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Field tests show next-gen ATSC standard capabilities

US television broadcasters will reach even more viewers with robust, digital over-the-air ATSC 3.0 signals, the improved broadcast transmission system under development now with key elements being field tested in Cleveland this summer, with encouraging results for the delivery of 4K Ultra HD content and mobile TV streams.

Under an experimental broadcast licence from the FCC, Tribune Broadcasting’s WJW-TV is providing a TV transmitter, tower and 6-MHz channel for the ATSC 3.0-related field testing in Cleveland conducted since mid-May by LG Electronics, its Zenith R&D Lab, and GatesAir.

The participants say these real-world field tests represent an important milestone in their collaborative effort to develop core technologies behind the new ATSC 3.0 Standard. Their innovations are expected to be used in the majority of the baseline Physical Layer transmission system, which is moving toward ATSC Candidate Standard status this summer.

The system being tested in Cleveland – dubbed ‘Futurecast’ by proponents GatesAir, LG and Zenith – is a leading contributor to the effort to develop a next-generation ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard, which is being standardised by the Advanced Television Systems Committee.

As with similar field tests last autumn in Madison, Wis., the Cleveland results are very encouraging. More than 75,000 pieces of additional data collected by engineers in the North Coast tests show how ATSC 3.0 will be able to deliver 4K Ultra HD content and two robust mobile TV streams in a single 6-Megahertz channel, while optimising indoor reception and offering unparalleled spectrum efficiency.

“We’re pleased to play an integral role in the future of TV broadcast technology, putting an unused transmitter and vacant channel to use so that the proposed transmission system could be tested throughout the day and night. These initial field test results show that ATSC 3.0 technologies are real and can deliver real benefits to broadcasters and viewers alike,” said John Cifani, chief engineer of WJW-TV, the local Fox affiliate.

The Futurecast physical layer technologies are designed to provide the optimised combination of broadcasting capabilities for fixed, portable and mobile use. Flexible parameters allow broadcasters to mix diverse services – from fixed 4K reception to deep-indoor handheld reception to high-speed mobile reception – in a single RF channel with maximum efficiency.

“Our technology is designed to fully meet broadcaster requirements for ATSC 3.0 and advance the goal of moving rapidly to next-generation broadcasting. Whether watching from deep inside a building or along the Lake Erie lakefront, field test results show that our ATSC 3.0-enabling technology performs exactly as expected,” said Dr. Skott Ahn, President and Chief Technology Officer, LG Electronics. “This means that broadcasters can look forward with confidence to reaching even more viewers with traditional television, with new Internet-based content, and with new money-making interactive services and advertising capabilities,” he added.

Key benefits of the LG/GatesAir/Zenith ATSC 3.0 technologies being field tested in Cleveland include:

  • Data throughput increases of 30 per cent and improved multipath performance (compared with the current DTV standard) for fixed and portable TV reception;

  • Enhanced indoor TV signal penetration for mobile reception thanks to flexible system parameter choices;

  • Advanced modes for delivery of very high data rates and very robust transmission capabilities;

  • State-of-the-art error correction coding and signal constellations;

  • Future Extension Frames to support evolution of future broadcast systems; and,

  • Improved single frequency network service.

Expected to redefine TV broadcasting for decades to come, the next-generation broadcast television standard will require higher capacity to deliver 4K Ultra-High-Definition services, robust reception on mobile devices and improved spectrum efficiency. The increased payload capacity of the physical layer combined with HEVC encoding will allow broadcasters many more options when planning their broadcast service offerings.

Designed for easy extension to various current and future transport formats, the LG/GatesAir/Zenith solutions optimise efficiency for the most-used data formats (Internet Protocol, Transport Stream) via customised stream compression.

The system supports single-frequency networks and/or multiple transmitters, and its use of a single RF transmission’s flexible physical layer profile assures optimum quality of service. The system is designed to support evolution to future broadcast systems even beyond ATSC 3.0.

Equally significant, say the participants, the superior RF approach of the proven Futurecast system addresses the co-channel and adjacent-channel interference challenges related to the anticipated UHF spectrum repacking.

Development of ATSC 3.0 technologies represents the latest collaboration among LG, Zenith and GatesAir, co-inventors of the transmission system behind the ATSC A/153 Mobile Digital TV Standard, adopted by the industry in 2009. Zenith invented the core transmission system at the heart of today’s ATSC A/53 Digital Television Standard, approved by the Federal Communications Commission in 1996.

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