Boot Camp Spotlights ATSC 3.0 Flexibility

“At every layer of the system, there are parameters broadcasters can set to fine-tune the technology to their business, and I think they are a little surprised by that,” ATSC’s Mark Richer said on the first day of the group’s Washington conference on the next-generation TV transmission standard.

The recurring theme yesterday at the Advanced Television Systems Committee’s  conference on the next-gen ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard it is developing was the standard’s flexibility and the business opportunities it can make possible.

“At every layer of the system, there are parameters broadcasters can set to fine-tune the technology to their business, and I think they are a little surprised by that,” said Mark Richer, ATSC president and chief organizer of the two-day conference, which wraps up today at Washington’s Ronald Reagan International Trade Center.

The conference attracted 137 system proponents, broadcasters and others who wanted to get up to speed on the standard. For several hours, they heard a series of presentations on the standard amid occasional somber strains of police bagpipers elsewhere in the massive building.

“If we are going to put another standard on the table, it has to stand the test of time, he said. “To do that, we have to make it as flexible as possible, and that also means giving it the ability to accommodate future growth — maybe into areas we can’t even think about today.”

At a fundamental level, ATSC 3.0 gives broadcasters a broad range of “operating points” from which to transmit services that balance the robustness of the signal with its digital payload capacity, said Jim Kutzner, who is partially retired and now serves as a consultant to Fox and PBS.

“With A/53 [ATSC 1.0], you had one operating point. You turned on one transmitter and used it. With A/153 [mobile DTV], you had a few operating points. But stations generally just tuned into one. Now you have dozens of operating points,” said Kutzner, who presented at the boot camp on ATSC 3.0 core broadcast services.


Broadcasters can now operate with “multiple virtual pipes,” each with a different level of robustness and capacity, he said.

For instance, broadcasters could rely on one virtual pipe to support robust over-the-air delivery of mobile HDTV service and another for high payload transmission of Ultra HD programming.

ATSC 3.0 also provides for layered division multiplexing (LDM), “a novel concept” that adds even more choices and flexibility, he said.

The new standard’s flexibility extends well beyond this fundamental level, however.

Madeleine Noland explains broadcast-broadband networks.Madeleine Noland, an LGE consultant and chair of the ATSC S-34 Specialist Group on Applications and Presentation, laid out how the next-gen standard can support hybrid broadcast-broadband networks that could, among other things, overcome failing mobile broadcast reception in a tunnel by handing off transmission to a synchronized broadband network.

Rich Chernock, chief science officer at Triveni Digital and the person with overall responsibility for shepherding ATSC 3.0 through the standardization process, said that is an example of how the standard allows “certain components in broadcast and others in broadband to work together in a synchronized way to create new types of services.”

Another is delivering programming in multiple languages. “You can put audio for the more common languages in your broadcast and make the other less-common languages available over broadband.

“If someone wants to hear in Hmong, for example, he can select that. It will pick up on broadband and synchronize with the broadcast,” Chernock said.

 “We recognized when developing all of this capability that there will be different business models,” said Merrill Weiss, owner of Merrill Weiss Group, a Metuchen, N.J.-based electronic media engineering consultancy.

Weiss, who presented at the boot camp on the ATSC 3.0 ecosystem, said those business models may include Ultra HD, mobile, both or even “delivery of data that is not related to television programs.”

With so many technical capabilities from which to choose to enable unique business models, broadcast engineers and managers will be required to grapple with decisions they previously have never faced as they roll out ATSC 3.0.

However, both Kutzner and Weiss offered tools during their presentations to make the task somewhat easier.

Kutzner’s Ad Hoc Group on Core Broadcast Services has developed two calculators — Excel spreadsheets, really — that allow broadcast engineers to plan for payload, propagation and signal availability in a market.

“Basically, you can crank the knobs on the spreadsheet and out pops your expected payload, as well as the expected threshold for AWGN [additive white Gaussian noise], Rayleigh [the Rayleigh propagation model] being a more realistic channel,” Kutzner said.

With the second spreadsheet, the Use Case Calculator, broadcast engineers will have “some number on what” they can “expect to see in terms of signal availability,” he added.

Broadcasters in a quandary over how to approach converting their technical plants from ATSC 1.0 to the next-gen standard will find a thorough starting point developed by Weiss and the members of the ATSC Ad Hoc Group on the ATSC 3.0 Ecosystem.

During the boot camp, Weiss presented a broadcast facility in 10 different diagrams, which when nested together represent a complete ATSC 3.0 ecosystem. The layers represented how different types of content, such as audio and video, should be handled as well as the way to integrate critical functions, such as synchronization and management.

“The idea here is that before we even have a standard, we will have enough information that broadcasters can look at and say: ‘Here’s what I need to do,’ ” Weiss said.

When ATSC A/53 (ATSC 1.0) was standardized, it took a couple of years before broadcasters attempted to figure out how to implement the standard, Wiess said.

“That was after the fact, and we were stuck with whatever was in the standard.

This time around, we are trying to do it before the standard is written so that perhaps it will take account of the needs of broadcasters and make it easier to do.”

Anne Schelle, executive director of Pearl, an industry consortium of nine major broadcast groups, said the day demonstrated not just the progress that’s been made on developing the next-gen standard, but also the opportunities it will offer broadcasters as they seek to grow their businesses in the future.

“What you are starting to see is the broadcasters beginning to work on business models, business plans and service requirements.”

Within six months, the TV industry will begin to see ATSC 3.0 receiver requirements nailed down and consumer device development begin, she said.

If so, that may be the right time for the police bagpipers to reconvene and squeeze out a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace.

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.

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