I saw the premiere of next-gen TV at NAB

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Two women in a small TV studio
Two women and a rotating bowl of fake fruit were the subject of the first live ATSC 3.0 broadcast in North America.

Yet another great thing about attending the NAB Show is watching demonstrations of the very latest TV broadcast technology. Sometimes those trial balloons are dead ends (to mix metaphors), but ATSC 3.0 looks like it could be a keeper. This next-generation digital platform packs more data in the same slice of bandwidth, and it natively supports more descriptive emergency alerts, better surround sound, the possibility of 4K ultra HD signals, and a lot of other nice features. Too bad it’s not compatible with current digital TV tuners.

Remember that the old analog TV standard was NTSC, and that was replaced in the US in 2009 by ATSC, a digital standard that allowed for high-definition TV. That was ATSC 1.0, and now the new 3.0 version is ready for testing.

The NAB Show hosted the first live North American broadcast using the ATSC 3.0 system, with a mini-studio and transmitter at the east end of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Hall and a receiver in a special “consumer experience” set of booths at the far west end of the hall.

If you want to dig into most of the details of the event, you should read Chris Tribbey’s account at Broadcasting & Cable. Also, before the show was over, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that he would open the comment period on ATSC 3.0 this coming week. I just have a few more notes to add.

  • The Ultra HD display was underwhelming for me, despite the colorful scene. I think that the display monitor was a little small (maybe 50 inches?) to show off the UHD advantage. Then again, I think that’s a problem with UHD in general; it provides too little benefit at typical screen sizes.
  • Two women stayed at that little table from 8 am to 6 pm Monday, then from 9 to 6 Tuesday and Wednesday. They took short individual breaks (they told me, I never saw one) and chatted and smiled all that time. Amazing stamina in the bright lights.
  • The literal centerpiece of the tableau was a rotating bowl of very fake fruit. How fake? The bananas were blue. The oranges, red apples and green pears looked pretty normal, but the bananas were nowhere near yellow. It was an odd, unexplained choice for folks trying to show off their superior colors.
  • One of the projected uses for ATSC 3.0 is to send encrypted content overnight to a local storage device, allowing unlockable movies on demand. I’m always hesitant about using free airwaves to send pay-TV content, but that doesn’t sound too bad. In fact, that’s always been a selling point with TabletTV, the one-piece over-the-air DVR that’s still hanging in there. (Its FAQ page mentions “In the future, TabletTV may offer ad-supported and video-on-demand services”.) Let’s see how that works out.
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