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ATSC Adopts Mobile DTV Standard
The ATSC's Mobile DTV has the potential to seriously impact and disrupt both traditional broadcasting and online video, even beyond mobile devices.
Mon., Oct. 19, by Tim Siglin

During last week's Streaming Media Europe, one keynoter said he had trouble referring to the living room television as such.

"I no longer want to call it the television," said Myles MacBean, Vice President, Disney Online EMEA. "We refer to it as one of the three screens - the screen in your living room."

MacBean made this comment on the same day, October 16, that the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) made its final decision on the digital television (DTV) standard for mobile devices.

"We are pleased to announce the approval of A/153 ATSC Mobile DTV Standard," stated a press release on the ATSC.org site. "The ballot, tallied at midnight Oct. 15, was approved with overwhelming support by the full ATSC membership."

Without going in to a significant analysis in this brief news report (although we'll provide a more in-depth look within a few weeks), the standard has the potential to impact the traditional streaming industry in a variety of ways.

"The standard defines the technical specifications necessary for broadcasters to provide new services to mobile and handheld devices using their digital television (DTV) transmissions," the site stated.

Yet even Mobile DTV is a bit of a misnomer, as the standard opens up the possibility of the inclusion of a DTV television antenna in numerous consumer devices. This may involve additional home consumer devices beyond the "television" such as digital photo frames or home "stereo" systems.

U.S. broadcasters, who have been forced to move to digital television transmissions (also referred to as DTV), receive a significant benefit from the adoption of the standard in the form of interoperability.

"The new services for mobile and handheld devices are carried along with current DTV services without any adverse impact on legacy receiving equipment," the site stated.

For European broadcasters, who will be making the DTV transition in the next year, this ability to send the same broadcast signal to a mobile device as to a new DTV-capable television means they can potentially keep a customer engaged at any time or location. In fact, the standard is somewhat of a backdoor in to data broadcasting services, progressive downloads, and delivery of on-demand services.

"ATSC Mobile DTV was developed to support a variety of services including free (advertiser-supported) television and interactive services," the site stated, "delivered in real-time, subscription-based TV, and file-based content download for playback at a later time. The standard can also be used for transmission of new data broadcasting services."

What's that? Data broadcasting services via a television transmission? Yes, as Mobile DTV in the A/153 spec is based on IP transmission, so it has the potential to place broadcasters in the role of the content delivery networks (CDN) that fits well in to their legacy models. Suddenly that move to over-the-air digital transmissions by the television broadcasters opens up a whole new overlay network.

The standard itself is based on Vestigial Side Band (VSB) modulation and includes forward error correction (FEC) that started out as a satellite delivery enhancement and found its way in to WiFi and WiMax. While power consumption is a key concern, the fact that A/153 provides "MPEG AVC (ISO/IEC 14496-10 or ITU H.264) video, and HE AAC v2 audio (ISO/IEC 14496-3) coding" means that the live streams will be the exact same video and audio codecs used in traditional DTV broadcasts as well as a variety of live H.264 streaming solutions.

"ATSC Mobile DTV services are carried in existing digital broadcast channels along with current DTV services without any adverse impact on legacy receiving equipment," a press release on the site stated.

Both the consumer electronics industry and the iPhone world are abuzz with the potential of A/153 Mobile DTV to present a new model for mobile delivery of IP content outside of the traditional wireless carrier's delivery mechanisms.

"As a founding ATSC member," said Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of CEA, the Consumer Electronics Association, "we congratulate ATSC on achieving this new standard, which will help chipmakers and equipment manufacturers proceed with product development and deployment. With the successful digital television transition now behind us, the ATSC Mobile DTV standard gives broadcasters an opportunity to provide consumers with the next generation of compelling over-the-air content."

"I want my Mobile DTV!" said Steve Sande, of TUAW.com, a leading Macintosh and iPhone site. "Here's hoping that the next generation of iPhones and iPod touches can receive ATSC Mobile DTV."

[Editor's note: Tim Siglin comments further on the potential implications in a blog post on Workflowed.com.]