The new ATSC 3.0 standards are coming to market as new technologies enable over-the-top (OTT) programing to be integrated with over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts.
Broadcasters around the globe are exploring how to incorporate state-of-the-art systems and capabilities into their next-generation systems, and expect the upcoming ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard to play a big part in their efforts.
South Korea is adopting ATSC 3.0 as its next-generation broadcast standard. It is also actively working to have ATSC 3.0 systems, with High Dynamic Range (HDR) capabilities, on the air by the time of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which the country is hosting.
We caught up with Alan Stein, Vice President of Technology and Standards at Technicolor, to hear more about ATSC 3.0, how it supports a hybrid broadcast/broadband TV approach, and how Technicolor is participating in ATSC 3.0’s advancement.
Stein: ATSC 3.0 is nearing completion. It is a suite of standards documents. Most of those documents are now in the final stages of completion, and we’re seeing a rollout in the first half of the year in South Korea. South Korea is taking the lead on ATSC 3.0 deployment in anticipation of broadcasting the 2018 Olympic Games.
Additionally, at the NAB Show we expect to see commercial ATSC 3.0-compatible products entering the market.
Stein: ATSC 3.0 is internet-compatible in a way that the original HD over-the-air transmissions aren’t. Gone are arcane, broadcast-only protocols, and in place is standard internet protocol delivery. ATSC 3.0 brings IP packets over the air. Audio and video are sent in separate streams, so one can have multiple languages, for instance, delivered over separate paths.
Some of those alternate language audio streams could come via a hybrid over-the-top path. ATSC 3.0 supports the idea of a broadcast plus broadband, or a hybrid broadcast/broadband TV approach.
Stein: A key driver behind ATSC 3.0 is the ability to have highly targeted advertising, so one can imagine smart TVs or smart boxes with local storage and ad inventory that can be dynamically inserted based on user preference, or demographic information such as ZIP codes.
I think there’s a strong awareness of the potential benefits to broadcast and the combination of broadcast and broadband, and of course Android TV is a leading platform for enabling those functions.
Stein: One of the main changes is the “runtime environment” that winds up being your new program guide, i.e. all the graphics overlaid on the screen, that wind up being a web page.
Stein: ATSC 3.0 is a highly flexible system. In the past, we’ve been able to have HDTV, so we’ve been able to have 720p or 1080i or 1080p video and 5.1 audio and closed captions, and that’s about it.
Now we could have 4K video; we could have HDR, or wide color gamut; we could eventually have high frame rate at as much as 120 frames per second (and I can’t wait to watch a hockey game without motion blur at 120 frames per second).
We could have dense packing of multiple films or TV episodes in a single TV channel. There are some broadcasters that want to maximize the number of programs they can get over a single 6MHz TV channel and offer something like a “skinny bundle” that’s being offered commercially by some satellite providers.
So, there’s great flexibility in the ATSC 3.0 system. Additionally, the hybrid delivery augments that. We have broadcasters that said they want to deliver sub-HD resolution over the air and augment that with spatially scalable video to get to full HD in the home, but have mobile reception receive just the smaller picture, with more transmission robustness.
Stein: HDR has been considered very important as an up-step in ATSC service. ATSC 3.0 – unlike the original “ATSC 1” A/53 system – is not a mandatory switch for broadcasters.
So, the broadcasters that are going to deliver HDR want to make sure they get extremely high quality. At the same time, there are hundreds of millions of legacy television sets that don’t do HDR. Technicolor’s technology explicitly addresses that issue and the broader issue of terminal diversity. Beyond that, some broadcasters think they will be able to deliver an HDR signal to devices that are not HDR screens, but are “HDR-compatible” in the sense that they consume an HDR signal and display a standard dynamic range output.
Stein: I think that the explosive combination of possibilities in the production environment rightly concerns the broadcasters. The other aspect to that problem goes back to the targeted ad use case. If you must create SDR and HDR versions of every ad that you want to insert locally, that adds complexity and cost into consumer devices, which are extremely price-sensitive. An approach that can unify the SDR/HDR experience has some very clear benefits to broadcasters.
Stein: It’s important, but it’s somewhat orthogonal. I would say that the HDR approach that’s selected, or the approaches that are selected, affect the video elementary bitstream, whereas the hybrid delivery is really more about media transport and packets and combining networks, which is a somewhat separate problem.
Stein: Technicolor Advanced HDR, also known as SL-HDR1, advocates for a bitstream that’s decodable directly as SDR, or decodable directly as HDR, with a bit of post-processing software in the receiving device.
The idea is that you would never have to simulcast two different bit streams; you would have a single bitstream; devices that simply have an HEVC decoder with no HD knowledge work just as they work for non-HDR. These decode the bitstream normally, and they ignore a little bit of extra bitstream that we insert to let HDR be recovered. This allows, for example, a device that acts as a home to receive a single stream off the air, potentially insert an ad that’s stored in local storage, and then deliver that stream in the home to both HDR and SDR devices. We believe our approach is the most flexible and elegant solution for the problem of diverse receiver capabilities.