ATSC Plans Not As EasyAs 1, 2.0, 3.0

will have many reasons to look back and look
ahead at its annual meeting on May 9. The group
will certainly celebrate big milestones: the 30th anniversary
of its 1983 founding, as well as the 20th anniversary
of the Grand Alliance consortium that created the digital
TV system leading to the vaunted ATSC standard. But
the agenda will also include discussions of key technical
issues facing the broadcast industry, starting with the
variety of new technologies that will form the basis of the
upcoming ATSC 2.0 and ATSC 3.0 standards.

Those efforts squarely address many of the biggest issues
facing the broadcast industry—the consumer shift
toward viewing video on Internet-connected devices,
rapid changes in mobile technologies, the personalization
of advertising and content, the ongoing battle over
spectrum and the speed at which broadcasters can adapt
to a rapidly changing technological and media landscape.

How fast those new technologies make their way into
the market remains an open question, however. The closest
to market is ATSC 2.0, a suite of standards that will
add new features for second-screen applications, interactivity,
targeted advertising, improved video compression,
security and digital rights management features that will
enable subscription and other newer business models, and
the non-real-time delivery of !les that will allow users to
access news clips and other programming on demand.

ATSC 2.0 is expected to be a candidate standard in
the next few months, says Rich Chernock, CTO of Triveni
Digital and chairman of ATSC Technology Group 1,
which is overseeing the development of ATSC 2.0 and
other standards.

ATSC Gets a Facelift

ATSC 2.0 is backwards-compatible with existing
digital TV systems and is a major upgrade to the ATSC
standard, which will limit its impact on broadcast infrastructure.
But existing ATSC TV sets won’t be able
to handle all the new features, and ATSC 2.0-capable
devices are not expected to hit the market before 2014.

Earlier this year, ATSC set up an implementation team
to work with broadcasters, consumer electronics manufacturers
and vendors to help speed the rollout of ATSC 2.0.

“They are talking about what features would make
the most sense to [include] in early trials and prototypes,”
Chernock says.

In those discussions, broadcasters and set manufacturers
have been most interested in second-screen applications,
non-real-time delivery of content and interactive
triggers, Chernock adds.

“When we first started working on ATSC 2.0, there
wasn’t really a second-screen ecosystem and there wasn’t
a requirement to support it,” he says. “It really came out
of nowhere and has become a very important capability.”

Exact costs for upgrading to 2.0 will depend on which
features broadcasters choose to implement. But it will not
require major changes to facilities. While the move to
2.0 will require new encoders to handle Advanced Video
Coding (AVC) H.264 and some other upgrades for interactive
and data broadcasts, “it won’t touch much of the
existing broadcast infrastructure,” Chernock says.

Over time, 2.0 will also open up new business opportunities
for advertising, subscription and transactional
services. “It opens up a lot of different relationships
with viewers that broadcasters haven’t been able
to offer in the past,” he adds.

Fast-Tracking ATSC 3.0

Much bigger changes will occur with ATSC 3.0,
which will bring in a completely new transmission system
and will not be compatible with existing ATSC TV
sets or broadcast infrastructure. Breaking with the past
will, however, allow the group to explore a number of
newer technologies, including Ultra HD.

Currently, the organization is pushing forward on an
aggressive timetable to !nish the standard by the end
of 2015, notes Jim Kutzner, senior director of advanced
technology at PBS and chairman of Technology Group 3,
which is spearheading the 3.0 effort.

Key goals for ATSC 3.0 will be a system that is much
more flexible and efficient with spectrum; integration
with other delivery technologies, such as mobile; targeted
advertising capabilities; features for personalized content;
immersive viewing experiences that would include 4K or
Ultra HD as well as advanced audio; better compression,
most likely using the new High Efficiency Video Coding
(HEVC) standard; and plans to make the standard more
compatible with systems used outside the U.S.

While ATSC 3.0 will not be backwards-ATSC compatible,
many applications for interactivity, on-demand
content and other features from 2.0 are likely to become
part of 3.0, says ATSC president Mark Richer.

“We talk about ATSC 3.0 as a clean slate,” Richer says.
“But we won’t have to reinvent everything for 3.0, and a
lot of what has been done in the past will move into 3.0.”

In addition to a number of daunting technical challenges,
upcoming spectrum auctions are complicating
the development effort. The Federal Communications
Commission has said it wants to finish the rules on
the auctions in 2013 and hold them in 2014, raising
the threat that the government could move forward to
repack spectrum before 3.0 is ready.

Kutzner and Richer are optimistic that this problem
will be avoided. “I think it is an opportunity for the
government and the industry to come together and do
the right thing in a logical manner,” Kutzner says.

“If the auction and repacking go forward on the accelerated
schedule it would be really unfortunate, because
it would make moving to a new transmission system
much more difficult and costly,” Kutzner adds. “On
the heels of the digital transition we just finished, we
are being asked to do one more transition with the repack….
Then, if you ask broadcast to do it one more
time, I don’t know how they will do it.”

E-mail comments to
and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow