Free 4K TV over the air from an antenna: NextGen TV expands to big cities at CES 2021


nextgentv-stations

watchnextgentv.com

This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

NextGenTV, aka ATSC 3.0, is continuing to roll out across the country. Free over-the-air 4K broadcasts are a thing of the present, at least in the 23 markets where it’s currently available. And more stations are coming online soon. The goal is to have stations in 98 cities all over the country, including large metropolitan areas, to be live and broadcasting by the end of the year.

It’s good, then, that TV manufacturers like Sony have started rolling out more models at CES 2021 that can decode NextGenTV broadcasts. And you don’t want to upgrade your TV just yet, the long-awaited external tuners are arriving too, which can connect to any TV and any antenna to enable reception. A tuner from Silicon Dust is available now and one from BitRouter ships in a few months, with more on the way.

Here’s a rundown of what 2021 holds for free 4K over-the-air.

Stations are coming to big cities soon

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watchnextgentv.com

Stations in 23 markets are already broadcasting NextGenTV. These are all small- and medium-sized cities like Austin, Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle and so on. An additional 16 markets are expected to go live by the summer. Atlanta, Boston, Orlando and Washington, D.C. to name a few. By the end of the year, 59 more cities should have access to NextGenTV. These include big cities like Los Angeles and New York. All told, this should cover about 70% of all US households.

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ATSC.org

Something to keep in mind. Like the rollout of HDTV 20 years ago, don’t expect every station in your area to broadcast NextGenTV right away. The switch from the current version of ATSC to 3.0 not mandatory, so it’s possible some stations might never switch. There are financial benefits if they do, which you can read about in our previous coverage

And even if a station is broadcasting 4K, that doesn’t mean all of its programming will be in 4K. We’re still in the early days of this. It took years for all TV shows to be in HD and we early adopters were forced to watch poorly upconverted SD for what seemed like an eternity.

You can see when stations in your city, and which ones, will start broadcasting at WatchNextGenTV.com.

TVs with NextGen tuners

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Sony A90J


Sony

If you’re in the market for a new TV there are a bunch that have built-in NextGenTV tuners. The below list is a mix of upcoming 2021 and 2020 models that are likely still available. Expect more to be announced in 2021.

LG: 55-, 65-, and 77GX, 65WX, 77- and 88ZX.

Samsung: Q800T, Q850T, Q900TS, and Q950TS

Sony: X900H, 55-, 65- 75-, and 85X90, as well as all 2021 models.

Standalone tuners

You don’t need a new TV for NextGenTV, but you’ll at least need a tuner to receive the signals.

Right now you can buy the HDHomeRun Connect 4K ($200, which converts to about £150 or AU$260). It’s not quite what you might expect, as there’s no HDMI output. Instead, it streams NextGenTV content to devices on your home network, be it smartphones, tablets, computers, and so on. 

Most TVs won’t be able to play this content directly. Instead you’ll need something in between that can run the HDHomeRun app, like an Apple TV 4K or an Xbox Series X/S. With four tuners, two of which are NextGenTV, multiple people in your home can watch different programs at the same time. In a few months the company will launch a version with a built-in DVR as well. It will essentially be a “whole home” DVR for NextGen and over-the-air HD content.

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The BitRouter ZapperBox is a NextGen TV tuner coming in Q2 of this year. 


Zapperbox

BitRouter is aiming to start their first deliveries of their ZapperBox M1 tuners in Q2. You can reserve one now for $249. These small boxes are more traditional tuners with an HDMI output for direct connection to any TV. They also feature HD (aka ATSC 1.0) tuners and have HDR, Wi-Fi and wired internet. There’s no internal storage, but BitRouter is planning on a software update to allow network-attached storage devices. They’re also planning on adding, again via software update, the ability to stream content from this box to your smartphone or tablet, not just to the TV that’s attached via HDMI.

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Here’s a look at the program guide on a ZapperBox.


Zapperbox

Expect to see more tuners hit the market in 2021 and beyond.

Cable channels over-the-air

Last year a company called Edge Networks launched the Evoca TV service in Boise, Idaho. Its intention is to fill the gap between free over-the-air content and paid cable service, specifically in markets underserved by both types of TV broadcasting. They do this by using the bandwidth potential of NextGenTV. The hope to expand to other small markets in the future. For now, though, they have over 60 channels, now including the 24h 4K channel Insight TV.

Evoca isn’t intended to replace cable, or over-the-air broadcasts in most markets. It’s an interesting alternative for smaller markets that have fewer choices in channels and high cost or limited speed internet options. You can read more about it in Cable TV channels and 4K from an antenna?.


As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castlesairplane graveyards and more. 

You can follow his exploits on Instagram and YouTube, and on his travel blog, BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines, along with a sequel





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