CHAT ROOM: Olympic-Sized Milestone

In the Chat Room this month, THE STANDARD sat down with ATSC board member Pete Sockett, head of engineering and operations at Capitol Broadcasting Company, based on Raleigh, North Carolina. We caught up with him after yet another milestone for pioneering broadcaster WRAL-TV – the first U.S. over-the-air 4K Ultra HD broadcasts of the Winter Olympic Games.

THE STANDARD: Sounds like the Olympics broadcast in Raleigh was a big success. Congrats to you and the entire WRAL team! How did this all come together? 

SOCKETT: Thanks. It was quite the event and a wonderful way to show off our new standard to the industry, local dignitaries and the public!

As for pulling it together, while we were planning ways to showcase 4K UHD broadcasting, NAB’s Sam Matheny called and said, “Hey, let’s do something big and show interactive apps, too.” And the countdown started. By the time the final gig was put together, we were demonstrating broadcast 4K UHD and AC-4 audio on big beautiful sets, as well as small tablets with USB dongles, home gateways with interactive applications, AWARN advanced emergency alerting simulations, and even some really cool test gear!

The opportunity to show this ecosystem to new groups of people (programming, digital, sales and marketing) was a great kick-off to start the innovative and creative process for those folks. 

THE STANDARD: In the early days of HDTV, Capitol Broadcasting CEO Jim Goodmon would often say that his business plan with ATSC 1.0 was “to stay in business.” Tell us about how ATSC 3.0 fits with the company’s current strategy.

SOCKETT: For us, ATSC 3.0 isn’t just about staying in business.  This technology is the opportunity for not only improving our current linear TV product, but it also affords us the opportunity to develop new business lines.  This is a great opportunity to level the playing field with our competition.  No longer are we locked to a snapshot in time when it comes to technology. 

This new standard is flexible so that we engineers will soon be at the point where we get out of the way of the business people and let them run with it.  Once the product and technical teams realize the ease of developing within the ATSC 3.0 framework, the sky’s the limit … literally!

Going forward our company’s strategy is simple really, make good content that people want to watch, interact with them in ways we never have, and use every tool we can to connect with them.  ATSC 3 is really one of the best tools we have to help achieve that goal.

THE STANDARD: Even before last month’s landmark Olympics broadcast, you’ve been on the air for a while now with ATSC 3. What are some key learnings for other broadcasters preparing to launch Next Gen TV?

SOCKETT: That’s exactly what I’ve been discussing with my guys. Here are some of their best insights:

  • READ THE SPECS! Start with the Physical Layer and go from there! Print one for your desk, print one for the Shop, print one for the transmitter site, print one for the lab. And, heck, print one for your nightstand! There is a lot of information in this standard that is well written by a lot of smart people. Use it!
  • PLAN CAREFULLY. The decisions you make on the transmission chain and processing gear could make more of a difference in your coverage than what size transmitter you buy. This bodes well for the future!
  • GET THE RIGHT GEAR. Learn Wireshark and buy a Stream Scope – you’ll need it to capture files to share with vendors when you have no idea why it just isn’t working!
  • LEARN HOW TO TEST. A firmware or software upgrade on anything makes it a completely different machine. Don’t do upgrades in the middle of testing unless you want to start over. In many cases, it will make sense to start over but don’t compare apples to oranges.

Overall, we’re learning that the standard works and it works well! While there’s still a lot of trial & error and testing in our collective futures, broadcasters are launching a one-of- a-kind game changer for TV. The next big step is to start educating the public and get the awareness out there that this is coming. Done right it will maximize the myriad of services and options in consumer’s Next Gen TV future.

For the historic ATSC 3.0 broadcast in Raleigh of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, Capitol Broadcasting/WRAL-TV partnered with NBC Universal and the National Association of Broadcasters. Contributions from other ATSC member companies included ATSC 3.0-equipped consumer display products from LG Electronics, Samsung and ETRI and prototype home gateways developed by PILOT; professional reception and analysis equipment from ETRI and Triveni Digital; transmission chain equipment and technical support from Ateme, Dolby, DS Broadcast, Electronics Research, Enensys, ETRI, GatesAir, Harmonic, SES, Triveni Digital and Zenith.