Over The Air TV ATSC 3.0
People don’t think much about their TV tuners. If you go to buy a TV you’ll see plenty of buzzwords like LED, QLED, or 4K but not much discussion on the tuner itself. And usually not much about ATSC 3.0. It is also referred to as NEXTGEN TV.
The current broadcast standard is called ATSC or Advanced Television Systems Committee. That is a series of standards for digital TV broadcasts. In Europe, their system is called PAL. Most TV’s in the US meet the ATSC 1.0 standard however a newer standard, ATSC 3.0 is slowly rolling out.
Someday, your ATSC 1.0 won’t work for you anymore although that day seems to be down the road a ways. Many TV markets have rolled out at least one ATSC 3.0 channel while simultaneously broadcasting an ATSC 1.0 signal.
And of course you won’t get the benefits of that crisp, more powerful, higher resolution signal unless you have a tuner or TV capable of decoding it. Where I live there is one NEXTGEN TV signal and it is a local PBS channel. They also still broadcast in ATSC 1.0 and likely will for years. There doesn’t seem to be any danger of any other channels rolling out in the immediate future.
Deployment of ATSC 3.0
You can check on the rollout of ATSC in your area at this website. Just recently 27 US Senators wrote a letter to the FCC encouraging them to “speed things up”. The push is on. This of course is the government telling itself to speed things up, so in all likelihood it will take years.
In order to view NEXTGEN TV you’ll need a new television or a tuner box. Remember a few years ago when TV went from analog to digital and they told you that you needed a new TV or a new tuner box? Well, here we are again. While it may not be necessary for you to get a NEXTGEN TV you probably might think about getting one the next time you purchase a Television set.
I currently have a TV antenna in my attic and connect it to a tuner box which also connects to ethernet. What that does is turn every device in the house into a television. Phones, iPads, TV’s, computers………everything. The device is called an HDHomeRun and I think they are the greatest things since sliced bread. Without a device like this you would literally need an antenna or a splitter system for every TV in the house.
There is trouble in audio land with ATSC 3.0. It uses an AC4 audio codec and there are Digital Rights Management (DRM) issues with it. In my home I have my HDHomeRun device feeding a Plex Media Server. Plex cannot do AC4 audio because of licensing. My LG TV however, does decode AC4 audio.
In order to get ATSC 3.0 signal AND audio you need to use the HDHomeRun app. My new LG TV doesn’t have an HDHomeRun app in their app store. So I would have to hook up a Roku or something. I bought the LG TV TO GET RID OF THE ROKU.
My LG TV sees the HDHomeRun as a network device. I can then select an individual channel. The TV will decode the audio. No problem. But there is no TV guide. I can’t see what is playing.
If I try to use Plex, which has a TV guide, it won’t decode the audio.
With only one channel doing ATSC 3.0 in my area this isn’t a problem……….yet.
Things aren’t perfect yet, folks.
Let me say this. There is NO SUCH THING as a digital TV antenna. TV is broadcast in VHF and UHF from about 54 to 806 MHz. Don’t believe the hype of a “Digital TV Antenna” or “HD Antenna”. Subsequently the best TV antennas are typically inexpensive, directional Yagi antennas. There are websites galore that can recommend an antenna, and which direction to point it to receive the highest amount of Over The Air broadcast TV channels.
Do You Need an ATSC 3.0 TV Today?
The answer to that question is probably a resounding NO, however it could vary on which TV market you are in and what you want to watch.
Here’s the way I see the new Television digital standard, ATSC 3.0 that is being rolled out.
1. ATSC 3.0 uses AC4 audio codec.
2. A lot of newer TV’s support AC4 audio but not ATSC 3.0.
3. The tuner boxes that are ATSC 3.0 compliant don’t decode AC4 and just pass it through to the Television.
4. Many people run Plex, Kodi or Emby media servers. None of those popular servers has native AC4 support. Ffmpeg will have to have AC4 support built in before it works with these popular media servers. Your guess is as good as mine if that will actually happen.
5. There is a pay server app called ChannelsDVR that does it all but it is $80 a year. And it only works on Fire TV or Apple TV. No Roku.
6. Roku players have AC4 support but don’t support live TV. So at this point unless you have a TV that has a TV tuner that supports ATSC 3.0 and it is hooked directly to an antenna you need THREE devices to make it work.
7. And with the perfect TV you won’t get a program guide. You’ll need an app but not all apps work on all TV OS’s.
8. So it looks like to get ATSC 3.0 picture quality, AC4 sound quality, and a program guide so you can see what is on TV then you need an external network tuner, a Roku (or Fire TV, and maybe Apple TV) and then you need a TV. THREE DIFFERENT DEVICES.
9. The current tuner box that supports this doesn’t have great cross platform apps. No LG TV app.
Wrap Up on ATSC 3.0
If you don’t understand any of this, understand this. The government (FCC) will be mandating a new digital TV standard. And right at this moment the roll out is a mess. Most of that mess revolves around the audio codec. If they straighten that out, this won’t be such an epic turd.
John’s Tech Blog Recommendation: Unless you have to have one, don’t rush out to buy an ATSC 3.0 TV or Tuner yet. Check your TV market for your current channel lineup. THE NEXT TIME you NEED to buy a TV make sure it is a NEXTGEN TV just to future proof yourself a bit.
You should understand that this is early on in the roll out period and most of this stuff will probably get resolved as time goes on. You probably won’t HAVE to get an ATSC 3.0 TV for hopefully a couple of years. But it is coming.