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WRAL’s Next Gen TV technology will be a cord-cutter’s dream come true

ATSC 3.0 - Next Generation 4K TV broadcasting explained

Next Gen TV revolves around a new broadcasting technology called ATSC 3.0, which provides 4K ultra high definition video as well as improved, immersive sound quality and provides for the adding of interactive features to involve viewers in broadca
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Next Gen TV revolves around a new broadcasting technology called ATSC 3.0, which provides 4K ultra high definition video as well as improved, immersive sound quality and provides for the adding of interactive features to involve viewers in broadca

The next generation of television viewing will not only mean even sharper pictures and sound on TVs and tablets, but integrated broadband content and an advanced emergency alert system – all without the aid of cable.

The new ATSC 3.0 technology – also known as Next Generation TV or Next Gen TV – was demonstrated at a WRAL event on Monday attended by members of tech and broadcast groups.

WRAL was the first in the nation to broadcast a simulcast in this new technology during the Summer Olympics in 2016, and anchor David Crabtree recently reported on the new technology from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, where the ATSC 3.0 is currently being used.

“This is sort of like deja vu all over again,” Capitol Broadcasting Company CEO Jim Goodmon said on Monday, referencing WRAL’s status as the first commercial TV station in the nation to broadcast high-definition TV back in 1996.

Goodmon echoed his 1996 comments about entering a “golden age of broadcasting” and praised the new technology. “You can’t beat our signal quality, you can’t believe the coverage we’ve got. We can reach more people more of the time in a more efficient way ... so I have a lot of confidence in the future of broadcast.”

Here’s what you need to know about the future of television.

How does it work?

ATSC 3.0 technology is an advanced transmission standard that delivers 4K ultra high definition video and sound to televisions and tablets via special receivers. The 4K UHD video feed features high dynamic range and wide color gamut.

No cable or satellite connection is required.

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Pete Sockett, director of engineering and operations at WRAL, explains the new ATSC 3.0 Next Generation television technology. Courtesy of WRAL

The new technology allows stations to integrate broadband (internet) access to provide related content to the programming being viewed, making the experience more interactive. That extra content could be on-demand programming from the station, or information designed to enhance programming being viewed on the TV or mobile device – content which would be vetted and selected by the station.

But while the system has the ability to merge over-the-air-broadcasting with internet capabilities for these interactive experiences, the actual broadcasts are transmitted from station towers without reliance on an internet or cellular data connection, making the technology much more mobile.

In other words, the TV programming could be viewed live on a mobile device from any place that receives a WRAL transmission signal, without using wifi or cell data.

“It’s actually very mobile,” said Pete Sockett, director of engineering and operations at WRAL. “You can drive with this – in the back seat.”

How does the alert system work?

The advanced emergency alerts are delivered through TV transmitters and not reliant on cable, cell or internet service. The alerts can be customized by the user so that small geographic areas can be targeted. So if you only want to know what’s happening in your neighborhood, you can do that.

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An example of an advanced emergency alert that would display during a television program on the new ATSC 3.0 Next Generation television technology. Alerts can be dismissed or the viewer can opt to get more detailed information. bcain@newsobserver.com

The alerts will also include a lot of detailed information that does not normally accompany standard weather or emergency alerts.

What’s more, if an alert is sent while the device is turned off, it can wake up the device – the TV or tablet – to alert consumers to the emergency.

Will I need a fancy new TV?

You won’t need a fancy new TV or tablet.

The first step in delivering the technology to consumers will be by way of a USB device called a dongle. It’s about the size of Roku Streaming Stick or Amazon Firestick, and it will plug into your TV or tablet to act as a receiver. Sockett expects the dongles to cost in the $25-$35 range eventually. You will also be able to get a “home gateway” transmitter that looks a bit like a small router, and it will feed the signal to several devices in your home.

Eventually, televisions and other mobile devices will be manufactured with everything needed to play UHD broadcasts.

Will I still need an over-the-air antenna?

Yes, you will still need an over-the-air antenna to access over-the-air channels without cable.

When can I get it?

Roughly, about a year from now. Sockett expects the first consumer products to become available in the first half of 2019.

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