Spearheaded by Mark Aitken, Sinclair's VP of advanced technology, the new "broadcast-centric" transmission standard is being designed to address an issue Sinclair feels is being left out of ATSC's efforts: the ability to reach viewers on their mobile devices. “ATSC 3.0 ought to be whatever broadcasters want it to be,” Aitken says. “This process should be about bringing broadcasters to the table for a solution, rather than having it dictated to them by TV set manufacturers."
Sinclair Developing Next-Gen TV Standard
Not happy with the direction that the Advanced Television Systems Committee is taking in the development of a new broadcast transmission standard it has dubbed ATSC 3.0, Sinclair Broadcast Group is now pushing for an alternative “broadcast-centric” standard.
Sinclair’s system is the subject of “very fertile discussions” among broadcasters, says Mark Aitken, Sinclair’s VP of advanced technology. Its focus is giving TV broadcasters the tools needed to do “what is in the best interest of television broadcasters,” he says.
If all goes well, Aitken says, the system could be ready within a year.
Aitken, the 2013 recipient of ATSC’s Bernard J. Lechner Outstanding Contributor Award, says the next-gen system must have the ability to reach viewers on their mobile devices as well as on their big screens at home.
Aitken’s principal concern is that the makers of the big screens have too much influence in the ATSC process.
“ATSC 3.0 ought to be whatever broadcasters want it to be,” he says. “This process should be about bringing broadcasters to the table for a solution, rather than having it dictated to them by TV set manufacturers.
“There is a discrepancy between the interests of broadcasters and set manufacturers. For too long, the focus has been on the big screens in the living room. That is an important piece in America, but it may come as a surprise to some that Americans are consuming content outside the living room.”
Aitken also says the ATSC is also not sufficiently attuned to the business interests of broadcasting. “This is a discussion that can’t go on at ATSC because ATSC doesn’t have a place to discuss business opportunities. It is a cut-and-dried standards body. The business components and opportunities never happen at ATSC.”
Sinclair, together with Coherent Logix, a specialist in software-defined receiver technology, is among the 13 groups that have submitted proposals to for the ATSC 3.0 transmission standard. Most of the proposals are based on OFDM modulation schemes.
“We put forward our view of the world [in the ATSC process]. We aren’t being listened to; Ericsson isn’t being listened to; and Qualcomm is not being listened to. This is because of a fundamentally different view about the future of television.”
Aitken insists his “greenfield” approach is not “sour grapes,” but rather an effort to position broadcasting as a robust wireless digital delivery technology for the future.
According to ATSC, the chair of the ATSC specialist group (TG3-S32) tasked with assessing and possibly recommending technical proposals for ATSC 3.0’s physical layer is Luke Fay, an employee of Sony, a TV set vendor; while the chair of the specialist group (TG3-S33) responsible for technical assessing proposals related to the part of the standard dealing with management and delivery of ATSC 3.0 services and metadata via terrestrial TV and potentially broadband networks is Youngkwon Lim, a Samsung employee.
Aitken says other broadcasters share his sentiments and that the ongoing discussion of developing a future digital television system outside ATSC is broad based.
One broadcaster that Aitken identifies as an ally is Brett Jenkins, VP and chief technology officer of LIN Media. But Jenkins says that while he shares some of Aitken’s concerns, he is not prepared to give up on the ATSC.
“There absolutely is a recognition among industry players from broadcasters to consumer electronics manufacturers that the world has changed since the first ATSC was released,” Jenkins says. “You better believe that is a big piece of what informs the conversation about ATSC 3.0 development.”
However, he added, if ATSC publishes a standard broadcasters can’t live with, “we won’t settle for that.”
Mark Richer, president of ATSC, says Aitken’s assessment of the process is a mischaracterization. “How broadcasters intend to use this [ATSC 3.0] is absolutely being discussed and discussed in detail,” Richer says. “We consider business use cases, which impact on technology choices,” he adds. “So obviously, we have to know what we are trying to accomplish with the technology. We just don’t put technology out there for technology’s sake.”
Despite Aitken’s criticism of the ATSC process, Richer says he welcomes Aitken’s effort. It’s another input into the development of ATSC 3.0 that will ultimately make the standard stronger, he says.
ATSC anticipates it will have an ATSC 3.0 “candidate” standard by the spring of 2015. After weighing the comments and making any necessary changes, ATSC expects to progress to a “proposed” standard and a final vote in the first quarter of 2016. After that, it will be ready to go to the FCC for adoption as a national standard.
While Aitken declines to offers details about his new digital television system, he says “people will know it when it makes its first appearance” in less than a year.
Aitken acknowledges it is unclear exactly how a new system can win FCC approval without the imprimatur of ATSC and support of the National Association of Broadcasters. But he says he is confident the alternative system will appeal to broadcasters eager to capitalize on new revenue opportunities as well as regulators who are focused on making the 2015 auction of TV spectrum a success.
“Can we make this happen in a viable way that provides broadcasters with the tools they need to better conduct the business they are in and make the most effective use of the spectrum?” Aitken asks. “Can we bring tools to the table that make spectrum reclamation cleaner, tools to mitigate interference and that will make repacking tighter? I think over the next several months this will become an open discussion.”