(If you haven’t read What Cord Cutters Need to Know About ATSC 3.0 Part 1 or Part 2, start there first for some important background information. For the latest news, see part 4.)
It’s been over a year since the FCC approved the voluntary rollout of a new broadcast TV standard known as ATSC 3.0.
Since then, nothing has really changed for cord cutting consumers. And despite the hype coming out of this month’s National Association of Broadcasters’ tradeshow, nothing should be changing in the short term either.
Keep reading to find out what cord cutters can expect as the slow transition to ATSC 3.0 continues.
The ATSC 3.0 Hype Machine
At the NAB Show, technology companies and the standards body behind the change were eager to show off the features and benefits of next-gen TV, as well as the gear that will make it possible.
A tentative list of the first 40 cities that will lead the adoption of ATSC 3.0 was released, with a switchover timeframe towards the end of 2020.
Many of those early-adopter stations are owned by Sinclair which has a vested interest in pushing the standard forward since they own ATSC 3.0 patents through their subsidiary One Media.
But the question remains, is that timeframe realistic? We’ll have to see.
Keep in mind that even stations with financial interests in ATSC 3.0 adoption still need to evaluate and purchase that new broadcast technology and put engineering plans into action before they can do the switchover.
A Consumer-Side Reality Check
Beyond the engineering work required on the broadcast side, there are currently no commercially-available viewing devices that support ATSC 3.0 being sold in North America.
Even if your local station made the switchover tomorrow, you wouldn’t be able to watch ATSC 3.0 programming without importing a TV or converter box from South Korea.
And that won't change anytime soon.
While chip and tuner manufacturers do have a handful of ATSC 3.0-capable engineering samples available for companies to evaluate, a typical time frame for those samples to be integrated into new designs for televisions, DVRs, and other gadgets is 18-24 months.
The earliest consumers could then expect to purchase ATSC 3.0-ready devices in North America would be late 2020 or early 2021.
(LG has already confirmed that 2019 model year TVs in North America won’t support ATSC 3.0.)
That time frame assumes commercial quantity production of those engineering sample tuners and chips is ramped up over the coming months, and that manufacturers see consumer demand for ATSC 3.0 capabilities in their products.
So far smartphone manufacturers – including Apple – have shunned the idea of placing next-gen TV-capable chips in their devices, to the dismay of those pushing for the adoption of ATSC 3.0.
Should I Wait for ATSC 3.0 to Cut the Cord?
If you’re on the fence about cutting the cord now or waiting for ATSC 3.0, there’s absolutely no reason to delay.
Any Over-the-Air TV antenna will work with both today’s standard and ATSC 3.0.
As for cord cutting gear with tuners like TVs and DVRs, they aren’t backward-compatible. However, when a station starts broadcasting via ATSC 3.0, by FCC law they must continue to broadcast in ATSC 1.0 for five years after the switch. That means today’s Over-the-Air tuner devices will remain useful into at least 2025.
Over that time, you’ll save thousands of dollars in cable TV or satellite subscription fees.
And when a full switchover to ATSC 3.0 does come to your city, you can spend a small fraction of those savings to purchase whatever next-gen TV adapter, DVR, or tuner dongle eventually come on the market to retrofit your cord cutting setup.
If you’re wondering specifically about an ATSC 3.0 capable Tablo OTA DVR, we have no plans for one today. Like others in our industry, we’re keeping an eye on the progress of this transition and are always evaluating new technology that we could potentially include in future versions of our DVR products.
So, stay tuned! As ATSC 3.0 moves forward, we’ll post more updates in this series.
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