Posted on March 1, 2016 in ATSC News
By Deborah D. McAdams, TV Technology
INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—Over-the-air TV is on its way to resembling a more robust version of the Internet with the realization of ATSC 3.0, the so-called “next-generation” transmission standard being developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee.
“It’s not just a transmission standard, but a suite of technologies,” said Dave Siegler, vice president of technical operations for Cox Media and board member of the ATSC. He and other key contributors in the development of 3.0 provided an update on what stage the standard is in and further details on what can be done with it, at the HPA Technology Retreat in Indian Wells on Monday.
ATSC Technology Group 3 is the overarching section of the membership developing 3.0. Five specialist groups within TG3 are working on each of the five system layers of 3.0, and each has made preliminary decisions about what technologies to approve, according to Jerry Whitaker, ATSC vice president for standards development. All are subject to approval of the full TG3 and the voting membership, he said.
Technology for the physical layer of ATSC 3.0—essentially the signal form—was elevated to Candidate Standard status Sept. 29, 2015, allowing for the creation of prototype equipment and testing. It will remain a Candidate Standard until the end of March, when it will be fine-tuned, then put up to vote.
The most recent tests of this physical layer CS were carried out in Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show. Those tests yielded high-dynamic range, over-the-air 4KTV signals picked up by prototype equipment that included contributions from Samsung and LG. Such consumer electronics makers are considered crucial to the successful adoption of 3.0 because it is not backward-compatible. In other words, it will not work with any television set in the market today, noted Madeleine Noland, consultant to the LG Standard Technology and Development Team, and Convergence R&D Lab.
“Every TV set in the U.S. can interpret an ATSC 1.0 signal,” she said. “That’s not expected to be the case with 3.0.”
The Federal Communications Commission required consumer electronics makers to build over-the-air reception into TVs with the adoption of ATSC 1.0. The same may not hold for 3.0. The commission has yet to weigh in, but is said to generally welcome the development of 3.0 because it is more spectrally efficient than 1.0. The commission is not, however, expected to mandate the type of sweeping change that led up to the national digital transition to ATSC 1.0 in June of 2009.
ATSC 3.0 SET-TOPS
In the absence of such mandates and tuner requirements, ATSC 3.0 developers envision a market-by-market transition, further complicating adoption. Noland said that perhaps instead of 3.0-capable TVs, the transition will begin with peripherals.
“We may have a gateway device or a set-top box attached to an antenna and a Wi-Fi network, for example,” she said.
She also said the Consumer Technology Association—formerly the Consumer Electronics Association—“is looking at ATSC 3.0 as it’s developing and looking at the type of receiver profiles to introduce into the market… There is excellent cross-communication between CTA and ATSC.”
ATSC 3.0 TVs will need to display advanced capabilities, including supplemental and personalized content, hybrid (broadcast-broadband) delivery synchronization, alternate audio and video track selection, interactive applications, watermark detection, advanced emergency alert features, advanced accessibility and companion device support.
Whitaker noted that ATSC needs to be a “whole” technology.
“We can’t make consumers adopt it,” he said. “It needs to be a ‘pull’ technology.”
Creating a new TV experience is at the heart of generating that pull, he said. The two chief characteristics of TV—audio and video—would be the foundation of that experience, and would be boosted by 3.0 to next-level engineering, including high dynamic range video and immersive audio.
ATSC 3.0 VIDEO
Alan Stein, vice president of Technology, Corporate Development and the Technology Office for Technicolor, described 3.0 video requirements.
It will use HEVC Main 10 profile compression, said to yield a 35 to 50 percent performance gain over AVC/H.264, which has roughly twice the efficiency of the compression technology used in ATSC 1.0. The high-efficiency 10-bit compression codec is necessary to support high-dynamic range, which makes a brighter picture.
HDR is said to be more immediately detectable to the human eye than higher-than-HD resolutions such as 4K, but 4K and HDR are both benchmarks for ATSC 3.0. So is mobile HD reception, high-frame rate capabilities, more color and simultaneous broadcast-broadband transmission capabilities.
This type of hybrid transmission would be enabled in part by the use of a scalable high-efficiency video codec, or SHVC. SHVC provides for two spatial layers, with a base layer optimized for mobile reception, and an enhancement layer optimized for UHD (almost 4K) resolution. The mobile capabilities of the base layer technology have been tested successfully on an Amtrak train going 120 miles per hour between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Reception was achieved up to 30 miles from the transmitter, Stein said.
The HDR technology for the A/341 ATSC Video Candidate Standard is expected to be selected and specced by July 31, 2016, Stein said.
ATSC 3.0 AUDIO
Jim Starzynski, director and principal audio engineer for NBCUniversal, said ATSC S34-2, the ad hoc group working on audio, is “drafting candidate standard now.”
That standard will lay out the framework for new audio and language features. Starzynski said he likes to stay away from the term “immersive” for audio, “because it implies enhanced surround sound, and this is more.”
ATSC 3.0 audio will be able to do more things with languages, video descriptive services and loudness, for example, he said. It can also enable “dialog enhancement” for those actors with a mouthful of tissue.
Certainly, immersive surround sound will be part of the mix, capable of playback on speaker arrays, soundbars and even headphones.
In terms of efficiency, Starzynski said that in ATSC 1.0, audio uses 576 Kbps for a main audio soundtrack, stereo or 5.1, and a complete main AL or VDS mono. ATSC 3.0 can support up to four complete audio channels at 384 Kbps, for about 50 percent more bitrate efficiency.
In terms of audio synchronization, Starzynski said timing is always an issue, but that “the choices made by crew putting together content will take care of some of the timing issues. We can’t determine what will happen on every receiver, but have pretty much been able to achieve synchronization.”
There have also been discussions about “robust audio,” i.e., audio that continues in the absence of a picture—the way the old NTSC analog TV system worked.
“In ATSC 1.0, when you lose the signal, you lose the signal,” he said. “With analog; not so. We felt like audio should be preserved if video is lost. We’ll be able to be fairly robust with the audio, without having to go through any great compromise of the bits allocated to video.”
Every individual broadcaster would determine the robustness of their audio channels, he said.
ATSC 3.0 audio also would support accessibility features such as video descriptive services for the blind, as well as something Chris Homer of PBS referred to as “dialog intelligibility” for the hard of hearing. Homer, vice president of Operations & Engineering at PBS and chair of the ATSC accessibility group said its first working draft will cover closed captioning. (See “ATSC 3.0 Expands Closed Caption Offerings,” Aug. 20, 2015.)
ATSC 3.0 CONTENT ECOSYSTEM
Steve Bartkowicz, vice president of studio post engineering at NBCUniversal, described a 3.0-capable audio post workflow that could support up to 108 audio “objects,” or the discrete sounds that create immersive audio. Each object would have metadata attached he said. Different renders could be pulled out of the immersive audio track, e.g., a dialog-only render. A studio upgrade would run from $150,000 to $200,000, he said. Production itself presents a challenge in that current “post-production budgets don’t allow for extra stage time for immersive content,” he said. “Immersive content must be mixed natively with downmix capabilities due to time constraints.”
Josh Limor, senior director of technology development at Technicolor, spoke to the full production workflow for ATSC 3.0. He emphasized the pace of advanced TV adoption. Of 34.8 million TVs shipped last year, just 4 million were 4KTVs, he said. By the end of this year, 4 percent of TVs shipped will be HDR-capable, with penetration rising to 32 percent by 2019.
“Content has to pay attention to this… in feeding this ecosystem,” he said.
In recorded production, achieving HDR essentially involves using an HDR-capable monitor, and coloring and processing accordingly. For live events, however, standard-dynamic range cameras would have to be replaced with HDR cameras, plus colorists would have to be grading them. Limor said it also would be necessary to have SDR/HDR duplicate distribution, which isn’t logical. He said one alternative possibility might be single-stream distribution, with just a portion of the camera complement switched from SDR to HDR.
(Addendum, Feb. 25, 2016: Josh Limor followed up with TV Technology after the Tech Retreat to clarify his remarks on the single-stream strategy: “For live events and sports it would be financially impractical to duplicate the production and distribution infrastructure to accommodate simultaneous HDR and SDR productions. The proposed solution to the distribution problem is a single stream that is directly backwards compatible to SDR. This distribution solution would also benefit non-linear content distribution. I suggest that additional savings for live production could be found if you could avoid replacing all of the current equipment and instead transition by combining SDR and HDR equipment in a single HDR production.”)
Pete Van Peenen of Pearl covered some of the interactive features possible with ATSC 3.0, like coupon texting, social media integration and an L-bar display with live links similar to the Internet. One application might be a “Player Watch” type pop-up with athlete stats. Another is companion-screen capability, e.g., a travel show with an interactive map.
Bhanu Srikanth, founder and CEO of Jargon Media, described a multiscreen app that could be downloaded to a tablet or a smartphone, and that shares information on actors in a scene, or lets a viewer buy accessories worn by characters.
She said the technology also enables targeted advertising as well as director commentary in a two-way communication, for example. The second screen can pause the first screen while director is explaining something, she said.
Jargon also has done games across multiple screens, and created technology that can print clips or frames from a Blu-ray to a home printer.
Easing app development for ATSC 3.0 is a goal of its creators, because “so many devices function there,” said Skip Pizzi, senior director of New Media Technologies for the National Association of Broadcasters, and chair of TG3.
Pizzi said the use of Web-compatible technology opens ATSC 3.0 to “a huge group of developers,” and that most broadcasters already have teams working on the Web in HTML.
LG’s Noland said, “We want to align with the Web as much as possible. Ideally, app authors will be able to adapt Web apps for TV, and vice versa, easily.”
Work on ATSC 3.0 has been on a fast track to coincide with the FCC’s TV spectrum incentive auction, set to commence March 29, 2016. The goal is to have the standard ready in time for the post-auction channel repack. ATSC President Mark Richer told TV Technology in October that it is targeted for completion in the first quarter of 2017.
Reprinted with permission from TV Technology
Posted in ATSC News
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