A long-in-the-works upgrade to broadcast television is now live in the same market as the government officials who approved its development. Three and a half years after the first test broadcasts began in Phoenix, five DC-area stations just began airing NextGen TV signals alongside their digital-TV broadcasts.
They include the local channels of the four major networks–ABC-affiliated WJLA, NBC’s WRC, Fox’s WTTG, and CBS’s Tegna’s WUSA–as well as Howard University’s PBS member station WHUT, which is hosting all five in its facilities in the District.
NextGen TV–originally known as ATSC 3.0, after the Advanced Television Systems Committee that governs this and the earlier ATSC 1.0 digital-TV standard–gets DTV up to speed with the two decades of digital progress that followed its development in the late 1990s.
This Internet Protocol-based standard uses much more efficient compression (one reason WHUT has the capacity for four other stations' signals) and delivers better picture quality that can include HDR and 4K UHD resolution, audio upgrades like surround sound and the ability to enhance dialog over background noise, more robust reception, upgraded emergency alerts, and onscreen interactivity that stations expect will include more precisely targeted advertising.
The FCC proposed the standard back in 2017, with large-scale deployment beginning in 2020. The addition of these five stations, by TV Technology’s count, brings the total number of NextGen TV markets in the US to 39—with such major markets as Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York still in a to-do phase.
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The availability of compatible sets—existing TVs can’t pick up these signals without a NextGen tuner—has lagged behind broadcast support but has improved considerably since the start of the year. The list at WatchNextGenTV.com now features several dozen models from LG, Samsung, and Sony, with the cheapest among them being a 43-inch Sony discounted to $450.
Because the newNextGen TV channels in DC don’t occupy the same frequencies as their DTV predecessors, Washington-area viewers with compatible sets will need to rescan the airwaves to map these new signals and, in WHUT’s case, to continue receiving its DTV broadcasts.
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