BSkyB: “Early days” for Ultra-HD


Chris Johns, BSkyB’s chief engineer/broadcast strategy, has said that the pay-TV broadcaster has no imminent Ultra-HD plans but is examining closely its delivery options, and stressed the need for testing of the technology so that when Sky does launch 4K it is “done right”.


“We’ve no plans to launch a U-HD service at this point in time,” he told delegates to the ‘Beyond HDTV’ conference in London. “It is still very early days. With HD we went through a two year test period. With 3D it was 18 months. We are still at that early phase so that when we are able to deliver a ‘beyond HD’ viewing experience we can deliver a high quality one.”

One of the main challenges to overcome, he said, was that of frame rate. “All the available 4K displays that we are using are 30Hz or less, when we need, at the very least 50fps, for sports and arguably higher,” he said. Johns referred to “beyond HD” rather than Ultra HD, preferring to keep all of Sky’s potential delivery options open.  He said that over-the-air Ultra HD transmission could be surpassed in terms of timeframe by IP delivery to the home.


He explained that in the past 8 years Sky has evolved from a standard definition delivery model, to HD, from small screens to larger screens, from 2D to 3D, and from basic digital compression to advanced codecs.

“Something beyond HD might have no interlace, more resolution, finer pixels and these are all great. But what else is there? It has to deliver a new viewing experience. It has to be something consumers want to have,” Johns explained, adding that the experience has to have a range of content from the start, not just a couple of shows a week.

4K OBVan built by Sony for Telegenic to cover the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 but also Premier League matches for SKY


“It also has to have improved motion portrayal and it has to have dynamic range,” Johns said. “You are missing an evolutionary technical step if you don’t deliver that treat to the eyeballs. More colour is a nice to have but will only enhance the experience of certain sequences of certain programs [general views in travel shows for example].”

However, he did give one strong hint as to a possible start date: “If we are able to deliver it all in 2014 then great,” he added. “But there are many elements to solve. The question for today is how far we have gone with some of those elements for the next generation of visual experience to the customer.”

Sky Germany commits to Ultra-HDTV
Already at IBC 2012, Sky Deutschland became the first of the Sky-branded European channels to come out firmly in favour of Ultra-HDTV. Brian Sullivan, CEO declared: “We already have an Ultra-HDTV project working here.  It’s all early days but I am a great enthusiast and a big and positive supporter of Ultra High Def.  I first saw a demo about six years ago when the camera was about the size of a small car but even when I saw that almost static picture, I was totally, totally captivated and when it happens, I can promise you we will be one of the first.  It makes sense for Pay-TV to showcase this technology in the first instance.”

Sky Deutschland is fast growing, and German consumers are known to appreciate high quality.  Indeed, his comments suggest that other parts of the News Corp pay-TV broadcasting arms are also looking at U-HD for an early introduction.


Sky Deutschland is fast growing, and German consumers are known to appreciate high quality.  Indeed, his comments suggest that other parts of the News Corp pay-TV broadcasting arms are also looking at U-HD for an early introduction. Sullivan’s technology background is second-to-none. His experience included many years working at BSkyB on technology aspects of the business, notably the introduction of the Sky+ set-top box, HDTV and then 3D TV. The 2012 UEFA Champions League Final was coverd in HD and 3D by Host Broadcaster Sky Germany and at the 2013 UEFA Champions League Semi-Final Sky Germany testet together with the UEFA a recording of the match in 4K with two different 4K camera set-ups. Also at the Bundesliga match Bayern München - Borussia Dortmund Sky Germany was testing 4K.


Sullivan is not alone in planning for U-HDTV. Satellite operator SES, already carrying Sky’s UK and German signals, as well as Canal Plus, is also ready.  Ferdinand Kayser is CCO at SES. “It’s been at the heart of SES since its early days to deliver a large choice of linear TV in the highest possible quality. With Ultra-HD we now see our customers, some of the largest broadcasters in the world, embracing an even higher picture quality. It will be the next big thing in broadcasting taking the consumer experience to the next level. It will make linear TV even stronger and more compelling and ensure satellite will remain the most powerful TV infrastructure in the future.”


Kayser added SES would go the ‘extra mile’ for U-HDTV, and is “contributing to the development of the necessary ecosystem – both operationally and technically – in order to make Ultra-HD happen.”

It is the same at SPS, the SES-owned Munich play-out centre used by Sky Deutschland. Wilfred Urner is CEO at SPS. “For me the question is not so much when we might start to play it out, we could do this tomorrow.  To make U-HD a success for our clients the flat screens will have to be Ultra-HD ready, and it isn’t so many years ago that we had the same problem with high definition.”

Those flat-screens are now appearing. IFA 2012 in Berlin showcased plenty of 4K models (and some capable of 8K resolution). They’re were cheap, but at NAB 2013 we already saw  prices tumble: Sony offered a 55 inch set at $ 5,000. All will now depend on the emerging of the High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC) which is now being standardised.

Set-top box specialists Pace is also busy on the reception end of the equation. Mike Pulli is Pace’s CEO. “HEVC is undoubtedly the base line for the next major steps in Digital TV both in 2D and3D and especially 4K Ultra-HD where we expect a booming market around 2017.”  Pully added that Pace saw HEVC/H.265 delivering a 50 per cent saving on bandwidth while at the same time maintaining image quality.


Dr Giles Wilson, head of TV Compression Business at Ericsson, says his team is well ahead with HEVC/H.265’s development, and which will be standardised this coming winter. At IBC Ericsson is unveiling its SVP 5500 HEVC encoders. “We have been looking at 4K transmission, because we are firm believers in it, and we believe HEVC will have a pivotal role in its deployment. New decoders, when properly designed for H.265, will deliver a very good 4K experience.”