At IBC, 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. 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.
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 in Berlin showcased plenty of 4K models (and some capable of 8K resolution). They’re not cheap, but the next few years will see prices tumble. All will depend on the emerging 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.”