Cleveland high-definition TV test paves the way for local TV on portable devices

Monday, Jul 13, 2015

Thursday's successful Cleveland field test of ultra-high-definition TV technology was a major step toward local stations providing crystal-quality signals directly to such portable devices as tablets, laptop computers and smartphones.

WJW Channel 8 was the host for the noon to 4 p.m. test, which was conducted by LG Electronics, a company whose products include televisions, home theater systems, refrigerators and mobile phones.

"This was a test of the next generation of TV technology," said John Taylor, vice president of LG Electronics USA. "Everyone who participated was impressed. It couldn't have gone better."

Leading broadcast engineers and industry representatives from around the country were invited to participate in the field test, which included a bus trip that started at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. An ultra-hi-def image boasts a picture that has four times the clarity of standard high-definition.

"Truly amazing, really promises to give the viewer at home a really exceptional experience," John Cifani, Channel 8's director of technology, said in an account of the test posted at the station's website.

Still, ultra-hi-def, or 4K, TV is not new. Sets using this format can be purchased, but very few programmers offer ultra-hi-def content (streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon are among the few).

What is new is the capability that permits TV stations to broadcast their signals directly to mobile devices without a Wi-Fi or cell signal. If this technology is approved by the Advanced Television Systems Committee, the Washington, D.C., group that sets national standards, it should be a game-changer and revenue booster for local stations and newscasts.

It will allow local programmers to reach an increasing number of people who don't watch television on a traditional home screen. For instance, the commuter riding the Rapid can use a laptop or tablet to watch live telecasts of everything from local news to sporting events.

Increasing the number of eyeballs should translate to increased advertising rates.

"That pretty much nails it," Taylor said during a telephone interview Friday. "I have many friends in broadcasting, and there's a strong interest in keeping live local newscasts and local stations alive. This will allow them to not only survive but thrive. It also will bring 4K broadcasting everywhere by delivering live programming to viewers on the go. That reality is close at hand."

How close? Taylor estimates that approval should be finalized in 2017 and implementation of the new technology should follow in 2018.

The official designation for the transmission system under development is ATSC 3.0. Thursday's field test was a collaborative effort by LG Electronics, GatesAir and Zenith R&D Lab.

Under an experimental broadcast license issued by the FCC, Channel 8, owned by Tribune Broadcasting, provided the TV transmitter, tower and 6-MHz channel for the ATSC 3.0-related field testing in Cleveland. Part of the test was having the engineers ride on a bus while a clear signal was beamed from Channel 8's broadcast tower in Parma into mobile TV sets on the bus, without needing to stream the video.

Those sampling the system included representatives of Channel 8 and WOIO Channel 19.

Responses posted at Channel 8's website were enthusiastic.

"It was amazing how well it worked," said Hank Hundemer, Tribune Media's senior vice president of engineering. "We saw it on a moving bus, we saw it well underground, we're seeing it at the Rock Hall, and the clarity ... is just amazing."

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