ATSC 3.0 and DRM Transition: A Historical Perspective

There is a lot of chatter right now related ATSC 3.0 / NextGen TV and DRM and it being the ruin of Channels DVR.

Expand to see some of those conversations...

DRM Protected ATSC 3.0 Channels

HdHomerun ATSC 3.0 - #5 by Goober96

The Future of ChannelsDVR? - #2 by Edwin_Perez

Content Protection Required - #5 by speedingcheetah

Because of this, I want to calm the waters a bit by providing a little historical context with the SD to HD Digital Transition in the United States.

Part 1: Preparing for the Transtion

  • 1980: Original HDTV recommendations published
  • 1987: FCC forms Advisory Committee
  • 1996: FCC finalizes technical requirements through massive compromises and backroom deals

Part 2: The Mandate

  • 1996: Congress mandates that all broadcasts must be on digital signals by the end of 2006 so that the analogue frequencies can be returned to the government
  • 2005: With only 3% of American homes able to receive DTV signals, the deadline was pushed back to the end of 2008 and later extended to the middle of 2009
  • 2009: The mandated transition officially ends

Part 3: The Reality

  • 2009: Low powered stations and repeaters are given an extension to make the transition and shut down their analogue signals
  • 2011-2015: The remaining analogue signals are supposed to be shut down
  • 2022: The last analogue TV Station in the United States shuts down

Part 4: The Next Generation

  • 2013: ATSC asks for proposals for a standard for the next generation of digital broadcasts
  • 2014-2017: Various tests of next generation ATSC signals
  • 2017: FCC approves a voluntary transition to ATSC 3.0--not a mandated one like with ATSC 1.0--which requires, among other things, that once a station makes the transition they must continue their 1.0 signal for at least 5 years
  • 2020: First permanent ATSC 3.0 signal launches in the United States

Part 5: The Future

  • 2023: 60% of households fall in a market with an ATSC 3.0 signal, though most are in the early testing phase
  • 2025: Las Vegas becomes the first market that could shut down their 1.0 signals, but does not as ATSC President Madeleine Noland noted that she expects the transition period to be at least 10 years
  • 2028: ATSC 3.0 compatible televisions and converter boxes finally reach critical mass (slight majority), meaning 1.0 signals may be reasonable to begin to be shut down
  • 2047: The last ATSC 1.0 signal in the United States shuts down but it hardly matter due to changes in content delivery technologies over the prior decades

The moral of the story is: things change and take a lot longer than expected. Yes, a lot of scary and terrible things are being proposed, tested, and implemented right now, but we hardly know where the future will be and how it will all end up. ATSC 3.0 is not a completely defined standard like 1.0 was and is being industry driven. DRM is just a technical methodology that may be able to be worked around or abandoned entirely. Don't make any rash decisions right now and let's see where the chips fall. After all, this is about entertainment, nothing truly vital.


Very nicely written. :+1:
Thanks for the history lesson. :slightly_smiling_face:

I agree, no need to panic at this time. :wink:


The difference is, this time it actually helps their bottom line to make the transition. They are demanding high prices for these local stations and it's only going up. I don't know the numbers or exactly how it is all calculated but judging by the "Local Station Fee" my ISP charges it's probably in their best interest to push as many people as possible off of OTA, even if only a fraction of them start paying for a streaming service.

This. Comparing something the FCC forced upon them to something that opens up a new revenue stream for the broadcasters is kind of apples to oranges.

My angst about the ATSC 3.0 debacle is based on 2 general ideas.

  1. Corporate greed
  2. We, the citizens of the US, own the airwaves.

That was the best statement of the entire post.

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I actually disagree with this. TV is essential for many people in order to get news and emergency information. Especially lower income. We shouldn't let the big corporate interests try to take away what has been free for so long saddling it with onerous requirements just to make sure their corporate coffers are filled. I fear it won't be too long before a future GOP administration will try to do similar to what they did with net neutrality as long as their palms are greased enough.


For 40 years, this has been OTA broadcasters' business model. Nothing has changed at all; just the delivery mechanism. I think this video sums it up nicely:

No, it's more like Granny Smiths vs. Fuji. Different types of apples with very different tastes, colors, and textures, but still apples. Here, the story is relatively the same. We are very early in the process and things can change, such as...

This is exactly true. Just because it is a voluntary process right now, it does not mean the FCC or Congress cannot make mandates later. Will they or will they screw us with inaction or even worse with things in favor of the broadcasters' lobbying organization? I don't know! That's why I'm recommending calming the rhetoric a bit so that these avenues can be explored.

This is why I want to give the FCC a chance to weigh in. They already have a mandate around this. Unfortunately, with an evenly split FCC it is tough for them to do anything useful right now. And I'm not saying not to advocate for open airwaves, quite the opposite, actually! All I'm highlighting is that things are not so bleak as they seem and that we are very early on. I could do another one of these timelines related to DRM dooming the world with a particular focus at 2006 when an FCC commissioner came out in favor of the government forcefully implementing it! As you may notice here 17 years later, that effort failed.

Aside from a DRM timeline, my other favorite comparison is the James Webb Space Telescope. It was announced in 1996, scheduled for launch in 2007, and finally left the planet on Christmas Day 2021. As a project manager, I used to tell people that a schedule fails the moment you implement it!

I don't think you understand the argument you're trying to make... DRM is what has changed. This isn't just a new delivery mechanism, it's also a way of restricting how the programming can be watched and recorded.

You are trying to imply that this is the same as the switch to digital, but it's not. There was no financial incentive for broadcasters to speed up the digital transition. With DRM they now control what programming is Copy Freely, what software can watch/record/stream OTA content. They can use this to make OTA as restrictive and complicated as possible in order to push customers to a paid solution that they can charge re-transmission fees on.

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What you have written is just so obvious. I just don't understand where peoples heads are. Are they so enamored with the false come-on prospect of 4K that they ignore the obvious big-picture?

It's concerning how the ATSC President keeps stressing how important getting the ATSC3 logo on tuner products is and yet Silicon Dust has no plans to do this and in fact has criticized this requirement. They were also nowhere to be found at CES or NAB. It certainly doesn't bode well, in my mind, for them to get support and leeway from the consortium.

I think — and more important, Antenna Man thinks — HDHR tuners were there, with FreeCast labels.

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Again, Silicon Dust was not there and that speaks volumes to me.

I don't know how you decide to throw in with ATSC 3.0 early adoption and then thumb your nose at the organization running the show. It just makes no sense. If you're trying to adopt a method that is welcome and accepted by the broadcasters, wouldn't it make sense to join their little club, slap their approved logo on your box and just make them happy?

NickK has indicated that were taken completely by surprise by the decision by some broadcasters to encrypt entire channels and expected it only for PPV channels.

Sounds like they misread the room to me.

Your comment validates my decision to recently buy a $16 open-box Connect Quatro instead of the Flex. For now I can wait, especially since 3.0 hasn’t hit my market yet.

It's a reeeally small company. Let FreeCast pay for a booth.

Makes sense! The Flex has slightly better 1.0 reception than the Quatro, but until 3.0 is in your market the main selling point is the Flex DVR jack, which Channels DVR users can't use and don't need.

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Just a week or so ago, Silicon Dust received approval from A3SA to proceed with their plan to incorporate DRM into their system. I think we can give them a few months for development. For those of us who already have their ATSC3.0 tuners, I don't think we need a sticker. If they get their system approved then they may be allowed to add a sticker. I just hope their development doesn't impact Channels DVR use of ATSC1.0. Hopefully after Silicon Dust has completed their development, Channels DVR will find it feasible to add DRM.

"Preliminary approval."

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I doubt it. Isn't that tied to hardware approval? If so then Channels DVR can't even apply, even if it makes sense financially which it probably doesn't.

Silicon Dust has said third party access will be available following their approach. At this point I don't think we know what any extra costs will be to get A3SA approval. Without ATSC3.0, Channels DVR will be done, especially if TVE keeps getting stripped of channels.

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