CTA and NAB Jointly Promote ATSC 3.0 “Living Lab”

Two years ago proponents of ATSC 3.0 began looking for a facility to host the testing of the country’s next-generation TV broadcasting standard. Similar to the early days of digital broadcasting—when the 8-VSB modulation scheme was being considered for use by TV stations in the U.S.—engineers from GatesAir, LG Electronics USA and Zenith Corp. needed a place to conduct field trials of the proposed new technology.

This time they found a home at WJW, the Fox affiliate in Cleveland, OH that’s owned by Tribune Broadcasting. The station had a Thomson Broadcast (Comark) CTT-U-DCX IOT digital transmitter that had been idle since the station moved to a new channel (channel 8). 

Tests began in May, 2015 with the ATSC 3.0 transmission system using a solid-state transmitter, a new GatesAir Maxiva XTE, and an ATSC 3.0 exciter. The station used the station’s antenna and 6 MHz of spectrum provided via temporary FCC license. The goal was to see how the ATSC 3.0 spec preformed with both 4K UHD TV and mobile signals to both stationary and moving receivers around the suburbs and downtown areas of Cleveland.

Joe Seccia, manager of Market and Product Development Strategy for the TV transmission products area at GatesAir, said over several months they generated tens of thousands of data points showing how ATSC 3.0 can deliver 4K Ultra HD content, robust mobile reception and deep indoor reception to fixed receivers with improved spectrum efficiency.

“We saw what we expected, good results in hard to reach areas in both linear TV and mobile signals,” Seccia said. “We wanted to have a place that was similar to the model HDTV station at WRC, in Washington DC (that was used for 8-VSB modulation testing). WJW provided the perfect home.”

WJW’s transmission antenna is located in suburban Parma, Ohio.

WJW’s transmission antenna is located in suburban Parma, Ohio.

Bill VanDuynhoven, Tribune Media’s Director of Broadcast Engineering Operations, was tasked with overseeing the new “lab” and to help with testing ATSC 3.0 using a variety of bit rates and power levels in order optimize indoor reception and manage the spectrum most efficiently. They were able to get 4K Ultra HD content and two mobile TV streams (one used as a backchannel) in a single 6-MHz channel.

Later that year, Cleveland, OH station WJW broadcast Game 2 of Major League Baseball’s 2016 World Series in full 4K UHD (3840 X 2160 lines of resolution) to various test displays around Progressive Field ballpark in Cleveland as well as to a small number of viewers with 4K UHD-compatible TVs at home. It was cited as the first live ATSC 3.0 broadcast of a major professional sporting event.

At the time VanDuynhoven was quoted as saying “With this test station we’re swinging for the fences. We’re putting the new transmission standard through its paces to demonstrate that ATSC 3.0 technologies are real and can deliver meaningful benefits to broadcasters and viewers alike.

Fast forward to this September, when the original experimental license was transferred to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The organization wanted to host the lab and encourage other broadcasters to come for their own trials. 

With the FCC's renewal of the experimental license, the NAB can now operate a full-power channel 31 transmission facility in the Ohio City. The idea is to help broadcasters and manufacturers prepare to deliver services powered by the ATSC 3.0 standard that are not possible with the current ATSC 2.0 TV standard.

With the FCC about to authorize voluntary implementation of the new TV broadcast standard, the broadcast and consumer technology industries (namely the Consumer Technology Association, or CTA, and the NAB are collaborating on what is being called a “living laboratory” at the Cleveland ATSC 3.0 test station.

The transmission equipment of several manufacturers are being tested to support OTA full-power TV and mobile broadcasts on channel 31.

The transmission equipment of several manufacturers are being tested to support OTA full-power TV and mobile broadcasts on channel 31.

“With this test station, the CTA and NAB are putting the new transmission standard through its paces to demonstrate how ATSC 3.0 technologies can deliver meaningful benefits to broadcasters and viewers alike,” said VanDuynhoven.

Already onsite and in operation at the station is a collection of ATSC 3.0 broadcast and compatible consumer electronics equipment from more than a dozen different companies.

Lynn Claudy, NAB's SVP-Technology said the new lab serves as “a neutral facility where we hope all the television industry stakeholders will want to come to exercise and prove out the technical parameters and service features of the ATSC 3.0 system.”

“It’s also amply sized (the WJW studio facilities used to be in the building but have been relocated),” he said, “so that meetings of industry groups or ‘plug fests’ could also potentially be held there. Real world testing is still the great litmus test for whether technical specifications can be realized in practical hardware so we think this test station will provide confidence to the industry that ATSC 3.0 is truly broadcast-ready.”

Among the innovations being tested are new types of vertical antenna patterns to augment a horizontal configuration.

According to GatesAir’s Seccia, there is a vertical component in the broadcast antenna at that helps mitigate elliptical polarization and is directed towards downtown Cleveland. This innovative design was first implemented at the station by the late Earl Arbuckle, former senior VP of engineering for the Fox Television Station. Arbuckle used this polarization method at several stations—including WJW—to increase signal propagation. “Earl was very forward-thinking,” said Seccia.

So, while the antenna’s horizontal pattern (the main pattern) is omni-directional, a vertical component is directed towards the downtown area. GatesAir and others have been evangelizing the use of additional polarization diversity to improve ATSC 3.0 mobile reception.

“If you drive towards downtown Cleveland, you’re getting some deliberate polarization there, which helped with signal reception,” he said.

The test lab is using an existing Comark (Thomson Broadcast) transmitter at an ARP of approximately 30 kW.

The test lab is using an existing Comark (Thomson Broadcast) transmitter at an ARP of approximately 30 kW.

The new facility is open to all broadcasters that want to test different ways of implementing ATSC 3.0. Having the CTA on board helps with the development of consumer products necessary to make the next-generation TV ecosystem successful.

“Broadcasters and CE equipment manufacturers working together is the only rational approach for a project aimed at working out the kinks in a new digital television system,” said the NAB’s Claudy. “We can’t afford to get this wrong and we have much to learn from each other, which we can’t do in isolation. Also, NAB and CTA have a long history of successfully working together on digital television, going back to our collaboration on the Model HDTV Station and involvement in the Advanced Television Test Center before that, so it’s a natural partnership.”

“Just as we collaborated to implement a test station as we led the nation’s transition to digital and HDTV, this partnership will help us test and experiment with this flexible new standard across a variety of applications and with fixed and mobile receivers in a real-world environment,” said CTA President/CEO Gary Shapiro. “We’re excited to continue our partnership with NAB to take this next critical step toward bringing the many benefits of Next Gen TV to viewers.”

As for how many stations will choose to broadcast an ATSC 3.0 signal, Claudy thinks it will take time, but deploying ATSC 3.0 is absolutely essential to help stations stay competitive in today’s fast-moving video delivery landscape.

“Since this is being set up as a voluntary transition, it’s going to be hard to predict the growth rate since it’s likely to be based on relative success in the marketplace,” he said. “The truly committed will be out there early, others may take longer to embrace the transition.”

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