Which comes first, the NextGenTVs or the broadcasts?

Shipments of NextGen TV (ATSC 3.0) tuner-ready TV sets represented just 8% of total TVs shipped in the U.S. in 2022, according to latest revised estimates provided to us by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).

The country’s voluntary transition to the NextGenTV over-the-air (OTA) television broadcasting standard seems to be moving along relatively slowly, some have argued, in part because of sparse number of television sets sold in the United States with built-in ATSC 3.0 tuners.

Proponents of the new system say consumers are missing out on a boatload of potential new features and capabilities: Just some of the key features of the NextGenTV OTA broadcast system include more immersive video with wider color gamut coverage, sharper images, deeper contrast and bright high dynamic range (HDR) highlights.

Also available is a new level “Voice Plus” audio clarity for better dialog enhancement. Interactive capabilities can present additional data to supplement live sports, news, events and more in real time. In fact, the hybrid Internet-enabled aspects of the system can also provide access to additional resources such as on-demand video libraries, more robust TV guides and advanced emergency alert notifications.

But exactly which of these many features local broadcasters will deliver has been left as a voluntary choice to differentiate broadcasters’ programming and services and to address the needs most desired by the local viewing communities. Unfortunately, only a smattering of all this has been made available over-the-air so far. But broadcasters recently started pointing fingers at the TV makers.

Some of this has to do with the extra cost for such tuners and the delays and expense associated with implementation and necessary compliance testing. More importantly, some consumer electronics industry representatives told HD Guru that manufacturers have been reluctant to put tuners in more TV models before their retail store customers start asking for the feature.

But retailers aren’t likely to start asking for the feature or to begin making shoppers aware of it before NextGenTV signals are on the air with meaningful content to show everyone what all the fuss is about. In addition, broadcasters deserve some of the blame for not educating their viewers with programs explaining the new services during and prior to their going live.

This is commonly referred to as a chicken-and-egg conundrum.

Revised figures provided to us by CTA showed U.S. NextGenTV set shipments reached an estimated 3.25 million units for full year 2022, up 8% from 3 million units the prior year. The estimate represented a 28% revision down from 4.5 million the organization forecast for the year last July. Forecasts for 2023 were similarly revised down 36% to 5 million units from 7.9 million.

Televisions equipped with the new over-the-air broadcast tuners were sold last year by Samsung, LG, Sony and Hisense. The latter only started shipping units at the end of August.

These are all big players that collectively represent almost half of the total U.S. television market, but the majority of these brands have only made the new tuners part of their most expensive television models.

Sony was the most aggressive supporter of the new broadcast format last year, providing ATSC 3.0 tuners in all of its 2022 TV models. It hasn’t yet announced plans for its TV lines in 2023.

Samsung was the next most aggressive, putting the new tuners in all of its 2022 8K UHD TV models, its two highest-end model series of 4K UHD Neo QLED (Mini LED) TVs as well as in its first Quantum OLED TV models. These represent the company’s most profitable models, but not the bulk of its shipment volume in the U.S. market.

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Similarly, LG put NextGenTV tuners in only its two highest-end OLED TV series models — the Z2 and G2, and has announced similar plans for 2023.

Nevertheless, the amount of televisions equipped with NextGenTV tuners for this year should be slowly inching up, although other manufacturers at CES 2023 were somewhat less committal about it.

However, giant SoC maker MediaTek and software developer iWedia were playing up a new NextGenTV Fast Track program for TV makers that will enable a cost-effective tuner/software stack solution for ATSC 3.0 capability in TVs married with an expedited implementation and certification process for getting into products to market quickly and painlessly.

All this is not to say that TV makers have been the guilty parties for the transition’s slowly developing nature, however. There appears to be plenty of blame to go around. See our recent interview from CES 2023 with ATSC 3.0 president Madeleine Noland.

But help may soon be on the way.

Recently, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) asked FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel and the recent of the FCC commissioners to establish a task force on ATSC 3.0 with a focus on making the transition as swift as possible.

At CES 2023, NextGenTV advocates revealed that 66 markets in the U.S. (up from 46 last year at this time) now have NextGenTV service with Miami one of the most recent major market additions.

Representative broadcasters and the NAB sent a letter to the FCC saying that “a stalled transition is threatening the future of the broadcast industry altogether.”

In the letter, the broadcasters and NAB told the FCC commissioners: “The single biggest factor in the success of this transition is almost completely out of our control – it is up to the consumer electronics industry to build the devices that consumers will use to access our signals. By signaling support for ATSC 3.0 as the future of broadcasting, the Commission can help ensure these devices get built and marketed. In contrast, a lack of support will slow the pace of deployment and eventually we may be stuck.”

The broadcasters suggested a specially appointed FCC task force could be used to problem solve and prod the transition along.

“A task force would put greater focus on the important issues and could draw on expertise from multiple offices and bureaus to attack problems as they arise. A task force would enable the Commission to more effectively and efficiently focus on our shared concerns about viewers losing access to television signals, among other things.”

Meanwhile, the broadcasters expressed interest in the FCC establishing a more definite transition date away from the ATSC 1.0 digtial broadcast standard in wide use today.

The said a plan is needed to end “the wasteful dual transmission in both ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0” that is limiting bandwidth that could be used for more aspirational broadcasting features like 4K resolution, to support the wide swath of 4K television sets already in the market and waiting for live OTA native content. They added that 4K video is now commonly available “across nearly all other video platforms” and local broadcasters remain hamstrung in offering it “while transmitting in both standards.”

The letter said the longer the transition take the more likely broadcasters are to lose sports and other valuable content to pay-TV platforms.

“If broadcasters cannot keep this high-value content, it will greatly undermine their ability to serve their viewers and produce high-quality local content.”

So, if you want to see what all the fuss is about and keep free over-the-air sports and other programming coming in new and more exciting ways, start asking you local TV dealers about NextGenTV.

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By Greg Tarr

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