ATSC 3.0, IP take center stage at NAB Show 2018

The ATSC 3.0 Next-Gen Video Hub at the 2017 NAB Show. (Image: Ben Munson)

The biggest change in television broadcasting since the digital TV transition will get a prominent spot at the NAB Show in early Aprilbut expect much of the news around ATSC 3.0 to involve things besides transmitting TV programming over the air.

Instead, look for the annual gathering of the National Association of Broadcasters to focus on the possibilities opened by the data capabilities of this new standard (which goes by the name “Next-Gen TV” in consumer contexts) as well as the Internet Protocol-based systems built to support it and other new digital video delivery systems.

For starters, beyond better videoincluding 4K UHD video with the expanded color gamut of HDRATSC 3.0 will allow terrestrial broadcasters to deliver data streams to consumer receivers alongside video.

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That could mean both supplemental interactive content and targeted advertising. In January, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Imagine Communications announced that they would develop an ATSC 3.0 ad-management platform to advance the latter possibility.

Analyst Gary Arlen of Bethesda, Maryland-based Arlen Communications noted that this standard also opens up possibilities beyond TV sets and even the broader category of devices with screens.

"Some broadcasters see ATSC 3.0 as their way into the Internet of Things as a delivery alternative to 5G signals,” Arlen wrote in an email. He ticked off a range of possibilities, from smart-city systems to manage transit services and electric utilities to wearable gadgets that will track people’s health, all of which will need their own bandwidth.

Those potential applications also have the advantage of not depending on TV-replacement cycles. Although some broadcasters, led in particular by Sinclair, have been aggressive in announcing their ATSC 3.0 plans, no such clarity exists in U.S.-market consumer hardware.

“Set manufacturers have been very slow in announcing what they'll offer," Arlen warned.

The NAB Show, which runs from April 7 to April 12 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, will also feature a range of exhibits on new digital-first production systems that will be essential for both ATSC 3.0 broadcasting and online distribution.

The Road to ATSC 3.0 will feature a showcase of deployment plans for ATSC 3.0 in cities throughout the U.S. and the world. At the show, there will also be a driverless vehicle transporting showgoers between the halls and the beer garden while showing off in-vehicle mobile viewing features of ATSC 3.0.

The show’s IP Showcase will spotlight 60-plus manufacturers offering all-IP video systems and standards. One in particular, a suite of standards called SMTPE ST 2110, covers next-gen digital workflows that essentially allow parallel processing of the discrete elements of a broadcast: the video, the audio and metadata ranging from subtitles to time codes.

This effort by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers is meant to ease production across geographically separate facilities and make it easier to distribute video across multiple markets and over such varying channels as online as well as traditional cable and satellite services. It’s also intended to stay open to future video standards, including not just 4K but also 8K video.

The Showcase’s schedule features a long lineup of talks, demonstrations and panels covering the finer points of this transition. Several lessons-learned sessions about early switches to all-IP production in Australia, Norway, the U.K. and elsewhere overseas should offer a key reminder: ATSC 3.0 may be a U.S. production, but moving to an IP future is a worldwide trend.