CES 2023 offered a glimpse into the slowly evolving transition to the NextGenTV 3.0 over-the-air broadcasting system, and we learned a few things to consider when looking to buy your next TV set.

We met with recently appointed president of the Advanced Televisions Systems Committee (ATSC) Madeleine Noland to get a status report on the national rollout of this feature-rich platform and how long it will take before we see some of its most compelling benefits.

One of the bigger issues facing the rollout has been the desire of broadcasters to encrypt their signals to prevent illicit retransmission of their programming over the internet, without obsoleting a virtually brand new NextGenTV (ATSC 3.0) ready television set.

We also learned that broadcasters aren’t very likely to fullfill all of our free over-the-air 4K programming desires right out of the gate, as most are looking at delivering Full HD 1080p content supplemented with HDR to satiate the desires of 4K and 8K UHD TV set owners. It’s a bandwidth and spectrum-sharing thing.

The general sentiment, though, seems to be that the rollout still faces the classic chicken-and-egg conundrum, where manufacturers don’t want to produce ATSC 3.0 ready television sets until there are more broadcasts on the air, and broadcasters don’t want to make another expensive upgrade to a new OTA broadcasting platform until there is an audience waiting to watch the new programs, so they can start generating ancillary revenue from them.

We try to answer as many of your questions as we can in our interview with Ms. Noland below:

Q: There are a number of broadcasters looking to encrypt their ATSC 3.0 {NextGenTV} signals against illegal piracy and re-transmission over the Internet, but what does that mean if you already bought a NextGenTV-ready set? Is that going to obsolete a NextGenTV someone might have today?

A: You cannot earn the [NextGenTV] logo for your product if you don’t have the [Digital Rights Management] DRM in place working correctly seamlessly for the consumer. The consumer doesn’t have to go out and get a license key. The consumer doesn’t have to do anything from the use experience. You turn on the TV, you go to the NextGenTV source, you see pictures and hear the sound even though it’s encrypted because the device is built to do the decrypt. The logo verifies that. Now, in terms of whether a TV is going to be obsoleted, one of the things that’s really exciting is that the vendor who is doing the encryption service is Google Widevine. What they did was they said, `We have to recognize that not all TVs are going to be connected to the internet. Some of them are going to be over-the-air only. And so we have to bake into the product during the manufacture enough license keys that if we have to retire one because it got breached, we can do it and the TV is still good to go — it will seamlessly and cost-free decrypt the content for the viewer. But that logo is what you have to have [to be assured it is future ready]. If you haven’t got the logo on the product or its packaging then chances are that the item might not work for the encrypted content that’s coming.

Q: So some of these early generation adapter boxes that were sold to date before the NextGenTV logo might not be compatible?

A: Well, yes and no. So for example, there is a product called ZapperBox [an early ATSC 3.0 tuner adapter], which is available today. It does not have the decryption software but the company’s go-to-market strategy is to have available in March a swap-out solution, so that every box that’s been sold so far will be updated with a new NextGenTV certified solution.

You cannot earn the logo if you don’t have the [Digital Rights Management] DRM in place working correctly and seamlessly for the consumer. The consumer doesn’t have to go out and get a license key. The consumer doesn’t have to do a thing. You turn on the TV, you go to the NextGenTV selection, you see pictures and sound even though it’s encrypted because the device is built to do the decrypt and it can’t get the logo if it’s not working properly in that perspective. Do you understand what I mean? So even though some TVs are never going to be connected to the internet, which is the user’s prerogative, they don’t have to, the product is going to be fine and it will seamlessly and cost free decrypt the content for the viewer. But that logo is what you have to have. If you haven’t got the logo then chances are that the item might not work for the encrypted content. So you look at solid actors like Bit Router, which is the maker of the ZapperBox. They are dealing with these things. Some dongle products when they came out stated on the marketing materials `this does not do DRM.’ At the time they were sold that was fine, because no one was encrypting their signals yet. But they will. I know it’s near and dear to the networks’ hearts. The networks are making very sure that encryption is going to happen. It may be happening in some markets already. I don’t know about the full deployment plans yet, but the receiving devices will have to have the decryption software and the license keys to work going forward. They have to be baked in by the manufacturer and pre-existing devices cannot be upgraded to add the DRM piece if they weren’t built for it.

Q: To some consumers it appears the broadcast rollout is happening in fits and starts, so far. In the New York market [the largest in the country], for example, PBS is leading the implementation, but few others have joined on yet. Why does this seem to be taking so long?

A: It’s coming. It’s coming. In 2023, all of those territories that are light blue or dark blue [points to shaded map of national TV markets], including San Francisco, are going to go a little bit before New York. The organization of all that has been coordinated, in some cases by Pearl, in some cases by Sinclair. It’s coming.

Q: How about the rollout of ATSC 3.0-enabled TV receivers? Any new brands coming with supported models in the near future?

A: I think that some of the names that are big sellers that are not on our list already are keenly interested in this project now that MediaTek and iWedia have developed a new layered hardware/software solution that will make implementation [easier and more cost efficient.]

Note: The ATSC and the new chip system developers have also put in a Fast Track program that will enable TV makers to easily implement the affordable solution and earn ATSC certification with little hassle.

Q: You stated in your 2022 year-end assessment article on the ATSC.org web site, that the industry is is expecting to ship some 8 million receivers in the U.S. in 2023. That’s almost double what we saw in 2022, so you seem to be expecting significant expansion in models soon. Is that right?

A: That was CTA’s forecast as of last July. They have scaled that back, somewhat, since. But they scaled back forecasts for basically everything, not just NextGenTV receivers. So it has a lot to do with TVs in general, which has to do with the economy and supply chain. As far as I know they aren’t really changing where they see the inflection point coming in 2024 and 2025, though. So it’s a general sagging of all consumer electronics devices sold and of course NextGenTVs will be a part of that picture.

Q: At the retail store level, there doesn’t appear to be a very aggressive pitch to make consumers aware that NextGenTV features are available today. Are there plans to prod this effort along to make consumer aware of all the benefits they could be getting from a NextGenTV ready device?

A: Yes, that’s very important. I mean, if you’re a national retailer.. take a Best Buy for example.. you’re going to go to them and say, `We want you to do signage. We want you to do training. We want you to do this and this and this.’ And they say, `Well, where is it available? Is it 100%? Well no, 50%? Yeah, talk to us later.’ Or they’ll do it in certain markets.

So then someone calls me up and says, ‘I went to a Miami Best Buy and they didn’t know anything about NextGenTV.’ Well, Miami wasn’t on the air until four hours ago. So why would they know all about this? Right? Even in the markets where NextGenTV is deployed, I think there’s still this concept within the national retailers, the big box guys, that this needs to be more rolled out. Now I think the other key behind this is content. How do you drive consumer demand? When you put something on TV, your neighbor has gotten a NextGenTV and is looking at its interactivity, better pictures, Voice Plus, whatever the feature is. And they go and talk to their friends and say, `I got a NextGenTV and it’s terrific. Have you watched football on NextGenTV yet?’

And the friends go, `Oh, maybe I need to get it.’ And then the consumer demand starts to rise. But that content piece is critically important, right? Because if you go out, you hear all this NextGenTV stuff and you go to Best Buy and it’s not so easy to find, right? Or you go to watch NextGenTV where it’ll tell you what to buy, so you buy a set and there isn’t very much to see. What are you going to tell your friends?

So what Sinclair is doing is telling people that you can get into the interactivity; It’s going to have the Voice Plus, etc. and you’ve got to have that piece. As a holiday promotion, it’s going to help drive consumer demand. That’s what’s going to help drive this. But man, the broadcasters have to deliver, right? Yeah. You got people coming out of the woodwork asking about NextGenTV. And they say, `What is it?’ Or they might say, `That’s cool.’ And if you can get, `Hey, that’s cool’ out of a certain amount of the population — early adopters — then it’s going to snowball the thing. So I think content is going to be critically important. It’s got to look great. It’s got to sound great. The user experience has got to be great. I think the interactivity is going to be important because it’s a big difference, right? It might be hard to argue that video is always better, but when you’ve got interactivity on the screen it’s a clear change. I think that’s going to be key to selling this.

Q: When we had the ATSC 1.0 digital transition there was a mandate and an analog shutoff in place. Without that this time, is there something more the FCC or the government can be doing to get this started?

A: That’s a tough question to answer. The ATSC is about the technology and not about lobbying, advocacy, or anything like that. That’s for the NAB. What I would say is that I think the FCC has done a terrific job of really paying attention to NextGenTV, and I think they’ve been very responsive to what the broadcasters are trying to do. They’re looking into how it’s going with the rollout? What they can do with regard to the 2023 simulcast rule? They’re going to take their next step soon. But the 2023 deadline of the simultaneous requirement is coming up, and they’re going to need to make some decisions about what they need to do. They’ve been very transparent, and have given a lot of time and thought into this. Commissioner Starks recently did a speech specifically about this, and he’s a fan and he’s excited about it, and he wants the emergency messaging piece to be done. He wants there to be no viewers left behind, which I can completely understand. You get commissioners like Carr and Simington who are thinking a lot about the data casting piece.

Q: What sort of a timeline do you think we will see before we can start thinking about reclaiming ATSC 1.0 spectrum?

A: Well, I think that we’re going to be reclaiming it gradually. Even when you have a mandate, you look at South Korea, they mandated 3.0, and they looked at a 10-year timeline to do a transition. It was a 10-year transition for analog too, right? So, now we have a voluntary marketplace-driven transition. Are we going to beat that clock of a 10-year transition? What’s interesting is the answer could be, we might be able to.

Samsung 2022 QD OLED Now On Sale

Shop Wireless Speakers and Speaker Systems at SVSound.com

Save on eligible LG Appliance Packages during Abt’s Savings Event!

See What Your 4K UHD TV Can Really Do With The Spears & Munsil 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc, $39.95.

Portrait Displays Calman Display Calibration Software Available Here

Amazon’s Best Selling 4K Ultra HDTVs

Amazon’s Camera, Photo & Video Deals

Amazon Fire TV Cube Media Adapter with Alexa

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max with Alexa Voice Remote

Amazon Echo Smart Speaker with Premium Sound, Alexa Voice Control

Amazon Echo Show 15 Alexa Voice Controlled Smart Screen

Amazon Echo Dot with Clock Voice Controlled Speaker

Amazon Echo Studio 3D Audio Alexia Smart Speaker

Best Selling Soundbars and 5.1 Surround Systems

Best Selling Blu-ray Players

When I look at that historical 10-year precedent what’s interesting to me is that the rollout at this point in time is much farther along than it was with the analog transition at the same point in its rollout. And that is in a time with a pandemic that took place right as broadcasters were getting started. That took two years right off the table. When did the clock start? You could argue we’ve been at it since 2020. Or you could say it began when the first manufacturers made their announcements and the broadcasters started launching. You could argue the clock started at 2018, which is when ATSC announced that the standard was done for the United States.

And then you look at what the CTA is saying, they’re looking at 2025 as kind of a maturation point. Can you figure that by 2026 or 2027, most over-the-air viewers will have an ATSC 3.0 viewing device? or by 2030? And maybe by that time you’ll be able to count the number of viewers that don’t have one, and you can start thinking about how are we going to get those last few over the hump. But that’s kind of the trajectory as I see it. A really interesting question is, `How can we migrate more and more spectrum to 3.0 usage and less and less to 1.0 usage?’ And some of that has to do with some of the work that ATSC is doing. Actually, with ATSC 1.0 we updated the standard for the first time in years. Just this past year we clarified how broadcasters can use [the networks] and the diginets that aren’t on the main channel. So ATSC put out the standard that says this is how you do it if you want to do it. I understand some broadcasters are doing it already, but in these market transitions where you have a main channel and you might have three or four diginets on each station that’s participating in a channel share — all of those diginets need a home.

Q: Sinclair has started doing an interesting thing with ATSC 3.0 to provide music services to cars using the MPEG-H audio codec specified for Digital Radio Mondiale in some markets. Does the U.S. specify support for MPEG-H in the standard and is that being looked at for more broad-based support of this sort of application?

A: Yeah, well, that’s an excellent question. So MPEG-H is part of the overall standard and when it came to television devices specific to your TV service, the broadcasters and the community writ large decided that they were going to choose one and that it was going to be Dolby AC-4. But this is for television services and part of that is because the television manufacturers were looking at how much support they had to put into a television set. How much is this television set going to cost, etc? If you want to have several different music codecs, audio codecs and several different video codecs and all, which the broadcasters get to choose from, then the TV maker is required to put support for them all in a television set because they don’t know which one the broadcaster is going to choose. And suddenly television sets cost way more than they should and nobody wants to buy them. So there has to be that kind of consensus building between the broadcasters and the TV makers so the products can be built that are affordable for consumers. So when it comes to television services, AC-4 was chosen for in the United States.

Q: Well Sinclair is supporting the MPEG-H decoding with its own app solution, but if televisions were able to decode it as well, it seems like it could offer an additional opportunity for high quality subscription music and local radio to the home theater as well.

A: That’s a tough question. Yeah. But ATSC is not really in a position to dictate what gets implemented in different areas. ATSC did take the step of writing something into the standard that said each region should choose one audio codec out of possibly two, ubiquitously. And it also says South Korea could chose MPEG-H and the U.S. could choose AC-4. So that’s about as far as ATSC can go. Then it becomes really a marketplace question. What’s in it for the TV manufacturers to put MPEG-H into the television today? How much is it going to cost them to do that? Why would they do it? And if the answer is people want a TV because it has MPEG-H audio for digital raido service on this TV model, but not that TV models, that’s the kind of thing that would get a TV manufacturer excited about including another audio codec. But if there’s not that kind of business incentive, it’s a tough sell, right?

Q: How is the rollout of ATSC 3.0 TV broadcasting in Jamaica going?

A: That’s rolling out now. It’s on the air in Kingston and Montego Bay already.

Q: Is that going to be a big market for it?

A: They very much watch over-the-air there. It’s going to be a very robust market, and another valuable thing to think about is that there are other Caribbean nations that might adopt ATSC 3.0, and are going to need devices, television sets, and especially inexpensive devices. And those devices can be the same ones that are deployed in the United States. So you look at these setup box makers and you say, `How come it costs us so much money? How come it’s not cheap yet?’ Volume, volume, volume, volume, right. And here you have Jamaica that says we need 500,000. So now you get jumpstarted. Then you look at how many converter box coupons that were given out in the U.S… 11 million, right? So you get the set top box makers excited about a Jamaican opportunity for a low-cost device, which can ultimately translate into low cost devices for the U.S. as well.

I’m really, really excited to see what [Jamaica is] going to do. They’re very interested in the emergency messaging, which I can imagine in Jamaica, and they’re very interested in the distance education use case, which is also exciting. But it’s a really challenging market from an over-the-air terrain physics point of view. It’s very mountainous. And because they get hurricanes from time to time, their houses are built of steel and concrete, so you’re not really going to have an indoor antenna that works very well. They’re very interested in single frequency networks and how you’re going to get that signal strength up there to get into all the areas that you want to get to. How are you going to fill in the shadows because they want to get education to everybody? And in some ways, that distance education and emergency messaging is the lead use case. And then, by the way, the box also supports watching TV programs, right? So that’s the way they’re thinking about it. And it’s fascinating to be watching different countries sort of put down what is the most important thing for their people. India is also thinking about ATSC 3.0 now.

Q: And Brazil? They seem to be adopting ATSC 3.0 in a more piece meal approach.

A: Well, they’re not done picking their standard yet, so they’re still the last piece. ATSC 3.0 is certainly in contention, along with two other systems. They’re doing their testing. They’re doing what we call a good old fashioned bake-off. But again, their use case is different. They’re mostly interested in the lowest possible co-channel interference. When you have two sticks that are broadcasting on the same frequency, different content, and you’ve got a house in between them with a non-directional indoor antenna, can it tune? That’s what they care about. And so how did ATSC 3.0 perform? For the one in Brazil, why is 3.0 in contention? Because it’s that flexible. You want mobile? We got it. You want 4K?, we got that. You want this instead?, we got that. You want highly robust signals? It does all those things. Each country has its own interests. But coming back to the Jamaica question, they’re so close to the U.S. And they know that they need to piggyback on what the United States is doing in order to get devices in the market. And looking at their use cases as bringing these lower cost devices from there to the U.S., I think is a really exciting development.

Q: And what do you think about South America as a whole?

A: Well, what’s interesting is that those three countries, Jamaica, Brazil and India are kind of anchor countries for their regions. And I already know that in the Caribbean one other country is about to announce. So my thought is that if these countries were to adopt ATSC 3.0 or portions of it, it’s potentially possible that other countries surrounding them will look at that as well. Beyond that, there are countries in Africa who are very interested in moving toward digital transition. And ATSC 3.0 is currently the very best standard in the world. It’s the only IP-based standard out there. And it’s an extremely compelling solution. ATSC is really, really committed to supporting that kind of exploration in any way they can.

Q: I’ll leave you with one big question consumers seem to ask most often: When are we going to see OTA 4K?

A: As soon as we can turn some more markets on. I expect the broadcasters will be doing two things: Number one, they’re going to make the Full HD 1080p HDR experience as good as it can be. If you look at Sinclair’s demonstration comparing ATSC 1.0 against 3.0, ATSC 3.0 looks better. It’s not 4K, but it still looks better because the 1080p upscaling with HDR is better than 720p upscaling with SDR. The other thing I think they’re going to do is to start to see stunts where they pick a marketing event, like a college football game or something like that, and they do that in 4K. But as you know, they have to deal with the channel sharing agreements they have to do in concert with one another. To do 4K, someone’s going to need to take up a whole lot of bandwidth that they didn’t need before. We’ve got to have a great story, a great consumer experience, and I think we can do it. I don’t even know, honestly, if the average consumer….if they look at how a television does upscaling 1080 with HDR versus one that’s receiving native 4K HDR… I don’t know how much of a difference they’re going to be able to tell.

Q: The problem is, consumers tend to buy television sets by the numbers, right? Because 4K is more than 2K.

A: I’m telling you, you’ve pinpointed one of the most difficult things about marketing this in the U.S., which is that when they marketed ATSC 3.0 in South Korea, 4K was the whole marketing message. But you’ve got to upgrade for the future. It’s just like ATSC 3.0 offers this package of stuff all together. And that has to be compelling by itself during the transition. So that’s what we’re banking on. Our new campaigns, I think, really do spell it out nicely. And I hope that consumers respond. I think they will. But I think we need more.

Online purchases made using links provided on this site might generate a small commission for HD Guru.com. We thank you for your support!

By Greg Tarr

Have a question for the HD Guru? HD GURU|Email

Copyright ©2023 HD Guru Inc. All rights reserved. HD GURU is a registered trademark.