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.

A wall of multi-colored sticky notesOver at Business Insider, Antonio Villas-Boas ran a very honest, even-handed description of his attempt to get by with Sling TV instead of cable. The most important quote: “Live TV over the internet using Sling TV never had to buffer, and it never cut out for me, either.” From what I read, the factor that drove him back to cable was his inability to get his favorite channels, a short list including PBS (but if you’re using a Roku, just get the PBS app) and TLC. My second law of programming is that any channel a viewer watches regularly is important, any channel he never watches is a waste of bandwidth, and those channels are different for every viewer. But seriously, TLC? You couldn’t manage without watching Sister Wives as soon as it aired? Perhaps I’m prejudiced because I remember when it was The Learning Channel, before it succumbed to my first law of programming.

Speaking of Sling, this morning, Dish announced its quarterly numbers, and for the first time it revealed the official number of Sling subscribers, now over 2.2 million. That was very close to The Diffusion Group‘s estimate of about 2.3 million, so maybe its other numbers are also about right.

Free NAB Show Expo Pass registration is ending soon. If there’s any chance you can drop in to look around in the Las Vegas Convention Center this April 9-12, you’ll be glad you did. Thanks to the folks at Ikan International, you can register for free with the code LV7962 by clicking here.

A wall of multi-colored sticky notesI’ve signed up to attend the NAB Show, probably the biggest convention for free TV, this April 9-12. Paul McLane at Radio World wrote yesterday that there will be some significant changes this year. For the first time since I started attending them nine years ago, the main keynote speech won’t be in the ballroom of the adjacent Hilton / LVH / Westgate Hotel but in “a 1,000-seat new Mainstage area of the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center”. There are also changes designed to make conference sessions easier to attend, so you should go read it! Also, Radio World is giving out free exhibits passes if you sign up before March 2.

Speaking of the NAB, Broadcasting & Cable’s John Eggerton, the hardest working man in Washington, reported that it had sold its headquarters. Under terms of the deal, NAB will be leasing the current building until its new headquarters, just a couple of blocks from the Washington Nationals’ baseball stadium, is ready in late 2019.

And over at FierceCable, Ben Munson interviewed Philo CEO Andrew McCollum, who said that his mostly sports-less streaming service hopes to add more channels but has trouble pulling them away when their owners also offer news and sports networks. I never root for failure, but I can’t see the benefit of live entertainment channels to millennials who are used to watching content on demand. In my opinion, any supplement to broadcast TV and Netflix requires what they don’t offer so much – live news and sports.

Even a hurried, single day at CES will produce plenty of bits and pieces that don’t fit into a real story. So I conclude my 2018 coverage with the following hodgepodge in lieu of a regular set of Wednesday notes.

  • CES attendees tend to wear business attire, mostly business casual. (You can judge for yourself if you watch some of the B-roll videos available online.) But I did see one guy wearing the Rick and Morty T-shirt that I’ve embedded here, so I guess there’s no true dress code.
  • I passed someone else walking with a selfie stick, apparently dictating a video blog post. Exact quote: “This is, like, giant convention center.” I almost wish I could have stuck around to hear more.
  • Man holding a cnet sign on a stick, guiding a group at CESAnother, different use of people carrying sticks was the trend toward guided tours. I saw more of them, each leading groups of about a dozen rapt followers, than in the past four CESs put together. Personally, I can’t imagine allowing someone else to curate my serendipity of finding new products and trends that I find interesting, much less hiring them to do it. Those tours must not be designed for people like me.
  • I got a chance to catch the glasses-free 3D TVs at the Stream TV booth. BOE is partnering with Stream to make 8K TVs with Stream technology that lets viewers have the 3D experience with their naked eyes. A few years ago, 3D was a big deal at CES, then it was written off as a fad. Maybe this will be the big comeback.
  • Booth with small video-projecting robots on wheelsFor some reason, I was impressed by the Keecker, which is a voice-enabled robot with cameras, an audio system and a video projector; it can roll around to project movies on any wall in your home. Then I got home and the wife asked, “Why would you need that?” Well, you could use it for videoconferencing, or tell it remotely to show you what’s going on at home, or use its smartphone app to see exactly how humid it is. I guess it just struck me as cool.
  • My predictions of record-breaking hugeness seem to have been accurate. CES wrapped up with the largest exhibit area ever, and I’ll bet that when the audited attendee numbers come in, they’ll also be the highest ever. How long can it grow like this?
  • VIP ROOM sign stuck to doorFinally, in my opinion nothing says “Prepare to enter our special place to be treated as royalty” like a VIP Room sign printed on a wrinkled piece of copier paper and stuck to a door by two pieces of tape. Of course, now I’ve completely torpedoed any chance that they would invite me in. See you next year, CES!