When high definition televisions first appeared, it took years for shows and movies to actually display in HD when streaming. Most channels still don’t display 1080p and instead broadcast in lower resolutions of 720p and 1080i. You’re most likely to get true HD channels via cable or satellite, but those services are expensive. Many people have switched entirely to streaming services that offer tons of HD and 4K content, but those subscriptions can add up, too. This begs the question: how can you watch TV in the sharpest and cleanest way without paying anything?
ATSC 3.0(Opens in a new window), or NextGenTV, is a new broadcast standard that allows TV stations to transmit 1080p and even 4K video over the air. The good news is that several stations have started broadcasting via this standard. The bad news is that they are rare. And, unless you bought your TV very recently, it probably doesn’t support ATSC 3.0.
Here’s what you need to know about ATSC 3.0 and how you can get high definition and 4K broadcasts from your local TV channels, at least eventually.
What is ATSC 3.0?
ATSC stands for Advanced Television Standards Committee and is the industry organization that sets the standards for digital television broadcasts. It defined how broadcast stations and cable television services handle digital television signals since the conversion of analog television broadcasts in 2009.
ATSC (or ATSC 1.0 more precisely) is also the name of the organization’s digital television standard, which is the one used by North America and South Korea. It supports a resolution of up to 1080p, but stations and cable services use it much more commonly to transmit video in 720p and 1080i.
The “p” and “i” in these resolutions stand for “progressive” and “interlaced”. Progressive scan means that each horizontal line in each picture is drawn on the TV before the next picture appears. Interlaced means that the horizontal rows of pixels in each frame are divided into two fields of alternating rows, between which TVs quickly switch. Regardless of resolution, ATSC 1.0 only supports up to 30 frames per second (30 Hz).
ATSC 3.0 supports 1080p and 4K resolutions up to 120 frames per second (120Hz). 4K has a resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels, which is four times the number of pixels of 1080p. ATSC 3.0 can also handle high dynamic range (HDR) content, so not only can broadcasts look sharper and smoother, but they can also display higher contrast levels and a wider color gamut.
Is the new standard called ATSC 3.0 or NextGen TV?
ATSC 3.0 and NextGen TV are technically correct because two separate industry organizations use different names for the same thing for different reasons.
The ATSC calls it ATSC 3.0 and envisions it as an industry standard only. The group focuses on setting standards and promoting deployment among manufacturers and broadcasters; it does not respond directly to the interests of consumers. So formally, the system is called ATSC 3.0.
ATSC 3.0 is a standard defined by the Advanced Television Standards Committee. Nextgen TV is a registered trademark of the Consumer Technology Association.
The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) refers to the standard as NextGen TV. CTA takes a much broader look at all consumer technologies (it’s the group that runs CES every year). He coined the term NextGen TV, which admittedly sounds a bit friendlier and more marketable than ATSC 3.0. He also created the NextGen TV logo, which some TVs with ATSC 3.0 tuners display on their packaging (we’ll discuss the branding a bit later).
So, to summarize, ATSC 3.0 and NextGen TV refer to the same thing: ATSC 3.0 is the technical name and NextGen TV is the marketing name.
The Samsung QN90B is a TV with an ATSC 3.0 tuner.
What do you need to watch ATSC 3.0 TV?
When analog television was converted to the digital standard, analog-only televisions could not display digital channels. They had NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) tuners, which was the standard at the time. However, new televisions began to switch to ATSC 1.0 tuners that could accept these signals. Because few people wanted to throw away and replace their TVs, many turned to digital converter boxes as a solution. These boxes had ATSC 1.0 tuners that could process digital television signals and output them over wires as analog signals that older televisions could display.
ATSC 3.0 works the same way, requiring a tuner that supports it. Unfortunately, the vast majority of televisions available today still use an ATSC 1.0 tuner. Even if your TV supports 4K HDR content, this may only be through streaming services or devices you connect via HDMI. Both of these options can facilitate much higher data bandwidth than over-the-air (OTA) transmissions from ATSC 1.0 television stations. ATSC 3.0 fixes this problem, but if your TV tuner isn’t designed to handle it, you’re out of luck.
The best TVs we’ve tested with ATSC 3.0
Some new TVs are being launched with ATSC 3.0 tuners in anticipation of widespread adoption of the standard. LG, Samsung and Sony rolled out TVs with ATSC 3.0 tuners last year, while Hisense plans to ship its first ATSC 3.0 TVs(Opens in a new window) This year. Currently, these are the only brands that support NextGen TV. TCL, Vizio and other manufacturers have not announced any models with compatible tuners.
If you want to keep your old TV, you need to do what consumers had to do when switching to digital TV: Get a separate tuner. They’re rare and expensive (usually at least $200), but they allow you to get ATSC 3.0 broadcasts on your TV. The first to be released was the HDHomeRun Flex 4K(Opens in a new window)although others are beginning to appear online.
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Which TVs support ATSC 3.0?
If you’re looking at TVs in a store or online, you need to look closely. Some TVs promote NextGen TV on their boxes, store posters, or online listings. If they don’t say NextGen TV, look at the full specs and see if ATSC 3.0 shows up. If none are there, the TV probably doesn’t have an ATSC 3.0 tuner.
The Samsung QN90B specs page
You can also check out CTA’s NextGen TV Devices page(Opens in a new window). It lists all TVs with ATSC 3.0 tuners currently available in the United States. This list does not include TVs due to launch later this year, such as those from Hisense.
Here is a short list of ATSC 3.0 compatible TVs that you can buy now or soon from major manufacturers:
Hisense: U7H, U8H and U9H
LG: G1 OLED, G2 OLED and Signature Z2 OLED
Samsung: QLED QN85B, QLED QN90A, QLED QN90B, QLED QN95B and OLED S95B
Sony: Bravia A80J, Bravia A90J, Bravia X80J, Bravia X85J, Bravia X90J and Bravia X95J
What can you monitor on ATSC 3.0?
ATSC 3.0 market map in May 2022
What you can watch depends on where you live. Stations in a few dozen markets have started broadcasting in ATSC 3.0. This list includes Austin, Baltimore, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Portland, Seattle and Washington, DC. Residents of several other major cities are expected to start seeing NextGen TV broadcasts later this summer, including Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Francisco.
Some mid-sized cities also have ATSC 3.0 stations, such as Albuquerque, NM; Buffalo, New York; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Hartford, Connecticut; Little Rock, AR; and Springfield, Missouri. New markets are expected to get NextGen TV at some point over the next few years, starting with cities and eventually moving into less populated areas. To keep tabs on which markets have ATSC 3.0 stations, CTA’s NextGen TV availability page(Opens in a new window) provides an up-to-date overview of coverage.
Even if you can get an ATSC 3.0 signal where you are, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can catch 4K video on your favorite channel. Picture quality depends on each station and even on each broadcast.
The LG C2 Evo OLED is a great TV, but it doesn’t have an ATSC 3.0 tuner. (Photo: Will Greenwald)
More TV buying advice
If you don’t plan on picking up NextGen TV as it rolls out and prefer streaming services over cable or satellite options, check out our list of the best TVs regardless of ATSC 3.0 support. As you know by now, TVs with ATSC 3.0 tuners are rare and expensive, and you can always get a converter box later!
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