ATSC 3.0 Promises Scalable, Efficient System to Reach More Viewers with More Content

As you read this, hundreds of volunteers are working to assemble the most powerful and flexible TV transmission system ever envisioned. ATSC 3.0 will specify an entirely new, IP-based next-generation broadcasting system — from transmission through presentation to the viewer or listener and all the necessary items in between.

The new ATSC 3.0 standard will insure robust mobile reception, give broadcasters the capability to transmit 4K Ultra HDTV while also sending HD and SD programs, deliver immersive audio, distribute bits through a nationwide IP over-the-air transmission system, and provide more avenues and methods to keep viewers informed during emergencies.

Best of all for both the engineering community and the management of broadcast stations, the new standard will be configurable, scalable, efficient, interoperable, and adaptable. That flexibility is critical as technology continues to evolve.

While it may seem like the transition from analog to digital TV was just a few years ago, in reality the current ATSC 1.0 digital TV standard is more than two decades old. A lot has changed in technology since the initial work to standardize digital TV transmissions in the U.S., and the “all hands on deck” effort to add new capabilities for broadcasters is moving quickly under the banner of ATSC 3.0.

This unprecedented collaborative effort involves hundreds of individuals from dozens of ATSC member companies, with a large contingent of broadcasters as well as broadcast equipment and consumer device manufacturers working through a number of committees to select the best technologies for the new standard.

We expect that TV will continue to evolve, and we’re planning for that with a standard that includes more than 20 adaptable components – including transmission, video, audio, captioning, watermarking, security and personalization to name just a few.

Technologies can be selected for various ‘use cases’ like Single Frequency Networks, Multiple Input/Multiple Output channel operation, channel-bonding and more (well beyond the capabilities of today’s single transmitting tower.)

Recently, ATSC elevated the key Physical Layer to Candidate Standard status, which allows equipment manufacturers to build prototype equipment and do real-world testing to insure that the technical decisions made for transmission of the new system will hold up as signals are transmitted and received. The ATSC 3.0 Physical Layer allows television broadcasters to choose from a wide variety of transmission parameters so that each station can tailor its signal to best serve its local market by providing the combination of services and coverage area best suited for the market and its terrain.

As an example, the ATSC 3.0 Physical Layer provides the ability for broadcasters to provide services in a robust mode for mobile services and a less robust but higher bitrate services to serve content to large screens in the home. Broadcasters can configure their transmission to provide simultaneous mixture of types of services using either Time Division Multiplexing or Layer Division Multiplexing, or both.

In other words, it’s not “one size fits all.” Broadcasters can change parameters to send different types of content to different types of receivers throughout the day – including simultaneous transmission of content for both big screens and handheld mobile devices of the future. The system will allow high-capacity, low-robustness modes and also lower-capacity, high-robustness modes in the same transmission. That flexibility means that we’re likely to see both 4K Ultra HD broadcasts running side-by-side with robust mobile broadcasts to handheld devices.

With the Physical Layer now in Candidate Standard status, work continues on the other parts of the suite of ATSC 3.0 standards. Those include Video and Audio Compression, Closed Captioning, Advanced Emergency Alerting, Security, Companion Devices, Personalization, Applications & Interactivity, Watermarking and Fingerprinting, and Internet Protocol Delivery. All told, some 20 standards are expected to be part of ATSC 3.0

The process is progressing apace. Virtually all of the pieces are expected to move to Candidate Standard status by the end of this year and become Proposed Standard in 2016. The work is expected to be done, and an complete ATSC 3.0 standard minted in early 2017.

Mark Richer, President of the Advanced Television Systems Committee

Mark Richer, President of the Advanced Television Systems Committee

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