Open Letter to Makers of Streaming Devices

Dear Amazon, Roku, Google, Tivo, et al,

Some of you picked up on the idea that two methods of TV transmission (broadcast and broadband) are better than one—especially if they are designed so that viewers don’t have to toggle among inputs and juggle multiple remotes.

And some of you developed and built hybrid devices that take advantage of the spectral efficiencies that the hybrid system affords. But now we have a new hybrid TV system blending them together: NextGen TV, also known as the ATSC 3.0 standard.

Some of your hybrid solutions are pretty good, but they could be better. I recently installed Amazon’s Fire TV Recast, which doubles as an over-the-air (OTA) receiver and DVR. Coupled with the companion streaming stick and a “mostly unified” interface, it delivers a decent hybrid experience of streaming services and local TV news, national networks, and education TV.

Why only decent? In part because it lacks the latest OTA receiving technology. The device’s OTA receivers are from the original digital TV standard for North America and South Korea—a standard that began rolling out in the late 1990s. There are startups that have included both tuners in their devices, but these smaller companies don’t have the money, scale, content licensing deals or the software cred that you all do.

Why should you offer these devices with both kinds of tuners? The NextGen TV tuner can bring much higher quality pictures and sound, HTML functions, as well as more programming than its much older ATSC 1.0 sibling. But it’s only getting off the ground now. Although an increasing number of OTA broadcasters are implementing it, the solution needs to make all OTA TV channels available everywhere, therefore, the devices should have both kinds of tuners for a while. But if you live in one of the U.S. areas where an ATSC 3.0 signal is available, why not be able to try out the latest system and its significant improvements? If not, it would be nice to be ready for it.

With an antenna in my attic, I can pick up more than 100 digital TV channels in the flat lands of Dallas, Texas (not all topographies will yield this kind of result). Not all are worth watching, but with the increased virtual bandwidth the new TV system allows, there would be a lot more opportunity for better than HD picture quality, immersive sound, a full complement of interactive educational programs for remote learning, and any number of other features.

Lots of smart broadcast engineers made the broadcast/broadband alchemy work in a single system, but you all bring in the user-interface magic that should help minimize that complexity when we sit down to watch TV. You’ve built devices and software that simplify navigation and include somewhat engaging interfaces (a little less intrusive promotional barking, please, and keep working on that navigation simplification).

Here’s hoping you include NextGen TV tuners in those hybrid boxes real soon. Chances are I’ll buy one.