• Zinwell has unveiled a new NextGen TV-capable tuner box that can receive security certificates to view encrypted channels without a home broadband connection.
• The box uses 4G LTE connections to download server-side encryption certificates for those channels, rather than a viewer’s home Internet service.
• Broadcasters say encrypting their over-the-air signals will allow them to thwart piracy while ensuring “authorized” viewers can still receive them.
Electronics maker Zinwell has introduced one of the first ATSC 3.0-compliant set-top boxes that will allow TV fans to view encrypted broadcast channels without a home broadband connection.
The Zinwell ZAT-6000L NextGen TV Box includes an on-board 4G LTE antenna that can receive server-size encryption certificates that are needed to unlock certain ATSC 3.0 broadcast TV channels, eliminating the need for users to connect their boxes to their home Internet connections.
The box could be useful in so-called “broadband deserts,” where high-speed Internet is tough to come by because of a lack of infrastructure and where 4G LTE signals offered by the three major carriers are abundant. Zinwell is also including a WiFi antenna on its new box, so viewers have a choice between connecting to their home Internet or using nearby cellphone towers.
Over the past few years, more local TV broadcasters have signed on to provide ATSC 3.0 simulcasts of their ATSC 1.0 signals. The ATSC 3.0 standard allows for better delivery of compressed video over existing radio spectrum set aside for TV broadcasters, with video and data transmissions using the same Internet Protocol technology that powers Internet-based services.
While the current digital standard, ATSC 1.0, doesn’t easily provide broadcasters with a way to encrypt their signals, the technical advancements of ATSC 3.0 does — and broadcasters say they intend to use a standardized Digital Rights Management, or DRM, protocol to ensure their video signals are only received by “authorized users” and aren’t easily pirated.
TVs or set-top box tuners that are DRM certified are provisioned or receive encryption certificates that are delivered by a broadcaster through the Internet — which means viewers who want to watch ATSC 3.0 channels will have to connect their TV or set-top box to the Internet in order to download those certificates.
The Zinwell ZAT-6000L removes the friction of connecting a standalone set-top box to a user’s home Internet by offering an on-board 4G LTE radio that simply connects to a nearby cellphone tower. Marketing materials reviewed by The Desk didn’t say which of the three major phone providers — AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon — will provide data connections to the box, nor whether users of the box will have to pay an access fee to have their box connected via 4G LTE.
Wireless connection aside, the Zinwell ZAT-6000L basically functions like those digital video converters that the federal government subsidized years ago, when broadcasters moved away from analog transmission in favor of digital ones. The box relies on a conventional over-the-air antenna to receive digital TV stations like local ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates, and connects to a TV through HDMI, which most modern TVs have.
The Zinwell ZAT-6000L is backwards compatible with ATSC 1.0 signals, which all TV broadcasters still use. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has required broadcasters to maintain an ATSC 3.0 simulcast of their ATSC 1.0 signal through at least 2027, though the FCC may push back that data if American TV households don’t appear ready to fully convert to NextGen TV by then.
The Zinwell ZAT-6000L also includes a universal remote that can be programmed to control the power and volume of most modern TVs and soundbars, the company says. It will cost $150 at retail, and Zinwell will begin accepting pre-orders for the box later this month.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the model number of the Zinwell NextGen TV set-top box.