Nearly half of all US households now have access to NextGen TV broadcasts. But due to the FCC’s simulcast mandate, broadcasters don’t have the bandwidth for 4K broadcasts. And they may not have the required bandwidth for a very long time.
Just a few years ago, ATSC 3.0 was hailed as the savior of free-to-air (OTA) television. He promised to bring 4K video and Dolby Atmos audio to every home in the United States, and surprisingly, broadcasters were really interested in the idea. So why can’t I still watch 4K antenna TV?
What is ATSC 3.0 (NextGen Television)?
V ATSC 3.0 standard, colloquially referred to as “NextGen TV”, is an update to the existing HDTV (digital television) standard currently used in broadcast television. It can transmit huge amounts of data by combining traditional antenna television methods with Internet Protocol (IP).
The biggest advantage of NextGen TV is its data transfer capabilities. Broadcasters using this standard can deliver 4K video and Dolby Atmos audio over the air and into homes—in other words, ATSC 3.0 is free for anyone with an antenna, doesn’t require a visit from a cable company, but far outperforms Cable TV quality.
In addition, broadcasters claim that ATSC 3.0 can adapt to new video codecs so it can deliver 8K video. It also has a wider range than the existing HDTV standard and can be used for targeted emergency broadcasts (which may include specific escape routes for tornadoes and the like).
There are some theoretical applications for ATSC 3.0 – for example, it can send TV to cars and smartphones for free, or provide some level of internet access (download only) for smartwatches and other devices. But these ideas are a bit far-fetched, and free 4K TV is really the biggest factor for NextGen TV.
But the FCC is not forcing broadcasters or TV manufacturers to move to the ATSC 3.0 standard. Adoption of NextGen TV is completely voluntary. Historically, this is a bit of an odd stance, as the US government was somewhat aggressive during the transition from analogue television (NTSC) to digital or HDTV (now retroactively called ATSC 1.0 – ATSC 2.0 doesn’t exist, by the way). ).
So, the broadcasters carry the NextGen TV flag. At least 100 stations ATSC 3.0 is now broadcast in the United States, reaching approximately half of all US households (according to to the National Association of Broadcasters). But we still don’t have 4K OTA TV.
Here’s the problem; Broadcasters are unhappy with the FCC’s approach to this transition. They blame the FCC for the lack of 4K OTA TV and fear that without aggressive regulation, the full rollout of ATSC 3.0 could be delayed by several years. (These criticisms are set out in letter from NAB to FCCI am not making assumptions or theories.)
Why are there still no 4K channels?
According to the FCC, broadcasters migrating to ATSC 3.0 must continue to support their ATSC 1.0 feeds for at least five years. On paper, this is a pretty reasonable mandate. Antenna television is supposed to be affordable and is an important tool for emergency management. Leaving spectators behind would be irresponsible and potentially dangerous.
But this mandate has a few unfortunate side effects. Unfortunately, the big problem is that broadcasters don’t have enough bandwidth to support 4K channels – they “waste” too much bandwidth on legacy HDTV channels. (NAB specifically refers to this approach as “wasteful.”)
Even if you have an ATSC 3.0 tuner, you don’t see the full benefits of this new standard. And you certainly won’t brag about it. Thus, there is very little demand for (or awareness of) NextGen TV. The only people trying to make a fuss about ATSC 3.0 are broadcasters and nerds like me.
This is where the feedback loop begins. Manufacturers know that NextGen TV is not in demand (or not required by the FCC), so they do not install ATSC 3.0 tuners in their new TVs. When broadcasters are finally allowed to phase out their ATSC 1.0 channels, very few households will be able to watch ATSC 3.0 broadcasts. The FCC has already added temporary extension to that five-year rule, and there’s a good chance it will see another, more specific extension.
Unless the FCC renews its mandate, viewers who want to continue watching antenna TV may have to buy an external ATSC 3.0 tuner, upgrade to a compatible TV, or rely on local stations that haven’t switched yet.
To be honest, I’m sure a lot of people would prefer an external ATSC 3.0 tuner. Modern OTA receivers can connect to your router and broadcast a TV antenna to any device in your home. Some models even have a built-in DVR. Forcing viewers to purchase special ATSC 3.0 equipment could make antenna television something fresh and new, which could improve public perception of the format.
But this technology must be built directly into TVs. This is the only way to make broadcast TV affordable. And as I mentioned earlier, broadcast TV is an essential part of public safety in case of an emergency. If the FCC does not want to continue to support ATSC 1.0 indefinitely, it needs to be forced to migrate to NextGen TV.
This issue is nothing new.
Earlier in this article, I mentioned that the US government was “somewhat aggressive” in its transition to digital TV. In a sense, this is true. A large number of spectators (approx. 3 millionNeilson estimated in 2009) were not prepared for the shutdown of analogue television—they were “left in the dark.” This is despite the fact that over a billion dollars has been spent on (apparently ineffective) public awareness campaigns.
The US government has also been widely criticized when it forced manufacturers to install digital tuners in new TVs, DVD players, and VCRs because it temporarily increased prices. Many viewers were unhappy that they had to buy new equipment in the first place! (Remember, the “analog outage” happened in 2009 during the housing and financial crisis.)
But the “death of analogue broadcasting” was a 10-year project that took 13 years to complete. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 called for a full transition to digital television by 2006—broadcasters and manufacturers did not take it seriously, so after the delay in the transition, the US government and the US Federal Communications Commission began to take an “aggressive” stance.
And even as it became more aggressive, the US government repeatedly made concessions and delays. The very first delay pushed this transition back to 2008. It was then rescheduled for February 2009. And at the last minute, the DTV Delay Law set a deadline of June 2009.
A similar situation may arise with NextGen TV. The new standard was first open to US broadcasters in 2017 but has received very little support due to vague FCC rules. If the FCC listens to broadcasters, it will start pushing for a full transition to NextGen TV.
But judging by the past, it could take a few years for the FCC to become “aggressive.” And it will be very difficult for him to inform the public about ATSC 3.0 (assuming there is a public awareness campaign at all), since most people now use the Internet for free entertainment and news. We may not have 4K OTA TV until the end of the decade.
It should also be noted that when switching to HDTV, coupons for OTA receivers (worth $40 each) were offered to millions of US households. Thanks to this, many families have not lost access to antenna television. But such an action seems unlikely in the 2020s, as many people don’t realize that over-the-air television is a societal necessity.
How to prepare for 4K OTA TV
This story is a bit of a bummer. We should have had a 4K OTA TV by now, but we don’t have one. And while it’s easy to blame the FCC and TV manufacturers, we also have to be a little realistic – the lack of public interest in ATSC 3.0 is probably its biggest hurdle.
On the other hand, you probably don’t need to buy an ATSC 3.0 tuner anytime soon. But if you want to get ready, there are plenty of ATSC 3.0 tuners to choose from, and some new TVs (especially premium models) have built-in NextGen TV tuners.
Most existing ATSC 3.0 tuners do not connect directly to the TV. Instead, they are receivers that connect to your router, allowing you to stream your TV antenna to any device in your home (from the app, of course). V The SiliconDust HDHomeRun Flex 4K is our favorite option as it’s fairly affordable (and can connect to a Plex server or USB DVR). It also has four tuners so you can stream or record four different channels at the same time (although two of those tuners are ATSC 1.0 only).
Please note that you will also need a TV antenna. Actually, any antenna inserted in a window or mounted on the roof of your house will do – if you already have a digital TV antenna, you don’t need a new one for NextGen TV. (Since ATSC 3.0 is still in troubled waters, I suggest buying an antenna, plug it straight into your TV, and forget about the NextGen TV receiver until later. Receivers will probably get cheaper.)
I also suggest you check channel mapas this will show the channels available in your area and their signal strength (which may affect antenna selection).
HDHomeRun Flex 4K
HDHomeRun Flex 4K has four tuners for viewing four streams simultaneously. It is capable of streaming 4K TV channels (if available in your area).