ATSC 3.0 represents the next generation of broadcast television and significantly improves upon the original ATSC 1.0. The standard is a relatively new innovation in the broadcasting world, as ATSC 3.0 only completed testing and was released to the public in 2019. In this article, we’ll provide you with everything you need to know about ATSC 3.0 next-generation television.
What is ATSC 3.0?
ATSC 3.0 is the newest version of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) standard. The standard was designed to define how television signals from terrestrial, satellite, or cable networks are broadcast and interpreted by devices. It was created as a replacement for the analog NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) standard and is used mostly in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea. The standard combines over-the-air (OTA) broadcast signals with home internet.
The History of ATSC and ATSC 3.0
The ATSC standards were created in the early 90s by the Grand Alliance, a collection of electronics and communication companies that united to create a specification for the latest television technology of the time - HDTV. The standard is now upheld by the ATSC and includes several patented elements. Devices that utilize the patented elements of the standard require a license.
The standard includes two primary HD formats 1080i and 720p. Although modern versions also include standard definition formats, originally only HD services were launched. In the years following the ATSC standards launch, broadcasting continued to evolve. Unlike a majority of other standards, ATSC can carry several channels of information on a single stream, and commonly carries a high-definition signal with several standard-definition signals carried on a single 6 MHz (former NTSC) channel.
To keep up with new innovations, the ATSC 2.0 was designed as a major revision of the standard, which would still be backward compatible with ATSC 1.0. Before the standard had a chance to be released, technology surpassed it and it became outdated. Fortunately, many of the improvements it made on the original ATSC were incorporated into ATSC 3.0.
Today’s Challenges for ATSC
Content providers have always aimed to distribute their content to as wide an audience as possible. Today this means ensuring that the content reaches broadcasters, affiliates, and MVPDs and is distributed reliably. While the demand is higher than ever before, the distribution landscape is evolving rapidly and distributors now need to distribute more content across a broader area.
Consumers are clamoring for more content to be delivered more quickly. Streaming technology’s transition into the mainstream has acclimated audiences to content on-demand, and broadcasters must now pump out large volumes of content as quickly as possible to meet growing consumer demands. Additionally, quality requirements have grown and viewers now expect to have the option of viewing the content in HD or 4k.
Delivering viewers' needs at a volume that can meet demand is extremely challenging for broadcasters, especially when content volume and broadcasting range are bound by technical constraints such as limited broadband and transmitters. Delivering vast massive amounts of content across a wide geographic area can take several broadcasts. The materials, technology, and manpower it requires can strain broadcasting networks' resources, while the time it takes to deploy content may still not be fast enough to meet viewer demand.
Although viewers were once content to sit in the comfort of their homes and watch scheduled broadcasts, today’s viewer demands have grown and broadcasters are expected to make any content available at any time - and on any device. Broadcasters have relied on delivering content over the air, cable or satellite, the internet, and local storage to meet demands, but it’s clear that the broadcast industry must continue its evolution to meet viewers’ changing needs. The ATSC 3.0 is designed to address these challenges by using advanced transmission and coding techniques to provide viewers with a whole new world of services.
The Arrival of ATSC 3.0 and Its Advantages
The ATSC 3.0 was in development for many years. Plans to release the new standards were first announced and tested in 2016. Testing was so successful that South Korea and the U.S. revealed plans to begin deployment in 2017. While transitioning to ATSC 3.0 is not mandatory in the U.S., the new and improved standards address many of the modern challenges and advances in the broadcasting industry that its predecessors did not.
ATSC 3.0 will provide viewers with new and unique services as well as improvements on old services. Some of the new standard’s many advantages include:
Improved Image Quality: ATSC 3.0 allows transmissions of 4K UHD, including wide color gamut (WCG), high-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI), and high frame rate (HFR), providing viewers with a clearer, brighter, and better-defined image.
Better Reception: ATSC enables one aerial to receive multiple channels at high quality.
New Devices: With ATSC 3.0, personal devices such as phones, tablets, and vehicle devices can receive television signals.
Audience Data Gathering: ATSC 3.0’s new advances allow telecommunication companies to easily gather viewer data. While this development is controversial as it can be applied to targeted advertising, it can also be used to personalize content to meet viewers’ needs.
Content Diversification and Variety: The new standards allow broadcasters to release more content using less bandwidth, increasing the amount and variety of content devices can receive and broadcasters can release.
How ATSC 3.0 Solves Today’s Industry Challenges
Many of the challenges the industry currently faces can be tied to consumer demand. Viewers are demanding more content at a higher speed, while broadcasters are reluctant to overhaul their entire infrastructure to meet this growing demand. ATSC 3.0 upgrades existing infrastructure to improve user experiences and provide high volumes of content using minimal bandwidth. The 3.0 transmitters allow broadcasters to reliably provide internet-based content to their users without building new infrastructure.
The standard overlaps different signals, allowing the upgraded technology to enable the IP-based content to be passed from one signal to many. Pre-existing broadcast towers, relay stations, and SFNs will be used to collectively form a meshed network capable of transmitting vast amounts of data across a broad geographic area. The standard’s use of existing architecture makes it a cost-effective and easily deployable solution.
What’s New About 3.0
Although it leverages existing architecture, many of the ATSC 3.0 standard’s capabilities are new. Unlike past broadcasting technology, the standard not only provides content on-demand but ensures the content is delivered rapidly. Its unique design allows broadcasters to send data to several users concurrently through a single signal. To transmit 1 GB of data to 1 million consumers with ATSC 3.0, broadcasters only need one millionth of the capacity required by broadband.
Broadcasters are not only able to deliver vast amounts of data rapidly across a broad geographic location, but they can also provide a high-quality user experience. Broadcasters can also provide high-quality audio and visual experiences to viewers as the 3.0 powers 4K Ultra HD visual content with a high-dynamic range and extended color gamut as well as Dolby AC-4 Atmos audio.
Another advantage is personalized content, which can be leveraged to enhance viewer experiences. The technology can be used to integrate live-streamed video content with IP-based content through 3.0 distribution methods. Additionally, broadcasters can multicast several video options over a single channel. This allows viewers to select a field camera view and participate during live events.
ATSC 3.0 is even branching out into cloud applications. Its capabilities can be used to implement hybrid services without reconstructing existing infrastructure. Cloud solutions allow companies to implement hybrids into the cloud. Turning to the cloud for media processing needs clears the way for new capabilities and even more broadcasting advances.
All these features enhance the viewer experience in and of themselves and open the door to a wide range of new and creative applications that will continue to evolve broadcasting.
Hybrid ATSC 3.0
As ATSC 3.0 adoption began in earnest in 2019, its potential for hybrid deployment began to be noticed. Hybrid enables broadcasters to make use of ATSC 3.0's customizable capabilities. With hybrid services in place, some components of broadcasting services are delivered traditionally on-air while others are transferred over a broadband connection.
Using DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) for both delivery paths unifies the broadcast and OTT, giving broadcasters the capabilities to implement hybrid services without the need to create entirely new infrastructure. This allows broadcasters to deliver varied content quickly, while also adding unique features such as accelerated channel changes, start-over, catch-up requests, time-shift TV, and more that are made possible by combining the high broadcasting quality of on-air, with the flexibility and customizable nature of broadband.
Utilizing hybrid services requires tight synchronization, the DASH MPD (Media Presentation Description) simplifies the synchronization process by providing the system with timing information for the consumption and presentation of A/V segments in the DASH client.
Key Considerations: What You Need to Deploy ATSC 3.0
As the focus of ATSC 3.0 is on providing users with higher quality experiences, the fact that ATSC users should be able to provide content that passes VQ (video quality) assessments should go without saying. Additionally, ATSC 3.0’s ability to push vast amounts of data over fewer signals means that datacasting is a requirement for ATSC 3.0 deployment.
The standard can use a single bandwidth to deliver a wide range of information that can go beyond regular television programming and extends to any IP-based data. This would theoretically mean that any home that could access an ATSC signal would be able to get up to a 25Mbps IP data download, regardless of their internet access. While this does allow for many intriguing applications, it's important to note that ATSC datacasting only goes one way, meaning that it can’t replace regular home or mobile internet data plans.
Deploying ATSC 3.0
Broadcasting channels have been testing ATSC 3.0 since 2014. South Korea launched ATSC 3.0 in 2017 and since then several of its major broadcasters have remained committed to the standard. The U.S. has been slower to embrace the change; a shortage of open TV channels in the country has created complex channel-sharing agreements that prevent a seamless rollout.
Unfortunately, channels in the U.S. are relying on the advanced services offered by ATSC 3.0 to increase viewership and revenue. To achieve this goal, the U.S. needs a deployment solution that the addressee's broadcasting industry needs.
Satellite distribution once seemed like an obvious solution, but with the release of 5G, many satellite resources are being diverted, leading to severe spectrum constraints. This situation opened the door for more efficient codecs and modulations to enter development and led operators to turn to the cloud and streaming processes for their broadcasting needs.
While cloud deployment has its own broad range of benefits, broadcasters are reluctant to change their end-user delivery infrastructure. Broadcasters were desperate for a device that can readapt the entire content to the broadcast network, moving it from satellite to cloud without an infrastructure overhaul.
Harmonic’s XOS Advanced Media Processor compiles all these essential features into one product. Local encoding and packaging may mean minimal infrastructure changes but it is not enough to fully utilize the advanced features that make ATSC more than just HD TV. Harmonic can meet all your broadcasting needs by guiding you through the encoding, encryption, and packaging processes and allowing you to give your viewers the full ATSC 3.0 next-gen viewing experience.
Although ATSC 3.0 has had its challenges on its way to deployment, its potential to revolutionize the broadcasting world can't be overlooked. Combined with Harmonic’s cloud software solutions, broadcasters can usher in a new era of interactive, personalized, and user-oriented broadcasting, while reducing their own broadcasting costs and even opening up new avenues of monetization.
Harmonic is the only supplier to bring you unified media processing solutions for all of your ATSC over-the-air and streaming needs. Leverage the best of both worlds to bring your viewers appealing new services, including time-shifting, network PVR, and video on demand. Drive your revenues with advanced targeted advertising, and deliver your channels to VMPs and cable operators cost-effectively for greater return on investment.
Harmonic continues to innovate and develop new solutions designed to streamline station architecture, allowing you to provide your users with an HD viewing experience easily and affordably.