Electronics maker LG was one of the first TV set manufacturers to support ATSC 3.0, the next-generation broadcast standard marketed as “NextGen TV.”
And, soon, it will be the first major TV maker to move away from the standard — at least on a temporary basis.
This week, officials at LG affirmed the company will not be installing NextGen TV tuners in their newer-model TV sets that are expected to land in stores and online next year.
The decision is connected to the outcome of a recent patent dispute brought in federal court by Constellation Designs, which claims to have created a unique way to receive lower-power wireless transmission that are more-efficient.
At trial, Constellation Designs was successful in proving their patented technology tied in some way to the installation of ATSC 3.0 tuners found in LG sets dating as far back as 2021. Despite a vigorous defense, a jury concluded in July that LG infringed on those patents and ordered it to pay current and past owed royalties amounting to $1.68 million, or just under $7 per television set sold.
The case itself was unusual, in that it comes at a time when the commercial broadcast television industry is trying to rally electronic makers and federal lawmakers to support the ATSC 3.0 standard. The technology includes a number of improvements over the current digital broadcast standard implemented in the early 2000s, including support for ultra high-definition, or 4K, video feeds and the ability to target consumers with hyperlocal and personalized messaging.
Earlier this year, the National Association of Broadcasters announced it was forming a “task force” with key government and electronics industry stakeholders to explore the various complexities associated with rolling out the broadcast standard and getting electronic makers and consumers to adopt it.
LG appeared to be a willing partner in adopting the NextGen TV standard, but the company says the outcome of the patent suit brought by Constellation Designs has it re-thinking whether to support the standard in the long term. At least in the short term, LG says its newer-model TV sets won’t include tuners that can decode ATSC 3.0 signals.
“This challenging and uncertain patent landscape has forced LG to make the difficult decision to suspend the inclusion of ATSC 3.0-compatibility in its 2024 television lineup for the United States,” LG said in a statement to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this month. “This decision was not made lightly, because LG has been a vocal ATSC 3.0 advocate, a strong supporter of local broadcasters, and a leading developer of television products with the latest NextGen TV technologies.”
The situation with LG is yet another example of how the rollout of NextGen TV has been hamstrung by differing standards and various intellectual property matters.
Earlier this year, Canadian electronics maker Nuvyyo issued refunds to customers who pre-ordered an ATSC 3.0 version of its Tablo over-the-air digital video recorder (DVR), with officials saying certifications and “technical issues” caused “unforeseen delays.”
In March, a spokesperson for Nuvyyo said the company was still committed to building and shipping an ATSC 3.0-compatible model of Tablo. Last month, the company introduced a new fourth-generation version of Tablo that does not include a NextGen TV tuner. Nuvyyo is a subsidiary of the E. W. Scripps Company, a commercial broadcaster that is promoting the development and marketing of NextGen TV.
Another reason why electronic makers are iffy on installing NextGen TV tuners in their sets is because of high costs associated with licensing various technology standards that have been affirmed by the ATSC. Among other things, TV makers that want to install ATSC 3.0 tuners in their sets are required to secure a license from Dolby Laboratories for the AC-4 audio codec.
The licensing structure involving ATSC 3.0 receivers is not too different from the implementation of ATSC 1.0, which also incorporated certain patented technology in its broadcast standard. But the costs associated with implementing ATSC 3.0 is higher, prompting manufacturers to install compatible, compliant tuners primarily in their more-premium models, which are also typically more expensive for consumers.
There is speculation that LG’s patent woes over NextGen TV technology might convince other companies like Sony and Samsung to abandon ATSC 3.0 tuners in their future TV sets. So far, no other company has announced their intention to do so.
And there is plenty of time for all sides to work through the various business- and technology-related issues to get ATSC 3.0 in front of as many consumers as possible, and at the lowest possible price point. Under current regulations, the FCC is requiring licensed broadcast TV stations to maintain their ATSC 1.0 signals through at least 2027 (despite some erroneous reports, there is no “cutoff” date for ATSC 1.0 signals, as was the case in 2009 when analog TV signals were turned off), and the agency says it may push back that date even further if the ATSC 3.0 standard has not matured enough to the point that most broadcast TV viewers are watching those signals.