LG, Samsung and Sony became the first TV makers to announce support for the NextGen TV (ATSC 3.0) over-the-air broadcast format that may soon clear the way for regular transmissions of native 4K Ultra HD pictures with high dynamic range (HDR) and advanced sound as just some of the many possible new features that will be available for free to anyone with a compatible TV and antenna hook up.

The companies made their disclosures at last week’s CES 2020 in Las Vegas, where ATSC 3.0 leaders revealed that as many as 20 TV models with NextGen TV (the trade name for ATSC 3.0) tuners could be coming this year to make receiving the new stations possible.

In fact, one of the best new benefits of NextGen TV will be its more robust transmission and reception characteristics that will reduce signal multipath issues and allow clean clear station pickup even inside thick cement-walled buildings or in vehicles moving at relatively high speeds.

Some 40 TV stations around the country are expected to begin supporting the NextGen TV system this year, and at CES 2020 NAB president Gordon Smith said three of the four major broadcast networks have expressed their intent to support the new system as well, with the fourth holding back out of a reluctance to be first.

Unlike the previous ATSC 1.0 broadcast platform, NextGen TV is not mandated for broadcasters. Each station is on its own to decide the best time to begin and the various optional features of the system it will support. The only requirement is that stations continue supporting their legacy ATSC 1.0 signals for the time being so that no consumers will be stuck without access to free OTA programming.

Not surprisingly, broadcasters are joining in with different levels of enthusiasm. Many face new equipment buildouts that can be quiet expensive, especially in smaller markets. Many stations are just catching up to outlays required to meet the federally mandated transition to digital HD broadcasting using the ATSC 1.0 standard.

As for 4K Ultra HD resolution signal broadcasting that many HD Guru readers have expressed an interest in receiving through ATSC 3.0, few broadcasters have expressed an intent to support it at the start. In fact, some stations plan to run high dynamic range (HDR) with Full HD 1080p content, believing that most consumers can’t see the difference.

In addition to the expense, budgeting the available bandwidth is another consideration in broadcasters’ plans.

However, the ATSC 3.0 system was developed as an IP/broadcast hybrid, enabling interactivity in a variety of possible forms and offering the potential ability to tap into additional bandwidth from the Internet. This could be leveraged to produce 4K Ultra HD or even 8K someday while allowing the station to deliver other content and features on free subchannels or even along with forthcoming conditional-access technology-gated pay-per-view or subscription-based content.

Recent consumer studies have found an interest among consumers in viewing the new broadcasts with some of the more popular features including: consistent audio sound levels across programming; 4K HDR video; more immersive surround sound and multiple audio tracks, which can include specific feeds for sports broadcasts, and different languages and dialog options.

Another issue is that no one is quite certain how willing consumers will be to purchase and install antennas — sometimes huge ones — that will continue to be needed to pick up the signals. Although in many cases the size of those antenna arrays can get smaller with the new technology. One positive is that the cord-cutting movement underway around the country is educating residents on their available free OTA options after canceling subscription cable and satellite TV packages.

The first TV brands to get on board the NextGen TV bandwagon with tuner-carrying TV models are: LG, Samsung and Sony. Together, these companies annouced a total of 20 different TV models that will be available with built-in NextGen TV tuners in 2020. But exactly how each company is going about this varies.

Both LG and Samsung are starting at the top end of their 2020 lines, offering ATSC 3.0 tuners in 8K models and in LG’s case a few 2020 4K OLED TV model series, well.

LG said it will have NextGen TV support in six OLED models, all of which will carry the NextGen TV certification logo from the Consumer Technology Association. The qualifying models will include: the 55-, 65- and 77-inch GX Gallery Series 4K Ultra HD models, the 65-inch WX Wallpaper 4K model and 77- and 88-inch ZX Real 8K models.

LG’s early participation was expected, since it was the first TV manufacturer to support the ATSC 3.0 Phoenix Model Market tests with receiving equipment. LG is helping to set the foundation for the launch of NextGen TV in the Top 40 markets this year by demonstrating the new NextGen TV broadcaster application framework with Pearl, according to Anne Schelle, Executive Director of the Pearl TV broadcaster business group that represents more than 400 network-affiliated TV stations.

Samsung said it is putting NextGen TV tuners in the 2020 Samsung QLED 8K television lineup.

“With ATSC 3.0 support, Samsung QLED 8K owners will have the ability to enjoy native 4K TV broadcast content. Also, the ATSC 3.0 supports Multi-Channel Object Audio and Dialogue Enhancement features that offers louder and clearer sound enabling immersive experience,” Samsung said.

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“We’re excited to see how the standard steers our broadcast partners into developing content and experiences for our 8K ecosystem. We are just beginning to scratch the surface and are excited about the full potential enabled by ATSC 3.0,” stated Hyogun Lee, Samsung Electronics visual display business executive VP.

Interestingly, the press statement issued by Samsung announcing the new ATSC 3.0 tuner support in the 8K line, added that “even though ATSC 3.0 is not adopted widely right now, buying a TV in 2020 without ATSC 3.0 is not a wise decision. To make sure your TV is future proof, buy a TV that has a ATSC 3.0 tuner.”

Sony took the most radical approach to NextGen TV implementation by announcing it will include ATSC 3.0 tuners in its 2020 X900H Series 4K LED-LCD TVs. In contrast to LG and Samsung, Sony is starting toward the entry end of its premium TV lineup. A company spokesman told us that Sony believes OTA broadcasting — even the ATSC 3.0 variety — is likely to find the strongest appeal among cord cutters and TV bargain hunters who can appreciate the subscription-free nature of over-the-air viewing. Pricing is not available yet, but the Soy X900H series will include: four models in the 55-, 65-, 75- and 85-inch screen sizes, all with mid-level Full Array LED back lighting (the number of zones were not disclosed), the Android TV (9.0 “Pie”) smart TV platform with Google Assistant via a voice remote, Apple TV/Home Kit and works with Amazon Alexa support; Acoustic Multi-Audio sound with X-Balanced Speaker and a Diamond-cut bezel.

By Greg Tarr

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