CHAT ROOM: Conformance Performance

In the Chat Room this month, THE STANDARD sat down with Bob Campbell, who chairs the new ATSC 3.0 Conformance Implementation Team. The ATSC is fortunate to have such a noted international standards and testing expert leading this effort. In addition to his day job as Eurofin’s head of engineering and his intensive ATSC work, Campbell chairs the Improving Interoperability Task Force for the HbbTV Association, serves on the HbbTV Steering Group and co-chairs the CTA WAVE Test and Compliance Task Force.

THE STANDARD: Bob, what the heck is “conformance” anyway?

CAMPBELL: I see “conformance” as the glue that binds services, transmission equipment and receiving devices together in an open, standards-based, ecosystem. The ATSC 3.0 specifications are the foundation for that ecosystem, but without also ensuring conformance to those specifications you don’t get interoperable services and equipment. Conformance means a process ensuring that implementations actually meet the specifications, based on everyone passing a common set of tests. It can be applied in development and QA cycles of manufacturing; it doesn’t have to mean expensive lab-based certification regimes, but it does mean that each vendor is held to the same set of tests. Compare this with plugfests and ad-hoc testing in field trials. These are both great additional activities, but they only validate a selection of functionality among a self-selecting sample of interested parties: neither alone ensures all the vendors entering the market pass a common set of tests and thus support all the needed features of Next Gen TV.

THE STANDARD: That’s great, but it sounds pretty complicated. How is the I Team tackling this effort?

CAMPBELL: It needs to be tackled one step at a time, as with any big challenge! The I Team is starting to look at the scope of testing that is needed, first on the receiver side, based on priorities from across the industry as represented by its members. Receivers are needed in the market for broad adoption of ATSC 3.0 to accelerate, so this seems like the obvious way to help unblock the “chicken and egg” stalemate: conformance tests help manufacturers develop ahead of services being widely deployed. At the same time we’re also starting to capture the approach to conformance that will work for the industry, looking at what process and recommendations the I Team can make to build an effective conformance program for ATSC 3.0. We hope to be able to look also at the transmission side in time and consider how tools and test materials would be used within the process we define. The I Team isn’t a specification writing group; our goal is to give stakeholders industry-agreed-upon recommendations with supporting test lists and documentation.

THE STANDARD: Can you put the I Team’s work into perspective for us? In other words, how will this conformance activity help support the implementation of Next Gen TV powered by ATSC 3.0?

CAMPBELL: Sure. It’s pretty easy really: how else does someone walk into a store and know they’re purchasing an ATSC 3.0 receiver that will work across all ATSC 3.0 services? Without these devices going through a conformance program, the risk is high that not all features work the way they’re supposed to, so our work will help assure that the clear benefits of Next Gen TV are going to be realized for consumers, manufacturers and broadcasters.