arguably worse. Different IP standards for different video use cases and a lack of consensus on whether to compress may make AES-67 “splinter-operability” look tame by comparison.

Tech Trend 7: Broadcasters and vendors alike will grapple with the changing spectrum landscape for ENG camera contribution as well as wireless mics.

Negotiations with the U.S. Department of Defense over sharing some of the spectrum reserved for seven Broadcast Auxiliary Channels in the 2 GHz band used for live news and sports contribution will continue to unfold.

While it appears the spectrum sharing will be confined to certain areas around military bases in the United States, the altitude at which the military drones fly that will be sharing the spectrum means the area that must be cleared could encompass 100 miles or more from the flight path.

Work will begin on effective ways to coordinate spectrum use with the military. Unconventional approaches to using 2 GHz BAS spectrum, such as the pilot GrayMax trial deployed by Gray Television, may receive renewed interest to deal will shortages.

Wireless mics, which encompass a whole range of devices including IFB, intercom and wireless in-ear monitors, will continue to come under increasing pressure from the TV spectrum repack and white-space devices. New technologies and production techniques may help but won’t completely solve the problem.

Tech Trend 8: Broadcasters begin to address audio loudness beyond over-the-air delivery.

It took an act of Congress to get a handle on broadcast loudness, but it likely will be market conditions that encourage broadcasters delivering over-the-top programming to address blaring commercial content.

Unlike watching TV, many consumers who stream broadcast online to their media tablets listen with headphones, making loud commercials not simply an annoyance, but painful. Couple that with the ability of consumers to quickly surf away from obnoxiously loud streaming commercials, and broadcasters have a financial incentive to take streaming loudness seriously.

Tech Trend 9: Broadcasters continue to explore the full potential of ATSC 1.0 over-the-air transmission.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? At least when it comes to ATSC 1.0 (A/53), some creative vendors and broadcasters are finding ways to do more with the aging standard that ushered in over-the-air digital TV.

In Ohio, public broadcasters are working on a system to relay IP-based emergency messaging from station to station with over-the-air ATSC transmission as a backup to their Internet-based IPAWS network.

Public broadcasters in some markets, including Washington, Las Vegas and Houston, are working with a company called SpectraRep to allow first responders such as police, fire and other public safety agencies, to send encrypted communications, including audio, video and graphics, to select personnel in the field via their ATSC transmissions.

Tech Trend 10: Broadcast engineers, technologists and management begin a serious rethink of what business they are in, the potential of their broadcast technology and new ways to profit.

As ATSC 3.0 comes more clearly into focus from a standards point of view, TV engineers and managers alike will have a big incentive to rethink the business of television. A recent study from the Pearl consortium found the television industry can generate between $12 billion and $20 billion in new revenue with the help of the next-generation standard.

Many serious decisions involving how to deploy ATSC 3.0 must be made, including whether to put single frequency networks in place for reliable mobile delivery, maximizing transmission for 4K delivery or adding data delivery to the mix.

The stakes are far too high not to begin that rethink.

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 (3)

Leave a Reply

Kingsley Smith says:

December 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm

This is an excellent summary of what’s to come. Great work Phil!

James Diaz says:

December 10, 2015 at 12:45 pm

“Splinter-operability.” Nice, Phil!

david michaels says:

December 15, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Nice observation Phil. I would add continued acquisitions in the Technology sector of the broadcast industry.