We frequently receive questions from prudent readers who want to know if the premium 4K Ultra HD TV they buy today will remain compatible with high dynamic range (HDR) content and programming coming in the future.

One of the most common concerns is whether the next-generation digital television broadcast system, known as ATSC 3.0, will be fully compatible with a television set or display purchased today.

The short answer is “probably,” although for some elements of that new broadcast system, which is currently in the final stages of approval, some of the details remain unclear.

Read more about ATSC 3.0 HDR compatibility after the jump:

First, let’s put things in perspective: The members of Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) working on the ATSC 3.0 standard hope that selection of all of the various pieces of the system will be selected and in place by the end of the year, and much of the heavy lifting is finished.

However, it will likely take several years before individual broadcasters adopt and implement the technology. This time around, there is no mandated deadline for implementation, and broadcasters in each market will be left to voluntarily agree to work cooperatively (with spectrum sharing and other vehicles) to throw the switch in each local market when each broadcaster is ready. The costs of upgrading will be high and not all broadcasters will be ready to incur this right away. That means some areas will see it much earlier than others.

One of the last remaining elements of the system to be determined, and the element of biggest concern to many prospective purchasers of today’s premium 4K Ultra HDTVs, is which HDR technology solution to include? Unfortunately, even the member of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) can’t answer that just yet.

The ATSC is currently testing and considering six different technologies for live on-the-fly HDR broadcasting from the following companies:

  • Technicolor (transfer function agnostic)
  • Dolby Labs (Dolby Vision/Perceptual Quantization (PQ) transfer function)
  • Qualcomm (PQ transfer function)
  • Qualcomm+Sharp+Samsung (PQ transfer function)
  • Ericsson (PQ transfer function)
  • NHK/BBC (Hybrid Log-Gamma transfer function)

Today’s 4K Ultra HDTVs are equipped to read and display either the HDR 10 or Dolby Vision formats, both of which are built on a platform (or transfer function) known as Perceptual Quantization (PQ) Gamma (ST2084). So far, content supporting these formats use dynamic range elements, which captured by new digital cameras capable of recording 14 stops or more of light, and added to the final program in post-production editing. The ATSC’s video group has already approved use of the HEVC video compresssion codec, Main-10 profile, Main Tier, meaning the selected HDR system(s) must support that as well as be 10-bit compatible.

4K UHD and HDTVs

Amazon’s Top Rated TVs

Today’s Amazon Deals

Panasonic  Deals

Best Selling Soundbars and 5.1 Surround Systems

Best Selling Blu-ray Players

As mentioned, this content is available today using HDR 10 or Dolby Vision through specially encoded streamed movies and television programs or on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.

But HDR used for live broadcasts must be added as it is captured without the luxury of time required for post-production editing techniques.  This content will also have to conform to regional opt-outs and interstitial advertising practices of broadcasters, which are not issues encountered with content produced off-line.

The ATSC has said it is trying to avoid confusing consumers by allowing fragmented HDR solutions in the marketplace, and therefore the members are intent on specifying technologies adaptable to their unique environment that will be deployable on a large scale over various devices.

So, will the selected system, which ever one it might be, play on the TV you buy today?

ATSC president Mark Richer told HD Guru: “We expect devices such as ATSC 3.0 ‘dongle’ receivers that plug into the HDMI ports of existing receivers to be available early in the roll-out. In part, HDR backwards compatibility will be determined by the capabilities of the display.”

This means, you should be able to purchase a device to plug into your television to tune in the new ATSC 3.0 broadcasts as they arrive, but your TV’s ability to display the HDR elements will require the set to conform to the brightness and color characteristics of the selected system. This will likely involve TVs with a wide color gamut (90 percent of D65-P3 is currently the widest available) and peak luminance characteristics of HDR.

In developing the next broadcast standard, the ATSC has consulted with various groups from other industries, including the Ultra HD Alliance, an association for TV manufacturers, content producers and broadcasters. The Alliance has already selected 1,000 nits of peak luminance as the minimum for a “premium” 4K Ultra HD LED LCD TV with HDR and at most 0.05 nits for black level (540 nits of peak luminance and 0.0005 nits of black level for OLED TVs).

So, if having the ability to receive and display over-the-air broadcasts in the next television set you buy is important to you, it’s advisable to purchase a set with the highest level of HDR performance you can afford.

One positive is that both the HDR 10 and Dolby Vision HDR systems used in today’s HDR TVs are based on the PQ Gamma (EOTF ST2084) transfer function, and most of the proposed HDR systems being considered by the ATSC are also PQ transfer function based or backward compatible with it.

Of course, the only iron-clad way to ensure your new premium TV isn’t made prematurely obsolete by ATSC 3.0 HDR is to hold off your purchase until after the ATSC 3.0 system is completed and implemented. But as we pointed out, you might be waiting a few years before you’ll be able to make use of the newer functionality. The early adopters’ dilemma continues.

By Greg Tarr


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

Copyright ©2016 HD Guru Inc. All rights reserved. HD GURU is a registered trademark.