Recently I wrote about our excitement for the football season, anticipating 4K NextGen broadcasts in ATSC 3.0 markets (see: https://www.murideo.com/news/is-next-gen-tv-part-of-your-system-designs).
Since that time, I had proceeded to purchase two new items just prior to Labor Day, a Sony XBR65A80K OLED plus an Antop AT-400BV Outdoor / Indoor antenna. First, a bit of a preamble. I work from our St. Petersburg facility however, home is on the seventh floor of a condominium on the intercoastal, a seashell’s toss from the Gulf in Madeira Beach. While the building peers out over the water, a kitchen window directly faces Tampa, a mere 28 miles to the east as the pelican flies.
The Antop AT-400BV is somewhat large, so there’s no putting it inconspicuously behind a TV and while designed primarily for outdoor placement, a table stand is included for indoor use. Conveniently, with its only two “elements” affixed and outstretched, it fit exactly within the width of the kitchen window. It comes supplied with a pre-cut, 39-foot terminated length of white RG-6. With it setup and connected to the Sony, I selected the station search feature and sat back to take in the results. To my astonishment, the combo harvested eighty-five digital stations. Goodness! As it turned out, it wasn’t exactly the bonanza it teased me with.
Approximately thirty to thirty-five channels were by QVC, the home-shopping conglomerate, and conglomerate-central happens to be Saint Petersburg where it is flooding the digital airwaves for cord-cutters with digital tuners and plenty of time on their hands.
Next in line, a plethora of channels with religious themes accounted for another twenty-something spots. Aside from the major networks and PBS, the remaining channels curiously broadcast 1.33:1 (4 x 3) black and white or early days of color shows such as Gunsmoke or Perry Mason. I blocked all channels, save for the essentials, Tampa network-affiliated NextGen ATSC 3.0 stations.
Competitively connected to the Sony is a Spectrum cable box (provided by the condo, which I suppose is better than a stick in the eye) and an Apple TV I use to pluck Hulu from the Internet for most TV-oriented viewing.
The acid test came with the NCAA season kick-off during the four-day Labor Day holiday weekend. I tuned into the same game with both NBC on Hulu and NBC DTV Channels 8.1 and 8.1a (I’ll explain in a second) fetched from across the peninsula and the Bay from the Tampa zip code. Inexplicably, though I have a theory, the NBC affiliate in Tampa has two Digital channels broadcasting identical content with one, significant difference. The Sony’s analytics show 8.1 as a 1080i channel, while 8.1a sends signals out in 1080p. My guess is 8.1 will remain the HD channel when 4K commences, and 8.1a will handle the UHD chores, when that time arrives.
Which directly leads to… what in the wide, wide world of sports is taking so long for 4K telecasts? With TV industry information that I routinely receive, one reason live sports now look great is they are using UHD gear for content acquisition and signal processing, only to drop down to 1080p, 720p, or 1080i (network dependent) when distributed to affiliates. Fox admits to having one or two NFL games centered around the holidays where it is sent out in 4K, but I am not aware what markets may pass that through. NBC declared Notre Dame football home games would once again this year be broadcast in 4K, but that is reserved for DirecTV (which likely appears no better than 1080p with the amount of compression applied).
And speaking of compression, or rather the lack of it, that is the raison d'être for this writing: The Tampa 8.1a NBC DTV station in uncompressed 1080p and with UNCOMPRESSED COLOR, looks positively stunning. Equally so are ABC and Fox, at 720p (as we know, resolution, while important, is fourth of four key requirements for image quality). Toggling between Hulu, where up to 35 seconds of buffering attempts to quash artifacts plus aid in streaming fluidity, and the OTA DTV broadcast leaves scant doubt the ATSC 3.0 signal is as clean as is technically possible. With Hulu, artificial turf in a domed stadium is plagued by MPEG compression noise conveying the impression there’s a brisk wind afoot. Camera pans across diagonals highlight motion artifacts. Uniform colors, while impressive, suddenly take a back seat when the feed is switched to OTA and players seem to appear in your viewing environment. With OTA, close-ups render every facial pore at the dermatologist level (good or bad…).
While lacking the intrinsic 4K detail in content-related files I have seen when calibrating in Hollywood studios and post-production houses, every other aspect of image fidelity matches those compression-free clips.
It is still with a Christmas Eve-like pang of anticipation I await actual 4K broadcasts, but in the here and now, OTA DTV clearly outclasses live streaming, CATV, and DBS systems. Again… uncompressed signals paired with zero color compression – yes, please!
Calibrators may wish to experiment in their local markets with an antenna and their own displays for confirmation the same results I find in the Tampa market are available to you. It’s a quick 5 minute set up to demonstrate the differences to your calibration clients and highlight the quality of the calibration. While some of you sell bias lighting, I’m not necessarily advocating you tug along a suitable OTA antenna, but many of us in those early days did tote along first, DVD players and then Blu-ray machines to illustrate first-hand the degree at which the TV actually performed and how accurate the calibration was.
Integrators may want to consider that designing OTA capabilities into client systems merits a look. The required infrastructure is simple and cost effective, while an antenna may be concealed in any house attic. The Antop AT-400BV, visible or concealed in your demo room on a college football Saturday afternoon, for markets where ATSC 3.0 is active, will certainly fetch an eye-riveting signal, especially when splashed across a precisely calibrated display.
Murideo isn’t selling antennas – this doesn’t lead to a new product introduction. However, we are the industry specialist for precision testing and troubleshooting gear and proudly sponsor the Imaging Science Foundation seminars. NextGen TV represents the new frontier in unmatched UHD broadcast picture quality, and the total entry cost is the one-time price of a suitable antenna. How’s that for beating inflation?
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