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Broadcasters toast ATSC 3.0 achievement despite lack of devices

This year’s CES is the first big industry event for broadcasters to tout ATSC 3.0 as an official standard, and some felt the occasion fitting for a champagne toast. ATSC president Mark Richer, along with NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith and CTA head Gary Shapiro, lauded one another and all those involved in creating the new broadcasting standard that promises to revolutionize over the air television.

“Broadcasters now are the cornerstone partner in advancing this next chapter of broadcast television,” Smith said, while Shapiro touted the event as a big milestone. “ATSC 3.0 has now made it to deployment,” he said. “The release is very significant.”

Richer said the new standard will “bring historic innovations to broadcasters and to viewers, from robust transmission to immersive audio, and from 4K Ultra-HDTV to interactive services and more.”

The event follows a decision made by the FCC late last year to allow over the air broadcasters to begin rolling out ATSC 3.0 updates to their broadcasting infrastructure, marking the fruition of a standard that’s been five years in the making. But as broadcasters were busy patting themselves on the back, the CES show floor is nearly devoid of any ATSC 3.0-capable TV sets or other devices. That contrast is fittingly exemplary of how much of the industry has reacted to ATSC 3.0. The broadcasters have been the biggest proponents of the technology, which will require massive support across every device that consumers watch video on, in order to be as successful as the broadcasters themselves have envisioned it.

The entire ecosystem may find itself ready for broadcast just as virtually all TV is sent over the internet, rendering the standard pointless.

Despite the lack of devices at CES, station groups like Sinclair – one of ATSC 3.0’s biggest advocates – and Pearl TV are offering private demos at the event, showing off features such as end-to-end cloud management, targeted, data-driven ad insertion, and interactive on-screen program guides, all enabled by the new broadcast standard. It’s hard to feel excitement for features that have been available via pay TV and OTT for years now, but have just become available to over the air broadcasters.

CES has seen a smattering of ATSC 3.0-related announcements this year. Sinclair announced it has partnered with Imagine Communications to develop a new advertising management platform. The platform will help enable advanced advertising capabilities like more precise targeting and dynamic ad insertion on over the air television for the first time. Sinclair hopes to have stations broadcasting ATSC 3.0 in 24 markets by the end of 2018.

Pearl TV, meanwhile, has partnered with Sony to create an interactive on-screen EPG that offers viewers personalized content recommendations and voice command. Pearl and Sony representatives are demoing the EPG at CES. Pearl TV plans to have 10 of its stations broadcasting in ATSC 3.0 in Phoenix, Arizona by the summer, in what Pearl has called the Phoenix model market project. Sony’s semiconductor division is developing demodulator chips for ATSC 3.0 and will participate in multiple ATSC 3.0 trials in the US, including field tests in North Carolina, Maryland and Ohio, and the Phoenix model market project later this year.

Meanwhile, ATSC 3.0-compatible devices are in the pipelines. The new standard is already being used in South Korea, and broadcasters KBS, MBC and SBS are planning to air coverage of the upcoming Winter Olympics in 4K using ATSC 3.0. Broadcasters expect compatible CE devices will hit the US market in 2019. ATSC is the dominant broadcast technology in only Korea, Mexico and the US – elsewhere two other variants, ISDB-T created in Japan, and DVB-T2, dominant in Europe – are the broadcast standards. However, ATSC 3.0 was devised partly to migrate DVB and ATSC closer together.

LG is already selling 4K TVs that support ATSC 3.0 in South Korea, but hasn’t made those sets available yet in the US. Earlier this year, the company said it will begin selling TV sets in the US “when there is a critical mass of ATSC 3.0 commercial broadcasting in the United States.” LG said this week it will be participating in ATSC 3.0 trials in the US this year. LG was behind complex 3D antenna chips that were used in the handheld version of ATSC which is still barely alive in the US and as such are a market leader in this technology.

ATSC 3.0 has changed its physical delivery mechanism from 8VSB to OFDM, so that it is more like DVB-T2 and it will support UHD video using a scalable variant of HEVC – that way TVs which cannot support 4K can have a partial delivery of the codec when using a TV adapter.

Samsung is also selling ATSC 3.0-capable TV sets in South Korea, and also hasn’t announced any plans to launch the sets in the US, but said the company is “well-positioned to implement it in cutting-edge consumer devices as the market develops.” Funai Electric plans to introduce Philips-brand TV sets that are ATSC 3.0-compatible to the US market in 2019. Those sets will also support Technicolor’s HDR technology.

Last but not least, NAB Pilot Innovation Challenge Award winner, VR Video and asset management firm WheresMyMedia, has announced a VR broadcast platform for ATSC 3.0, called LiveWorks. The platform will enable broadcasters to deliver virtual reality, augmented reality and 360-degree video to viewers alongside traditional content over the air to TV sets or streaming to Web browsers and mobile devices. LiveWorks claims broadcasters will be able to switch between HD and VR feeds, and will even be able to overlay HD video on top of VR feeds with 3D graphics. The companies said the platform will be unveiled at the NAB show in April.

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