Any news on over-the-air 4K TV?

Well here we are folks, it’s almost 2018 and for those people who got themselves worked up about 4K over-the-air TV, it’s been a hard six months. Despite a flurry of news hitting the internet in the spring, there hasn’t been a lot to tell lately.

The ATSC, the Advanced Television Standards Committee, are the self-appointed group who are working on next-generation television standards. They have a very self-congratulatory newsletter full of all sorts of news about how they’re moving forward, but the bottom line folks is that there still isn’t a standard.

It seems like they’re revising some of their earlier stuff to take HDR into account. HDR is the technology in 4K TVs that actually makes them look better instead of just a little sharper. After years of being an afterthought, we finally started to see some hardware that makes an HDR TV worthwhile, and yes I agree it does make sense for the next-gen standard to include it. But obviously you have to draw the line somewhere or the standard will never be finished.

And remember, a finished standard from the ATSC is just step one. ATSC isn’t the government, they’re just a bunch of people who want a new TV standard. Just because their standard was chosen by the government back in the mid-2000s doesn’t mean anything today. In fact, there have been a lot of complaints from engineers who say that our ATSC system used for over-the-air TV is vastly inferior to Europe’s DVB-T2 system. The ATSC people must think so too, because their ATSC 3.0 standard, the one that will work with 4K, owes much more to DVB-T2 than it does to ATSC 1.0. So maybe these aren’t even the people we want to work with.

But let’s say that the ATSC comes up with a standard, and everyone agrees that it’s worth adopting. Then… you have to get Congress involved. It will take new laws and new guidelines and potentially millions of dollars invested in the next 5-10 years before everyone has the capability to get 4K over the air. And I hate to tell you, that’s a best-case scenario.

Since the ATSC made news earlier this year, the government has unveiled its plans to give about a third of the broadcast spectrum to cell internet. That makes the transition to 4K even harder because at least at the beginning, each broadcaster will need two different channels, one for 4K and one for HD. That’s practically impossible in some markets where there isn’t enough empty space on the dial.

So, in a lot of ways we’re further away from 4K over-the-air TV than we were at the beginning of the year. I personally find it hard to see a path that will get us there, and it’s also hard to estimate the demand.

I personally see 4K as blossoming in streaming and pay-TV, eventually, but at least for now, I’m not going to really worry about a 4K antenna-based future that may never come.

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.