NextGen TV Looks To 2021

Broadcasters are famous for adjusting to changing circumstances during live broadcasts without missing a beat. Live radio DJs roll with the punches. Live TV news reporters, newscast directors, engineers and technicians move or cut away as fast as possible. It comes with the territory and it’s in our DNA. The trick is to make surprises appear to be part of the show and carry on.

It has been a difficult year for everyone, but broadcasting is show biz and the show always goes on. Stations and networks have reacted and adjusted as well as possible to operating during the pandemic and the audience seems to like what they see. As less-visible side result is that pandemic business interruptions have slowed the rollout of ATSC 3.0 transmission and new options to receive NextGen TV at home.

ATSC began 2020 projecting that 60 markets would roll out NextGen TV broadcasting by the end of the year. The pandemic bumped that projected tally to mid-2021. The latest ATSC deployment map indicates 14 markets on air with at least one station broadcasting NextGen TV. FCC applications to transmit ATSC 3.0 have been submitted in another 8 markets where work is underway preparing for launches.

Get Certified

The Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) recently added a new 'ATSC3 Specialist' category to its Certifications. The first ATSC3 SBE Certification exams will be made available during the February 2021 SBE exam period. The application deadline to take those exams is Dec. 31, 2020. Work creating the SBE ATSC3 Specialist Certification began in 2018. SBE started its certification program in 1975. Hat tip to SBE for dropping the 'point 0.'

LG’s $30,000 consumer NextGen TV. LG’s product web page says its “In Stock.”

LG’s $30,000 consumer NextGen TV. LG’s product web page says its “In Stock.”

On Sale Now

NextGen TVs aren’t cheap, yet. When piles of $400 NextGen TVs replace the piles of similarly priced 4K TVs today at your local discount box-store, NextGen TV has arrived. Otherwise as of now, Sony, Samsung and LG are delivering the NextGen TV models they promised at CES last January.

Searching and shopping the internet reveals the least expensive NextGen TV is the Sony 55” X900H. It sells for about $1,000 USD. Sony’s largest and most expensive NextGen TV is the 85” X900H that sells for about $2,600.

The Samsung NextGen TV models aren’t 4K or 1080p, they are all 8K and expensive. ATSC 3.0 might be 8K capable but few at that viewing level without a magnifying glass or a need for zoom-in capabilities are excited about 8K. Can anyone with 20/20 vision at typical viewing distances see a difference between 4K and 8K beyond arms-length? How many viewers will pay extra for it?

The least expensive Samsung NextGen TV is the Q800 which is an ‘entry level’ 8K model that retails for about $2,700. The mid-range Q900 sells for nearly $7,000. The 85” Q950 TS is Samsung’s flagship model. It sells for about $10,000. Is anyone other than a couple of LPTV stations seriously considering broadcasting 8K content anytime soon?

The least expensive LG NextGen TV model is the 55” GXPUA that sells for about $1,900. The 65” LG WX sells for around $4,000. The most expensive NextGen TV consumer in the world is the 88” OLED88ZXPUA . It sells for about $30,000 USD.

Interestingly, the phrase “NextGen TV” isn’t found on Sony, Samsung or LGs website marketing pages, links or site searches. It only appears in an obscure specification buried deep within the RF tuner spec details. Isn’t NextGen TV a significant feature, advantage and benefit?

According to Brian Markwalter, Senior VP of Research and Standards at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) “CTA’s mid-year Forecast called for 300,000 NextGen-enabled TVs to ship in 2020 (reflects sales-to-dealers).” He commented, “It seems like 2021 will be a big year for rollouts, at which point we’ll probably see more product releases.” CTA will have the actual 2020 results after the end of the year.

CTA also recently announced the 2021 model year test suite specifications for NextGen TVs. The suite contains more than 135 tests covering 150 unique requirements for audio, video, captions, interactivity, service changes and other ATSC 3.0 attributes. Products must pass the tests before being awarded the NextGen TV logo.

Tune In Without A TV

Many ATSC 3.0 receivers in the form of tuner dongles, USB sticks, OTT boxes and NextGen TV gateways are in development or being introduced. At the high-end is the BitRouter ATSC3pro, a Linux based ATSC 3.0 set-top box and gateway. It is currently shipping with software called Dihedra. The ‘CES 2021’ software release will add support for captions, Spanish & French language menus, parental controls and 14-day guide data integration.

The ATSC3pro supports ATSC 1.0, ATSC 3.0 and ROUTE/DASH with an Intel i5 NUC with 8GB RAM.

The ATSC3pro supports ATSC 1.0, ATSC 3.0 and ROUTE/DASH with an Intel i5 NUC with 8GB RAM.

A consumer version of ATSC3pro is the Zapperbox M1 receiver, expected to sell for about $250. It supports ATSC 1.0 and 3.0, has HDMI outputs, and ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections. Zapperbox is expected to begin shipping in February 2021.

One of the more potentially profitable aspects of ATSC3.0 is private data broadcasting. The FCC only requires transmission of one free ATSC 3.0 channel. GAIAN recently introduced a set of customizable and skinnable receivers for NextGenTV services addressing diverse use cases, with over a dozen Receiver Apps to serve various use cases. The various RA’s available include vMVPD app for TV’s, a Signage RA, an automotive front and back seat RA for HD music and live TV services, a hospitality RA and an alerting RA. GAIAN receiver Apps are offered as hybrid Apps and can seamlessly integrate with DVB-C/S and IPTV or OTT media players.

ARK Multicasting recently began mobility testing in Crockett, TX to demonstrate the use case of using ATSC 3.0 to serve the connected car market. ARK began several pilot tests in October to demonstrate what is capable across ARK’s unencumbered ATSC 3.0 LPTV station. The company also began developing a distance learning initiative during the early stages of the pandemic. Q4 will include further receive device and software development. The distance learning project is based on the larger business plan of ARK which is datacasting from one to many over an ATSC 3.0 IP broadcast signal using LPTV stations.

The initial batch of Mark One smartphones are unlocked to run on T-Mobile and AT&T mobile networks.

The initial batch of Mark One smartphones are unlocked to run on T-Mobile and AT&T mobile networks.

In a NextGen TV conference at the recent virtual NAB NY Show, Sinclair’s Mark Aitken announced that Sinclair took delivery of the first production samples of its Mark One ATSC 3.0-enabled smartphone. They are not production-grade products but are instead considered evaluation units tagged for trials and tests. Aitken said One Media expects to receive “several hundred units” before the end of the year for a broader set of tests. Expect to see more software-based and software-defined NextGen TV receivers for cable operators and consumers in 2021.

Transmitter Buildouts

In late October, NextGen TV was deployed by six stations in the Mobile, Ala.-Pensacola, FL market. Broadcasters now providing ATSC 3.0 in the region are Deerfield Mobile station’s WJTC, an independent station, and WPMI-TV, the region’s NBC affiliate; Nexstar-owned WFNA, the CW affiliate, and CBS affiliate WKRG-TV; and WEAR-TV, the ABC affiliate, and WFGX-TV, a MyNet affiliate, each owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group. BitPath led the planning process and coordinated efforts for the six stations.

TEGNA’s KONG-TV recently announced partnership with GatesAir on the technological infrastructure for the launch of NextGen TV in the Seattle-Tacoma, Washington market. Pending final FCC approvals, TEGNA’s independent station KONG-TV plans to begin NextGen TV broadcasts for KONG-TV and KING 5, the NBC affiliate in Seattle, in early December, with KONG-TV serving as the host lighthouse station.

Near what could have been a western movie set is the site of the first ATSC 3.0 SFN in Arizona.

Near what could have been a western movie set is the site of the first ATSC 3.0 SFN in Arizona.

Pearl TV’s Phoenix Model Market has been active for nearly three years and signed on a SFN in late October. E.W. Scripps-owned KASW, a CW affiliate, installed the SFN and is acting as the host station. KASW has sharing agreements to carry the simulcast of its sister station, KNXV (ABC), as well as KSAZ (Fox) and KUTP (Fox Xtra) as NextGen TV broadcasts. All these services are carried within the same physical channel but will appear as their originally assigned channels on NextGen TV receivers.

Other NextGen TV Solutions

Several TV Test & Measurement manufacturers are involved in supporting the NextGen TV rollout. Most have been identified in previous reports. That work continues, as does work on entirely new T&M solutions for NextGen TV. At this point, engineers are prioritizing what most likely needs to be measured and monitored the closest.

For example, Enensys Technologies' TestTree announced StreamProbe for complete QoE monitoring for NextGen TV content, throughout the entire video processing chain. StreamProbe Live Thumbnail Mosaic gives broadcasters a central point to supervise their entire content quality and availability for ATSC 1.0, ATSC 3.0 and broadband networks. TestTree enhanced its EdgeProbe ATSC product to include content and services monitoring, including PLP structure and channel resource monitoring particularly relevant in case of a channel sharing ‘Lighthouse’ scenario.

There is also a great deal of work in progress at several manufacturers on targeting capabilities. The ATSC a/335 watermark gives NextGen TV the same targeting capabilities as the internet.

Motivating Viewers

Pearl TV and its Phoenix Model Market Partners also recently announced it is coordinating a multimarket consumer awareness campaign with local broadcasters who are now transmitting in NEXTGEN TV.

The campaign includes three elements: On-air advertising with market-customized TV spots that showcase NEXTGEN TV’s capabilities and retail availability, a consumer website that highlights cities with a number of stations already on-air and links to NEXTGEN TV-equipped receivers, and online promotions executed by individual stations in each target market that will encourage consumers to learn more.

The consumer awareness campaign press release ended with a disclaimer which also seems to describe the foreseeable future of NextGen TV. It says “Features available on NextGen TV will vary by device and by broadcaster as commercial service becomes available in local markets.”

Big ad agencies won’t consider any new media significant until it saturates at least 50% of the marketplace. Not every great TV idea has achieved orbit, beginning with CATV’s failed promise of TV without commercials. Later on, 3D, interactive and 2nd screen TV flopped. Viewer acceptance and popularity of NextGen TV's interactivity, personalization and new features remains to be seen. Will immersive audio be too loud for grandma? On the other hand, broadcasters can’t ignore ATSC 3.0's significant compression advantages, IP packets and the rising market for one-to-many-simultaneous IP data mass distribution.

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