Local TV

ATSC Approves Preliminary Mobile DTV Standard

Final standard for mobile broadcasting expected in mid-2009 11/26/2008 05:11:00 AM Eastern

Related: Mobile DTV Speeds Toward Technical Standard

As expected, the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) has approved a proposed system that would allow DTV stations to broadcast to cell phones and other portable devices as a “candidate standard,” with a final ATSC standard expected in the second or third quarter of next year.

ATSC Mobile DTV logoWhile minor tweaks are possible before it becomes a final ATSC standard, the candidate standard announced today means that the major technology choices for a mobile DTV system have been made, and vendors can start building devices based on those specifications. The candidate ATSC-Mobile/Handheld (M/H) standard is based on the MPH (Mobile Pedestrian Handheld) mobile DTV transmission system jointly developed by consumer electronics giant LG Electronics and transmitter manufacturer Harris Broadcast. It is also now supported by Samsung, which had previously pushed its own mobile DTV system.

By using a new digital exciter that is backward-compatible with the existing 8-VSB (vestigial sideband) transmission system currently used for DTV, ATSC-M/H will allow a mobile DTV stream to be broadcast within a station's digital channel without interfering with existing standard- or high-definition program services. The cost to implement mobile DTV is relatively low, running $250,000 or less per station for the new exciter and supporting encoders and multiplexing gear.

Through application software specifications, the candidate standard also includes support for new interactive TV applications, such as audience voting, through an optional Internet connection on the mobile receiver. It will also allow stations to deploy new data broadcasting services such as providing real-time navigation data for in-vehicle use and providing news and sports highlights in on-demand form to consumers.

While ATSC doesn't release the exact results of its standards votes, ATSC president Mark Richer said the draft ATSC-M/H standard was "overwhelmingly approved" to be raised to candidate standard status by ATSC's Technology and Standards Group. He also emphasized the contributions of new ATSC members to the mobile DTV standard process.

"There's just been a groundswell of support for this, and our technical groups have done a phenomenal job," says Richer.

He adds that the standards body has crafted a new "ATSC Mobile" logo that manufacturers can use to promote their mobile DTV products.

The ATSC-M/H candidate standard is expected to be implemented in prototype receiver devices in order to provide technical feedback over the coming months. Some of the new capabilities of mobile DTV are also likely to be demonstrated at the CES show in Las Vegas in January, both by handset manufacturers and members of the Open Mobile Video Coalition, a consortium of some 800 local stations that has been driving the mobile DTV standards process.

"This new Candidate Standard will enable broadcasters to launch services and will also allow device manufacturers to move forward with product development to ensure this emerging industry will have a successful commercial deployment in 2009,” said Brandon Burgess, President of the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) and ION Media Networks Chairman and CEO, in a statement.

The ATSC Specialist Group on Mobile & Handheld, chaired by Mark Aitken, Director of Advanced Technology for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, evaluated the initial mobile DTV proposals and drafted the standard. The ATSC Technology & Standards Group, chaired by John Henderson, consultant to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), approved elevation of the document to Candidate Standard after a six-week ballot.

As previously reported by B&C, the ATSC-M/H candidate standard incorporates established video, audio and data technologies, such as IP-based transport, MPEG AVC (H.264) video compression and HE AAC v2 audio (ISO/IEC 14496-3) coding. It consists of eight parts that together form a complete specification for a broadcast digital television signal that can deliver live television service, data and interactivity to new mobile and handheld receivers, while maintaining backward compatibility with existing DTV receivers. They are:

Part 1 – Mobile/Handheld Digital Television System
Part 2 – RF/Transmission System Characteristics
Part 3 – Service Multiplex and Transport Subsystem Characteristics
Part 4 – Announcement
Part 5 – Presentation Framework
Part 6 – Service Protection
Part 7 – Video System Characteristics
Part 8 – Audio System Characteristics

"The combination of live television and interactive capabilities on mobile and handheld devices is an essential element for the future success of over the air digital television," said Glenn Reitmeier, Chairman of the ATSC Board of Directors, in a statement. "Our efforts to develop ATSC Mobile DTV are a part of a strategy to provide the broadcast industry with the technical ability to deliver content to consumers on the move. The architecture of the Candidate Standard will make terrestrial broadcasting an important segment of the Internet."

March