BSkyB Engineering Chief Emphasizes Need to Get Ultra HD Right Ahead of Launch

“It has to be something consumers want to have,” said Chris Johns during a recent address in London.
Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images

UK pay TV broadcaster Sky has no imminent Ultra HD launch plans but is nonetheless examining delivery options, which include over the internet rather than traditional satellite.

During a recent address in London, Chris Johns, chief engineer, broadcast strategy at BSkyB, emphasized the need to ensure that when Sky does launch into 4K, it is done right.

“We've no plans to launch a UHD service at this point in time,” he stated. “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.”

ANALYSIS: The Future of 3D TV and Why ESPN Dropped Its Pioneering Channel

A chief contention is that in tests Sky has made to date at soccer matches in 4K, it has been unable to truly understand what is needed in terms of frame rate to overcome motion blur. “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 Sky's delivery options open. Indeed over-the-air Ultra HD transmission may be surpassed in terms of timeframe by IP delivery to the home.

“What is the best medium to deliver the future of TV? In less than eight years Sky has gone from SD to HD, small to big screen, linear to on-demand, 2D to 3D and basic compression to efficient codecs," he said.

“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 color is a nice to have but will only enhance the experience of certain sequences of certain programs [general views in travel shows for example]."

“We also need to think about audio and matching it to the visual perhaps in terms of new object-based technology which manipulates the audio according to the environment you are sitting in," he said. "In addition, and very importantly, it needs to be cost effective from cameras to compression."

“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 have we gone with some of those elements for the next generation of visual experience to the customer.”