ATSC 3.Zero in 2021: Why it is nonetheless very early for the large aerial tv improve

From time to time I get an email from another cable cutter who is concerned about future security for ATSC 3.0.

The big broadcast TV upgrade, also known as NextGen TV, represents a huge leap from the current ATSC 1.0 standard for antenna users and promises 4K HDR video support, Dolby Atmos and DTS-X audio, on-demand video and possibly better reception. However, because ATSC 3.0 is not compatible with today’s TV tuners, cable cutters may need new TVs, tuner boxes, or wireless DVRs to take advantage of the benefits. When you’ve heard enough industry hype about the new standard, you may be wondering whether it is worth buying more ATSC 1.0 hardware.

From what I’ve heard, not much has changed since last year when I wrote that most people shouldn’t be looking for ATSC 3.0 hardware just yet. While more stations are broadcasting in ATSC 3.0 than a year ago, the vast majority are still in an experimental phase and major TV networks have not yet committed to features like 4K and on-demand video. Compatible hardware is still expensive and scarce, and even Dave Arland, a spokesman for the ATSC standards body, confirmed via email that it is “very early” for the standard.

Some NextGen TV hardware options are out today, and we’ll likely see more later this year. Even so, I would advise against breaking your budget on ATSC 3.0 devices now or delaying your cable cutting plans just to secure the future.

ATSC 3.0: where are the 4K broadcasts?

The biggest question mark for ATSC 3.0 is when the broadcasters will take over key features like 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos audio. While more than 90 stations in the US are broadcasting according to the new standard today, Arland claims that they are mainly concentrating on going on the air and meeting the simulcast requirements. (According to FCC regulations, broadcasters launching NextGen television networks must also broadcast their main channels in ATSC 1.0 until at least February 2023.) A provider in Boise, Idaho called Evoca currently offers a 4K channel, but only as a part a wider paid channel service.

Big television networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox could also be a complicated factor. Even if these networks support ATSC 3.0, none of them have made extensive commitments for any particular ATSC 3.0 function, Arland said. 4K alone can be a huge undertaking for networks that, for the most part, don’t offer the format for cable or streaming services. (One notable exception is Fox, which has started delivering some sporting events in 4K.)

Remember that ATSC 3.0 isn’t just for antennas. The industry is also pushing for the adoption of cable television systems, with Arland describing this as “essential” for broadcasters. I assume that the proliferation of NextGen TV features will not be widespread until cable providers like Comcast are on board and are currently in the test phase.

In the near future, broadcasters could be using NextGen TV for local content, so you might get perks like on-demand video for weather or news. The standard also supports a dialog enhancing feature called Voice +, which Arland says is easy to implement. You can expect this to take over before other features like 4K HDR video.

However, if you’re hoping to hook up an antenna and watch local NFL games or primetime shows in 4K HDR, it may take a while for this to become a reality.

Hard to find hardware

Even if you want to future proof your cable cutting setup, options for consumers are quite limited right now.

In the TV space, Sony is promising 16 new devices with NextGen TV support this year, while LG says all new 4K and 8K devices will support NextGen TV in 2021.

The situation is less clear with other providers. Samsung hasn’t committed to any specifics (although the company emailed it had more ATSC 3.0 models on the way), and other vendors like TCL didn’t announce any new sets at the big CES show last week. Arland said other vendors could launch compatible TVs later this year, but did not provide details. (The NextGen TV website currently has a list of available devices.)

External set top boxes may also be an option instead of swapping out your entire TV. So far, the only consumer-friendly option is SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun Connect 4K, a $ 200 network tuner that supports both ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0. Like other HDHomeRun tuners, the 4K model is connected to an antenna and connected to your WiFi router via an Ethernet cable. The video is then streamed into the HDHomeRun app on various devices. (It can also serve as a DVR with additional hardware and is compatible with third-party DVR services like Plex and Channels.) At a $ 50 mark-up over the ATSC 1.0 version, this is a great way for power users to maintain it Forward Compatibility.

SiliconDust

The HDHomeRun Connect 4K was the first consumer ATSC 3.0 tuner when it was launched last fall.

The HDHomeRun Connect 4K came as a bit of a surprise when it launched last fall, and Nick Kelsey, CEO of SiliconDust, said last week that a version with an integrated DVR is coming in March, similar to the current HDHomeRun Scribe. Still, the company’s moves don’t seem to have brought other devices to market any faster.

Nuvyyo, maker of the Tablo DVR, is still evaluating hardware and software options, similar to last year, said Laura Slater, the company’s product marketing manager. “However, we don’t think the standard is mature or widespread enough to warrant launching a NextGenTV product at the consumer level,” she added.

The other main option on the horizon is Zapperbox, a $ 250 set-top box that was announced back in May 2020. It will be sold direct to consumers in the second quarter of 2021, and will also be licensed to other companies who wish to put their own brand name on the hardware. Gopal Miglani, the president and founder of BitRouter, whose software powers the ZapperBox, plans to add a USB port to the product to support DVRs and additional tuners.

ZapperBox

The ZapperBox is a $ 250 ATSC 3.0 converter box that will be available this spring.

Of course, we can expect more hardware and lower prices over time. We’re still a long way from the days of the under $ 50 converter boxes.

ATSC 1.0 isn’t going away yet

It should be noted again that the FCC requires broadcasters to simulate their channels in both ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 by at least February 2023. This is achieved through channel sharing arrangements where two broadcasters agree to host the other’s feeds through careful collaboration.

These requirements haven’t changed since last year, and stations can keep their ATSC 1.0 feeds active even longer than the FCC requires. With 16 million households using wireless television today, a forced hardware migration is unimaginable in just a few years.

All of this brings me to a conclusion similar to a year ago: if you are already planning on buying a high-end TV that supports ATSC 3.0, this is great. If you are looking at an HDHomeRun tuner as part of your wireless DVR setup, you should possibly be spending $ 50 more on the ATSC 3.0 model.

Otherwise, go undeterred with your cable cutting strategy. You may not need an antenna at all.

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