Next Generation TV System Attracts Competing Efforts

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Broadcast & Distribution – Last week, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Technicolor (formerly Thomson Broadcast) announced the successful deployment of Technicolor’s ATSC 3.0 4K/UltraHD testbed platform, including receiving an over-the-air signal. Based on various MPEG audio, video and transport standards, including Scalable HEVC, MPEG-H audio and MPEG-MMT transport, the Technicolor platform was combined with Sinclair’s experimental OFDM transmission system, and the integrated system was tested in Baltimore, Maryland.

The announcement shows an intensification of the efforts being expended to develop a Next Generation Broadcast TV (NGBT) System for the United States and elsewhere. ATSC 3.0 is the NGBT standard being developed to replace the current ATSC digital TV broadcast system, which has been operational in the US since 1996. The ATSC is currently considering elements from at least 19 different organizations for NGBT.

Last year, LG Electronics and GatesAir submitted a proposal for a system they called the Universal Terrestrial Broadcast System; the proposal includes OFDM modulation, at least 30% increased data throughput, energy-saving receiver features, advanced modes supporting very high data rates or very robust transmission and extensibility to allow evolution to future broadcast transmission systems.

Around the same time, Sinclair Broadcasting and Coherent Logix, through a joint venture called ONE Media, proposed a different transmission system, based in part on 3GPP LTE standards, calling it “an Open Network Enabled broadcast/broadband converged Media platform”. Based on OFDM (modulation), but utilizing “Parameterized Time and Frequency Diversity” transmission, the system was described as being compatible with Software Defined Radio (SDR) architecture, which enables downloadable (and thus upgradeable) receiving system components.

To the casual reader, this sounds like multiple proposals vying for selection in one standard. But the Sinclair proposal relies heavily on an architecture that works alongside cellular telephony – and that presents a scenario that it can interoperate with cell phone networks. Supporters say that this presents a logical and efficient usage of scarce spectrum but detractors point out that it makes the mobile carriers look more like broadcast networks – and vice versa – which clashes mightily with established business models.

Meanwhile, ONE Media LLC has been shoring up its management team with heavy-hitters Kevin Gage and Jerald Fritz. Gage, who comes on board as Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, was formerly Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), where he was also founder and head of NAB Labs.

Fritz, who has joined the company as Executive Vice President for Strategic and Legal Affairs, was the long-time Senior Vice President for Legal and Strategic Affairs for Allbritton Communications Co. and its online news affiliate, Politico LLC. Earlier, Fritz served as chief of staff to FCC Chairman Mark Fowler and was a primary architect of deregulatory efforts in the broadcasting and telecommunications industries.

A candidate standard for ATSC 3.0 is expected by the end of the first quarter of 2015. Assuming the standard moves to formal status, the FCC would have to be petitioned to change its rules to allow a replacement of the existing DTV regulations. – Aldo Cugnini