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For Broadcasters, CES Points To ATSC 3.0

Without a doubt, the future of consumer tech was on display at CES in Las Vegas last week. The problem is, it’s almost impossible to winnow the future from the great sheaves of gimcracks, gewgaws and gizmos.

Whirlpool offered a countertop oven that it says can identify what you put in it and cook it properly while you watch on an app. But, tell me, oh chef of the future, can it core a apple?

Or, how about a pair of briefs with silver threads to protect men from the radio waves emanating from laptops (on your lap) and smartphones (in your pocket)? “The silver in our fabric prevents radiation from reaching your cherries,” maker Spartan explains.

And some once enticing technologies seem stuck in their development. VR will continue to flounder as long as people have to wear goggles the size of a toaster. And 3D really has almost disappeared, having made little significant progress since “Tip O’Neill’s 3D House of Representatives.” .

Of course, it’s my job to separate the wheat from the chaff for broadcasters. So, here are three key takeaways from CES 2019 based on the dispatches of our reporter Michael Depp who battled the mob (200,000 people!) there all week and my reading and watching of a lot of other reporting.

First, the auto will be the next great TV platform, although it’s going to take a while. At CES, automakers like Mercedes, Audi and BMW showed autonomous concept cars that attempt to bring the comforts of the living room into the automobile. They are filled with screens waiting to be filled with entertainment, news, sports and weather.

According to Depp, these cars are not intended for private ownership only, but also for sharing in atomized public transportation. (Who gets to control the remote?)

Putting these driverless cars on the road safely will require a massive amount of wireless connectivity. Not only will the cars need their own sensors and computers continually updated, but they will also need real-time information about traffic and road conditions.

Another takeaway is that, while there are screens just about everywhere, the ones in living rooms still matters most. As they have been since the first CES in Chicago in 1967, TV sets — I guess we must call them displays now was a big deal in Las Vegas last week.

How big?

Well, Samsung showed a 219-inch model using modular micro-LED technology. By modular, I mean the display is actually made up of 12-inch-by-12-inch displays that snap together nearly seamlessly to make larger ones.

But the 219 incher Samsung was a showpiece. The manufacturer’s real top of the line was 8K HDR displays of 85, 82, 75 and 65 inches with AI-driven auto-adjustments of the picture and sound based on ambient light and noise. The 65-inch model lists for USD 5000.

If gushing reports are the measure of significance, LG’s flexible 65-inch 4K OLED display that rolls up into a sleek contemporary cabinet with the speakers is extremely significant.

LG did not put a price tag on the unit. You can bet it will be beyond the reach of 99 percent of Americans when it ships later this year, but the history of consumer electronics tells us that products that start impossibly expensive become widely affordable in just a few years.

One other thing: from I could tell there were no major breakthroughs from the smartphone makers, but there was a continuation of the trend toward phones with bigger displays. A bunch of phones now have displays of at least six inches, including Apple’s XS Max at 6.5.

I have no research to back this up, but I think it is safe to say that the bigger the smartphone display, the more likely it is to be used for watching long-form TV.

So, what’s it all mean for broadcasting?

For one thing, you will have to start getting used to the idea of producing programming in 4K or possibly 8K within the next several years. That’s where TV is going. The signs were clearly pointing in that direction in the exhibits of Samsung, LG, Sony and many lesser display makers.

Hyperconscious of how it plays on TV, the NFL will also drive TV to prettier pictures and better sound.

And these so-called UltraHD formats will, in turn, require you to upgrade to ATSC 3.0, despite the cost and disruption. Only with 3.0 will you be able to broadcast such formats.

You could, I suppose, produce in 4K and distribute it via cable, wireless and OTT, but that would leave behind the growing ranks of OTA viewers who would eventually grow dissatisfied with plain old HD. OTA has always been broadcasting’s edge over cable and satellite.

And 3.0 brings other potential benefits. Bolstered by single frequency networks, it will enable you to reach those driverless living rooms on wheels and the oversize smartphones wherever they roam.

I understand that makers of the phones (and their wireless partners) will resist putting 3.0 chips in phones. It will be one of the 3.0 proponents’ great challenges to see that they do.)

The new standard also opens the door to the other opportunity that I mentioned above: datacasting to automobiles.

That opportunity was the principal reason why Sinclair was in Vegas.

As the exhibition opened, the station group’s One Media subsidiary said that it would be working with South Korea’s SK Telcom and Harmon, a Samsung subsidiary that makes visual and audio products for connected cars, to develop 3.0-based data services for cars — firmware updates, HD map updates and V2X certificate management.

This, of course, would be on top of the broadcasting TV to cars.

“The whole vehicular space is one that is increasingly connected,” Sinclair’s Mark Aitken told Depp in a break from one of his continuous series of consumer electronics manufacturers.

There is no greater champion of 3.0 than Sinclair, but Aitken had to concede that a year after being authorized by the FCC the standard is off to a slow start with no industry consensus on how to proceed.

“You have a total of five experimental stations on the air,” Aitken told Depp. “The ATSC standard for the United States is still being buttoned up. There has yet to be a clear meeting of the minds between broadcasters, network affiliation operators and Hollywood.”

He’s right and I just don’t get it.

If there is a better way than 3.0 for broadcasters to keep pace with the high-tech media world that consumed Las Vegas last week and perhaps expand into lucrative new businesses, I don’t know what it is.—TV News Check


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