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CES 2020: ATSC 3.0 Ready to Roll Out

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"What's so different about this year?" moderator Myra Moore, president of Digital Tech Consulting, asked panelists at CES in Las Vegas this week in a session called "What NextGen TV Means for Tech"

"We've been working on this for a decade now," said Sam Matheny, EVP and CTO at NAB, referring to the ATSC 3.0 specification, which we covered in early 2019 and which now has been dubbed NextGen TV.

"We got it down in writing," Matheny said of the ATSC 3.0 specification, "and then we made sure everyone read it the same way, then we made sure the equipment could transmit the same."

Matheny re-emphasized a few points in the history of ATSC 3.0 that had been made by ATSC representative Madeline Noland as part of a NextGen TV launch presentation yesterday with Matheny's boss, NAB president Gordon Smith, as well as Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).

NAB took over an experimental broadcast license in Cleveland and worked with CTA on a number of tests, and Matheny noted those started at the physical layer, testing radio frequencies (RF) in many test configurations.

"Once we understood the transmission," said Matheny, "we then started to test features that would truly make ATSC 3.0 a next-generation broadcast technology. More recently we've been focused on interops, where we bring in 40-50 engineers."

The most recent interop testing took place in Cleveland, where Matheny said the tested gear was the equivalent of three different channels, allowing for testing of channel changes and other features.

Anne Schelle, managing director at PearlTV, a company with a history going back about a decade in mobile television broadcast across multiple U.S. markets, said the company now represents more than 400 television stations in the United States.

"We've been involved in Phoenix, a model market test bed and incubation, to help develop the consumer offering," said Schelle, adding that PearlTV had done a significant amount of consumer testing over the past year, recently finishing up a consumer lab along with Samsung and LG.

Schelle addressed the issue of consumer interest in NextGen TV, stating that 91% of consumers love the idea of NextGen TV and are interested in going out and buying a television if it has next-generation features, such as enhanced audio and video. "Voice boost is a feature that, for instance, boosts the voice of an announcer at a football game," said Schelle.

What was also interesting to consumers, Schelle noted, was the ability to deliver an app over the air, which can include follow-on content for news that's been delivered traditionally.

In terms of stations being ready, beyond just the initial stations and markets targeted for rollout, Schelle said the repackaging of frequency spectrum has actually provided an unintended benefit.

"Stations that are going through the repack are upgrading to equipment that can easily be software-enabled for NextGen television," said Schelle.

Moderator Moore reiterated the point by stating that transmitter manufacturers have told her that almost every station that has repacked has gone forward with plans to transition to NextGen television.

"ATSC 1.0 isn't going away," added Schelle. "It will be with us for quite some time."

That point is worth emphasizing, and we'll cover more on this topic in the coming weeks, but I'll leave readers with this thought. The path to ATSC 3.0 doesn't necessarily require one of these NextGen TVs.

One panelist pointed out that there are any number of quality 4K UHD televisions out that there only have ATSC 1.0 tuners. Suggestions for a next steps in the hardware space, besides the obvious purchase of a NextGen TV from LG, Samsung, or Sony—each of which showed multiple ATSC 3.0-capable TVs at CES—would be the purchase of a dongle or antenna that would allow reception of an ATSC 3.0 signal that would be converted to HDMI for display on the existing television.

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