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Broadcast TV comes to your phone

  ATSC Logo of a Transmission Tower
I am Friday / Shutterstock

A new era of free TV is on the horizon and it promises to bring 4K TV to your phone over the air. The FCC began the transition to this new format, called ATSC 3.0, on March 5, 2018.

Wait a minute. If we started to move to ATSC 3.0 a year ago, why isn't it talking about anyone? Why can't we watch broadcast TV on our phones? Why isn't my local news station in 4K?

What is ATSC 3.0 and how is it unique?

When ATSC 1.0 (digital television) was announced 25 years ago, it acted as a replacement for analogue television signals, and it began the HDTV revolution. Now, the Advanced Television Systems Committee has implemented ATSC 3.0, a new broadcasting standard that promises to pull 4K to the standard and bring free TV to our phones and cars.

This is the first major update to broadcast television in 25 years. The Advanced Television Systems Committee planned a transition to ATSC 2.0 2010 or 2011, but the project became obsolete during development, so it was scrapped. As a result, we are hoping from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0.

As you can imagine, ATSC 3.0 is designed to bring broadcast TV to the present. The format supports 4K, 3D, UHD and high quality audio, which hopefully helps 4K super-high definition HDTV. Like traditional broadcast TVs, ATSC 3.0 works in the air, but it also works in conjunction with internet connections (including mobile connections, such as 5G) to create a hybrid / streamed hybrid stream.

ATSC 3.0 uses OFDM, QAM and QPSK coding methods, providing much more flexibility than the fixed 8VBS coding method used by ATSC 1.0. Do you know how Netflix lowers your video quality when your internet connection is slow or weak? Yes, these coding methods are intended to mimic that process. When your TV or phone has a bad connection to an ATSC 3.0 broadcasting source, the video quality will decrease, but it will continue to play well.

The latest standard also uses a new form of Ghost Cancellation technology, which essentially prevents two television broadcasts from interfering with each other. This allows broadcasters to use multiple transmission sources (TV towers) in a small area, which will provide the coverage needed for phones and cars to maintain a stable signal.

ATSC 3.0 uses the Internet for targeted content

Advanced Television Systems Committee has major plans for ATSC 3.0. But many of these new ideas require some help from the internet because they all belong to a known concept-targeted content. Broadcast TV is a one-way signal, and for targeted content to work, broadcasters need a two-way signal. The internet just happens to fit the bill.

Right now, broadcasters are counting on third parties, such as Nielsen, to investigate who is looking at which channels. Broadcasters use these surveys to formulate aircraft and optimize advertising revenue. But when ATSC 3.0 is completely adopted, the transmitters will know much more about their viewers. Without the help of companies like Nielsen, broadcasters will know your age, your location, when you watch TV and what you are watching on TV.

  Young woman using her phone at an airport
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As you probably did, all ads broadcast over ATSC 3.0 are targeted at individuals. But over-the-air transfers are broad, not specific, so targeted ads are managed by ATSC 3.0's internet rows. It's a little strange, but it follows the format of websites like YouTube and Hulu. If you are a young woman, you will not see ads for catheters when you look at the local news. If you're an old man, get ready for more catheter ads.

The Committee for Advanced TV Systems has not revealed how ads work without an internet connection and there is a chance that you can block ATSC 3.0 ads with a device like a PiHole. Because broadcasters do not connect to ATSC 3.0 yet, it is impossible to know how things will work.

Internet integration also enables tailor-made emergency signals, which means that natural disasters and evacuation routes become much more efficient. This change will be especially helpful for people during a blackout or evacuation because emergency signals can be sent directly to phones.

Do you have to buy a new phone or TV?

Back when we switched from analogue TV to ATSC 1.0 FCC purchased conversion boxes for consumers. Sending TV from people who cannot afford converters would be grossly irresponsible, as it would really create a class-based information card.

But it was 25 years ago. Now most people get the information over the internet, so the FCC won't give away any ATSC 3.0 receivers. Before you buy an ATSC 3.0 receiver for your TV or buy a phone that can tune into ATSC 3.0 signals, you will not receive a free 4K TV.

Thankfully, the FCC has urged the main broadcast content (such as news and state sponsored TV) to be simulated in both ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 for five years while consumers make the transition. This five-year simulcast plan started on March 5, 2018. Geez, exactly one year ago. Why don't we have ATSC 3.0 on our TVs and phones right now?

You get ATSC 3.0 … Finally

ATSC 3.0 will not be experienced nationwide this year, but it is obvious that the Advanced Television Systems Committee and the FCC are ready to make the switch. The basics of ATSC 3.0 are equipped and the format has been approved by the FCC since March 5, 2018. It just needs to be done by broadcasters.

The Advanced TV Systems Committee will be presenting ATSC 3.0 at NAB 2019 in April. At this conference, the transmitters will learn how to switch to ATSC 3.0, and how the ATSC 3.0 Emergency Broadcast System will work. Hopefully, this conference will stimulate broadcasters to adopt ATSC 3.0 next year so the format can hit the ground.

  Elderly couple laughing while playing with a blackboard
gpointstudio / Shutterstock

It is good to know that some TV companies are in front of the game. Right now, Pearl TV and ATEME TITAN are doing real world tests with ATSC 3.0 in Phoenix. Phoenix residents who happen to have an ATSC 3.0 receiver can catch a signal right now.

But when will ATSC 3.0 come to phones? Well, it's up to phone manufacturers. At CES 2019, Sinclair Broadcast Group debuted its new system-on-a-chip that supports ATSC 3.0. Sinclair offered to give the chip to manufacturing for free, but no one has taken the bait yet. It seems that everyone is too focused on 5G right now. Is it talking about 5G, does it not eliminate the need for ATSC 3.0?

Does 5G sound the need for ATSC 3.0?

Now all this sounds super cool but we need to talk about the elephant in the room. You probably have 5G before you have ATSC 3.0, and 5G already promises to download 4K video to your phone without any hiccups. When 5G comes, will there be a point when watching broadcast TV from your phone? And streams do not flow like Chromecast already eliminates the need for free TV in your home? Is ATSC 3.0 the last breath of a dying medium?

Keep this in mind. Broadcast TV has its advantages, and the merits do not always exist on the internet. While the internet is a landscape of uneven confusion, broadcast TV is a regulated medium that focuses entirely on education, pure entertainment and information. While the internet hosts an infinite amount of content that fights for your attention, broadcast television is like a lazy river full of sports, reruns and children's shows.

  A 5G network enclosing a city
areebarbar / Shutterstock

Right now, our society has a conversation about the violent, inappropriate content aimed at children on Youtube. With ATSC 3.0, parents can tune into channels like PBS on their tablets and phones, so children can watch media that are created and regulated by real people instead of internet children and algorithms.

Small cities and counties are concerned that the internet has turned people's attention from regional news to national news, which reduces society's commitment. ATSC 3.0 brings local news directly to your phone. Local sports teams will be available on the go, and people in areas exposed to hurricanes and floods will be able to get comprehensive safety information from anywhere. See where this goes?

Even if you never tune in to broadcast TV on your phone, there are many who want to. Its uses extend beyond entertainment, and high-speed internet cannot challenge these uses yet. Hopefully, the transmitters will start picking up at ATSC 3.0, because it really won't be worthless.

Sources: ATSC.org, Digital Trends, Display Daily

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