Optimizing The Future Of ATSC 3.0

The FCC’s recent Report and Order supporting Distributed Television Systems (DTS) is yet another reason for broadcasters to be excited about ATSC 3.0’s new revenue potential.

While some of the US was dealing with extraordinary February weather, work on ATSC 3.0 transmission and NextGen TV reception continues as planned. One example is recent Sony Corporation field testing of Next Gen TV reception in moving vehicles in California canyons and Arizona mountains. The Arizona field tests were performed with the assistance of Pearl TV and support from the Phoenix Model Market partners. News-Press and Gazette Co. of Santa Barbara supported the mobile testing in California.

Specifically, the testing in challenging, real-world, mobile environments was focused on the performance of new worldwide demodulator chips from Sony Semiconductor and related software for ATSC 3.0 created by Sony Home Entertainment and Solutions of America. Travel through mountain passes and urban settings near Phoenix proved to be exceptionally complex reception challenges. Reception on a route along the Pacific coast near Santa Barbara, was similarly challenging in an entirely different mobile environment.

Sony engineer Luke Fay drives while passenger Graham Clift monitors reception. Courtesy Sony.

Sony engineer Luke Fay drives while passenger Graham Clift monitors reception. Courtesy Sony.

Boosting Mobile Reception

The Sony field tests were outlined in a paper by engineers Luke Fay, Graham Clift, and Fred Ansfield. The routes in Phoenix and Santa Barbara were chosen based on difficult reception areas.

Four different routes in Arizona and two in California were used by engineers to test different signal-to-noise power levels at highway speeds above and below 55 mph.

The engineers found a mix of active and passive mobile reception antennas improved the quality of all signals, weak and strong. “Diversity can only help reception,” the Sony paper states.

Mike Nejat, VP of Engineering at Sony Home Entertainment and Solutions of America said “We wanted to find out if ATSC 3.0 can support multiple services, show an example configuration for automotive service, test the configuration with separate solutions in a variety of markets, terrains, and driving conditions, and test the simultaneous delivery of files not related to television entertainment to see how this transmission and reception system might appeal to new customers like automakers and fleet operators.”

Brilliant Simplicity

“Sometimes simplicity contains the greatest brilliance,” Pearl TV Chief Technical Officer Dave Folsom said. “The real brilliance in Sony's chip and implementation is the use and enabling of diversity antenna reception. Pearl TV and the Phoenix Model Market partners know that mobile reception is particularly hampered by smaller, less efficient antenna systems in a motion environment with the signals reflecting off of adjacent automobiles, buildings, or terrain.”

Tests along the Santa Barbara route included changing vehicle speeds and transmitter power levels. Courtesy Sony.

Tests along the Santa Barbara route included changing vehicle speeds and transmitter power levels. Courtesy Sony.

Folsom continued, “In Sony's implementation they can use up to four antennas and their signal outputs which likely arrive at different levels and times at any given time that are then added together efficiently. Diversity reception has been around for years and has been used in situations like wireless microphones and microwave reception. The brilliance of Sony's design is the reduction of this capability to a small chip and using it to enable efficient NEXTGEN TV mobile reception.”

New Revenue From Private Data

Transmitted ATSC 3.0 content is IP data, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be informative, entertaining or public. The security features built into ATSC 3.0 are more about data privacy and restricted user access than protecting intellectual copyrights. Intel, for example, expects autonomous vehicles to produce 4 TB/vehicle/day this year. Today’s new pre-autonomous vehicles generate approximately 1-2 GB/month.

The most promising markets for one-to-many ATSC 3.0 data distribution are vehicles and nationwide data networks. Individually downloading cellular data to 100s of thousands of IOT devices across a national cellular network is expensive. Broadcast-broadband hybrid streams, also known as the Broadcast Internet, gives ATSC 3.0 broadcasters a significant economic advantage in the wireless data distribution market, with virtually no impact on daily TV station operations. Technically, the Broadcast Internet is one of many data streams contained in an ATSC 3.0 signal and doesn’t cost more to broadcast.

Motor City Clue

In December 2020, the “Motown 3.0 Open Test Track” was launched for merging automotive applications using ATSC 3.0. “The goal of the Motown 3.0 Test Track is to provide another research and development environment for the automotive industry to road test proof-of-concepts and connected car solutions using the Internet Protocol (IP) capabilities of the new broadcast TV standard. Transformative advances in core TV broadcast technologies made possible by ATSC 3.0 give terrestrial broadcasters new abilities to deliver Infotainment and IP data services to an infinite number of vehicles simultaneously, as well as to the displays and devices in them – whether on-the-go or in the garage. In the future, automobile makers will be able to, for example, update millions of in-car systems simultaneously at a comparatively low cost to today’s manual systems. This is just one of the exciting innovations we see available through this IP capability,” said Brian Lawlor, President, Local Media, Scripps.

Initial participants in Motown Test Track initiative include LG Electronics, Amazon Web Services, LTN Global Communications, Triveni Digital, Pearl TV, the Phoenix Model Market partners, The E.W. Scripps Company, ViacomCBS, Fox Television, and Graham Media.

Touching NextGen TV

ATSC Recommended Practice A/380: Haptics for ATSC 3.0, was published in early February 2021. Haptics refers to touchscreen interaction such as on smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. A/380 doesn't define a specific haptics protocol but it contains recommendations on the overall framework for how to retrieve a separate haptics file from a broadband-based repository and play it in sync with the broadcast stream content.

Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG) is working on defining protocols for conveying haptics information over communications channels. In October 2020, at its 132nd meeting, MPEG issued an initial draft Call for Proposals (CfP) on the Coded Representation of Haptics, calling for the submission of technologies to efficiently represent and compress haptic signals that can be synchronized with audio and/or video media. At the 133rd MPEG meeting in mid-January 2021, a revised draft CfP was released, dividing the haptics standardization effort into two phases, comprising a basic standard and one with more advanced features. MPEG expects the final CfP to be released in April 2021. Evaluation and testing phases will follow, with selection of technologies planned for October 2021, and working draft text expected by January 2022.

New ATSC3 SBE Specialist Certification

The Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) has added ATSC3 Specialist Certification to its existing Specialist certifications including the 8-VSB Specialist (8-VSB), AM Directional Specialist (AMD), and the Digital Radio Broadcast Specialist (DRB). The ATSC3 Specialist Certification was developed by the SBE Certification Committee, chaired by Ralph Hogan, CPBE, DRB, CBNE, with direct assistance from the Advanced Television Systems Committee.

The Certification Committee also worked with several SBE members with direct experience installing ATSC 3.0 systems. From this, a set of questions was created, beta tests were conducted, the questions were reviewed and adjusted, and additional beta testing was held. The final question pool covers a mix of practical application and technology standards.

ATSC3 SBE Certification exams debuted during the February 2021 SBE exam period.

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