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Watching HDTV Over-the-Air? Your TV Set Will Be Obsolete Sooner Than You Think

Phillip Dampier October 13, 2016 Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, Online Video, Public Policy & Gov't, Video 17 Comments

atsc-3-0If you cut the cord and are watching all of your HD programming over-the-air, we have some bad news. Your current television set will soon be obsolete.

TV stations across the country are making plans to switch to the next generation of digital television — ATSC 3.0, and it isn’t compatible with millions of television sets and adapter boxes still in daily use across the United States.

The other night I talked with a station engineer who reminded me that consumers are going to have a nasty surprise when local stations start disappearing from existing sets starting a few years from now. Consumer electronics stores will continue to slash prices to clear current television inventory without telling buyers they will eventually need an adapter or rely on cable or satellite television to keep that set working after ATSC 3.0 is fully implemented.

Broadcasters have already started to budget for replacement equipment, necessary to support the new standard. For them, it opens the door to significant new revenue streams and a better quality TV picture. For you, it could mean a bill for a new set, an adapter, or a paid subscription to keep your favorite shows.

At present, over-the-air digital stations in the United States use ATSC 1.0, developed more than 20 years ago. Despite the standard, it took until February 2009 for most television stations to discontinue their analog television broadcasts. To ease the transition, Congress mandated a DTV Converter Box Coupon Program, which subsidized the cost of digital adapters for every household in the country still using an analog-only television set. No such luck this time around. Consumers relying on over-the-air broadcasts will either have to replace their current sets or purchase adapters or dongles out-of-pocket to keep watching.

atsc-glueTo avoid a firestorm from the public, some station owners are thinking about a stop-gap measure that would launch a “digital bouquet” of participating local stations using lower bit rate Standard Definition on a single legacy ATSC 1.0 transmitter for at least a year or two until consumers upgrade their existing equipment. Then, one by one, existing HD stations would switch to ATSC 3.0 and effectively disappear from the dial of sets made before 2016. The good news is you would still have access to free television. The bad news is the picture will be significantly degraded.

Television stations are highly motivated to push for ATSC 3.0 as quickly as possible because it allows them to further monetize the spectrum the FCC allows them to use for free. For the first time, local stations will also be able to charge consumers directly to access broadcast television channels on portable devices like tablets and smartphones. ATSC 3.0 is based on Internet Protocol, allowing stations to blend broadcast and internet content. One of the unique changes ATSC 3.0 will allow is geographical or viewer-targeted commercials. A viewer in the suburbs could theoretically get a different commercial than another living in the city while watching the same station.

Television shows, transmitted in much higher-quality 4K, will also be accompanied by improved high quality audio and will integrate with online content that will run along with the show a viewer is watching. Theoretically, a viewer can lose over the air reception and have their internet connection seamlessly continue to stream the station in fringe reception areas. But viewers will likely be charged for that privilege.

ATSC 3.0 is also considerably more efficient than the current standard, which allows stations to add more digital sub-channels to their lineup, and deliver them in higher quality. That is a very important consideration as the FCC auctions away much of the current UHF television dial to mobile phone companies looking for boost wireless data capacity. ATSC 3.0 likely won’t be on the scene in a major way until after the FCC repacks current UHF stations closer together on the reduced number of UHF channels still left.

Some stations are expected to lease sub-channel space to third parties, which could start another avalanche of religious and home shopping channels, which often pay for coverage. If you have an Ion TV affiliate in your area, you already have an idea of what that looks like. In addition to a primary Ion TV channel, the broadcaster multiplexes 6 sub-channels – Qubo, Ion Life, The Worship Network, Ion Shop, QVC, and Home Shopping Network.

Currently, many major commercial stations support one or two sub-channels, often used for networks like Bounce, Antenna TV, MeTV, local weather and news, and shopping. But with an abundance of extra bandwidth, stations could add ethnic channels, time-shifted network shows, and a plethora of additional channels. That’s good news for cord-cutters looking for more over-the-air entertainment, but it will require an investment in a new set or an adapter to participate.

An introduction to ATSC 3.0 produced by the committee working on the standard. It doesn’t mention you will need a new television or adapter to watch. (3:15)

Currently there are 17 comments on this Article:

  1. Scott says:

    So, now we have to buy new TVs every few years just like we have to buy new phones? No thanks.

  2. fabian says:

    I am one of free to air channels fan and I am excited about new technology because ATSC 1.0 use MPEG 2 which waste of bandwith.

  3. Ian Littman says:

    “By 2016”? Think you’ve got a date wrong…

  4. Ev says:

    The FCC hasn’t approved ATSC 3.0, and considering the painful transition we just went through, and pushback from Congress, it seems pretty likely they’ll just shoot it down, entirely. It’s good to know slimy business interests want to force you to buy a new TV, but this is likely a non-story.

  5. AaronG says:

    you guys are forgetting the big picture here, OTA WILL NO LONGER BE FREE! its clearly stated in this article one of the big things is that local stations can now charge you for access, this is not a change because its a good idea or its cheap, its a change because they can charge extra money from the local viewers.

    • rfgenerator says:

      Absolutely right about the introduction of Digital Rights Management (DRM). This will allow stations to go subscription only, control recording of programs as well as how long recordings of programs will be available. CBS is already moving to a subscription only business model with their introduction of CBS All Access. CBS is putting exclusive high demand content there (i.e. the new Star Trek series) which is only available with a monthly fee.

  6. goon says:

    I disagree with some stuff in the article and with some of the stuff people are saying here. First I see a transition where the stations will share the spectrum to get this going. Channels 7-31 when the spectrum auction is complete. They will run 2 streams for the transtion atsc 1.0 and atsc 3.0 by some stations sharing until it is complete. Also the article misleads you to believe that your tv you have now will not work for astc 3.0 but that is sorta false.
    You will be able to get a hdmi dongle to run it on the tvs and there will be also my guess boxes that will do it. It would be the same as buying a roku or another box to get it at first until you buy a brand new tv.
    I also don’t see free ota going dead with this. First they wouldn’t be able to cut free ota out because millions would raise a fuss and that would be good reason for them to loose all the spectrum they use that really them and the telco’s don’t really own. Is really owned by the people and they are really just renting it or in the case the broadcast companies are getting for free. So ota isn’t going to go bye,bye. Sure they might charge for some interactive stuff and for some stuff like video on demand just like netflix and amazon and others are doing but they are not going to get rid of their ota broadcast channels or the subchannels, In fact I see even more subchannels starting up when this happens. The broadcast channels or sub channels will stay the same cause they will be interactive even if don’t have cable or broadband, So they will make billions off of commercials and ads that can be interactive. So like I said I think this will be great for ota. Sure they might charge for some stuff like some video on demand.
    Another reason I think this will be great for ota is also I think the reach for stuff like outdoor antenna’s will be increased two fold. I see outdoor antennas making the reach of the channel to where the curvature of the earth stops you for grabbing stations so I see easy for an outdoor antenna to reach around 125 mile no trouble and even an indoor antenna like 70-80 no trouble. So that would mean the stations would add more subchannels for more ad revenue.
    I also see where it will be easier for say a family that has tv in every room or 4 or more tv’s running different channels at once from the same antenna or from smaller antenna’s besides watching tv the way the want,whether a smartphone,notepad,laptop or newer tv’s.
    I also see after maybe for the first year or two the tv might be more expensive but after a year or 2 you would be able to pick up a new tv around 36 inches for around $100 dollars like you do now at christmas time and other holidays at walmart and other stores.
    So like I said I disagree with lots in this article and what some are saying in the forum, I actually think soon you will see the big cable and isp’s coming out against atsc 3.0 cause when it is in full swing it will cause lots more defections from some isp’s and lot more cord cutters from the cable companies. Cause the broadcaster wouldn’t need the cable companies for unique channels,
    if you look up subchannels there are subchannels just as unique as the cable channels.
    There are 24 sports,weather,news,music,western,scifi,documentary,religous,channels for kids,teens,women,men and so on out there ota, Just till atsc 3.0 they couldn’t run as many. Hell even netflix,amazon and other could start up subchannels for their services that they could stream video on demand and charge like they do now.

    • From what I’ve been following, the dual 1.0/3.0 channels will exist for about a year or two, which is likely not enough to assure viewers won’t lose channels. We did report in this story the availability of dongles and adapters to allow sets to continue working, but that will come at the expense of the viewer and we do not yet know their capabilities or performance.

      Two, because of the channel repacking for the downsized UHF band, the FCC will have to consider reducing power or restricting existing stations’ coverage areas to minimize signal interference with other stations. ATSC 3.0 is likely to be a wash as far as better coverage goes in signal dense regions like Southern California and the northeastern U.S. and other northern cities, especially those near major Canadian cities.

      Technology changes can offer plenty of improvements, but they can also cost and create significant confusion for less informed members of the public. I’d say fewer than 5% have any idea ATSC 3.0 is coming.

      • goon says:

        Might be wrong but way I’m understanding what I’ve been reading is with 3.0 the problem of noise and co channel interference would be taken care of so to me the won’t have to reduce the power of a channel when sharing. I also read it that if you have broadband also,, As long as you get any signal from an antenna,you won’t loose it. They will suplliment it with broadband wifi.
        I also read in one of the stories when testing I think it was for wral in NC where they are testing it. The signal reached a van with equipment 60+ miles away. I think also for antenna since now for far channels you really have to have line of site to get the best signal so now you won’t so even if they did force reduced power you still will benefit with greater distance with line of site so the station will reach a longer distance. I do know I might be wrong and it might be an awash for ota antenna but no one will know till it really come out and more broadcast stations test it.
        As fir a dongle I don’t think they would cost much cause would the dongle would only have to handle the 3.0 stream,the 1.0 stream the tv’s will already do. So if don’t cost that much, you never know the broadcasters themselves might sell the cheap in their broadcast area or give them out free, Cause they would be making the price back from expanded advertisements.

      • JayS says:

        Has the ATSC 3.0 standard been finalized?

        The All-Channel Receiver Act of 1962 empowers the FCC to require that all new TV sets are able to receive at the ATSC 3.0 standard. The FCC applied this act in the mid 2000’s for the transition to digital that occurred in 2009. In 1962, it was originally written, to require UHF receivers in all TVs sets, as many TV sets only included a VHF receiver; you needed a separate external receiver for UHF channels.

        • goon says:

          Jay that act made it so no receiver can be called a television or tv unless it had at the time ntsc tuner,now atsc tuner. Reason the new visio sets they sell without a tuner they don’t call them televisions or tv’s. If the advertise them as television or tv’s they would be breaking the lay reason the call them sets monitors or something else. But like I mentioned earlier, they would be able to sell dongles or boxes for atsc 3.0 and still say its for to improve your television signal cause your television already has a atsc 1.0 in it or if still have the older like I do on one of my antenna’s it has one of the converter boxes that convert from analog to digital., Or ntsc to atsc. Now them televisions might be scrap, Don’t know if would be able to double convert the signal or not. Most likely no. Also since its a dongle. They might be able to make them work with the sets they call monitors or some other name that don’t have no tuner in them. That we will have to see, but them sets you didn’t buy for it anyways, So them people might be out of luck.
          But anyways I see this as a good thing for people with ota antenna’s and going to be a nightmare for cable companies that are charging a small fortune for channels and will lead to a lot of people to cut the cord that much faster and maybe keep just broadband if anything from the cable companies or telcos.
          Now I do think with atsc 3.0 along with it the fcc should put in a strict no for broadband caps and zero rating or with this and loss to cordcutters the cable companies and isp’s are going to try and make up the loss by raising the price on your broadband where its back to where it is now.
          But anyways I think moving to atsc 3.0 is a good thing and hope it don’t take like 10 years when we moved from ntsc to atsc. Hopefully by end of 2017 your will see all broadcasters doing both streams.

          • goon says:

            Actually I think the broadcasters don’t need any permission at all to move up to atsc 3.0, That will be totally up to them. What the fcc can and will force them to do is make sure there is still a way for people to watch television on sets that have a astc 1.0 set is able to watch on them television sets for so many years or could probably take all the spectrum off of them if they didn’t. But the fcc can force the television set manufactures to have the tuner in them or they wouldn’t be able to call them televisions or tv’s. So you know the broadcasters want this cause more money for them from ads,video on demand and so on..
            Like I said earlier I think astc 3.0 is going to be a cord cutters best dream. More money for the broadcasters, less money for the cable companies and telco isp’s that been robbing us blind and more money in my pocket for stuff like food. And not make the CEO’s and stockmarket richer and happier.

  7. Berfunkle says:

    I wouldn’t mind OTA 4K television. Where else are you going to get 4K content? The cable cos? LOL They don’t even provide 1080P!

    It’s a hassle and costly for some folks who would need to upgrade, I realize, but I wouldn’t mind going to ATSC 3.0 now rather than later.

  8. Brian M. Hass says:

    I spoke with an employee of South Dakota Public Broadcasting this past week. I asked him about the upgrade from HD to 4K. He told me that there is a difference between the HD to 4K upgrade compared to the earlier analog to HD upgrade. He told me that the earlier upgrade by television stations from analog to HD was mandatory. However, he said that the upgrade by television stations from HD to 4K will be entirely voluntary; and because of cost of upgrading the broadcast hardware, some television stations might not be in a hurry to do it. So, it is entirely possible that we might see a mixture of ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 stations on the air for quite a while.

  9. jj says:

    They can keep it , I don’t want it .
    People on a set income will be left out in the cold , they will not be able to buy new TV’s or digital boxes . All I see is a bad Idea that is going to kill OTA OFF once and for all . probably secretly backed by cable companies because they sure wouldn’t like this coming it will make them vanish Internet bills will skyrocket with them constantly popping you up ads even during a dvd or bluray,. Time to just retire the set top box when this takes hold I guess .I still have my stereo for news .

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