Playout & Transmission Global Viewpoint – March 2019

ATSC 3.0—Fitting the Pieces Together  

Broadcasters are spending millions of dollars getting ready to roll out ATSC 3.0 technology. Yet, an elephant remains in the room. Will all of the required techno-puzzle pieces properly mesh to create an HDR, 4K, mobile, two-way, viewer-identification-capable service?

The idea that any broadcast standard approved by the FCC might fail sounds ridiculous. Yet, let’s look closer at the importance of standards testing to ensure success.

The ATSC 3.0 U.S. broadcast standard offers a wealth of new opportunities and benefits. Advertisers look forward to being able to identify more closely and target viewers by any variety of demographics.

Broadcasters see the 3.0 standard as offering a menu of new services. The options include high-quality imagery, with HDR, multi-channel audio and even 4K and higher-rez pictures. Would not something as new and exciting as 3.0 benefit everybody?

All the Puzzle Pieces Must Fit

Any new technology must be usable across a range of manufacturers and devices. Consider, for example, if Apple iPhone owners could not text Android cell phones, and vice versa. Would texting be nearly as popular?

What if different HDR standards were incorporated into LG televisions from those built into a Samsung TV set? How could broadcasters and Hollywood deliver their content to a divergent audience? Clearly, the success of any improved technology depends upon all the players agreeing to and meeting the same goals.

With many consumer-directed technologies, there exists a need to perform conformance testing to ensure a reliable market introduction of devices that are compliant to the new standard. Such testing facilitates the development of high-quality devices that meet the standard’s specifications and therefore help to drive quick adoption of new solutions.

What if the variables of a new standard resembled a Rubik’s cube and the only way a device could work properly was if the product owner had to first adjust all six sides until they were of a uniform color? Such a standard would be unlikely to succeed.

What if the variables of a new standard resembled a Rubik’s cube and the only way a device could work properly was if the product owner had to first adjust all six sides until they were of a uniform color? Such a standard would be unlikely to succeed.

A Test Suite

The availability of a test suite is a building block for conformance and interoperability. It allows an industry to reduce the barriers and costs associated with mass adoption of a new industry standard.

With this in mind, the design, development, distribution, support and maintenance of the test suite needs to be carried out in accordance with the specific objectives and needs of the Industry.

A test suite used for conformance testing a standard, is implemented against the specifications of that particular technology standard. It is a powerful tool to validate and improve the specifications themselves; the necessary precision of authoring a test case identifies specification ambiguities and forces them to be addressed early during the development of the standard, prior to market adoption.

The development of a common, unique test suite demonstrates that a standard is testable and ready for adoption. 

Engineering sessions held at NAB and other trade shows indicate that engineers are supportive of ATSC technology. Even so, they control only one-half of the transmission/reception chain.

Engineering sessions held at NAB and other trade shows indicate that engineers are supportive of ATSC technology. Even so, they control only one-half of the transmission/reception chain.

Standard implementations always require extensive testing prior to entry in the market during the product development lifecycle. The availability of a common, unique test suite reduces overall cost in the industry for developing tests by reducing the need to duplicate internal development of test materials.

A test suite can therefore improve time-to-market for equipment manufacturers, as a clear testable standard is available to develop against. A common set of test materials allows a minimum quality bar for technology providers to meet, and this drives better quality and an earlier availability of the technology.

Without the promotion and availability of a test suite, equipment manufacturers tend to implement reduced or incomplete versions of the standard, in parts of the specifications that are not testable or in use. This creates the potential to have features omitted, or incorrectly implemented, thus causing defective or ineffective products. 

The Importance of Test Suites for Broadcast

Strong conformance to standards and interoperability is particularly important for a horizontal, retail market, like free-to-air DTT, where there is not a single operator/MSO that can enforce the end-to-end conformance of the content distribution to the Consumer Premises Equipment (CPE). The availability of a test suite that supports interoperability testing makes it easier to verify that CPE and head-ends work together, as it reduces the number of needed test cases: for M CPE and N head-ends only, M+N tests would be needed, not M*N.

In the horizontal market, a CPE vendor is normally making a one-time sale with no guarantee of future upgrades for the user. A good Test Suite can ensure all the required functionality is implemented and conforms to the specification at the point of sale. A lack of CPE conformance and interoperability can result in poor take-up of the technology, consumer irritation and high costs for operators trying to deal with end-user issues after deployment.

A high degree of interoperability can future-proof the network, allowing for the exploitation of new business models such as targeted advertising to work across the majority of devices. It also makes broadcaster head-end changes and new applications easier and cheaper to deploy, because there are fewer CPE specific conformance issues to resolve. 

ATSC 3.0 supports multiple display standards and mobile reception.

ATSC 3.0 supports multiple display standards and mobile reception.

The Role of a Conformance Test Suite for ATSC 3.0

ATSC 3.0 is a new standard, with advanced technologies defined for the physical, transport, application and runtime layers of the system. While each of these can, and will be developed and tested by adopters in their internal development and with plug fests, service launch will necessarily also involve integrating components from many parts of the fledgling ecosystem.

In order for successful launch of ATSC 3.0 services that are compelling and meet consumer expectations, final production devices on the market need to be interoperable and implement correctly the key features that will drive revenue for manufacturers and broadcasters.

A conformance test suite for ATSC 3.0 would validate the complete implementation of a device including the hardware, firmware, software and broadcast components to verify conformance to the wide range of standards set-out in ATSC 3.0. It will iron out issues in the definition of the standard, adding clarity and correcting errors. It will also enable manufacturers to adopt the standard with speed and save wasteful duplication of effort.

The development of a test suite for ATSC 3.0 would ultimately speed market adoption of the technology as well as facilitate consumer and industry satisfaction. Nobody wants the standard to fail.

Editor's Note: This article is based on a white paper available from Eurofins Digital Testing.

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