ATSC, the Advanced Television Systems Committee, is an “international, non-profit organization developing voluntary standards for digital television”. Essentially, it’s a working group that sets the standards for media broadcasting and transmission receiving. The first standard, ATSC-1, was used when analog TV transitioned to digital in the United States. This standard included specifications for HDTV.
The next version, ATSC 3.0, is going to add a number of changes to reflect the variety of ways that we watch media today. It will be a change that is not backwards-compatible, meaning that broadcasters may need to obtain new equipment.
One of the big goals is to allow for broadcasts to be received by traditional TVs as well as mobile devices. This may require TV tuners to be added to the hardware of phones, similar to adding FM radios.
Multiple types of TV receivers, including fixed devices (such as traditional large-screen living room and bedroom TV sets), handheld devices, vehicular screens and portable receivers are being considered in the work on ATSC 3.0.
MPEG-2 transport streams will be used as the format to send content, something that will allow for a mix of Internet and broadcast receivers. “One example of this might be delivering video and one audio language (which might be expected to be used by a majority of viewers) in broadcast, with alternate language audio streams delivered via broadband—allowing the viewer to select among a number of options.” This could allow for smarter subtitles, or subtitles that automatically translate on the fly based on the content playing at the time.
H.265 will be used as the primary video encoding format, a highly compressed video format that can be extended to play 4K and 8K video. While this may not mean these types of transmissions will be made available immediately, it will allow this technology to be somewhat future proof. Extensibility is a factor the group is thinking deeply about, since the industry has already changed so much in the past few years. Hopefully a broad standard will allow for many innovations over time while maintaining compatibility.
When will we see this implemented in our broadcast system? FCC chairman Ajit Pai is currently investigating a proposal to allow broadcasters to upgrade while keeping legacy channels at the moment. South Korea has started ATSC-3 broadcasts this year, although it will probably be a while before broadcasters and receivers support this standard. When it does, we will have a new way to watch content. Google will likely be looking at these changes very closely since it impacts their Google Fiber boxes and Android TV’s Live Channels app.
What do you think?
I will be interviewing Rich Chernock, one of the principal developers of the standard. Have any questions you want to ask? Let us know in the comments below and I’ll try to pass them along.