What’s ATSC 3.0? All you need to know about the next era in broadcast TV

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You might not have heard about it much yet, but in the coming years, you’re sure to hear the term ATSC 3.0 a lot, and with good reason: It could be a massive overhaul for antenna-based TV, AKA over-the-air (OTA) TV.

ATSC 3.0 may sound like the name of a new Star Wars vehicle, or possibly a standardized test required to get into grad school. But in fact, it’s a major upgrade for antenna TV, designed to allow for 4K resolution and even a major sound upgrade to broadcast TV. The switch could be as significant as the transition from analog broadcasts to digital HD — except this time it’s going to be a whole lot easier. Follow us below to find out all you need to know about ATSC 3.0.

What is ATSC 3.0?

ATSC is the latest version of the Advanced Television Systems Committee standards, defining how exactly television signals are broadcast and interpreted. OTA TV signals currently use version 1.0 of the ATSC standards, which were introduced all the way back in 1996, initiating the switch from analog to digital TV that was finalized in the U.S. in 2009. Unlike the current standard, ATSC 3.0 makes use of both over-the-air signals and your in-home broadband to deliver an experience closer to cable or satellite.

What are the benefits?

The first major benefit is picture quality. While the current ATSC 1.0 standard caps out at 1080p — and even that is rare to find when it comes to OTA TV — the new standard allows 4K UHD broadcast. That’s not all either. Other picture quality upgrades, including high dynamic range (HDR), wide color gamut (WCG), and high frame rate (HFR) are all part of the new provision. The standard also allows for possible extensions later on, which could allow for additional benefits to picture quality.

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ATSC 3.0 also include benefits for reception, meaning you should be able to receive more channels in higher quality without the need for a large antenna. Audio quality is increased as well, using Dolby AC-4 instead of AC-3, allowing for broadcasts of up to 7.1.4 channel audio to support object-based sound formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. AC-3 is limited to just 5.1 channel surround.

In addition to the picture and audio improvements, ATSC 3.0 also makes it possible to watch broadcast video on mobile devices like phones and tablets as well as in cars. Advanced emergency alerts are also part of the standard, including better geo-targeting, which means advancements like the ability to broadcast evacuation routes to the areas that need that information.

What are the downsides?

ATSC 3.0 is not backward compatible with ATSC 1.0, which means that if your TV doesn’t include an ATSC 3.0 tuner, you’ll need an external converter to make use of those signals. Fortunately, due to the way that the newer standard works, you would only need one converter box no matter how many devices you’re watching on, meaning it won’t be nearly as much of a hassle as the move from analog to digital.

One other possible downside, depending on how you look at it, is that the same geotargeting that allows for advanced emergency alerts can also used for targeted ads. This means that the ads you see on TV will start to more closely resemble what you see online. If this doesn’t bother you on the web, it shouldn’t bother you on your TV, but it is something to be aware of.

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