The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has recently announced a big official approval for TV broadcasts and 4K programming that should have everyone who wants to invest in buying 4K TVs very, very interested. It’s a little complicated for the average TV viewer and person considering giving up on cable, so let’s break it down into the good and the bad.
TV stations now have permission to broadcast in a new format called ATSC 3.0: This is a big over-the-air upgrade, particularly because it appears to support 4K over-the-air broadcasts – that’s a ton of information to beam around, but ATSC 3.0 seems capable of packing and unpacking enough data to make it work.
And make no mistakes, broadcasters have been waiting for this opportunity: The earliest upgrades to this new format are supposed to hit the U.S. in Spring 2018, which means companies have been working on them for a while now.
If most of these upgrades do indeed support 4K broadcasts, then this really big news for 4K.
If you don’t know how free air broadcasts work, here’s a quick explanation: Buy a new TV tuner or a TV with a tuner installed, and have it search for local broadcasts. There’s usually at least several around, typically anywhere from 10 to 30 channels available based on your range, location, and the quality of the tuner (sorry rural folks, but you’re less likely to have any channels in range). Once detected, you can watch these channels for free – and they tend to include very popular networks like CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, all the big ones.
This is huge news for cable cutters who want their 4K sports and TV shows, but also for those that really don’t want to pay for satellite or cable anymore. It means that, starting next year, 4K broadcasts will be available for free (and eventually, become the norm), and one more reason to pay for cable/satellite will be gone.
Okay, worst things worst: Current devices don’t really support the new format. Even if you have a TV and a receiver and everything else that can support 4K TV, you may not be able to pick up these broadcasts – a new TV or tuner may be required. So if you really want over the air broadcasts in 4K, you may want to wait on spending money on a new TV for a year or so to see exactly what is required.
Second, for now the FCC is requiring anyone who wants to broadcast in 4K to simultaneously broadcast in other formats too. The reasons aren’t really important, but the effect will be to slow down the adoption of 4K among broadcasters that aren’t ready to move to the new technology.