ATSC is an international organization that seeks to find the best way to transmit the television signal. So far, they have succeeded with the introduction of next-generation television and the ATSC 3.0 protocol. Its implementation is mainly in the Americas and many U.S. cities are already enjoying the next generation of television.

Madeleine Noland, ATSC President

Here is everything you need to know about the ATSC 3.0 protocol and the international organization ATSC from its president, Madeleine Noland.



What is ATSC and what are its objectives?

The Advanced Television Systems Committee, Inc. is an international, non-profit organization developing voluntary standards for digital television and multi-media broadcasting. The ATSC member organizations represent the broadcast, broadcast equipment, motion picture, consumer electronics, computer, cable, satellite, and semiconductor industries. We are defining the future of television with the ATSC 3.0 next-generation broadcast standard. Our mission is to create and foster implementation of voluntary Standards and Recommended Practices to advance terrestrial digital television broadcasting, and to facilitate interoperability with other media.


What activities does ATSC promote to achieve its objectives?

ATSC develops voluntary standards and recommended practices. To achieve this, ATSC has three types of groups, each with its own purpose and charter: Technology Groups, Implementation Teams, and Planning Teams.

Technology Groups are formed to draft technical documentation, including Standards and Recommended Practices. These groups evaluate technologies for inclusion in ATSC Standards and Recommended Practices and draft these documents. They may also develop Technology Group Reports. Technology Groups focus their discussions on technology, relying on other groups for any exploration of a given topic beyond the technical facets. Technology Groups are open to all ATSC members. They can create sub-groups, including Specialist groups, which in turn can form Ad-hoc Groups.

Implementation Teams are formed to provide a venue for industry discussions related to implementation of ATSC Standards. I-Teams may address business, regulatory and technical requirements for successful roll-out of ATSC Standards. I-Teams do not draft Standards or Recommended Practices; however, they may create Implementation Guides. “This Teams prove out ATSC technologies in the field via demonstrations, field trials and/or proof-of-concept implementations.”

Planning Teams are groups designed to study a given topic, often prior to ATSC starting any technical effort. Planning Teams are formed by and report to the ATSC Board of Directors. Open to all ATSC members, Planning Teams are free to explore a range of facets behind a topic including industry impact, technical viability, technology maturity, and more. “Planning teams study emerging technologies that may benefit the broadcast ecosystem and/or work to develop new verticals for the broadcast industry.”


How do your sponsors and partners contribute to the development and implementation of your standards?

ATSC members are the driving force behind all that ATSC does. They work together to develop consensus-driven solutions for the broadcasting ecosystem. Many of our members are also sponsors, whose generosity makes much of what we do possible.

The organization has five groups of sponsorship. The top level will be Platinum Sponsors and the enterprises included are Gaian Solutions, LG, Pearl, Samsung, Sinclair Broadcast Group, and Zenith. Gold level will be composed by companies such as Ateme, Crown Castle, Dolby, Nielsen, and Sony. The next group is Silver level and it is formed by American Tower, Comark Communications, DekTec, DigiCap, Eurofins, Gates Air, NAB, SCTE, and Triveni Digital. And finally, the Bronze sponsorship and they are DTV Innovations, Enensys, Fincons Group, Ganiatech, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, BTS, Nagra Kuldeski, PMVG, Rohde & Schwarz, Thomson Broadcast, Titan TV, and V@Box Communications.


What is ATSC 3.0 designed for? 

ATSC 3.0 is a second-generation digital broadcast standard. It is designed to modernize television broadcasting and also to open new business models and verticals to broadcasters. As the world’s first IP-based broadcast system, it is capable of delivering high quality television services and any other type of data. In addition to 4K, UHD, HDR pictures, advanced audio, web-based interactivity, advanced emergency messaging and more, the system can also deliver software/firmware updates to the IoT, map updates to vehicles, distance education study materials, etc. It is a new IP data delivery system for TV and more.



What is this standard capable of? What are its characteristics? How does it work?

ATSC 3.0 has a new physical layer that is currently the world’s most efficient one-to-many data broadcasting system. It can send data to fixed or mobile devices. The IP backbone allows for any type of data to be delivered over the air by a broadcaster, and the efficiency of the system allows broadcasters to deliver television services and data services at the same time. The IP backbone also enables hybrid OTA/OTT use cases such as delivering mainstream content OTA and auxiliary content OTT. For example, a broadcaster may deliver the dialog track in several primary languages OTA and several other languages OTT. The audience can select which dialog track to listen to and the receiver can merge that track with the video.


How does ATSC 3.0 achieve better audience measurement, and how can this standard target a specific advertisement to a specific audience?

The interactive system of ATSC 3.0 is based on web technologies: HTML5, CSS, JavaScript. For receivers that are connected to the internet, this web-based system can operate much like a webpage would work, supporting both personalized content and audience measurement. The system enables opt-in/opt-out for these types of services.


How does ATSC 3.0 achieve bidirectionality and send personalized information to each television device?

ATSC 3.0 is a one-way system, however, it works in concert with the internet to provide an uplink capability that allows these types of services. For example, an ATSC 3.0 app running on a connected TV can utilize the TV’s internet connection to enable a wide variety of services.


What are your expansion plans and how do you aim to gain other markets?

ATSC is working hard to educate broadcasters worldwide about ATSC 3.0, and when a country or region expresses interest in learning more, our members respond to those inquiries and support deeper exploration of the technology. For example, India is exploring ATSC 3.0 for direct-to-mobile and MNO broadcast traffic offload scenarios. ATSC formed an Implementation Team to conduct technical demonstrations in Delhi to help with this exploration.



Why the division between DVB, ATSC and other standards is needed? Wouldn’t be easier to standardize as much as possible?

A worldwide converged broadcast standard has been studied and can be held forth as a lofty, laudable goal which would include not only ATSC and DVB, but also our colleagues in Japan and China. While I cannot speak for ATSC, I personally hope that systems can gradually converge. For example, DVB and ATSC both have HEVC specified. This could be an area of “low hanging fruit” where convergence is possible. There are other examples like this, which suggest that each element of the systems can be considered separately and evaluated for possible convergence on a case-by-case basis.


How can ATSC 3.0 incorporate technological advances that are about to be adopted, such as the use of 5G networks for multimedia content transmission?

ATSC members are studying this exact question through a technical Ad Hoc Group, TG3-11 on ATSC 3.0 – 5G Harmonization. TG3-11 is studying various possible convergence architectures and plans to report its findings to its parent group, TG3. From there, ATSC members may decide to begin a new project or take some other course of action.


What are your plans for the future and how can it be improved? 

ATSC 3.0 was designed from the beginning to be extensible and evolvable. ATSC members have numerous ongoing projects to extend the standard.

For example, TG3/S43 is working on a Core Network for Broadcast. The Technology Group 3, with due regard for existing standards organizations and activities, develops and maintains international technical Standards, Recommended Practices and other documents for the distribution of television programs and other data using advanced terrestrial broadcast technology, internet and other transports. Technologies considered may be improvements to current systems or entirely new systems that are compatible or incompatible with current systems. As appropriate, TG3 may engage in activities to address implementation issues regarding ATSC Standards and other documents.

Another example will be IT-5 Tower Network Implementation. The goal of the Tower Network Implementation Team (TN-IT) is to design, implement, test, validate, and demonstrate the Inter-Tower Communications Network (ITCN) and In-band Distribution Link (IDL). IDL is a one-way distribution system that will provide the program feed to (SFN) towers in the manner of an STL (Studio to Transmitter Link). The ITCN may additionally distribute Broadcast Internet data. In-band full-duplex technology may be used on a portion of the broadcast spectrum to distribute TV program and data, potentially unrelated to video content, where the transmission and reception occurs simultaneously on the same RF band. ITCN is designed to link all broadcast towers to form a Tower Communications Network (cluster) for control, monitoring, data communication, and localized datacast and broadcast services. The systems developed may utilize Artificial Intelligence (AI) to monitor, configure and direct process flow, bandwidth requirements and diversity schemes for ITCN and IDL along with other technologies to enhance overall capabilities and to allow for future growth. Channel sharing and bonding may be considered.

Planning Team 4 on Future Broadcast Ecosystem Technologies is continually monitoring the changing technology landscape for new innovations that can benefit broadcasters. ATSC members are both the users of ATSC 3.0 and the stewards of its evolution.

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