As the May 26th launch date for the first commercial NextGenTV (ATSC 3.0) broadcast station in Las Vegas nears, companies are beginning to reveal forthcoming products consumers can use to tune in these new stations.

One of the most recent announcements comes from a startup called ZapperBox, which announced that it is now taking orders for a single NextGen TV tuner box called the ZapperBox M1, which is slated to arrive in the fourth quarter of 2020.

As we reported here, the first official NextGen TV station (Sinclair CW Network affiliate KVCW) is scheduled to launch its ATSC 3.0 format channel in 13 days. A half dozen stations actually have been on the air in a handful of test markets for some time.

ZapperBox M1 will be up against the SiliconDust HDHomeRun Quatro 4K “Gateway” which was successfully introduced through a Kickstarter campaign promising units to a limited number of investors who contributed $199 to the effort. Beyond that an ATSC-based pay-TV service called Evoca will launch this summer in the Boise, Idaho market. That service will use a proprietary set-top box that will tune in two ATSC 3.0-based channels and streamed IP signals for an affordable cable-TV-like live service that will run $50 per month.

Other external tuners are priced for and available to primarily professionals until consumer demand ramps up enough to enable afford price points — probably in another year or so.

In addition, a combined 20 4K and 8K TV models will be available this year with NextGen TV tuners built in from Samsung, LG and Sony. But for the most part these are pricey, starting at the high mid-range (a $1,200 55-inch Sony X900H 4K LED-LCD TV) of the market and ranging up to a $30,000 for LG’s flagship 88-inch ZX series 8K OLED TV.

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In the meantime, technophiles will be able to grab the small, flat squarish ZapperBox M1 for a $249 retail price from the company’s web site. ZapperBox is taking $99 refundable deposits (until ZapperBox places the manufacturing order) to give early comers a place in line. Once the manufacturing order is placed, ZapperBox said it will bill the purchaser’s credit card for the balance of the purchase price before units ship later in the year.

The ZapperBox M1 will support up to 4K TV displays with up to 4K resolution content where provided by the broadcaster and high dynamic range (HDR) in any of the expected 61 NextGen TV cities scheduled for this year. At least one ATSC 3.0 station signal is expected to be within reach of 70% of US households by year’s end. The box will be able to tune in one channel at a time and will also tune in existing ATSC 1.0 channels within range of an antenna connected to the M1 device.

Broadcasters will be required to offer both ATSC 3.0 and ATSC 1.0 service for at least five years after adding their NextGen TV station, to give consumers a chance to avoid loss of their OTA service.

On the audio side, ZapperBox M1 will support the new Dolby AC-4 surround sound format that is part of the ATSC 3.0 standard. Dolby AC-4 replaces AC-3 that is used in the current ATSC 1.0 standard, to upgrade sound with more surround channels, support object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, provide better loudness management, assure more accurate audio/video frame alignment and produce a 50% reduction in bit rate compared to the Dolby Digital Plus system. Dolby AC-4 maintains badward compatibility with older decoders as well.

The box will have limited in/out connection ports. It will connect to a digital TV via a singular HDMI port (the version number was not indicated on the company’s web site). An Ethernet port on the back of the M1 will connect to a home broadband router or modem to receive streamed IP data associated with the new hybrid over-the-air/internet protocol nature of the NextGen TV system. The box also will connect to Wi-Fi.

In the early stages, the Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections on the box will be used for software updates that the company said will bring interesting new features in the future. The company said that a future update could enable “gateway” functionality. This could allow connection to a Wi-Fi network to send signals to multiple networked displays running a supporting app.

No USB port is included on the device because ZapperBox said, “while ATSC 1.0 content is broadcast in the clear, ATSC 3.0 includes support for digital rights management. Once broadcasts are up and running TV stations will start signing content digitally so that only certified boxes can receive the signal. This is a big change from ATSC 1.0. This is being done because ATSC 3.0 is based on transmitting IP packets (not MPEG-2). ATSC 3.0 also allows the transmission of downloadable applications that can run on your set-top box. Unless boxes are certified they may be open to hacking by rogue applications. Digitally signed content means that we must protect this content if it is recorded on external hard drives. In order to get certification as quickly as possible we want to first launch a simple box and then build upon that experience to allow recording in future models.”

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By Greg Tarr

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