Man at Xbox One mall display playing a game

© canadapanda / Depositphotos.com

Ars Technica ran a story this morning with more bad news for free-TV viewers. Microsoft quietly sent an email to Xbox users who stream over-the-air TV on that platform through a Hauppauge USB tuner to a mobile device. It read in part, “You may have streamed TV content using a USB TV tuner from your Xbox console to the Xbox app. In 30 days, the Xbox app on iOS and Android will no longer support this functionality.” The Windows 10 app will continue to work.

This is reminiscent of Microsoft’s former commitment to the Windows Media Center, which was a pretty good way to watch and record OTA TV until Microsoft turned its back on it. WMC had been on some versions of Windows XP and Vista, then was included in almost all versions of Windows 7. For whatever reason, Microsoft stopped caring at about that point. For Windows 8, WMC was available only as a pricey add-on, then Windows 10 dropped it altogether.

In other words, it’s another example of Kilgore’s second law: It’s hard to monetize what folks get for free. A feature that helps buyers watch OTA TV can be a helpful selling point for that first hardware purchase, but there needs to be an economic reason to continue supporting that feature. Folks such as Tablo and TiVo sell subscriptions. Google probably uses Live Channels viewer data to sell more ads pointed at those viewers. Maybe Microsoft will tie OTA TV support to one of its Xbox subscription services. Until that happens, it might not have enough incentive to keep supporting free TV. If you rely on Xbox-served OTA TV, you have been warned.

Last week I was so deluged with information at the NAB Show that I missed an interesting bit of news for everyone who enjoys local over-the-air TV. Didja, the folks behind Phoenix BTV and Bay Area BTV, launched its Los Angeles area version of the service, called SoCal BTV.

The new service is pretty similar to its siblings. There are a few dozen channels, (37 as I type), including plenty of foreign-language, shopping, and religious networks. But there are a few nice offerings for English-speaking secularists, including an independent station, a community channel, and the diginet stalwarts Antenna, This, Buzzr, Comet, and Charge. Too bad it’s the first BTV market without Retro TV.

All of these stations are available for free to any device that can prove that it’s in the local market. (Ahem.) As with Bay Area BTV, Didja offers an inexpensive cloud-based DVR for its SoCal channels for $4.95/month. The SoCal site says, “Eventually, we’ll release a premium version of SoCalBTV with more than 50 channels of local broadcast TV including the most-watched channels!” That’s always been the promise, but I really wonder if they’ll ever get the major local stations to play along.

According to Jeff Baumgartner, who somehow noticed this during the NAB Show’s opening day, Didja expects to launch later this year in Houston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City. That’s four more things to look forward to in 2018.

SoCal TV’s channel lineup:

5.2 Antenna
5.3 ThisTV
6.3 KHTV Khmer
13.2 Buzzr
18.1 LA18
18.2 SBS
18.3 MBC
18.4 CGN
18.5 MBC+
18.6 YTV America
18.9 LSTV
18.10 VFTV
18.11 Set TV
18.12 IBC
18.13 S Channel
20.1 HSN
20.2 MBN+
25.2 CitiCABLE
25.3 evine
27.3 HSN2
30.5 QVC
31.1 LATV
40.1 Trinity Broadcasting
40.2 Hillsong
40.3 Smile / JUCE
40.4 TBN Enlace
40.5 TBN Salsa
44.3 Skylink
44.4 SkyCan
44.10 QVC2
56.1 KDOC (independent)
56.4 Comet
56.5 KVLA
56.8 Charge
57.1 Azteca
62.1 Estrella TV
64.2 Sino

NHK's 8K Theatre at the NAB ShowBroadcasters gathered at the NAB Show this week spent a lot of time talking about the next generation of TV: ATSC 3.0. But what about the generation after that? At least a couple of exhibitors were proud to show off that they were already capable of handling 8K video, with 16 times as many pixels as a current HDTV picture.

The NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) area included several home settings with 8K displays, though the most exciting part was its 8K Theater. Even projected at wall size, the video looked more like a window than a movie.

Today I watched an 8K demonstration at Digital Projection’s meeting room as it showed off its new laser projector. As with NHK, the resolution was amazing.

Despite these market-ready pieces, I’m guessing it’ll be years before anyone in the US watches live 8K programming at home. Based on NHK’s info, moving these files in real time requires 10 Gb Ethernet. I guess an 8K movie could trickle in to a local storage device for later viewing, so maybe that’s the next step in the process. However it shakes out, at a convention full of 4K buzz, it was nice to see something even better.

Android TV screen showing ATSC 3.0 app listing

They told me that Sony has written an Android TV app for viewing ATSC 3.0 over-the-air, but there aren’t any ATSC 3.0 dongles yet to make it work

Television’s future was on display as the NAB Show exhibit hall opened today. Or I should say television’s futures, because different vendors had different visions of what broadcast TV will look like once everyone uses ATSC 3.0.

Most there had at least adopted the user-friendly phrase “next-gen TV” to describe the coming IP-based system of transmitting more types of information more efficiently than the current ATSC 1 system. What will those new features look like? No one knows for sure, which is why so many are trying to get out in front now throwing their favorite ideas at the wall to see whether it will stick.

It seems likely that some kind of civil defense-style warning system will be included; tornado warnings and the like are arguably the most important duty for local broadcast stations. I worry that mission creep will eventually be like the Amber alerts on my phone, keeping me on the lookout for a given green Dodge pickup in case I should see it in my living room.

A scarier outcome comes from the analytics info that broadcasters could be harvesting over the internet, showing which TVs and devices were watching which shows for how long. In theory, this could mean that a station could require user registration before a device could view its programming. Or someone could compile a list of Rosanne viewers or Democracy Now viewers. A guy from one of the labs gently suggested that all these new capabilities would merely be used for broadcasters’ traditional free public service, though he agreed that he didn’t know exactly how it would all shake out.

Interior of the autonomous vehicle at NAB, with the ATSC 3.0 receiver

Autonomous vehicles are also going to be part of the future, and the NAB Show had a joint demonstration of a driverless van displaying an ATSC 3.0 feed being broadcast as a local test. The van’s attendant worked for the self-driving vehicle folks, and I guess he was hoping to impress the TV news critters because he ignored the TV receiver while chatting endlessly about the van’s features as it navigated its short, simple, pre-programmed loop between exhibit halls. As I watched, the ATSC 3.0 video froze or broke up at least a half dozen times in less than two minutes. I still don’t understand the fascination with getting broadcast TV working for moving vehicles, but with all the attention it gets, someone’s going to get it all worked out one day. Maybe.