I Got Free TV Over the Air with ATSC 3.0!

One of the overarching themes of this channel is me trying to solve my own consumer tech problems and save some money along the way. No problem has been as challenging as trying to cut down on the cost of television in my home. I simply couldn’t receive many over the air signals here. The funny thing is that I don’t watch all that much TV but as a child of the 80’s I think it’s ingrained in my head that you need to have some way to get it.

I scored an initial victory when I found the HDHomerun Prime that enabled me to get my cable TV subscription without having to rent equipment. But as noted in one of my recent videos the CableCARD that powers the Prime may soon be phased out as the cable industry undergoes significant changes.

But there is hope thanks to ATSC 3.0 otherwise known as NextGenTV. All of my local broadcasters are now located on the same tower using the same frequency using the technology, which broadcasts highly efficient HEVC video vs. MPEG-2 from the prior generation.

Receiving those over the air signals is the topic of my latest video.

I am using an HDhomerun Flex 4k as the tuner which can receive two of these ATSC 3.0 signals along with another two ATSC 1.0 channels simultaneously and provide programming to devices on my network.

The big issue right now is audio compatibility. This new TV standard ditched the decades old Dolby AC-3 protocol and instead uses the newer AC-4 standard. The problem? There’s not a lot of widespread support of AC-4 audio right now. Plex doesn’t support it yet at all, and other apps rely on the host hardware’s ability to decode AC4 audio. The HDHomerun app has a workaround that has their cloud servers transcode the audio back to AC3 and send it back down over the Internet.

In my testing my iPhone, Nvidia Shield TV, and Apple TV 4k’s all decoded AC4 successfully using the Channels App. But those are all higher end devices. Consumers will struggle when this transition begins – I expect a lot of older perfectly useful TV sets getting tossed out.

That issue aside things look great so far – much better than what my cable system provides. My signal is pretty good too although I think the antenna I am starting with here is just a little too small for the task. Viewers have sent in some suggestions on a larger antenna that might work better which will be the subject of a later video.

There will be more to come on this topic so stay tuned!