Television stations in cities around the country are launching something called NextGen TV. You may have seen headlines, but little info.
What is NextGen TV? It’s a question many people may be asking these days. Approximately 40 television markets, including Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver, Houston, and Atlanta — just to name a few of the big ones — are on the air with it.
As of the time of this writing, another 28 markets will be activating it by the end of the summer of 2022. A few of those markets include New York City, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and San Francisco.
You can see the current list of which areas have it and which are in the next batch to go live with it here.
A television “market” is a metropolitan area in which TV ratings services like Nielsen measure how many viewers watch television. New York is the nation’s largest market, while Los Angeles is #2 and Chicago is #3.
My area, Charleston, South Carolina, is ranked as the 89th largest market. We just recently made the switch to NextGen TV.
So it’s not so much about market size. It’s about how soon stations complete the technical upgrades necessary to broadcast a NextGen TV signal.
But what is NextGen TV, exactly?
I’ve worked in television for more than 30 years now and I have to be honest. I’m not 100% clear on it myself.
The technical answer is that it’s the new television broadcast signal standard, also known as ATSC 3.0. That doesn’t help much, does it?
A less technical answer is that it can deliver 4K HDR video, a crisper picture with improved colors and contrast and better sound, particularly for dialog. It’s also supposed to give you better reception, all for free with an antenna.
The coolest part is that it is supposed to be able to deliver on-demand viewing options. Imagine watching a newscastin which the anchor references a story about someone going to trial in a murder case. A box pops up allowing you to interrupt the live newscast to watch an on-demand video on the case itself. That’s just one example. But the new technology should allow viewers to get more out of their viewing experience.
So how does all of that work?
Well, therein lies a good deal of the mystery. First, you need a television set that’s NextGen TV-capable. So when it’s time to replace your current TV (which probably isn’t NextGen TV), you want to make sure to purchase one that is. That’s the first step in making sure you get all of the bells and whistles.
You’ll also want to make sure that television is connected to the internet, because an internet connection drives some of the features, particularly the on-demand stuff. Most televisions now, of course, come with an internet connection capability, so that’s probably not going to be much of a challenge.
But then there’s the antenna situation. I don’t have a digital antenna for my television. For years, I had cable television. But I finally cut the cord in late 2020. So now all of my television viewing is streaming. I use Philo, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Paramount+ and a few free services like Peacock and Redbox.
So without a digital antenna, I won’t get the full effects of NextGen TV.
Is it worth making that investment? Maybe one day.
Plenty of stations are switching to this new “broadcasting of the future.” But the technology that will allow those on-demand options isn’t quite there yet.
It’s sort of like your state’s highway department working to build a brand new interstate. When it opens to traffic, it’ll be great. The roadway is being built, but only a handful of lanes are actually open right now and all of the destinations aren’t connected yet.
It’ll be great when that time comes. For now, the best most of us can do is get our cars serviced and fill our tanks. That way, we’re ready for the drive.
If you’re in an area where local stations are making the switch, celebrate the future of TV.
But just know that you may not fully realize the scope of its coolness right away.