ATSC Plans Not as Easy as 1, 2.0, 3.0As the digital TV standards group turns 30, all thoughts are on forging the next generation of broadcast technology 5/06/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern
The Advanced Television Systems Committee 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 files 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
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
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
Currently, the organization is pushing forward on an
aggressive timetable to finish 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."
Just how much the transition to 3.0 will cost is difficult
Kutzner stresses, however, that the move to 3.0 won't entail
a complete rebuilding of the broadcast infrastructure outside the transmission
system and that it will likely be done in stages. "I see most of the broadcast
infrastructure remaining completely viable after the transition to 3.0
transmissions," he says.
On the mobile front, one option for the new 3.0 standard
would be to make it more compatible with LTE and mobile networks. But DVD-2 and
other possibilities will also be considered, Kutzner says.
Whatever choice is made, the group plans to make the 3.0
standard versatile enough to deliver different types of content to a variety of
devices. "Broadcasters who want to focus on mobile need to have the flexibility
to do that," along with the ability to deliver very high-resolution 4K or Ultra
HD content, he says.
To achieve 4K broadcasts, 3.0 will likely include support
for Ultra HD or 4K and rely on HEVC, which requires only one-quarter the
bandwidth needed by MPEG-2 currently being used in ATSC. "We seem to be getting
a new video codec about every 10 years and HEVC is coming along at the right
time," Kutzner says. "It will take a few years for it to be fully developed but
the timing is about right for 3.0."
The group continues to work on mobile emergency alert
systems, adds Jay Adrick, broadcast technology advisor to Harris Broadcast and
the ATSC chair of the M-EAS Implementation Team.
"We started last June with the process at ATSC and
Mobile-EAS became a standard on March 11," he says. "That is pretty much a
record time to go from a proposal to a full standard that has been tested and
However, more work needs to be done in the implementation
and Adrick's committee is currently looking at the best way to bring together
or aggregate the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) message and the rich media and
video supplied by stations.
Adrick expects two vendors to have complete solutions for
delivering the M-EAS alerts in August and that his committee will have
completed its work on the best architecture for aggregating the content.
"There are currently 144 stations on the air today with
mobile DTV broadcasts in the U.S. and we expect by the end of the year that there
will be over 200," he says.
Once his group sorts through the best way to implement the
standard, he expects a number of those stations to start offering the emergency
alerts, which could include video clips, maps of a tornado's expected path,
forecasts, information on evacuation routes and other materials. "It will be a
major advance over the current system," he says.
Concerns over Aereo's service, which streams broadcast
signals to IP connected and mobile devices, has also boosted broadcaster
interest. "Certainly, Aereo is a driving factor and the general activities of
the wireless industry to go after spectrum has caused broadcast to realize it
is now or never, so let's get on with it," Adrick says.