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Next-generation broadcast TV tuners to be released in coming weeks

A new generation of broadcast television technology will soon be released to consumers, the industry group tasked with overseeing development of the technology said in a press release this week.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee said announcements about devices capable of receiving ATSC 3.0 signals were expected within the coming days. Those announcements would be timed with the Consumer Electronics Show, a global convention held in Las Vegas where electronics manufacturers show off prototypes of their next-generation gadgets and gear.

ATSC 3.0 tuners will be capable of receiving free ultra high-definition (UHD), or “4K,” television signals over the air with an antenna in markets where the technology is used by a broadcaster. It would also allow stations to target viewers with interactive messaging, including localized emergency broadcasts.

Devices capable of receiving ATSC 3.0 signals aren’t currently available to purchase in the United States, and television sets — including 4K TVs — include tuners that only receive high definition signals. This week’s announcement from the consortium suggested adapter boxes and other external tuners would be available for 4K TVs, high definition TVs and other devices in the coming months.

Currently, local broadcasters — including NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and PBS affiliates — use the ATSC 1.0 standard to transmit digital signals in high definition and offer multiplexed digital-only channels from networks like Antenna TV, This TV, Me TV and the Justice Network. ATSC 1.0 became industry standard in the United States in 2009 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required local broadcasters to replace their traditional analog signals with a digital one.

On Tuesday, ATSC said the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) had formally recognized ATSC 3.0 as the global next-generation digital broadcast standard, ” paving the way for countries around the world to evaluate and use the IP-based digital broadcast standard, the first of its kind in the world,” the consortium said.

Other countries have already begun testing and rolling out the standard on a larger scale than in the United States. In 2016, LG Electronics tested the standard; ATSC 3.0 broadcasts launched in South Korea the following year ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyongyang.

In the United States, ATSC 3.0 tests have been conducted in a handful of small markets. Raleigh NBC affiliate WRAL-TV (Channel 5) was one of the first stations to launch a digital test signal, airing a high definition feed of its regular broadcast station alongside a UHD feed of a short 4K video on repeat.

Additional ATSC 3.0 tests have been conducted in other markets, with formal launches expected to start this month. ATSC says more than 40 television markets across the country will launch ATSC 3.0 signals by the end of the year.

Unlike ATSC 1.0, there are currently no plans to require local broadcasters to use ATSC 3.0, though several companies that operate local stations in the United States have expressed a willingness to use the new standard.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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