Any news on ATSC 3.0? What about 4K over the air?

People love to engage me on the subject of 4K over the air television. I get it. Often times I meet people and the one thing we have in common is our history with over-the-air antennas. So it’s natural to talk about the future of this technology, which once held a monopoly on video distribution in this country. In order to understand the future you have to delve into the past.

A really quick overview

If you’re new to the topic, check out these articles. I’ll wait. If you want a recap, here we go. Digital television, which replaced our original television system, was a big hit. It wasn’t without its problems but since 2009 it has been considered a success. However, the original system was designed in the late 20th century. At that time people weren’t even online and when you said “big TV” you probably meant 36″. The world has changed.

There’s a new standard for digital TV on the rise. If it’s completely adopted, it will be the only standard by about 2025. It’s called ATSC 3.0. Here’s what you need to know in bullet form.

  • It will support 4K, HDR, and really high frame rates.
  • It will let you select on demand content which you will then stream from the internet.
  • most importantly, it will let broadcasters track your every move as easily as web sites do now.

That’s right. They want to get you all excited about 4K so they can hook you in and send you more targeted commercials. Because of course they do.

Even so I’m optimistic

It’s been almost a decade already since we saw prototype 4K televisions and I think things are finally getting into gear. You’re starting to see test broadcasts in a few cities and the FCC has been remarkably lenient in letting a lot of this stuff happen at its own pace.

The question then becomes, what’s the holdup? Why haven’t we seen any significant news in about six months? I’ve figured out the problem.

It’s the equipment

I don’t know why but apparently it’s taking a long time for manufacturers to get on board with reasonably affordable ATSC 3.0 equipment. It’s not just the broadcast modulators and all the industrial stuff, it’s the way you receive it. A few companies have announced hardware to let your TV get these broadcasts but the prices are still high. Believe me, if there were a reasonably-priced solution, we’d sell it at Solid Signal. (If you know of one, leave a comment below and I’ll look into it. I’m not proud.)

When will things get in gear?

Personally, I have high hopes for this year’s CES show. I said that last year but hopefully this year I’m right. Hopefully I’ll see a lot of manufacturers who are beginning to wade into this space. I think you may even see a major TV manufacturer show an ATSC 3.0 ready TV. It will come at a high price premium but hey, that’s what being an early adopter is all about.

If I’m right, and there is hardware this year, it will be high priced. That’s all right, because we all know that by the time the average person really wants this stuff, it will be very reasonable. That’s how things work.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.