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Sky tries out ultraHD

BSkyB has done a test broadcast in UltraHD featuring a football match between two English Premier League (EPL) clubs at its West London facility. The match, between West Ham and Stoke City, was directed live, produced and edited by Sky’s in-house production and broadcast operations teams using four Sony F55 ultraHD cameras and two ultraHD WVS servers for replay and graphics. Filming involved a dedicated OB vehicle in partnership with Sony and Telegenic, and it was shown on a Sony 84in ultraHDTV at its headquarters.

The picture was broadcast at 2160 x 3840, sometimes loosely referred to as 4K, being four times the resolution of so called full HD at 1080 x 1920, and eight times that of many existing 720p or 1080i HD services. It was also at 50fps, which is double Sky’s current QFHD (Quad Full High Definition) format. This would therefore consume much more bandwidth, and, for this reason, BSkyB is actively evaluating deployment of the new High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) codec to reduce the bit rate required to transmit in ultra HD. HEVC is particularly well suited to ultraHD, with tests indicating that at high resolutions it is capable of reducing the bit rate for a given video quality to less than half that of H.264.

Sky indicated that the demo would not lead immediately to a product launch, but was part of its strategy to be ready to hit the ground running when the demand and ecosystem were ready for UHD, along with enough available content, just as it was with HD. In particular the demo highlighted the potential of UHD for fast sporting action, according to Barney Francis managing director, Sky Sports.

“We saw enough in this test event to know that live sport in UHD has real potential,” said Francis. “The broadcast also demonstrated the capability of our satellite platform, which is ideally placed to continue supporting high-bandwidth video. That said, we’ve still much more to learn, particularly about how to make full use of UHD from a live production perspective.”