ATSC 3.0: The next-gen TV update explained

ATSC 3.0 is the future of broadcast TV, and we have all the details

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How does it work?

As mentioned above, ATSC 3.0 combines OTA broadcast signals with your home internet. At the base level, actual programming like shows and movies are broadcast and received over the air, while commercials are provided over the internet. Three different video formats are supported: Legacy HD, which supports resolutions up to 720×480; Interlaced HD, which supports signals up to 1080i; and Progressive Video, which supports resolutions from 1080p up to 4K UHD.

An ATSC 3.0 tuner will have two connections: One to your antenna, and another — either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet — to your Wi-Fi router. The benefit here is that you’ll only ever need one antenna in your home, since other set-top boxes, smart TVs, and mobile devices in your home will receive the TV signals over Wi-Fi. This is somewhat similar to the way master DVR and satellite boxes are employed by cable and satellite companies, only without the need for specialized equipment.

Am I going to need a new TV?

The short answer is no. As explained above, if your TV doesn’t support ATSC 3.0, you’ll be able to get by with an external converter box. That’s if you want to receive ATSC 3.0 signals at all. This time, it’s your choice.

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Rich Shibley/Digital Trends
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

The switch from analog NTSC video to digital ATSC video was a mandatory one, with a plan for a full switchover and a deadline for that switch from very early on. When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved ATSC 3.0, it did so in a way that allowed stations to broadcast in the new format on a voluntary basis. This is not a mandatory switch. More to the point, stations that do voluntarily broadcast in ATSC 3.0 must continue to offer ATSC 1.0 signals for at least five years after the switch.

That said, newer TVs that include ATSC 3.0 tuners will be able to make use of all the benefits of the new standards by default. If your current TV doesn’t support 4K or HDR, you’ll need to upgrade to view that programming. Then there is the matter of the future. As mentioned earlier, unlike ATSC 1.0, the new version allows for extensions, which could mean eventually you may need to upgrade to an 8K TV to take advantage of everything the standard has to offer.

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