ATSC 3.0

The future of TV is up in the air...literally.

TV got its start by broadcasting TV signals over-the-air (OTA) to antennas in our homes. In the US, we moved away from this technology as the quality of the TV picture delivered by cable was better and more reliable. Soon we were able to get a better selection of shows and channels on cable TV. Satellite TV reached remote locations that OTA TV transmitted from antennas on the ground could not. OTA TV became less popular and forgotten by many. Even the transition from analogue OTA TV to digital transmissions only slightly dented the widespread use of cable and satellite TV.

During the history of cable and satellite TV, the major TV networks and their local affiliates maintained their broadcast to air capability. Now there is widespread interest from TV networks and equipment manufacturers in the next version of OTA TV, the ATSC 3.0 standard. Why? It's very possible that ATSC 3.0 OTA broadcast TV will be the first widely used method to deliver 4K (UltraHD and above) resolution TV.

How is it that broadcast OTA TV can still achieve this milestone while internet streaming is already delivering 4K TV content to homes? Most of us do not yet stream 4K content, and if we did the current internet would probably become unusable. The increased picture information in a 4K resolution video requires significant increases in network bandwidth over what is commonly available today. Not only does the bandwidth of the internet providers network have to increase, so does the bandwidth connected to each household. This usually requires installing new optical fiber connections to each house and all the extra work that entails.

Broadcast OTA TV does not require an internet connection to our houses. It uses a one-to-many radio connection, where a single transmitter sends the same signal to many locations. The connections are not unique like an internet connection, and do not require any internet infrastructure to reach us.

The OTA TV signal can reach us anywhere in range and is wireless, so it can move with us. The ability of the proposed ATSC 3.0 system to deliver a lots of data, without wires or cables, has even been proposed as a way to deliver software updates to cars and other mobile systems.

While OTA TV will not replace internet streaming, is very possible that the key to making internet streaming more viable is to shift some of the content that is widely distributed back onto the OTA network.