Who are the ATSC?

Every so often you hear about the ATSC. On this blog, it’s usually in the context of the next-generation television standard, which is called ATSC 3.0 or NextGenTV. Most people have some idea that they’re the organization that created our HDTV standards, which are collectively called ATSC 1.0. (What’s ATSC 2.0? Just something that didn’t work out.) Those standards bear the name of the committee, and that’s why we call the tuners in our equipment “ATSC tuners.” But, there’s so much more to them than that.

Starting with the surprising truth

Let’s talk first about who the ATSC are not. They’re not a government, certainly not the US government, and they’re not able to enforce any rules they make. This group is not part of the ISO or IEEE, the two global organizations that dictate everything from the width of microscopic wires to the massive bolts that hold bridges together. They’re not a regulatory agency and they aren’t even any sort of international organization.

So who are they? They’re… us. Actually Solid Signal isn’t a member of ATSC, but DIRECTV, DISH, Antop, Antennas Direct and many other companies are. (Here’s their member listing.) They’re a group dedicated to the advancement of television technologies. They’re constantly thinking about the next-generation television broadcasts, and how they will fit into the future.

ATSC 3.0 and what this means to you

As I said, their latest work is a set of standards called ATSC 3.0. This is a ground-up rewrite of the television broadcasting system. Just like the last time that TV changed, pretty much the only thing that remains will be the frequencies used. This standard allows for 8K video, on-demand programming, and targeted ads so that you see things that are more interesting to you.

It’s very nice to think that the ATSC is thinking about the possible future, but that future isn’t going to come to pass as long as it takes an act of Congress to make it happen. Because of the way TV broadcasting is defined in the US, any change to the system takes Congress’s approval. Getting those folks to agree on things feels like it’s an uphill battle.

Looking on the bright side

Now, that doesn’t mean the ATSC’s work will be in vain. I personally am not sure there will ever be widespread, over-the-air 4K (or 8K) broadcasts, but the technology behind ATSC 3.0 is bound to get built into all sorts of devices in the coming years. As an open standards committee, much of their work will be free to use without copyright, so it’s basically just a matter of software engineering to implement it, if the hardware is fast enough. You could definitely see ATSC 3.0 integrated into everything from movie theaters to signage to cell phones.

I know there are going to be some avid readers who will once again claim I’m being bitter and pessimistic here, that we’ll actually see some of the ATSC 3.0 features in the next two years, but remember those words, “act of Congress.” Remind me, when was the last time Congress acted again?

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.