What is ATSC 3.0 and how it will change Over the Air Free TV?
What is ATSC?
ATSC stands for Advanced Television Systems Committee. Long story short it is a technology standard for broadcasting television and audio signals through the air and is received by Over the Air HD Antennas. For reference, other technology standards are 4G cell phone signals, Bluetooth and others.
If you have used an HD antenna anytime since 2009 you have already used ATSC technology.
There are other television broadcasting standards in use all of the world such as DVB, ISDB and DTMB. ATSC is mainly used in North America (United States, Canada and Mexico), the Bahamas, Dominican Republic and South Korea.
Current ATSC 1.0 Standards
ATSC 1.0 is the current version of ATSC that television broadcasters are using. It allows a maximum of 1080 resolution at about 30 frames per second. It also allows for 5.1 audio transmissions.
New ATSC 3.0 Standards and Features
ATSC 3.0 is a massive upgrade from ATSC 1.0. Below we will go over some of the coolest new features of ATSC 3.0 without getting too technical.
ATSC 3.0 will support Dolby AC-4 and MPEG-H 3D Audio. Long story short it will offer the capability to have 7.1 surround sound.
The changes in the video quality is what most people with HD Antennas will first notice.
While ATSC 1.0 was capped at a video resolution of 1080, ATSC 3.0 will offer the capability of 4K resolution! This means that in the somewhat near future many of the events that you watch using an Over the Air Antenna like the SuperBowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards, Oscars, Local sports games and your local news will soon be broadcast in 4K Ultra HD! What a time to be alive!
3D broadcasts will also be available in the new 3.0 standard. While the popularity of 3D and 3D TV's have diminished, we definitely think it would be cool to watch the Superbowl in 4K 3D.
ATSC 3.0 will also allow broadcasts with 120 frames per second, which is 4 times more than we currently have.
Over the Air and Internet combined?
One of the most unique features of ATSC 3.0 is the combination of over the air broadcasts and your internet connection.
While no one has really explained exactly what this will be used for, we have some thoughts. We assume that in order to be able to utilize this feature of ATSC 3.0 you will need a smart TV that is connected to the internet.
The basic idea of combining these two may be similar to the X-Ray feature in the Amazon Prime Video streaming app where you can get more information about what you are watching. If we are correct about this feature, broadcasters may offer additional information about what you are watching such as more information on the actors, directors, back story, sequels, etc.
While this seems like a novel idea, we have a more probable and less desirable use for this feature. We feel this feature was designed with advertising in mind. We feel that instead of spending time and money offering additional information about what is being watched, major networks that broadcast over the air will try to monetize antenna using customers even more.
Imagine this scenario. You are watching your favorite show and an ad for the world's largest fast food restaurant comes on. Their newest burger is on sale for a limited time, click here to get an additional coupon. Simply enter your email address to receive your coupon, and by the way here are the three closest locations to you. Here is another one using the same burger joint. During the ad a small pop up appears that says something like "Click here to learn more about the history of the burger joint!" You click on it and it brings you to a website for the burger joint with offers, locations near you, coupons, etc.
While this feature may bring some cool new features to watching your favorite network channels, we feel that this feature will mainly be focused on advertising and monetization. This brings us to another feature that is strictly designed for advertising.
ATSC 3.0 Targeted Advertising
By combining Over the Air TV watching with an internet connection, broadcaster and advertisers now have the ability to collect data about you and target you with advertisements tailored to your age, gender, location and maybe even what you watch.
Here is an excerpt from an article on the ATSC website - "Hybrid TV enables a TV receiver to customize the viewing experience through voluntary collection of user data and preferences. Data collected could include personal demographic information such as zip code, age, gender, income bracket and the like, contributed on an opt-in basis by the user. Responses are stored in the user’s receiver and are available to applications running on the device."
Here is another scenario that we feel is very likely to happen. You wake up on Sunday and turn on the TV to watch the golf tournament. Monday evening you turn on the TV to watch a show. The first ad that is shown to you is a company trying to get you to buy a set of the newest golf clubs. Here is another one. You do a search for the latest truck on your computer. Later that night you turn on your TV and instead of an ad for the newest sedan, you are shown multiple ads by all of the car makers that sell trucks throughout your show.
This is all speculation on our part, but we feel that the investment in the new ATSC 3.0 standard was not solely designed to improve your TV viewing. It was designed to improve your TV viewing as well as monetize more efficiently with targeted advertising.
ATSC 3.0 Emergency Warning System
One of the new features in ATSC 3.0 is the ability to automatically turn on your TV when there is an emergency. We would assume the broadcasters would only use this feature for real emergencies. While no real information is available on this feature, this is how we feel it will work.
We feel it would work in the same manner as your cell phone currently does. The same way your phone makes a crazy sound and informs you of a tornado warning, we think your TV will turn on and make a crazy sound as well along with information about the emergency.
We are kind of on the fence with this new feature. It sounds great on paper and are sure that it will help keep everyone a little safer. But we cannot say that we would be super excited about being woken up at 3 AM on a Sunday night with a bright TV blinding you to tell you about a severe thunderstorm in your area.
Hopefully you can turn off this feature, but we have no idea if that will be an option.
Will I be able to use ATSC 3.0 on my current TV?
Unfortunately your current TV will not be able to process ATSC 3.0 signals as it needs a specialized tuner designed for ATSC 3.0. Fortunately since ATSC 3.0 can simultaneously transmit both ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 your TV will still receive over the air TV, but will not be able to use any of the ATSC 3.0 features like 4K.
When Over the Air broadcasts switched from analog signals to digital in 2009 almost no TV's were compatible. The tuners in those TV's were not designed for digital signals. Luckily many companies offered converters that converted the digital signal back to analog so you wouldn't have to buy a new TV. Our guess is that the same thing will happen when we switch from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0.
When will ATSC 3.0 be available?
This is a tough question to answer. It is kind of a chicken and egg situation. The broadcast networks want TV manufacturers to start selling new TV's with the ATSC 3.0 tuner installed so that they have an audience ready when they upgrade their signals to 3.0. But the TV manufacturers want the signals to be upgraded so people will buy TV's with the ATSC 3.0 tuner built into them.
LG has already announced that they will start to sell TV's with the proper tuners in them in the near future. So we hope to see ATSC 3.0 sooner than later. Many people speculate the ATSC 3.0 will start to be broadcast by the end of 2018 or early 2019 and complete adoption by 2020. But these are just guesses.
Will I need to buy a new Over the Air HD TV Antenna to watch ATSC 3.0?
The short answer is no. Almost every Over the Air HD TV Antenna sold in the last 10 years will be able to receive ATSC 3.0 signals. So if you purchase one of the awesome Mohu Antennas that we sell, you will be ready for ATSC 3.0!
ATSC 3.0 Review
Overall we are extremely excited for the arrival of ATSC 3.0. The upgrade in audio channels and quality as well as the resolution upgrade from 1080 to 4K resolution are extremely exciting. We cannot wait to watch all of our favorite events in beautiful Ultra HD 4K!
This is a huge upgrade to free over the air TV and we couldn't be happier. We have been huge advocates for over the air TV and have written many articles on it.
While we feel this is a huge upgrade, we are a little worried about the advertising aspect of it. If you can completely opt out of it then we are fine with it. But if they start using your search history on a computer and feed you ads based on your search we will not be a fan of that. But hopefully they use the new capabilities responsibly and it benefits everyone!