Will you need special cable for ATSC 3.0, NextGenTV, or 4K TV?

NextGenTV, or ATSC 3.0 as it’s more properly called, is getting closer and closer. Although it still hasn’t been fully approved by Congress, we expect over 50 cities to have test broadcasts by the end of the year. There’s a good chance that the next generation of television will be ready for “regular folks” in the next 2-3 years.

This brings up the question of futureproofing. If you’re planning an antenna install, should you be considering special cable?

A little bit about how ATSC 3.0 works

ATSC 3.0 is a completely different system than the current ATSC 1.0 standard used for broadcasting today. (Don’t ask about ATSC 2.0, apparently things didn’t work out for that.)

There are two basic goals of ATSC 3.0. The first is to enable coordination between broadcast and streaming. That’s really the subject for another article, but if it does work, it will allow your broadcast TV experience to be a lot more “on-demand” than it is now.

The goal we’ll talk about today

The other goal is to try to fit even more information in the same broadcast spectrum that’s already available. It would be easy from a technological point of view to give each TV channel ten times the space. But, that would mean taking space away from things like 5G cellular that people want.

Yes, since the beginning of the broadcast era, TV channels have been 6MHz wide. When TV was blurry black-and-white, they were 6MHz. When they were standard-definition color, they were 6MHz. Even today, a full HD picture (sometimes multiple pictures) fits in that same 6MHz. That won’t change with ATSC 3.0.

Believe it or not, the purpose of ATSC 3.0 is to put a passably good 4K picture into just 6MHz of spectrum. And the technology looks to do just that, with fancy manipulations and advanced encoding techniques.

Which leads us to the big question.

As far as I see it, there is no reason to think you’ll need a special antenna or special cable to get the new broadcasts. Any TV antenna that’s ever worked before, paired with any reasonable quality cable, should do the trick. The key is that you’re still putting the same amount of signal down the line. Actually, TV antenna cable was designed to accept signals on channels 2-83, from 54-890MHz. Today’s broadcasts are almost exclusively from channels 7-36, 174-308MHz. Some cities will have to dip down into the lower frequency ranges but most won’t.

So as long as the cable is free of damage or corrosion, there is every reason to think it will handle the higher digital bitrates carried on each 6MHz channel.

Of course, this is all theory right now. We’re just now starting to see test broadcasts. Their purpose is to help figure out in the real world how this is all going to work. We may find that the reality and the theory don’t match up. But, I think they will and more importantly a lot of RF engineers think they will.

Get futureproof now

When you shop for an antenna or cable from Solid Signal, you’ll be making a purchase that should last for years. There’s no reason to hold back, no reason to think that you’ll need some special cable that does something magical. It’s all here, right now.

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.