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Every so often, I’ll find an email from a fellow cord-cutter who’s concerned about future-proofing for ATSC 3.0.
The huge air TV upgrade, also known as NextGen TV, represents a major leap over the current ATSC 1.0 benchmark for antenna consumers, assuring 4K HDR video service, Dolby Atmos and DTS-X sound , on-demand movie, and also possibly greater reception. But because ATSC 3.0 is incompatible with the current TV tuners, cord-cutters will eventually need new TVs, tuner boxes, or over-the-air DVRs to make the most. If you hear sufficient industry hype to the new benchmark, you might reasonably wonder if it is worth buying ATSC 1.0 hardware anymore.
From what I’ve heard, though, not much has changed since last year, when I wrote that most people should not be seeking out ATSC 3.0 hardware yet. While more channels are broadcasting in ATSC 3.0 than a year ago, the huge majority are still in an experimental stage, and major TV networks have not yet committed to attributes like 4K and on-demand movie. Compatible hardware also remains expensive and infrequent, and even Dave Arland, a spokesman for the ATSC standards body, acknowledged via email that it is”very early days” for its standard.
Some NextGen TV hardware alternatives do exist now, and we’ll likely find some more after this year. Still, I would recommend against blowing your budget on ATSC 3.0 gear right now, or delaying your cord-cutting plans solely for the sake of future-proofing.
ATSC 3.0: Where are the 4K broadcasts?
The biggest question mark for ATSC 3.0 is at what stage broadcasters will adopt key features such as 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos sound. Even though more than 90 stations around the United States are broadcasting at the new standard today, Arland said that they are mostly focused on getting on the air and fulfilling simulcast requirements. (Per FCC guidelines, broadcasters that launch NextGen TV stations must also air their most important channels in ATSC 1.0 until at least February 2023.) A supplier in Boise, Idaho called Evoca is offering a 4K channel currently, but just as part of a broader paid service.
Major TV networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox could be a complicating factor as well. Even if those networks encourage ATSC 3.0, none of them have made broad commitments to any particular ATSC 3.0 feature, Arland said. 4K alone could be a significant job for networks, which for the most part have not been offering the arrangement on cable or streaming solutions . (One notable exception is Fox, that has started delivering some athletic events in 4K.)
Bear in mind that ATSC 3.0 isn’t just for antennas. The industry is also pushing for its adoption in cable TV systems, together with Arland calling it”essential” to get broadcasters. My guess is we will not see wide proliferation of NextGen TV features until cable providers like Comcast are on board, and right now they’re only in the testing phase.
In the long run, we could see broadcasters adopt NextGen TV for local content, so you may get perks such as on-demand video for weather or news. The standard also supports a dialog-boosting feature called Voice+, and that Arland said is simple to execute. You may expect that to be adopted in advance of other attributes like 4K HDR video.
But if you are expecting to plug into an antenna and observe neighborhood NFL games or primetime shows in 4K HDR, it might be a while before that is a reality.
Even if you want to future-proof your own cord-cutting setup, consumer-facing options are currently quite limited.
On the TV front, Sony is promising 16 new sets this year with NextGen TV support, whereas LG says all of its own new 4K and 8K sets will encourage NextGen TV in 2021.
The situation is less clear with different vendors. Samsung hasn’t committed to some particulars (although the firm said via email that it’s more ATSC 3.0 versions on the road ), and other sellers like TCL did not announce any new sets at the big CES trade show past week. Arland said other sellers could launch compatible TVs after this year, but did not supply any details. (For today, the NextGen TV website has a list of available sets.)
External set-top boxes may also be an alternative Instead of replacing Your Whole TV, but thus far the only consumer-friendly option is SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun Connect 4