Who are the ATSC?

Every so often you hear about the ATSC. Most people have some idea that they’re the organization that created our HDTV standards. That’s true, and that’s why we call the tuners in our equipment “ATSC tuners.” But, there’s so much more to them than that.

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. They’re 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.

So who are they? They’re… us. Actually Solid Signal isn’t a member of ATSC, but DIRECTV, DISH, 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 designing the next-generation television broadcasts, whether you want them to or not.

Version 3.0 of their standard is almost ready, and as I have said before, you shouldn’t care. Even though it “could” give us 8K video, theatre-quality sound and on-demand programming, it’s probably never going to even bring you 4K, no matter how hotly contested the topic is when I write about it. 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.

Now, that doesn’t mean the ATSC’s work will be in vain. I personally don’t think 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 just don’t think you’ll see it in every single television which is what it would take for 4K TV broadcasting.

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?