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.

Product image of the Tablo Dual LiteOne of the problems with taking a vacation is missing out on good news. Tablo announced last week that it was coming out with a new version of its over-the-air DVR, better but less expensive than its original. The Tablo Dual Lite features two tuners, WiFi 802.11 a/c (although I’d still recommend hard-wired Ethernet), and cloud recording.

That last feature is the most revolutionary part. The Dual Lite will still accept a USB hard drive, up to 8 TB, and it also provides the option of saving to a free* 40 GB cloud drive. That asterisk is because the cloud recording system is still in beta and might cost something later on. My guess is that it’ll eventually be tied to Tablo’s guide data service plans, currently priced at $5 a month, $50 a year, or $150 for a lifetime pass.

Less revolutionary but still important is the Dual Lite’s price: $140 on the shelf at Best Buy as I type. It used to be hard to get started on Tablo for much less than $200, and now that barrier’s long gone. As the OTA DVR arms race heats up, it’s good to see another manufacturer continue to improve their product.

Sling Help page with a service interruption announcementI tried to take a couple of weeks off before the NAB Show, but TV won’t let me. Sling TV suffered an outage Tuesday afternoon, and as of this writing 14 hours later, it’s still out for most devices, including its own AirTV Player.

Minor service hiccups aren’t worth discussing, but this one has gone on for a while. When I mentioned it to Jeff Baumgartner, he wrote a quick note about it, so I figure I ought to tell you about it here too.

On my Roku, my travel Roku in another state (long story), my Android phone, and the Android TV-based Stream+ and AirTV Player, I can see my listings for recordings, even fresh ones made during the outage. The channel lineup shows current program listings. But nothing actually loads when requested. (Update: Sling appears to have restored some but not all of its live channels, though recordings are still unavailable.)

If you’re a glass-half-full kind of viewer, you can take the Sling support site‘s suggestion that all channels are available using a Windows-based Chrome browser pointed to watch.sling.com, though that platform doesn’t support recordings. If you’re running Linux, Sling has never worked on a Chrome browser or anything else there.

Over the past few months, other folks have suggested that other over-the-top services have better channel lineups, but I’ve always defended Sling as the OTT provider with the best reliability. I’m going to have to stay quiet about that now.

Update 2: About 16 hours after the problems started, everything on Sling appears to be back to normal. I wonder if we’ll ever hear what caused them?