ATSC 3 Update – The Arduous Zinwell Box Update Process

Navigating the arduous update process of the Zinwell ATSC 3.0 tuner shows just how much complexity ATSC 3 DRM’s requirements have brought to free over the air television. I run through the update in my latest video.

As I referenced in my initial review, the update process is anything but simple. The instruction to press a specific settings key, when the remote itself houses two, sets the stage for a complex journey. The update requires navigating deep inside the otherwise hidden Android interface to initiate a sideloading of the updater app followed by the update itself.

This complexity is magnified when considering their target market are users who are not technologically savvy. This also further erodes the marketing promise that this device does not require an Internet connection to operate. Unfortunately frequent changes to the ATSC 3.0 DRM will require frequent firmware updates to keep the television channels working.

Despite the complexity, the update introduced some notable improvements, such as an up-to-date Android security patch level and a new signal strength indicator. However, these improvements are somewhat overshadowed by the convoluted process required to install them.

The introduction of a slightly simplified update process through its TV tuner app marks a step in the right direction, albeit a small one. The tuner app will drop users off on the same updater apps they currently have to load manually. It does not appear future updates will happen automatically and it’s not clear what the update process will look like in the future.

The complexity and frequent updates required by devices like the Zinwell ATSC 3.0 Box just to maintain compatibility with unnecessary encryption serve as a reminder of the challenges that consumers will face when it comes to tuning free TV in the near future.

If you haven’t already, please reach out to the FCC and register your complaint. They seem very eager to extend their regulatory powers to the Internet, but are showing less of a desire to exercise their existing regulatory authority of the public airwaves.

Free Broadcast TV Streaming Service LocalTV+ Launches in Boston

LocalTV+, a non-profit streaming service, has made its debut in Boston, offering those within a 100 mile radius of the city the ability to stream free broadcast television on their Apple devices. LocalTV+ works off the same legal theory as Locast, a previously shut-down service, by aiming to avoid repeating Locast’s mistakes.

In my latest video, I look at some of the headwinds LocalTV+ faces as it begins to build out its user base.

I am situated just beyond the 100-mile radius required to access LocalTV+ personally. After I published the video I was able to access the service by changing the location settings on my iPhone to provide a less precise address to the app. The video quality looks good and things spin up quickly.

Local TV+ is exclusive to iOS devices – iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs. This choice is because the developer’s expertise with iOS and helps in more accurately determining user locations, crucial for adherence to federal law.

LocalTV+ operates through an antenna situated in Brookline and possibly other locations around Boston. The service captures the ATSC 1.0 signal, redirecting it to users through a Boston-based data center. It does not have DVR capabilities although I was able to pause and restart live TV on-device.

The service’s legal foundation is built on its non-profit status, established under the name Mass Local TV Inc. This positioning is essential for compliance with federal retransmission laws, as it seeks to avoid the pitfalls encountered by previous ventures such as Aereo and Locast.

Aereo launched a commercial service (also in the Boston area) which allowed users to “rent” a tiny antenna at their facilities to pick up over the air broadcasts. The broadcasters argued that Aereo was no different than a cable provider and was violating copyright by streaming their broadcasts. The US Supreme Court agreed with the broadcasters, arguing that there was an insufficient distinction between its offerings and those of a traditional cable service.

Locast took a different approach, setting itself up as a non-profit and depending on a provision in US law that allows non-profit organizations to retransmit television broadcasts. But these non-profits have to it “without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage, and without charge to the recipients of the secondary transmission other than assessments necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service.”

Locast asked users to make a “donation” to the service that was around $5 per month. It was possible to access Locast for free, but free users would be nagged constantly with notices asking them to donate in order to watch without interruptions. Locast used the proceeds of user donations to expand the service into other TV markets and grew to over 2.5 million users.

The broadcasters took Locast to court on the grounds that the law does not allow donations to fuel expansion. The judge agreed with the broadcasters and also agreed to make Locast’s founder, David Goodfriend, personally liable for copyright infringement. Locast quickly shut down after that. In a settlement the broadcasters collected the leftover funds and decided not to pursue additional damages from Goodfriend.

For LocalTV+ to succeed where others failed, a delicate balance must be maintained. Its operations need to not step over the line to what federal law defines a cable system to be. This includes avoiding a paid donation subscription model and ensuring that any expansion is not funded by viewer donations.

Looming over this entire scenario is the ATSC 3.0 NextGen TV standard, which is on track to encrypt over-the-air signals. Such a development, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, would make it illegal for non-profits like LocalTV+ to retransmit encrypted signals, potentially rendering this and similar efforts futile.

Enjoy it while you can!

New DVR / Gateway Rules Announced for ATSC 3.0

On Monday, the A3SA announced new DRM rules for the emerging ATSC 3.0 TV standard. While the announcement on the surface looked encouraging, digging deeper reveals that these rules will not solve the issues the broadcast industry created by encrypting over the air signals. You can see an analysis in my latest video.

For the uninitiated, ATSC 3.0 is a new over the air TV standard that will soon replace the current ATSC 1.0 broadcast technology. Broadcasters added a digital rights management (DRM) feature into the new standard in an effort to prevent third parties from re-transmitting these signals over the Internet.

While it likely won’t stop piracy what it has been doing so far is preventing legitimate antenna television watchers from viewing the ATSC 3 signals – especially those of us who use a gateway device like the HDhomerun or Tablo. These devices allow a single antenna connection to bring over the air television to just about any device in the home with a screen. Encrypted channels don’t work with these gateway devices at the moment.

The A3SA’s press release, while not revealing the entire standard due to its proprietary nature, hints at significant changes that will restore network DVR functionality and will allow for in-home streaming from a gateway device to a software or hardware based video player like a phone, tablet, set top box and smart TV.

A3SA also says that the addition to the standard will also follow the “broadcast encoder rules” which allow for the freedoms we currently enjoy with over-the-air content, like recording, skipping ads, and no retention limits.

But there’s a catch .. the broadcast encoder rules are rules established by the industry, not the FCC or Congress. Additionally broadcasters are only required to abide by these rules so long as the encrypted ATSC 3.0 channel is simulcast with the older ATSC 1.0 version. After that they could do a rug pull and severely limit what TV viewers can do in the home with their recordings.

Device compatibility is another pressing issue. The announcement mentions support for platforms like Android, Fire TV, Roku, webOS, and Tizen but leaves out significant players like Windows and Mac PCs and gaming consoles like the Xbox and Playstation. And their support for Apple devices is, in their words, “in process” and not yet finalized.

As I have been detailing over the last several months the broadcast industry’s desire to encrypt all of their signals risks ruining the future of over the air television. DRM has added nothing of value to consumers and has only made the process of watching TV unnecessarily complex.

We need to keep the pressure on. Please be sure to contact the FCC and make your voice heard!

Working Around ATSC 3.0 DRM with the Channels App’s Custom Channel Feature

I recently explored a unique solution for encrypted ATSC 3 TV stations with a special feature of the Channels App that allow for creating custom channels. You can see how I set it up in this video!

The Channels App consists of a DVR server running locally on a device like a NAS, Raspberry Pi, or PC and client apps that run on Apple TV, iOS, Fire TV and Android. The server application conencts to an HDHomerun and TV Anywhere sources for recording and streaming to client devices. You can learn more about Channels in this playlist. (Disclosure, Channels is an occasional sponsor on the channel)

One unique aspect of Channels is its ability to add custom channels through an M3U playlist. For example, one could use a hardware video encoder with an HDMI input and have that video sent into channels as a custom source.

However, Channels doesn’t run a listening server, meaning it needs to connect to an external source vs. having something sent to it via OBS. This led me to investigate an open-source Docker project called Restreamer, designed for video streaming but adaptable for integrating TV tuner video into Channels. Notably, all ATSC 3 tuners supporting DRM that I’ve seen do not encrypt the HDMI output. This allows consumers to legally record over-the-air television, as HDMI encryption has not been implemented by broadcasters and thus does not require the viewer to break encryption which is illegal under the DMCA.

My setup involved a Linux Mini PC connected to an HDMI capture dongle and the Zinwell TV tuner I recently reviewed. The installation of Docker and the Restreamer application was straightforward for anyone familiar with Docker. The setup on the Channels app involved adding a new source, configuring it with the right parameters, and mapping it to the actual guide data.

The custom channel I created was then fully integrated into my channel setup, behaving like any other channel despite its origin as an ATSC 3 DRM encrypted signal. It displayed correct guide data and allowed recording, just like other channels.

This proof of concept does show it’s possible to integrate DRM encrypted channels into an unrestricted home DVR. But of course this will only tune one channel at a time unless multiple tuners are connected to multiple capture cards.

Of course none of this is nonsense necessary with the current ATSC 1.0 broadcast standard that does not encrypt broadcast signals!

An Update on my Zinwell ATSC 3 Nextgen Tuner Box Review

My latest video is a follow-up of my initial review of the Zinwell Nextgen TV tv tuner box.

In my initial assessment I demonstrated that the device did not function as advertised, particularly in decrypting DRM-encrypted ATSC 3.0 stations in Connecticut without an internet connection. This was contrary to the device’s major selling point, which claimed no need for an internet connection for decryption.

Since publishing I received feedback from a viewer who was able to get his box to work with encrypted channels without ever connecting to the Internet. Additionally I heard from the Joe Bingochea, the President of Channel Master (the US distributor of the Zinwell box), who said they successfully tested the device in multiple markets prior to launch without first connecting the box to the Internet.

To ensure fairness, I revisited the issue, sharing my initial setup process and the difficulties I encountered. Following its initial channel scan, my Zinwell box tuned to WFSB here in Connecticut which is an encrypted channel. It displayed a blank screen. I then tuned to WTNH, an unencrypted ATSC 3.0 channel, which spun up quickly. Following that I tuned to another encrypted channel, WVIT, where I received an onscreen notification that I needed to connect to the Internet to watch.

Bingochea also addressed a discrepancy with the product’s quick start guide, which stated the need for an Internet connection. He admitted that this guide was outdated and not reflecting improvements made before the device’s launch. This situation highlighted the challenges and inconsistencies surrounding the DRM rollout in the broadcasting industry. It underscores the haphazard rollout of these “security features” which, in my opinion, seem to inconvenience consumers more than prevent unauthorized retransmission of broadcast signals.

Channel Master said they will be producing their own video demonstrating the device’s functionality, which I plan to share when available. This is fine I suppose, but my review documented a true consumer’s experience as I bought the product from their website and set it up like any normal consumer would.

I am sure we will be revisiting this topic soon as things develop. As they say don’t touch that dial!

The Zinwell Nextgen TV Box Requires an Internet Connection – Despite Claims to the Contrary

Zinwell’s new ATSC 3 Nextgen TV Box is the subject of my latest review. This device was eagerly anticipated by the cord cutting community as it was promised to tune DRM protected channels without the need for an Internet connection. Unfortunately those claims proved to be false.

The Zinwell Nextgen TV Box, retailing for $149, is designed for TVs without a built-in ATSC3 tuner. It’s a straightforward device – plug in your antenna, connect it to your TV, and you’re set to receive both ATSC 3.0 and the older 1.0 signals. The setup process is impressively quick, and the interface, while minimalistic, is user-friendly.

However, the device’s limitations soon became apparent. Despite its claims, the Zinwell box requires an Internet connection to decrypt ATSC 3.0 DRM channels, at least initially.

This contradicts the product description and the industry’s assurances. Just a few days ago broadcast industry association Pearl TV congratulated Zinwell on the product release claiming the new box is “A3SA security verified to operate without needing an internet connection for tuning to channels with protected broadcast content.” That clearly is not the case as the first thing the “quick start guide” urges consumers to do is connect to the Internet in order to watch encrypted channels.

After connecting to the internet and tuning into an encrypted channel, you can disconnect the Internet and still view it. But this process must be repeated for each encrypted channel. The duration these channels remain viewable without internet re-connection is unclear. I’ll be leaving my box off the Internet for the foreseeable future and will report back if the security credential expires.

Another downside is the box’s outdated security. Running on Android 11 with its last security update from August 2021, it’s significantly behind in terms of security patches. This is concerning, especially given the need for an internet connection to access certain features.

The update process is another area of frustration. It’s complex and not user-friendly, requiring the user to manually launch and sideload updates from deep within its Android operating system.

All of this is incredibly unfortunate given just how good the ATSC 3.0 standard is proving to be in my area when channels are not locked down. The quality of the over-the-air television signal is remarkable and the reception is notably improved. Unfortunately the actions the broadcast industry is taking regarding is likely going to hinder adoption.

See more of my ATSC 3.0 coverage here.

ATSC 3 TV Tuners Have an Expiration Date, Slow Progress on Gateway Devices and More..

The transition from the ATSC 1.0 to the ATSC 3.0 standard in over-the-air television broadcasting has been a topic of much discussion and concern, particularly regarding the DRM (Digital Rights Management) encryption applied to broadcast signals. This shift brings a significant limitation for viewers like myself who have enjoyed the freedom to watch and record television in the privacy of our homes.

In my latest video update on the ATSC DRM situation, I learned that every ATSC 3.0 tuner will have its decryption certificate expire after a certain length of time.

These certificates, essential for viewing encrypted signals, will expire after a predetermined period – varying from 10 to 30 years. For example, the certificates in devices like the ADTH box and Zapperbox are set to expire in 30 years. But the costs of these certificates are based on length AND quantity. Many manufacturers producing high volumes of tuners may opt for the shorter length certificates to remain profitable. And so far no manufacturer has disclosed how long their certs will last.

Given that the HDHomerun I reviewed over a decade ago is still running on my network today, it’s not unreasonable to have a tuners in use for lengths of time that exceed the certificate’s expiration date. At the moment these certificates are tied to the model number of the hardware being produced and are not renewable via firmware updates.

Another aspect of the ATSC 3.0 transition that has come to light is the ‘phone home’ feature of these devices. Regardless of whether an internet connection is necessary for television viewing, devices with ATSC 3.0 tuners will communicate back to broadcaster servers for certificate validation whenever they tune into an encrypted channel, provided an internet connection is available.

The progress—or lack thereof—in developing gateway devices for ATSC 3.0 has been another point of contention. Gateway devices, like the Tablo and HDHomeRun, are popular as they allow users to stream broadcast content across various devices within their home network. Unfortunately, due to the DRM encryption, creating compatible ATSC 3.0 gateway devices has been a challenge. This struggle is further complicated by compatibility issues with platforms like Apple TV, Roku, and Windows, among others.

Interestingly, the shift towards ATSC 3.0 has led to a potential change in how broadcasters might distribute high-bandwidth content like 4K. Rather than using valuable broadcasting bandwidth, it appears more likely that 4K content will be streamed over the internet, signaled by URLs pinged out by broadcasters over the air. This was revealed in the latest Zapperbox release notes:

As broadcasters seemingly retreat from utilizing public airwaves to their full potential, one wonders if these frequencies could be repurposed for community-benefiting uses, such as local access television. This would provide a new avenue for public access channels, which are currently struggling due to the decline in cable TV subscriptions and the consequent reduction in funding.

The ATSC 3.0 transition, marked by its DRM encryption and tuner expiration dates, raises critical questions about the future of over-the-air television broadcasting. As we move towards the 2027 deadline for the completion of this transition, the decisions made by broadcasters and regulators will significantly impact how we consume broadcast television in the years to come – if at all..

GT Media HDTV Mate – The most affordable ATSC 3 Tuner So Far

In my latest video I take a look at the GT Media HDTV Mate, a portable USB over the air TV tuner that currently only works with Android devices like Android TV boxes, TVs and smartphones. Currently it’s the least expensive ATSC 3.0 compatible tuner but unfortunately it doesn’t support the DRM encryption that broadcasters are using to lock down their signals. It can also tune into ATSC 1.0 broadcasts.

The hardware has a USB plug on one side (for attaching it to the host device) along with a coax connector on the other end for an antenna. Also in the box is a USB-A to USB-C cable for smartphone connection, and an extension cable for smart TVs or TV boxes. For devices with a single USB port, like the Onn box I used for testing, an additional adapter like this Smays hub will be needed. The device also features an SD card slot for rudimentary DVR capabilities, although I couldn’t get this feature to work in my tests.

The setup process involves scanning for channels, which took about five minutes in my case. The channel guide, while functional, lacks a polished interface. Channel tuning speed varies based on the device used, but overall, it was reasonably quick. ATSC 3 channels took slightly longer to load than ATSC 1 channels. On both my Onn Box and Pixel 8 Pro smartphone, playback was smooth, although a 1080i ATSC 1 channel exhibited interlacing issues.

The device worked well with my Pixel 8 Pro, offering a similar app experience as on the TV. The concept of a portable tuner like this is appealing, especially for situations like emergency response where cell networks might be down. No Internet is required to tune into unecrypted broadcast TV (at the moment anyway..).

The GT Media HDTV Mate is not something I’d recommend for a primary tuning device but it does offera viable portable solution for ATSC 3 and ATSC 1 channels on Android devices. While it has its rough edges, it demonstrates the potential affordability of ATSC 3 tuners. However, the future of such innovative products seems uncertain with the looming encryption and DRM requirements broadcasters wish to impose on consumers.

ATSC 3.0 Patent Fight Continues – Industry Tells the FCC to Stay out of It

The FCC’s ATSC 3.0 docket lit up this week with stakeholders urging the FCC to stay out of a patent dispute that threatens the emerging over the air television standard. I summarized some of these filings in my latest video.

Here’s the background: a few weeks ago LG announced they were removing ATSC 3.0 tuners from their new televisions. This decision came as the result of lawsuit that found LG in violation of a patent owned by a small company called Constellation Designs. This was a significant development because LG is one of the key partners who helped developed the ATSC 3 standard, and the patent covers how the ATSC 3 broadcast signal works.

In announcing their decision, LG asked the FCC to seriously consider enforcing “reasonable and non-discriminatory” (RAND) practices for all patents related to the ATSC 3.0 standard. RAND terms ensure that even if a technologies that make up the standard are developed by competing companies everybody is treated equally and fairly when it comes to licensing that technology to implement the standard.

In the case of ATSC 3.0 there are patent pools that roll-up all of the patents with each manufacturer paying a very reasonable fee to license everything. You can learn more in my video on the topic.

RAND practices have been a part of the ATSC 1.0 standard from the beginning, with the FCC adding them to the regulation in 1996. But with ATSC 3.0, broadcasters and TV makers asked the FCC to allow them to regulate RAND behavior outside of government regulation. This means that the ATSC 3.0 standards body, not the FCC, enforces RAND requirements.

The only penalty for not complying is getting kicked out of the ATSC association. But in the recent patent case against LG, Constellation Designs was never a part of the association in the first place so they had nothing to lose. And now Constellation Designs will collect royalties for their single patent that are 6 times higher than the cost for licensing the entire patent pool.

The industry’s response to LG’s suggestion of FCC regulation of RAND practices is one of vehement opposition. The National Association of Broadcasters, the Consumer Technology Association, One Media LLC (a subsidiary of Sinclair broadcasting) and even one of the patent pool administrators all registered their strong opposition. They believe that the transition to ATSC 3.0 should remain voluntary and market-based even with the risk of patent trolls coming out of the woodwork.

So, what’s next for the ATSC 3.0 patent fight? I think it’s likely that one of the ATSC principles will buy Constellation Designs to remove them from the equation. However, the threat of other potential patent holders finding their way to court remains. Without regulation around the RAND requirement, there’s room for groups to exploit potential loopholes – especially as there is no penalty from patent holders outside the ATSC group from suing.

For now, LG will wait things out as they file an appeal and perhaps hope for a friendly suitor for Constellation Designs. Until then, their new televisions won’t have ATSC 3.0 tuners.

As this story unfolds, I’ll be here to keep you informed. Stay tuned for more updates on this evolving topic.

New LG Televisions Will Not Have ATSC 3 Tuners Due to Patent Dispute

In a surprising bit of news LG, a major TV manufacturer and co-developer of the ATSC 3 standard, announced its decision to discontinue support for ATSC 3 on their upcoming televisions. This surprising move is a direct result of a patent lawsuit, and the implications of this decision are significant for the adoption of the new standard. I cover the news in my latest video.

The news was first reported by Cord Cutters News, a trusted source for updates related to cord-cutting. LG also provided a detailed explanation regarding their decision in a recent FCC filing.

At the heart of the patent lawsuit is the A/322 physical layer standard, which is integral to receiving the ATSC 3 broadcast signal. A company named Constellation Designs asserted they had the patent for a portion of this standard. Despite LG’s disagreement with this claim, a Texas jury ruled against them. Consequently, LG is now obligated to pay $6.75 for every television they’ve sold bearing the NextGenTV logo to Constellation Designs LLC.

The judgment against LG was a paltry $1.6 million, and doing the math this equates to only about 250,000 televisions sold with ATSC 3 tuners installed. This does not bode well for the millions of installed tuners broadcasters will need in order to convince the FCC to allow a transition to the new standard – especially as a major manufacturer is now pulling support for the time being.

The ATSC 3 standard is a complex web of patents from a multitude of companies. To streamline the management of these patents, there are established patent pools that offer licenses at standardized rates that cost manufacturers around $3 per tuner. However, participation in these pools is not mandatory, leading to potential conflicts like the one LG encountered.

There’s a growing concern that other manufacturers utilizing this technology might find themselves embroiled in similar legal battles with Constellation Designs who now likely smells blood in the water. In their FCC filing LG expressed concern that other patent holders may also try and sue and extract more revenue from television makers.

So what’s next? Broadcasters were no doubt anticipating that beginning in 2024 more new televisions would have ATSC 3 capability built in. With LG pulling out, will Samsung, Sony and others do the same? Will the companies attempt to buy out Constellation Designs? Will the FCC step in to try and smooth things out? And can they even make an impact?

This television drama will continue. As they say, stay tuned!

ADTH Tuner Firmware Update Still Does Not Encrypt the HDMI Port

Last week I reviewed the new ADTH ATSC 3 TV tuner, the first external device that can decrypt DRM protected TV stations.

I discovered in the review that the ADTH is not protecting the HDMI output which is required according to the ATSC 3.0 DRM specifications. Some asked if recent firmware updates corrected this oversight.

After updating my box this morning my Windows laptop equipped with an Elgato Camlink USB HDMI capture device is still able to record encrypted stations:

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!

ATSC 3 DRM is Worse Than We Thought!

I’ve been deeply involved in raising awareness about the broadcast industry’s intentions to encrypt free over-the-air television. Recent developments have shown that the situation with DRM encryption is eve worse than I initially thought. You can see more in my latest video.

Our collective efforts to inform the FCC about these concerns have been fruitful. Since my last update, the number of comments and filings on the FCC’s official transition docket has significantly increased. This surge in participation is heartening, but there’s still a long way to go. I urge everyone to continue voicing their concerns.

In a positive turn of events, the FCC has delayed the official transition to ATSC 3.0 until at least June 2027. This gives us more time to make our case and ensure that when the transition does occur, it doesn’t come with undue restrictions.

However, there’s concerning news on the horizon. Despite promises from Pearl TV, the organization behind this initiative, it seems that even certified devices can’t decrypt DRM protected content. This revelation comes as Silicondust, the makers of the HDHomerun, now have certified firmware for their hardware and apps – yuet those apps cannot decrypt the DRM content.

This directly contradicts Pearl TV’s earlier statements in June that certified devices would be able to decrypt broadcasts:

Thankfully, the security layer already included in NEXTGEN TV is being enabled now and is supported by all of the television manufacturers selling NEXTGEN TV-certified receivers.

A recent article by Jared Newman from Tech Hive further delved into the intricacies of this DRM. Shockingly, broadcasters could potentially delete DVR recordings from your own server after a certain period of time or block the recording of content outright. And if you’re not using a television connected directly to an antenna an Internet connection will be required to watch live television – that includes smart TVs using an app, tablets, computers and other devices.

Additionally, there could be restrictions that effectively prevent out-of-home viewing from network tuners. This means that every time you watch television or a recording, you will have to disclose your physical location.

The industry’s justification for these restrictions revolves around concerns of copyright violations. However, it’s evident that the real motive might be to protect retransmission fees they collect from cable and streaming service subscribers. With many consumers cutting the cord due to exorbitant fees, broadcasters seem to be taking measures to protect their revenue streams.

The essence of free over-the-air TV must be preserved if broadcasters wish to continue using the public airwaves. Viewers shouldn’t be burdened with unnecessary limitations in an effort to force them into paying exorbitant subscription fees. It’s crucial to continue voicing our concerns and ensuring that the public’s best interests are upheld.

I’ll be back with more on this soon including a new effort we’ll be undertaking to let the industry know we’re not going to stand for this!

TechHive Picks Up our ATSC 3.0 Encryption Story

As many of you know Tyler the Antennaman and I have been on a mission to inform the public about the rapid encryption of what used to be free over the air television. To date we’ve had 7,600 people sign our petition to the FCC and added 2,000 new comments to the FCC’s docket about the issue.

TechHive this week covered the issue with an extensive piece that uncovers just how restrictive the DRM will be:

  • For DVR, broadcasters can set expiration dates on recordings or even block them outright. It’s unclear if broadcasters will do this, but ATSC 3.0 gives them the capability.
  • ATSC 3.0’s DRM has latency restrictions that effectively block out-of-home viewing from networked tuners such as the HDHomeRun Flex 4K.
  • Users will need an internet connection to stream local broadcasts around the home, for instance from an HDHomeRun tuner to a Roku player, and an occasional internet connection might be required for external tuner boxes.
  • Recordings won’t work without the original tuner that captured the programming, effectively preventing users from transferring programs they’ve recorded on a DVR to other devices, such as a laptop or tablet for away-from-home viewing.
  • With an HDHomeRun tuner, third-party apps must get independently certified to play encrypted ATSC 3.0 content. It’s unclear if programs such as Channels and Plex will do so.

It’s clear to see that broadcasters are eager to only provide the bare minimum live viewing experience to antenna viewers who don’t want to pay their exorbitant broadcast fees.

Let’s not forget that these stations don’t own the public airwaves that they want to turn into a toll road. We the taxpayers do. How does this serve the public benefit?

Read more in the TechHive article.

ATSC 3 DRM Update – We’re on the FCC Docket!

Last week, I asked you to submit your thoughts to the FCC about why encrypting free over the air TV is a bad thing, and many of you have done so. We’ve seen some significant progress, and I want to share that with you in my latest video.

If you’re new to this topic, I recommend checking out my playlist with previous videos on this topic. The issue at hand is that broadcasters in the United States are encrypting their signals on the new ATSC 3 broadcast standard. This limits how you can watch and record television, essentially confining you to a television connected to a box, rather than the freedom we’re used to with our video consumption.

Here’s the latest on the campaign:

Our petition on change.org is nearing 7,500 signatures, and the momentum is still going strong. However, the most significant development is the increase in submissions to the FCC docket. Last week, the docket had 1,634 submissions. As of this morning, we have over 2,812 submissions, most of which are from concerned citizens like you. This is fantastic progress, and I want to thank everyone who has made submissions. If you haven’t yet, please consider doing so.

In terms of news, another network in my home state of Connecticut has joined the encryption club. WVIT-TV, Connecticut’s NBC affiliate, is now encrypting their broadcasts. They did this right in the middle of a recent severe weather event!

In other news, the company responsible for certifying devices for encryption, Pearl TV, has certified the Zinwell tuning box – the first box they’ve approved since rolling out encryption over a year ago. However, this box only allows you to watch the encrypted signals on a single television, with no recording or in-home streaming capabilities. And its price remains a mystery.

But there is some movement happening on the network tuner side. HDHomeRun devices have received a new firmware update that includes their Next-Gen TV certification release candidate. However, this doesn’t mean you can start watching encrypted channels just yet. The powers that be have to certify the HDHomerun to be able to decrypt content. Once they get approval, you’ll likely be able to watch these channels, but DVR capability is still a big question.

Unfortunately, this certification process and the ongoing cost of remaining compliant is likely out of reach for these groups, which could stifle innovation and competition in the cord cutting space.

We need to keep the pressure on. If you haven’t already, please consider submitting your thoughts to the FCC docket!

The FCC Responds to my ATSC 3 Encryption Complaint – They Want To Hear From You!

The FCC reached out to me and is asking all of you who signed the petition to also file a comment in their docketing system for the ATSC 3 petition. This is very easy to do and will just take a few minutes. So far there are only about a dozen or so complaints filed. We can do better!!

I discuss this in my latest video.

Steps:

1. Click this link to be taken to the FCC filing form.

2. On the first line for proceedings type in 16-142 . The system will then display the text “Authorizing Permissive Use of the “Next Generation” Broadcasting Television Standard.” Click on that to lock in the docket number. Here’s what it looks like:


3. Fill in your information. A US address is required and note that this will be part of the public record.

4. Write your comment in the comment section. It’s important to provide some detail especially how this change will make it difficult for YOU to consume over the air television.

Below is what I submitted, you are free to re-purpose this for your own submission but DO NOT COPY AND PASTE. The commission values feedback on how this transition will impact consumers and each unique story helps build the case better than a form letter.

I am writing in opposition to DRM Encryption being part of the ATSC 3.0 standard. Over the last several weeks broadcasters have aggressively rolled out encryption on their ATSC 3 signals throughout the United States. At the moment this restricts most currently available tuners from being able to tune ATSC 3 content.

The standard’s voluntary rollout began with much promise. Prior to ATSC 3 being enabled here in Connecticut I could not reliably receive ATSC 1.0 content. When ATSC 3 spun up last year I could finally receive reliable over the air signals at my home. That was until WFSB-TV encrypted their broadcast and I’m now blocked from watching that station.

Encrypting over the air signals goes against the spirit of serving the public’s interest. Encryption adds an additional and unnecessary point of failure for receiving important information during emergency situations.

There are anti-trust implications too. Encryption restricts the consumer’s right to watch content from the public airwaves using tuners and personal recording equipment of their choice. With ATSC 1.0 consumers have many choices for watching and recording over the air television. With ATSC 3 only equipment blessed by the broadcasters through an arduous, opaque and expensive process will be allowed to tune content. One broadcaster, E.W. Scripps, purchased a manufacturer of tuning and recording equipment giving Scripps an advantage in the marketplace over competing products.

The broadcasters have said encryption is important for copy protection or other nonsense about protection from hackers and “deep fakes.” But the reality is they are trying to protect broadcast retransmission fees that now make up a significant portion of their revenue.

Lawyers for the broadcasters have effectively stopped every large scale retransmission effort making encryption unnecessary to protect their broadcast exclusivity rights. What this is really about is making it more difficult for everyday consumers to watch free over the air TV in an effort to push us back onto paid subscription services.

You can also find what other people have submitted by visiting this link to browse through the public filings.

It’s really important if you care about this issue to make a submission. It doesn’t have to be long – just long enough for you to convey the impact that DRM encryption will have in accessing broadcasts on the public airwaves.

I still plan to drop this petition off with the FCC and congressional stakeholders in person with the Antenna Man. But the more of us who tell the FCC directly the better!

Let’s Save Free TV and Stop ATSC 3.0 DRM! Sign my petition!

This week my local CBS affiliate, WFSB-TV, activated their ATSC 3.0 encryption making their signal inaccessible in my home with an HDHomerun tuner. And it’s not just here – broadcasters are accelerating the DRM roll-out all over the country in the hopes that no one will notice by the time they transition away from the current standard.

But we can put a stop to this. In my latest video I provide some more detail about this DRM problem, what it looks like when it hits your area, and direct you to my Change.org petition that I’ll personally deliver in Washington if we can get 25,000 signatures.

While devices currently locked out from playing this over-the-air content will likely get certified by the broadcasters to display it again, the time and cost of certification falls on the device manufacturer. Furthermore, broadcasters can revoke these licenses at any time, restricting entire families of devices from watching free over-the-air TV. I predict that even after certification, the ability to record, pause, rewind, or time-shift television shows will be significantly restricted.

Why are they doing this? It’s because broadcasters no longer rely solely on viewership for revenue; over half of their revenue comes from broadcast re-transmission fees they charge to cable, satellite and Internet providers. As more people cut the cord and forgo expensive streaming alternatives, there are fewer people paying the broadcast TV fees. This has led broadcasters to restrict access to free over-the-air television, pushing consumers towards subscription services.

But aren’t we allowed to record broadcast TV? While the Sony vs. Universal Studios Supreme Court decision in the 80s affirmed our right to record content, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it illegal to circumvent copyright controls to make a recording. This means that, legally, consumers will be breaking the law if they record these encrypted broadcasts through some kind of circumvention.

In response to this issue, I’ve started a Change.org petition to raise awareness among members of Congress and consumer organizations. If the petition reaches 25,000 signatures I will personally bring it down to DC to deliver to US senators and the FCC.

Let’s not forget that the airwaves broadcasters in the US benefit from belong to the public. I believe that restricting what the public can do on public airwaves is counter to the longstanding policy about broadcasters providing a public benefit for the privilege of profiting from this public asset.

I’m urging all of you to take action before it’s too late!

Another Broadcaster in Boston Locks Down ATSC 3.0 Broadcasts with DRM

Another broadcaster in Boston has locked down their ATSC 3.0 broadcasts. CBS affiliate WBZ has joined the ABC and NBC affiliates in denying the public the ability to watch TV the way they want.

Here’s the latest from RabbitEars.info. Boston is almost all red now when it comes to access to free over the air TV:

To learn more about this topic be sure to catch this video where I deep dive into the reasoning behind broadcasters locking down their broadcasts. Spoiler alert, it’s all about retaining their lucrative retransmission fees.

The ZapperBox M1 ATSC 3 Tuner is a Minimally Viable Product

In my latest review I look at the ZapperBox M1, a device designed to tune the new ATSC 3 signals in the United States.

The ZapperBox M1 is a great example of a “minimally viable product.” It’s an ATSC 3 tuner box that currently just tunes live TV, but with future firmware updates it will eventually gain DVR capabilities along with in-home streaming to other TV devices.

The ZapperBox M1 is available in two models: a single tuner unit priced at $249 and a dual tuner unit at $279. The dual tuner unit will allow you to record something while you watch something else live or record two shows simultaneously once the DVR functionality is implemented. It also has a Micro SD card slot and USB ports for external storage devices that will be required for that future DVR functionality.

The initial DVR release, due out by July 4th weekend, will allow you to schedule recordings, but won’t do recurring recordings or season passes. Those features will be added in subsequent releases. There will be an annual fee of $30 for the DVR service, which covers the cost of the channel guide data.

The device is simple to use and set up. It connects to a TV via its HDMI port and boots right up to live television. It has a YouTube app installed, but no other apps are installed nor is there a way to add any.

The ZapperBox M1 works with both ATSC 3 and ATSC 1 signals. It has a nice old-school channel flipping capability, allowing you to quickly go through the channels by pushing up and down on the remote. It also has the ability to filter out channels, so you can customize your viewing experience to favorites, remove duplicates, or have it focus only on the ATSC 3 Nextgen signals.

One of the complexities of ATSC 3 broadcasts is the Dolby AC4 audio format, which many TVs do not support. The ZapperBox M1 handles this by doing all the audio down-mixing in hardware, ensuring compatibility with all TVs.

Another issue is that many broadcasters are beginning to encrypt their content with DRM. The ZapperBox M1 does not currently decrypt this content, but it will in the future once it goes through an approval process. The makers of the box say that they have DRM decryption working with DRM broadcasts at their lab in Tampa, FL.

For regions like mine where all of the local ATSC 3 stations live on the same broadcast frequency, the ZapperBox M1 might be worth considering vs. buying a new set with an ATSC 3 Tuner built in. The set up process took less than 10 minutes and it performs its single task of watching live television quite well. But it is quite expensive for its limited feature set at the moment.

Check out all of my ATSC 3 content here!