As of October, 2019, we don’t. Why? Because there aren’t any.
A little history
ATSC 3.0, also known as NextGen TV, is a candidate to become the next television standard. Although it hasn’t been approved by Congress, the FCC is allowing broadcasters to do test broadcasts under very strict conditions.
ATSC 3.0 will bring a whole lot more to television. While the last change to television, back in 2009, brought high definition and subchannels, ATSC 3.0 will bring 4K, on-demand programming, and targeted ads. Those targeted ads are really making broadcasters excited. Smart TVs with ATSC 3.0 tuners will be able to download ads that are better suited to the people watching. Cable and satellite have been doing this for years, but over-the-air television uses ads that are the same for everyone in the same market.
Test broadcasts have been authorized since 2017 but we’re just now starting to see some movement there.
Why has it taken so long?
The big problem has been the cost of hardware. Developing the modulators, broadcast equipment and test gear has taken time. I actually visited the National Association of Broadcasters show in 2018 and while everyone wanted to talk about ATSC 3.0, there wasn’t any equipment that would actually work with it.
On the consumer side, there still aren’t any tuners unless you’re willing to pay a lot of money. Some companies charge upwards of $2,000 for a starter kit that includes a tuner. Obviously these are not geared to the average consumer.
Um, shouldn’t tuners cost like fifty bucks?
Yes, you are right. Back in 2007 and 2008 when the government authorized $100 in coupons for every household, it was very common for converter boxes to cost under $50. They still cost very little today, although the supplies have sort of tried up. Solid Signal sells HD converter boxes, but most stores don’t.
When ATSC 3.0 really starts ramping up, those converter boxes are going to get cheap again. Not only that, but you can expect new TVs to have those tuners built in so you won’t really have to pay anything if you’re upgrading your TV. Of course this was true back in 2007 but remember that a 37″ flat TV cost $2,500 then. Today they’re closer to $250 if you can even find one that small.
If you’re in a test area and you want to start receiving ATSC 3.0 broadcasts, you should call your local broadcaster and see if they can set you up with the right hardware. That probably is going to be the only way you can get it for the next several months.
Will CES bring changes?
Well, I hope so but honestly I hoped so last year too. I am hoping that while our team is in Las Vegas in January, we’ll meet with some companies that make lower priced ATSC 3.0 converter boxes and we’ll be able to bring them into SolidSignal.com.
Of course the good news is that the test broadcasts aren’t really going to ramp up appreciably between then and now. Or is that the bad news? I’m not sure.