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,” writes Adrian Pennington in the Hollywood Reporter.

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.

“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.”

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