What is ATSC 3.0 and How Will it Affect Me?

The next version of over-the-air broadcasting is coming in the form of ATSC 3.0 which provides 4K HDR reception, better audio, and even OTA broadcasts to your phone.

Next-Gen over-the-air (OTA) TV will get ever-closer to becoming a reality in 2020. However, before getting too excited, ATSC 3.0 arrives with significant caveats that will limit its reach, at least this year. Here’s a look at the new OTA TV standard and what to expect from it in the coming months.

Introducing ATSC 3.0

The new transmission standard for over-the-air channels has been in development for many years with the first limited tests ongoing in Phoenix, Arizona, Dallas, Texas, Baltimore, Maryland, East Lansing, Michigan, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Santa Barbara, California. Promising better reception, 4K HDR video support, Dolby Atmos and DTS-X support, on-demand video, and more, ATSC 3.0 is being spearheaded by broadcast television station groups as well as public broadcasters.

According to ATSC, or the Advanced Television Systems Committee, Inc., ATSC 3.0 will get deployed in the 40 largest U.S. markets this year, representing 70 percent of the U.S. population. Twenty additional markets will follow, but probably not until 2021.

The first wave of ATSC 3.0 cities include Detriot, Michigan, Portland, Oregon, Nashville, Tennessee, and many more. The second wave includes Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Little Rock – Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Charleston, South Carolina, and other locations.

As part of the early deployment, at least one ATSC 3.0 broadcast must be up and running before December. Looking at it another way, some of the largest 40 markets might only have one broadcast channel qualify for ATSC 3.0 this year.

How to Get ATSC 3.0

As is often the case with new technology, the only way to get ATSC 3.0 in your home is through certified equipment. Unfortunately, current ATSC tuners, converter boxes, and DVRs don’t support the new standard. Instead, you’ll have to wait and buy new hardware.

Samsung is one of the first companies to announce plans for ATSC 3.0. This year, 13 of its new 2020 8K TVs will support the standard. Over at LG, six new OLED sets will support the protocol, while Sony promises to launch compatibility in its X900H television range.

Hyogun Lee, Executive Vice President of the Visual Display Business at Samsung Electronics, notes:

NEXTGEN TV powered by ATSC 3.0 enhances the at-home viewing experience for our 2020 QLED 8K owners and beyond. 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.

Elsewhere, BitRouter promises to deliver an ATSC 3.0-supported set-top box and gateway, while Zapperbox hopes to do the same. Neither company has announced pricing or an availability timeframe, however. AirWavz has also announced general plans to support the standard.

Why You Should Probably Wait

Unless you want to be one of the first to experience ATSC 3.0, there are important reasons to wait. For one, the first hardware to support the standard will no doubt be expensive if only because it will be in limited supply. Second, is the limited rollout, as mentioned above.

Perhaps the most important reason to wait on ATSC 3.0 has to do with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission or FCC. Though the government entity endorsed and adopted the new standard in late 2017, it did so “on a voluntary, market-driven basis.” This means broadcasters must continue to support ATSC 1.0 across all platforms even if they also offer ATSC 3.0. By requiring what amounts to a simulcast of the primary video stream, the FCC has no doubt lengthened the time it will take for ATSC 3.0 to go mainstream.

Watch the FCC

The FCC is requiring the simulcast rule until at least early 2023. However, that date could get pushed back further. In the meantime, because of the high costs associated with simulcasting, public TV is hoping to receive an exemption from the FCC on these rules. If granted, this could mean that public stations could be the first broadcasts to embrace the change.

As you can see, ATSC 3.0 has a long way to go before being even modestly implemented in the U.S. Because of this, I strongly advise holding off making new hardware purchases solely based on the new standard. At the minimum, wait a few months before buying something new. Even in just six months, vendors and broadcasters alike will have revealed more plans for ATSC 3.0. Besides, the first ATSC 3.0-support hardware products probably won’t even arrive until the fourth quarter ahead of the holiday buying season. Until then, save your money.

For the latest information on ATSC 3.0, be sure to check out the ATSC website.

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