RALEIGH — Hundreds of people will be gathering on NCSU”s Centennial Campus this afternoon and evening to take a look at the latest tech evolution headed our way — Next Generation TV, also known as Ultra High Definition TV. But what does this tech mean for you as a viewer? Can you still stream since this new tech is for broadcast over the air? Will you need a new TV? What makes NextGen, as it is called, a better viewing experience? What about this new alert system that is designed to deliver warnings to my neighborhood?  And when can you expect to see programming that includes the new features?

To answer these questions and more, WRAL TechWire sat down for a briefing from one of the top engineers spearheading testing and development. And we quizzed another thought leader from the National Association of Broadcasters in search of answers.

The broadcast technology is ATSC 3.0, and WRAL TV has been testing it since 2016. Just as WRAL led in the deployment of high definition television, the Internet and other new technologies, so too is the station – owned by WRAL TechWire’s corporate parent Capitol Broadcasting – bringing one of the first live demonstrations to Raleigh. But as WRAL anchor David Crabtree reported from the Winter Olympics in Korea last week, NextGen is already live on the Korean peninsula. He offered a sample of the capabilities to come:

“A shuttle bus that wends its way through the coastal Olympic region carries more than international media covering the games. It carries the next generation of television receivers on board. Known as ATSC 3.0, it’s a new TV signal, a new way to receive TV over the air — no cable needed.”

Also participating in the demo on Monday will be: NAB Pilot, LG/Zenith, ETRI, Samsung and Triveni showcasing transmission equipment from Gates Air, Enensys, Ateme, Electronics Research Inc., and Harmonic.

Talking with WRAL TechWire about Next Gen were Pete Sockett, WRAL’s director of engineering and operations, and So Vang, vice president of Advanced Tech at the NAB who is the tech lead on the project.

  • The question on many people’s minds about this technological advance is: I just bought a 4K TV — am I going to have a buy a new one. I understand there is dongle(s) tech under development. So will people have to upgrade their 4K TVs? Should they be afraid?

Sockett: None of the TV’s being sold today will receive the NextGen broadcast. But as you noticed, in the near future you will be able to get a Dongle [think Google TV Amazon Firestick] or STB [set top box] that will be able to do it, so the TV will not be abandoned.

Additionally, we expect there will be home gateways as well, that will receive the NextGen signal off air and convert it to IP and stream it to TV’s in the home over Wifi.

  • I have a 4K TV and a 4K Blu-Ray player. Will the 4K Blu-Ray player be usable with 4K UHD sets?
  • Another big question: Will viewers be able to stream and access the Internet through their local stations that embrace the new technology?

Because ATSC 3 has a web-based application environment, it is possible for broadcasters to develop services that support media streaming similar to today’s OTT [over the top] services.

  • In your own words, what are the biggest “wow” factors of Next Gen TV? Why should viewers be excited?

Sockett: UHD TV, Immersive Audio (including object audio … (think “I can turn up just the dialog, but not the background”), advanced emergency alerting, interactive TV (“think statistics on athletes, info on candidates participating in quiz shows, requesting info on commercials”) … [and more]

  • The new alert system seems very robust and designed to make people pay more attention because these alerts will be more tightly focused on their neighborhoods. How will the system work (such as waking up devices) and how are developers making sure the technology is not too intrusive?

Sockett: The new system is designed to not only target geographically, but to also wake a device up if the warning warrants it.

The system is designed to allow receivers to track versions of an alert to avoid repetitively waking someone up for the same alert.

  • 4K pictures are already striking. How does 4K UHD broadcasting make the picture even more lifelike? More pixels? Broader range of color support, inching closer to what the human eye can see?

Sockett: UHD represents a suite of additional capabilities, not just more pixels.

WCG – Wide color gamut (BT2020 color space) allows for a lot more color to be broadcast … actually approaching what the human eye is capable of.

HDR – High dynamic range – allows for whiter white and darker blacks as well as a lot more “steps” in the extreme brights and blacks.

Think, detail in white, puffy clouds on a bright sunny day … not all “blown out” also, you can see the detail in a dark dungeon room lit only be a torch … it’s not all blackness.

  • Will the new technology extend the geographic reach of a TV station’s signal?

Sockett: No, but it will be much more robust and easier to receive within the station’s coverage contour.

  • How does the new technology affect markets, i.e. broadcaster limitations on where they can show programs?

Sockett: No effect, it will still be about who holds the rights.

  • The new technology also means people can watch their TV stations on mobile devices, correct? How will these be affected by the new technology? More dongles? Upgrades? Or will new devices have to be purchased?

Sockett: New devices will be needed … but they can be dongles or gateways [through the Internet] as well.

  • What does NAB believe will be the most important benefits financial and otherwise to local stations through this technology?

So Vang: The key benefits are: better audio and video as noted by Pete above, enable broadcasters to compliment their broadcast services with content and media from broadband, because ATSC 3 is IP based, it enables broadcasters the opportunity to extend their service reach beyond traditional TVs to IP devices such as Ipads, mobile phones, etc., and finally, with WEB technology such as HTML-5, ATSC 3 will provide an interactive application environment that enables broadcasters to introduce new interactive services, including the ability to target content and advertising to viewers.

Note: Here’s a video where Vang talks about Internet gateways as part of the technology:

  • Will networks and local stations have to invest in upgrading how their programming is produced in order to support higher quality and interactive features?

Sockett: The workflow will change, therefore new equipment or more likely software applications will be part of that.

  • Finally, the timeline: When can we expect Next Gen TV to become a reality?

Sockett: There will be more broadcasters signing on this year and we expect the first consumer products will be available in the first half of 2019.