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Why Your Next 4K TV Better Have An ATSC 3.0 Tuner

Free 4K digital TV broadcasts with Atmos audio? Yes, please

TV viewers in the U.S. may not be aware of it, but there’s a new digital TV broadcasting standard coming to your town. In fact, ATSC 3.0 (also known as NextGen TV) might have already arrived there, buzzing the airwaves with the promise of free sports, sitcoms, reality shows, and movies in 4K-quality video with HDR among other features and capabilities.

The last time TechRadar checked in on ATSC 3.0 for a status update, there were only a limited number of markets with at least one station broadcasting using this NextGen digital TV format. Since then, the list has grown substantially, with 45% of the population being reached as of early 2022 and coverage expected to expand to 75% later in the year. Major cities including New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon are currently served by at least one station delivering ATSC 3.0, and the list includes many medium-size markets as well.

Markets in orange have at least one ATSC 3.0 station transmitting. Light blue indicates broadcasters in that market are currently preparing to launch service, while dark blue indicates where broadcasters have announced plans to offer ATSC 3.0 service. (Image credit: Advanced Television Systems Committee)

What new features does ATSC 3.0 offer?

I’ve already mentioned the most notable feature of ATSC 3.0, namely 4K Ultra HD video with HDR. But that’s only part of the story of what NextGen TV promises to bring to the best 4K TVs.

Audio features in the standard include Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive soundtracks, along with automatic volume leveling between channels and dialogue enhancement to boost the clarity of voices. Data streams can be sent alongside video to provide related interactive content on smart TVs. That’s a feature with great potential for live sports, and it also allows for highly localized emergency alerts – something that can benefit us all in this era of climate change-related severe weather.

There’s also a mobile component to ATSC 3.0. The standard was developed with enhanced mobile reception in mind, so viewers can tune in broadcasts from moving vehicles and also on devices like phones and tablets when out and about.

What do I need to get ATSC 3.0 digital TV?

To tune in ATSC 3.0 broadcasts, you can use one of the best indoor antennas from our buyer’s guide, along with any other indoor and outdoor antenna capable of picking up current ATSC 1.0 digital TV broadcasts.

That’s the easy part. To receive ATSC 3.0 broadcasts, you’ll also need a TV with a built-in ATSC 3.0 tuner, and for most of us that means a new TV. Select recent 4K and 8K TVs arriving from Sony, Samsung, and LG offer this feature, with prices ranging from $600 (for a 43-inch Sony 4K model) to $10,000 (for a 85-inch 8K model, also from Sony). Budget brand Hisense has also announced ATSC 3.0 support in its forthcoming 2022 models including the U9H, U8H and U7H series sets, with the latter expected to be priced under $800.

Do I really need a TV with ATSC 3.0?

The new broadcasting standard’s much-hyped features – specifically 4K and immersive audio – aren’t really being pushed much in these early ATSC 3.0 days. But that doesn’t mean they won’t become standard (at the dawn of high-definition TV, some stations simply broadcast an upconverted HD version of their simulcast standard-definition, 4:3 aspect ratio signal). So, if you are shopping for a new TV, it absolutely makes sense to seek one out with an ATSC 3.0 tuner.

However, it’s also important to know that ATSC 1.0, the format currently in use by all digital TV stations including ones that also transmit using NextGen TV (they are required by the FCC to simulcast in 1.0 for five years following the switch), broadcasts can’t be picked up by ATSC 3.0 tuners. But the upside there is that external ATSC 1.0 digital TV tuners which connect to your set’s HDMI input are inexpensive and easy to find.

TVs with ATSC 3.0 support: our recommendations

Looking for a new 4K TV and want to ensure it’s ATSC 3.0-compatible? Here are a few models on our radar that we can recommend.

1. LG OLED65G2
LG’s flagship G2 OLED 4K TV for 2022 is its brightest model yet, and is also packed with features including an ATSC 3.0 tuner. Along with its next-gen OLED ‘Evo” panel, this set’s sleek ‘gallery’ design accounts for its relatively high price, but it still counts among the best OLEDs we’ve tested.

2. Samsung QN55QN90B
We had the opportunity to check out the 65-inch version of Samsung’s new-for-2022 QN90B model in a hands-on test, and walked away largely impressed. A step-down from the company’s flagship QN95B series 4K QLED TVs, the QN90B offers all the features found in those sets, including a built-in ATSC 3.0 tuner, but at a lower price.

3. Sony KD-55X85K
Also new for 2022, Sony’s 55-inch X85K series 4K LCD TV features a direct-lit LED backlight rather than the full-array local dimming backlight found in the company’s higher-end models, but it’s nonetheless rich with features including the Google TV smart interface (with Google voice assistant) and, yes, a built-in ATSC 3.0 tuner, all for under $1,000.

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About the Author

Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine. When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.

See also: Pearl TV, MediaTek Introduce ‘FastTrack To NEXTGEN TV’