Big news surfaced from this week’s National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention as a coalition of commercial and public broadcasting stations announced plans to begin deployment of the first over-the-air digital TV broadcasts using the new ATSC 3.0 (called Next-Gen TV) standard in the 40 largest U.S. TV markets beginning later this year and throughout 2020.

The participating broadcasters are affiliated with many of the nation’s largest networks and media companies and include Fox Television Stations, NBCUniversal-owned stations, Univision, SpectrumCo, and member stations from the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Nexstar Media Group, Pearl TV, Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Company, Graham Media Group, Gray Television, Hearst Television, Meredith Local Media Group and TEGNA).

In addition the announcement included representation from major public broadcasting stations including America’s Public Television Stations (APTS), Capitol Broadcasting, Hubbard Broadcasting, News-Press & Gazette Broadcasting, and public stations who have been engaged in the Phoenix model market conducting trail broadcasts of ATSC 3.0.

The first wave of broadcasts are expected to begin in several markets this year and will ramp up to additional markets throughout 2020. This will build off of trial launches and tests that have been underway in Phoenix, Dallas, East Lansing, Raleigh and Santa Barbara.

Not revealed yet is exactly which broadcast stations will be involved or what ATSC 3.0 features they intend to support. The ATSC 3.0 standard was set up for voluntary participation by broadcasters, who will pick and choose what they will provide for the markets. The standard will support 4K Ultra HD resolution and various HDR profiles, but, again, the implementation and use of this is up to the discretion of broadcaster, who may be constrained by implementation cost, available content and the number of 4K-ready households.

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Of course most upgrade implementation approaches will require significant upgrades in technologies and platforms, not very long after all of the country’s analog to digital transition for ATSC 1.0.

The intention of the at least some members of the FCC is that broadcasters will continue to offer ATSC 1.0 broadcasts as they roll out the new ATSC 3.0 signals, so no consumers relying on free over-the-air channels are left stranded.

Transmission trials to date have included various approaches to do this, including sharing of available bandwidth spectrum between stations.

ATSC 3.0 was started as a platform for the next generation of digital over-the-air TV broadcasts incorporating a combination of terrestrial broadcast and IP TV technologies. The adopted standard was designed to be expandable so future technologies–like 8K TV and high frame rate transmissions–could be added on as they arrive and develop demand.

The group said the rollout will make Next-Gen TV signals available to tens of millions of U.S. viewers in the initial markets and should be synced with the rollout of the first ATSC 3.0-enabled television sets and tuning devices into the marketplace in 2020, some potentially arriving later this year.

Currently, no television manufacturers have announced products with ATSC 3.0 compatible tuners for their 2019 television lines, but the Advanced Television System Committee (ATSC) has long said that set-top tuner boxes or dongle devices are expected to be widely available to add-on to existing televisions to receive the transmission. No such add-on devices have been announced yet.

According broadcast trade website TV Technology the 40 markets identified for the rollout include the following, ranked by population.

Determination of exactly which stations will participate from each area is process now, with further details to follow:

Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX
Houston, TX
San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA
Phoenix, AZ
Seattle-Tacoma, WA
Detroit, MI
Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, FL
Portland, OR
Pittsburgh, PA
Raleigh-Durham, NC
Baltimore, MD
Nashville, TN
Salt Lake City, UT
San Antonio, TX
Kansas City, KS-MO
Columbus, OH
West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, FL
Las Vegas, NV
Austin, TX
New York, NY
Los Angeles, CA
Chicago, IL
Philadelphia, PA
Washington, DC
Boston, MA
Atlanta, GA
Tampa-St.Petersburg-Sarasota, FL
Minneapolis – St. Paul, MN
Miami – Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Denver, CO
Cleveland-Akron, OH
Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, CA
St. Louis, MO
Charlotte, NC
Indianapolis, IN
San Diego, CA
Hartford-New Haven, CT
Cincinnati, OH
Milwaukee, WI
Greenville-Spartanburg, SC – Asheville, NC

TV markets to follow with Next-Gen TV service include:

Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, VA
Oklahoma City, OK
Albuquerque – Santa Fe, NM
Grand Rapids – Kalamazoo, MI
Memphis, TN
Buffalo, NY
Providence – New Bedford, RI
Little Rock – Pine Bluff, AR
Mobile, AL – Pensacola, FL
Albany-Schenectady – Troy, NY
Flint-Saginaw – Bay City, MI
Omaha, NE
Charleston – Huntington, WV
Springfield, MO
Rochester, NY
Syracuse, NY
Chattanooga, TN
Charleston, SC
Burlington, VT – Plattsburgh, NY
Davenport, IA – Moline, IL
Santa Barbara – Santa Maria – San Luis Obispo, CA

By Greg Tarr

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