By Colin McCandless, Contributing Writer
REGION – While still in its early stages, you might have heard about NextGen TV or seen signs in electronics stores advertising televisions equipped with the technology. But what is it exactly, and how does it differ from what is already out there?
Free to viewers
NextGen TV is a free, over-the-air service available to viewers with an antenna in most major markets that combines the benefits of broadcast with broadband TV viewing. All you need is a NextGen TV and an HD antenna, and you can watch a wide variety of broadcast channels at no charge. It offers 4K ultra high-definition video quality, theater-like sound, mobile reception and innovative new features to enhance and expand the broadcast viewing experience. The service transforms televisions into web browsers, allowing local TV stations to better personalize their broadcasts with information and interactive features.
“NextGen TV is sort of the public-facing name for ATSC 3.0 (Advanced Television Systems Committee) which is the soon-to-be new standard for over-the-air television,” explained Jordan Walton, executive director of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association. “It’s going to bring additional connectivity to homes that have NextGen-enabled televisions and/or tuners.”
Pros and cons
Some of the viewer benefits of NextGen TV include technological advancements to video and sound and enhanced content and interactivity.
“Over-the-air, as it stands now, the current standard is generally far better than you’ll receive for cable and satellite because it’s not compressed,” stated Walton. “So it’ll be even a clearer picture under NextGen TV.”
He added that NextGen has audio features that level out sound between stations to avoid those vexing volume fluctuations. If a viewer has internet in their home and connects to their TV, there will be future updates. “As the technology advances, they will be able to get the updates to their set,” said Walton. This could prevent or at least delay having to buy a new set every time the service is improved or upgraded.
NextGen TV will allow consumers to access on-demand news stories and weather updates and enhanced sports statistics while watching games. Walton said that to his knowledge some PBS stations in markets where NextGen TV had gone live used it during the pandemic to provide lessons for elementary school kids, so it can be utilized as an educational and digital learning resource as well.
Presently, the biggest drawback to NextGen TV is the expense. It is new technology that hasn’t been out on the market long, and as with most novel technology, the price started out high, with NextGen TV sets initially costing in the thousands. But as demand grows and more stations and markets launch the standard, the cost will gradually continue to decrease, noted Walton. And while the broadcast channels may be free, you still mostly can’t avoid the ads, although there are a couple NextGen TV DVRs available, according to the tech and consumer electronics media site CNET.
Massachusetts markets rolling out NextGen TV
Television affiliates began deploying NextGen TV in various markets nationwide in 2020, and the rollout continued into 2021 and 2022, according to the National Broadcasters Association. NextGen TV is currently available in Springfield through WWLP-22News, and one Boston station, WCRN TV 31, launched NextGen TV in July as sort of a test run, with the expanded market rollout in Boston scheduled to go live in late 2022, according to Walton.
WCRN TV 31 President and CEO Frank Copsidas said that their station provides three program channels through NextGen TV including France 24, Retro TV and Heartland TV. They are currently using half of their spectrum for datacasting (using TV broadcast signals to transmit encrypted data) for first responders and other uses.
“We’re trying things. We’re kind of a sandbox for that,” said Copsidas. “This is very much in development. After the first of the year, it will be a lot more consumer friendly.”
He qualified though that in markets where NextGen TV is more established such as Phoenix, the public aspect of the service is much further along than in Boston, which is just introducing it.
Explaining the ATSC 3.0 designation, Copsidas noted that the switch from analog to digital in 1990s was ATSC 1.0, whereas ATSC 2.0 was mobile, which “no one did.” NextGen TV, or ATSC 3.0, is IP-based, meaning your TV screen is essentially an internet browser, he explained.
“It went from a program broadcast platform to a data delivery service,” he noted.
New Sony TVs are currently available with NextGen TV technology, and other brands including LG and Samsung are starting to offer it as well. To pick up ATSC 3.0 stations, you need a converter box, like when TV went from analog to digital, commented Copsidas.
For those early adopters itching to try the next big innovation in television, many NextGen TVs now run less than $1,000, according to Copsidas. The least expensive he has seen cost around $540. “At the end of the year, prices should come down drastically,” he said.
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