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Over The Air & Over The Top At CES 2017

Ask anyone in the business to name the three-letter acronym that describes the future direction of the content and device side of the back half of this decade. Most will answer “OTT,” short for “over-the-top” which is generally used to describe content delivered by streaming services via IP, rather than cable or satellite.

However, there is another important acronym: OTA. Over-the-air content — or what we used to call “terrestrial broadcasting” or just plain “broadcast TV” — is one of those things many have given up for dead. Curiously, with the growth of “cord cutters” and “cord nevers,” the appeal of high-quality, free television content is growing.

At CES 2017 that will manifest itself in several ways and multiple product areas. It goes without saying that to receive the stations along with the display, one needs both an antenna and a tuner. While it may seem obvious, large-screen projectors rarely have them and some brands are beginning to omit them. Also, computer monitors are getting larger and increasingly equipped with HDMI ports, making them a solution for smaller viewing situations where it is often hard to find a FullHD monitor.

CES will host multiple off-air antennas, from simple indoor models to larger, high-gain, outdoor models for fringe reception areas. For cord-cutters whose display does not contain a tuner, there are “dongle” type tuners with UBS outputs. Hauppauge, AVerMedia and Sabrent are just a few of the well-known suppliers for that type of device.

A variety of standard off-air (ATSC to composite video or HDMI) tuners are also available, many reminiscent of the small units popular during the DTV transition some years ago. As few brand names remain active in this category, the best place to scout them out during CES is in the various international pavilions.

One interesting product to be unveiled for the first time at CES is the AirWave from longtime antenna supplier Mohu. This product combines an off-air antenna, video processing to improve image reception, and ATSC off-air tuner and Wi-Fi in one compact product. Connect it via Wi-Fi and then view the desired channels on any of the popular streaming devices, including Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast or Fire TV. An app also allows off-air streaming to iOS and Android devices or to PCs or laptops.

For those who want to combine an off-air tuner with DVR functionality, Channel Master and Nuvyyo’s Tablo fit the bill. The former records program content on a local hard drive for HDMI connection to a TV or AR, while the latter also uses an external drive but streams the content to devices in the way that the AirWave does, but adds the DVR functionality.

As we look to the future, based on current progress, by the time next year’s CES rolls around we will see TVs and set top adapters that incorporate ATSC 3.0. This new form of television transmission will bring 4K/Ultra HD capability, advanced interactive and object-based audio services, an updated emergency warning system. In many ways, ATSC 3.0 will be OTA’s “secret weapon” to compete with the latest streaming services.

While some have been saying the OTA is on the way out, a careful look around CES will show that it is very much alive, and it will present sales and profit opportunities for you for years to come.