The ADTH Nextgen TV Box Shows Us Just How Bad ATSC 3.0 Encryption Will Be..

I recently got my hands on the $99 ADTH NextGen TV Box, the first certified tuner for ATSC 3.0 NextgenTV broadcasts that supports channels encrypted with DRM. You can see it in action in my latest review.

The ADTH is a basic tuner that plays back live TV to the television connected to its HDMI port. There are no DVR capabilities, and it only has a single tuner on board. It runs on Android but boots directly into its TV watching app. Some viewers have been able to shoehorn other apps onto it, but their custom tv watching app is the only one that can interact with the onboard tuner.

The device has an ethernet port, Wi-Fi, an HDMI output that supports 4K televisions and HDR, an AV out for analog audio, and an optical audio out. It only plays back on the TV it’s connected to, so the wifi and ethernet are used only for firmware and DRM decryption (more on that below). The antenna port is where you connect your antenna for receiving broadcasts. It supports AC4 audio decoding, making it compatible with older televisions.

The interface is incredibly Spartan. When you boot it up, it takes you directly to the TV viewing app. The channel guide is very limited, and the remote control is as basic as it gets, with no numbers on it. You’ll have to navigate through the channel guide or use the channel up and down buttons to find the channel you want to watch.

But the elephant in the room is the ADTH’s DRM playback capabilities. In my market, my NBC and CBS affiliates have both encrypted their ATSC 3.0 signals. And the ADTH is able to tune into them – provided I have an active Internet connection to do it. While I was able to take the box off the Internet without interrupting playback, it did require an active connection before I could switch to another encrypted channel.

This raises concerns about how the emergency broadcast system will work in the future if everything is encrypted and requires an internet connection for over the air content to play back.

Interestingly, this box allows you to directly capture footage out of the HDMI port on encrypted channels. I was able to capture the footage directly using my Elgato 4K USB capture dongle which does not allow capturing of encrypted HDCP HDMI signals. I tested a few other capture boards that restrict HDCP content and all of those worked too.

The broadcast industry, through an organization called Pearl TV, is forcing manufacturers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to certify their players to protect the signal all the way to the television. This includes ensuring that even the HDMI signal is protected – yet this box was released without proper protection? This raises questions about just how serious broadcasters are in protecting their signals vs. trying to steer customers into expensive subscription streaming plans.

All that said the ADTH experience wasn’t all that great when it did successfully decrypt a channel. I encountered occasional playback issues where the video would start to stutter after a while but then correct itself. At this time the box does not have a signal strength meter so I was unable to determine if it was the signal or something else.

Channel surfing is also not fluid; there’s a long delay and a buffer before the channel starts playing. This delay is even longer for the DRM channels as it has to go out to the internet first to get its decryption keys.

If you’re looking to watch live TV that is encrypted via the new ATSC 3 DRM, this device will allow you to watch those channels. However, it only works on the TV it’s connected to, and the tuning quality is not as good as other options like the Zapperbox or the HDHomeRun. The ADTH also confirms my beliefe that DRM is completely unnecessary, especially given that they didn’t even bother to lock out its HDMI port from allowing direct video capture.

So, it works, but it’s not great. I’ll keep you updated as we make progress fighting the encryption of over-the-air television. Be sure to register your thoughts with the FCC on their official docket!