What is ISDB-T International?

Recently one of our sales consultants came to me with the following story:

My customer wants to build a headend that works with ISDB-T International. I’ve never heard of that. Is that something we can do?

As always, these questions give me a lot to unpack and give me the opportunity to teach all of you, my happy and faithful blog readers a thing or two.

One standard to rule them all? Hardly.

ISDB-T is a broadcast television standard. You’ve never heard of it because if you’re reading this blog, there’s a roughly 93% chance you’re from the United States.

Every country in the world, as part of its agreement with international agencies, has the right to set its own broadcast standards. This has been true since the beginning of television back in the 1940s when the United States adopted the standard proposed by the National Television Standards Committee (NTSC.) The US standard wasn’t adopted worldwide, though; in other parts of the world two other standards (PAL and SECAM) were used, depending on the country in question.

Hopes it would get better

In the 1990s, broadcasters all over the world hoped that we could do better with our broadcasts. Most of them wanted some sort of high-definition system with a wider picture that more closely approximated the visual field of the average person. We all hoped there would be one world standard.

Our hopes weren’t fulfilled.

Instead, we got three competing standards again. In the US, Mexico and Canada, we adopted ATSC 1.0. This digital standard was a good fit for the current transmission systems there. Across Europe and Africa, countries adopted the DVB standards, which tied cable TV, broadcast, and satellite into one overarching standard. In Asia, they developed a third standard called ISDB, while China stands alone with their DTMB system. Here’s a way to visualize it.

And then came ISDB-T International.

ISDB, like DVB, sought to be one standard that worked for cable, satellite, and broadcast. The “T” in ISDB-T stands for “terrestrial,” or in other words over-the-air, ground-based TV.

The ISDB-T International standard was first developed in Brazil, where it was called Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão Digital. It’s since been adopted throughout South America and in several African countries as well.

Because ISDB-T International was developed after ATSC 1.0 and DVB-T2 (the second generation over-the-air standard for Europe), it’s more advanced in many ways. It allows for 3D broadcasting, interactive features, and it works while you’re moving. You can’t say any of those are true in the US.

Will the US adopt ISDB-T International?

Not a chance. For the moment it looks like the next standard will be ATSC 3.0 also called NextGen TV. Like ATSC 1.0 it is designed to totally replace the old broadcast standard but keep the same frequency ranges. It’s a good fit for the US broadcast system.

When NextGenTV does get adopted, it will not only allow for mobile TV and interactive TV, but 4K as well. At the moment no other standard supports all three of those things.

Unfortunately there’s also very little chance that the rest of the world will adopt anything like NextGenTV. We seem doomed to have multiple broadcast systems throughout the world. Luckily it’s now possible for TV makers to develop systems that will work in multiple countries. It doesn’t mean you can take your TV to another country, though. There are still certification issues that stop you from doing that. It does mean that TV makers like Samsung and LG can compete all around the world.

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.