It’s not every day your TV package gets a free upgrade, but you might have one waiting that you didn’t even know about.
A new industry standard for digital TV, known as ATSC 3.0 or NextGen TV, has been rolling out across the U.S. over the past several months. It’s already available in 54 major cities, with 20 more markets coming on air this fall and others expected to launch “soon,” according to WatchNextGenTV.com.
NextGen TV offers “better reception, up to 4K Ultra HDTV video with movie theater-quality sound, more channels, mobile viewing on the go, on-demand internet content, and more,” Sony explains.
Internet-connected TVs will be able to personalize everything from team statistics during the big game to emergency alerts, according to an official list of features.
It also promises to banish a longstanding annoyance for many of us: inconsistent volume levels between channels and shows as well as between dialogue and background audio. “NEXTGEN TV offers you a pleasant, uniform sound experience,” the NextGen TV website pledges.
Best of all, this upgrade is technically free — it just reflects an agreement among media companies and manufacturers to support this level of service. But, of course, there are a couple of catches.
First, many current TV models aren’t equipped to deliver these new features. Big brands LG, Samsung and Sony currently offer about 70 models among them that are NextGen TV compatible. You can view the list and compare prices at the NextGen TV website.
Second, you may not notice an immediate difference from many broadcasters. Sony cautions that some features won’t be available at release, and broadcasters may not necessarily take advantage of their new capabilities.
Finally, NextGen TV merges broadcast channels that are delivered over-the-air with internet content. That means you’ll need to set up an antenna to receive the channels, if you don’t already have one.
If you buy a compatible TV right now, recognize that you’re an early adopter of this technology and that it will improve over time. If you don’t have any immediate plans to buy a new TV, it may be wiser to wait until when you planned to upgrade anyway. Then look for a device with the NextGen TV logo on the box.
NextGen TV is currently available from local broadcasters for more than half of U.S. households and “on track” to be available in more than 80% of them, according to the official website.
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