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There’s a game-changing innovation in the works for those of us who get over-the-air (OTA) television with an antenna.
The 2009 switch from analog to digital was significant, but this next one has a chance to be even bigger. It’s the move to a new generation called, appropriately enough, Next Gen TV.
Over the past decade streaming services have led the change in viewing habits, offering flexibility that OTA found hard to match.
But now cord cutters are going to have new tech available. With NextGen TV, broadcasts you can capture via antenna will offer features and technology that’s customized and personalized to you.
This brings an entirely new level of television you can get without standard cable, satellite, or streaming services.
What is Next Gen TV?
Next Gen TV is also called ATSC 3.0, and it’s the Advanced Television Systems Committee’s new standard for how TV signals are broadcast and represented on end devices.
It replaces the ATSC 1.0 standard, the current standard for digital TV. (ATSC 2.0 never got off the ground.)
It combines a digital television signal with internet bandwidth to boldly take OTA where it’s never been before.
Next Gen TV…
- Is OTA only: It doesn’t change what you get from cable, satellite, or streaming services. Its benefits go to those who are picking up free TV transmissions with an antenna.
- Requires a new tuner: Your current digital TV contains an ATSC (digital) tuner. If you kept an old analog TV past 2009, you may have added a separate converter box containing an (external) tuner. To receive the new standard, you’ll need an ATSC 3.0 tuner either built into the set or as a separate box.
- Comes with better resolution and performance: It’s the first capability you’ll likely to notice. The picture quality is that of UHD 4K (perhaps later 8K). The color palette and the dynamic range will improve. The sound will be theater quality surround sound.
- Will have a stronger signal: Transmissions will travel farther, penetrate apartment buildings better, and be less subject to interference.
How Does Next Generation TV Use the Internet?
The improved viewing experience is a good argument for NexGen TV, but it’s the marriage with the internet that makes it a game changer.
Next Gen TV is based on the Internet Protocol (IP). You’ll receive an internet feed along with your broadcast signal and it’ll look and feel a lot like a streaming service.
This makes a number of new features possible, including:
- Very localized news, sports, weather reports, and emergency alerts.
- A sophisticated user interface with access to products and upgrades. You’ll have a channel guide browser to view programs and video clips telling you about the content. These will be internet based rather than broadcast.
- An interactive user experience.
- The ability of the station to get feedback about what you’re watching and provide personalized programming offerings. A corollary is that it also allows targeted advertising, which I’ll talk more about later.
When Will ATSC 3.0 Be Available?
It’s available right now, but not everywhere. So far, only high-end TVs are getting ATSC 3.0 tuners built in. But the FCC authorized Next Gen TV in 2017 and there are broadcasters experimenting with it.
The commercial rollout will begin in 2020 and continue into 2021, 2022, and beyond. By the end of 2020, it should be available in at least 61 markets and reach 70% of American viewers.
Television sets with ATSC 3.0 tuners will become available late in 2020. About 20 models are in the works from LG, Samsung, and Sony.
It’s hard to predict how long the full rollout across the nation will take. That’s because participation in Next Gen TV is voluntary for broadcasters.
Unlike the transition to digital in 2009, there are no FCC-mandated guidelines for ATSC 3.0 adoption by any given date.
The transition can be expensive for broadcasters and some may not hurry to get on the bandwagon.
What Do You Have to Do?
TV stations that move to ATSC 3.0 are required to continue broadcasting (“simulcast”) the same TV content in ATSC 1.0 for five more years.
If you’re happy with what you’re getting today, there’s no hurry to do anything. However, you might be missing out on the new excitement.
And even though broadcasters are required to continue providing the same content on the old ATSC TV standard, they aren’t required to assure the same quality. It’s possible the previous broadcast standard will suffer as ATSC 3.0 rolls in.
The next TVs might get ATSC 3.0 tuners soon, and it’s probable that all the important manufacturers will follow suit. In all likelihood your next set will be Next Gen compatible.
For those who just bought a digital TV and don’t want to buy another one in the next few years, they’ll likely be able to buy converter boxes containing an ATSC 3.0 tuner.
How Much Will You Pay?
Unless you’re the first on your block to get this shiny new toy, the expense shouldn’t be great.
NextGen TVs that arrive in 2020 are likely to command a premium over the older sets, but once the new tuners make their way down the chain, the cost difference is not expected to be too much.
The same situation is likely with set top boxes for current generation television sets: costly at first but reasonable as they become commonplace.
For many, their next televisions will likely be a NextGen TV set and the price will be about what they expected for a new set.
Will you need a new DTV or antenna? While your tuner will have to change, whether it’s in your new set or in a separate box, TV antennas don’t need to. You didn’t have to buy a new antenna in 2009 when the world went digital, and you won’t need one for this new TV.
Your antenna’s design depends on the wavelengths you want to capture, and the Next Gen signals are in the same frequency range of reception as the current broadcast signals.
Because ATSC 3.0 casts a stronger and more penetrating signal and is less subject to interference, you might find that you current antenna works even better once you’ve gone Next Gen.
Will broadcast TV still be free and over the air with a TV antenna? Yes, at least for the same HDTV content that you get today on ATSC 1.0.
TV stations are required to provide at least one free Next Gen channel. However, some broadcasters may offer additional content on other channels that are behind paywalls.
How Will It Impact Privacy?
Here’s where the world of NextGen TV starts to get interesting. When you’re using the technologies of ATSC 3.0, you’re on the internet.
There’s what’s called a return data path that provides interactivity, but also information about your activity back to the broadcaster.
If you use a streaming service like Netflix this is nothing new. You’re already feeding information to your provider.
You don’t have to allow this. You can effectively opt out by disconnecting from the internet when you’re watching an ATSC 3.0 broadcast. But then you lose a lot of the new features of Next Gen.
You’ll still get the quality improvements, but you won’t get the smart interface. You won’t get news or weather information targeted to your specific location.
The TV station can remember your activity and your location. They can infer your demographics from where you live and what you watch. They can tailor entertainment offerings specifically to you based on their analysis.
They can also target you with advertising. We all know how annoying it is on the internet to see multiple Facebook posts and pop-ups for, say, a brand of boots that you glanced at once. This has the potential to be even more obtrusive (advertisers would argue more useful) than internet advertisements.
If television stations push this too hard they may lose their audience. How far might this go? No one knows at the moment.
Can You Get ATSC 3.0 On Your Mobile Device?
As I mentioned earlier, you’ll be able to capture a Next Gen transmission, feed it into a router, and WiFi it to every device in your house.
There’s also a possibility for mobile devices to receive live, Next Gen broadcasts directly. There’s no reason manufacturers can’t put a ATSC 3.0 tuner in a smartphone.
Will they? The carriers will likely fight them on this because carriers make money selling data, and in this scenario the customer isn’t using any.
It’s the same reason phones don’t have FM radio tuners even though it’s an easy thing to do.
Carriers may even disable ATSC 3.0 tuners on their locked carrier branded phones.
Mobile Next Gen isn’t a big deal technologically, but it remains to be seen if it’ll happen.
What’s the True Future of Next Generation Television?
Next Gen is being rolled out, the broadcast industry’s committed, and the TV sets are on the way.
It’s clear that at least some level of Next Gen TV will become commonplace. But out of all the capabilities ATSC 3.0 can provide, which ones will actually catch on?
There’s not much direction coming from the FCC. There’s no mandate for broadcast stations to provide Next Gen.
There’s also no timetable beyond the requirement that ATSC 1.0 continue another five years.
Will the interactive features of Next Gen have high consumer adoption in the market? To date, TV consumers haven’t bitten very hard on interactive.
One thing’s for sure. An entirely new playing field for cord cutters to take advantage of OTA will arise.
Within a year or two we’ll understand more about what the NextGen TV playing field will look like.