ATSC 3.0: Are 4K OTA Broadcasts Available Right Now

ATSC 3.0: Next-Gen TV [2020 Update]

ATSC 3.0, dubbed “Next-Gen TV”, is the planned future of television broadcasts in the U.S. and likely all over the world. The ATSC 3.0 standard has been successfully implemented in South Korea since 2018.

Next-Gen TV promises to provide consumers with more flexibility, significantly higher audio and video quality, while at the same time allow broadcasters to offer various services not previously possible.

In this article, we will learn about the ATSC 3.0 standard and what to expect in 2020 and onward.

What Is ATSC 3.0?

The term “ATSC” itself stands for Advanced Television Systems Committee, it is commonly used for two things: ATSC standards, and ATSC tuner/receiver hardware that will be interconnected to each other.

The ATSC standards are, simply put, a set of standards and protocols defining how television signals are broadcasted and interpreted. The first ATSC standard (known as ATSC 1.0) was launched back in 1996 and is still widely used on OTA (over-the-air) TV signals. TV-tuners (or more correctly, TV-receivers) that operate on ATSC standards are dubbed ATSC tuners/receivers.

With that being said, ATSC 3.0 is the latest update to the ATSC standards. Interestingly enough, ATSC 2.0 was never actually launched, however, all planned updates were adopted into the new ATSC 3.0 standard. ATSC 3.0 was initially launched in 2017 in South Korea, mainly in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

In the U.S., the transition from ATSC 1.0 to 3.0 just started in late 2019 and early 2020. This is why ATSC 3.0 and Next-Gen TV have been the major buzzwords as of late.

The plan is, that after sufficient consumer adoption ATSC 1.0 transmissions will eventually be abandoned, however, the voluntary carriage of ATSC 3.0 will be market-driven and not forced.

The FCC will prevent TV stations from abandoning ATSC 1.0 until at least 2023 and most likely 2025.

The key difference between ATSC 3.0 tuners compared to the 1.0 version, is that it uses both over-the-air (OTA) television signals and in-home broadband internet to receive television signals. So, the experience is now closer to cable or satellite TVs.

What Are The Benefits of ATSC 3.0?

There are several key benefits of the ATSC 3.0 standards (and thus ATSC 3.0 tuners) compared to ATSC 1.0, which we will discuss below:

  1. Picture Quality: pretty self-explanatory. ATSC 1.0 can only produce up to 1080p picture quality and even then, it’s pretty rare and most TV broadcasts are only 720p max. ATSC 3.0 offers 4K UHD as the new standard, which is a significant upgrade and also offers various features like HDR (High Dynamic Range), WCG (Wide Color Gamut) and higher frame rate to further improve picture quality.
  2. Audio Quality: ATSC 3.0 now supports Dolby AC-4 instead of AC-3 offered by ATSC 1.0. This allows broadcasts of a maximum of 7.1.4-channel audio that supports DTS:X, Dolby Atmos, and other advanced object-based formats. AC-3, on the other hand, is limited to 5.1 channel surround sound.
  3. Channel Reception: Can receive more channels in a much higher quality for both audio and video (as discussed above).
  4. Mobile streaming: ATSC 3.0 allows us to stream videos on mobile devices (smartphones, tablets) and TV tuners in vehicles.
  5. Geo-targeting and Personalization: Since ATSC 3.0 also utilizes the internet, it can, for example, collect more information like better geo-location, your viewing behaviors, and so on, so it can broadcast personalized content. This can also include personalized news and even evacuation routes and safety-related information to a specific user that might need the information.

For more information on specific features and everything the ATSC 3.0 standard has to offer, we did a comprehensive article we recommend you check out after you’re done here.

What Networks are Planning to Move to ATSC 3.0

40 of the largest TV markets in the U.S. have announced their plans to deploy ATSC 3.0 (dubbed Next-Gen TV) by the end of 2020, and will include, but not limited to these networks:

  • Fox stations
  • Univision
  • NBCUniversal stations
  • Nexstar Media Group
  • Sinclair Broadcast Group
  • E.W. Scripps Company
  • Cox Media Group
  • Gray Television
  • Hearst Television Inc.
  • Meredith Local Media
  • Graham Media Group
  • TEGNA Inc.
  • Americas Public Television Stations
  • Phoenix Model Market
  • Capitol Broadcasting
  • Hubbard Broadcasting

Where is ATSC 3.0 Currently Being Broadcast and By Who

The first-ever single-market effort to test a transition to ATSC 3.0 Next-Gen TV was launched in Phoenix, Arizona in 2018 and is still ongoing. Here are some of the major stations that participated and are still participating in the model market test:

  • Univision’s KFPH-CD Channel 35 (UniMas) and KTVW-DT Channel 33 (Univision)
  • Nexstar’s KASW Channel 49 (CW Network)
  • Telemundo’s KTAZ Channel 39 (Telemundo)
  • Fox’s KSAZ Channel 10 (FOX) and KUTP Channel 26 (MyTV Network)
  • Meredith’s KPHO Channel 17 (CBS) and KTVK Channel 24 (Independent)
  • Scripps’s KNXV Channel 15 (ABC)
  • TEGNA’s KPNX Channel 12 (NBC)

Will Your Current Antenna Work With ATSC 3.0

There are two different layers of this question. First, will your current antenna still work after this update? The answer is yes, and you’ll also be able to use your current TV. The TV networks and stations are required to offer the ATSC 1.0 OTA standard for at least five years after they introduce ATSC 3.0 (regulated by the FCC).

However, will you be able to get all the new benefits of the ATSC 3.0 standards with your current antenna? The short answer is no. Remember that ATSC 1.0 broadcasts will stop in the next five years, and so you will need to invest in a new antenna sooner or later.

With that being said, there is no reason to keep paying cable and satellite subscriptions waiting for the next standard to be wide-spread. You can literally save thousands of dollars by cutting the proverbial “cord” today.

Here are our top 3 recommendations if you want to invest in a new antenna today:

#1. Antennas Direct 8-Element Bowtie TV Antenna

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Very reliable reception of weak signals
  • Broad reception of UHF signals
  • Can be pointed in two different directions for versatility and precision
  • Very easy to assemble
  • Doesn’t need a preamplifier in most situations

Cons:

  • Relatively large, require a strong mount
  • Can’t receive VHF signals (need an additional element to receive VHF)

Our Verdict

An impressive antenna in terms of versatility in the beam angle and reception power. You can aim each of the two panels separately, which allows us better receptions especially if you are attempting to receive signals from different markets. However, this is also good if you want to catch weak signals (by pointing both to the same direction).

Very durable with a weatherproof design, so it’s very stable even during strong winds and rainy conditions. An excellent long-term investment especially considering how Antennas Direct is one of the most well-known antenna manufacturers, with great customer support and services.

#2. RCA Outdoor Yagi Satellite HD Antenna

FREE TV - RCA Compact Outdoor Yagi HDTV Antenna with 70 Mile Range

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Very easy to assemble, comes almost fully assembled in the package
  • Easy to install and setup
  • High-quality reception for great picture and sound
  • Great signal finder app to detect how we should set the antenna
  • Flexible design, easy to direct the antenna
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Not very durable and sturdy
  • Cheap-looking

Our Verdict

The key highlight of this antenna is its ease of installation and setup, as it’s almost fully assembled out of the box. Simple design and relatively light, so you can easily mount it on your rooftop or with a long pole depending on your needs.

Although it’s fairly affordable, the Yagi Satellite HD Antenna does support 4K quality if it’s available in your location, so it’s a huge plus. Great signal reception and can easily receive channels from relatively far distances.

Also, a very useful RCA Signal App finder that can suggest where you should position the antenna to receive better channels is available for download.

#3. Antennas Direct Clearstream 4 TV Antenna

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Great reception for both UHV and VHF-High signals for medium strength
  • Sturdy and durable mount, you can easily mount outdoor if necessary
  • Multi-directional reception for areas with several transmitters located separately

Cons:

  • No built-in amplifier, not very good at receiving weak signals (need an amplifier)

Our Verdict

Another choice from Antennas Direct. Which, again, is one of the most renowned antenna manufacturing companies in the world. Therefore, you can expect a high degree of quality from this antenna.

The Clearstream 4 comes with a slightly lower price point than the 8-Element Bowtie reviewed above. It’s a good all-around antenna to pull in strong to medium TV signals, however, people have reported some issues with fringe or weak signals. Also worth noting is that the Clearstream 4 can receive VHF signals (while the 8-Element Bowtie cannot).

If you’re located within 60 miles of your TV broadcast towers, then the Clearstream 4 is a good choice with a stylish design. Not sure? Check out our station locator tool page. If not, we recommend you go for the 8-Element Bowtie reviewed above.

Will Current Tuner Hardware Be Compatible With ATSC 3.0?

The answer here is strictly no, ATSC 3.0 is not designed to be backward compatible with current ATSC 1.0 tuners at least, not until further notice. Meaning, the tuner hardware and also your current TV set won’t be able to natively receive and process the 4K signals and 7.1 Dolby Atmos audio brought by the ATSC 3.0 signals.

As mentioned above, however, 2023 (and most likely 2025) will be the earliest year any broadcaster(s) will be legally permitted to abandon ATSC 1.0 broadcast, and that is if they do decide to discontinue the broadcast. So, if you’ve already invested in tuner hardware recently, you will still be able to use it for at least three to five years.

When Will ATSC 3.0 Devices Come To Our Market?

Various trials and experiments have been performed in the U.S. for ATSC 3.0 broadcast, and based on the current market trajectory, ATSC 3.0 most likely will become mainstream between 2021 and 2025, maybe starting the end of 2020 or so.

However, South Korea has adopted ATSC 3.0 since mid-2017 and they had successfully broadcasted the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics in 4K UHD (with ATSC 3.0 standards).

We can expect ATSC 3.0 TVs, tuner hardware, and media boxes, among other related appliances for the South Korean market throughout 2020.

In early January (2020), Samsung, Sony, and LG announced that they are releasing a combination of 20 ATSC 3.0 compatible TV models (with new tuner hardware) later in 2020 (expected to hit the stores mid-end 2020).

So, it’s most likely we will see ATSC 3.0 devices become mainstream sometime between the end of 2020 and 2025.

Summary: What To Expect In The Coming Years

Slow Rollout for ATSC 3.0

Various tests for ATSC 3.0 infrastructures and also regarding the readiness of the market are still being done throughout the US. How fast the deployment of ATSC 3.0 technologies will be, would ultimately depend on the results of these test runs.

In general, we can probably expect major networks and stations to start rolling out ATSC 3.0 Next-Gen TV by mid or end 2020, and we won’t see it becoming mainstream until somewhere between 2021 and 2025.

So, you can still use your antennas and tuner hardware.

ATSC 3.0 will Generate Lots of Hype but Little Consumer Adoption in 2020

We can expect 2020 to continue the trend of being a preparation year for Next-Gen TV (ATSC 3.0) as broadcasters are still getting ready with the infrastructures and are still experimenting with Next-Gen TV content.

It’s quite likely that most customers will have to take the “wait and see mentality” and won’t upgrade their TV sets and tuners until late in the year, or more likely, 2021. As mentioned, big players like Sony and Samsung have announced their ATSC 3.0 TV sets, but they aren’t scheduled to arrive until late 2020.

ATSC 3.0 Broadcast TV Will be Two-Way Information

That is, the TV stations will know what you’re watching after Next-Gen TV is successfully implemented. This might be controversial, and thus the TV networks can show personalized ads specific to your viewing habits and even your income level and other factors like gender or race.

This is obviously something really new for TVs, although we’ve grown to be quite familiar with it with the internet and social media.

This, however, will also mean increased risks for security both for the viewers and the broadcasters (i.e. risks for pirated content, relayed signals, etc.) More ways to encrypt broadcast signals, as well as other security measures will be implemented in the years to come.

Will this change how we use and watch TV? We’ll have to wait and see.