LEARN THE TRUTH: Will we see new ATSC 3.0 Tuners in the next few days?

Believe me friends, it gives me no joy to write articles like this one. But I think you deserve the truth. There’s a clickbaity headline at another blog that promises “ATSC 3.0 Tuners in the next few days.” I just need to set the record straight.

What the article is really about

The real topic of the article is taken from this press release issued by the ATSC. In it, the folks who created the ATSC 3.0 standard are crowing about how their standard has been approved by the ITU. Which is all well and good but you need to understand a bit of what that means.

Most important: This means nothing to US television viewers.

The ITU, the International Telecommunications Union, is a branch of the United Nations concerned with coordinating different broadcasts throughout the world. While each country is absolutely free to set its own broadcast standards, the ITU works with governments to make sure the neighboring countries don’t accidentally cause interference in each other’s broadcasts.

That’s a noble goal which has practically nothing to do with the United States. The US, as a broadcast market, is so big that its technology just naturally flows to Mexico, Canada, and neighboring island nations. I don’t imagine there has ever been a significant dispute where the ITU had to moderate between the US and Canada.

The ITU doesn’t control whether the United States Congress formally adopts ATSC 3.0 as a broadcast standard. Which, by the way, they have not. They are allowing limited test broadcasts but there has been no movement to formally adopt ATSC 3.0. Period.

What ITU’s move does mean

This move by the ITU says to member countries, “Hey if you want to use the ATSC 3.0 standard, it’s ok with us.” And that’s fine, except there’s no enforcement power there. The article even says South Korea has been using ATSC 3.0 for a while without ITU approval. And guess what? Nothing terrible happened!

It’s not likely that any country currently using DVB-T2, ISDB, or any other standard is going to switch to ATSC 3.0. Countries that have followed the United States in the past will probably follow us again if we adopt ATSC 3.0. So in the end this is a symbolic announcement that means a whole lot ‘o nothing.

So does this mean we WON’T see converter boxes in the next few days?

Honestly I hope we do see some ATSC 3.0 converter boxes soon. It’s about time we do. I hope that we see some manufacturers come up with boxes that give current 4K televisions compatibility with the ATSC 3.0. So far those boxes have been way too expensive for consumer use.

I hope to bring you a lot of stories from CES about announced ATSC 3.0 hardware. It would be nice to see a TV manufacturer or two voluntarily include an ATSC 3.0 tuner as well as the ATSC 1.0 tuner they’re required to carry. But, even if I see some hardware at the show I doubt it will make it to customers’ hands for a while.

The best hope for new converter boxes will be at the CES South Plaza, which is populated by manufacturers from Southeast Asia. Last year I combed the plaza looking for ATSC 3.0 converter boxes and there weren’t any. This year I hope to see more.

The story about ATSC 3.0

I know I’ve written this before, but here we go again. There really is no story about ATSC 3.0 at this point. We’re over two years since the federal government allowed test ATSC 3.0 broadcasts and we’re really no further now than we were then. Period.

Because over-the-air television travels over public airwaves, it will take an act of Congress to formally adopt a new television standard. The last time we did that, it took thirteen years (including three separate delays) to make the digital transition. It also took a converter box program that cost millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars.

So let’s say that because of technology improvements, we can get the transition done in half the time and without any massive subsidies. If the Congress signed the law today we’d be looking at 2025 at the earliest. That’s been the target date all along, but I have to say it’s looking kind of shaky.

I think that if we do move forward with this standard it will probably be 2028 or so before it’s mandatory and you have to wonder if we will have 6G or 7G or whatever by then which will make over-the-air broadcasting less important.

And by the way…

We’re calling it “ATSC 3.0” even though the Consumer Technology Association wants you to call it “NextGenTV.” Why? Because that’s a marketing term for use in the US by TV makers. The actual standard continues to be called ATSC 3.0 and that’s what the world is looking at. I don’t know what we’ll end up calling it in the future. It’s probably best to wait until there is actual hardware.

I’m glad you found this article…

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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.