Sky Germany, others unveil details of 4K broadcasting plans at Spelplanen Conference in Sweden

by on February 10, 2015

Stephan Jukic – February 10, 2015

This past February 5th, the annual Swedish Spelplanen gathering of European broadcasters took place and it was quite a success in its 2015 edition, most of all for 4K ultra HD technology.

UHD 4K was one of the main focus points of the event and a number of speakers discussed the new resolution format and what it implies.

One of these was Sky Germany representative Stephan Heimbecher, who is head of innovation and standards at the German broadcaster. He delivered a rather broad update on how his company is testing and refining its own move towards 4K workflow in broadcasting and readiness for UHD TV becoming more popular.

Furthermore, satellite operator SES also too advantage of the Spelplanen gathering to make public its new Ultra HD demonstration channel, which is now live from the company’s Astra 4A orbiting satellite. SES used the latest specially imported 65 inch Samsung 4K TVs for the demo broadcast, partly because the new line of 4K TVs from the electronics giant is capable of displaying UHD content at a brightness of 1000 nits, as opposed to the mere 100 nits offered by last year’s Samsung TVA models.

As for Sky’s Heimbecher, he clarified that his company’s path toward 4K media started all the way back in 2011 and explained that the German broadcasting giant has been ready to start 4k broadcasts at a moment’s notice for some time now but was simply waiting for a decision from the upper management of the company.

The Sky Germany executive also went on to describe how his company has already conducted extensive testing of its 4K broadcasting ability at football (soccer) matches and how Sky has more recently also conducted a test broadcast of a large pop music concert in December of last year.

Furthermore, during these tests, Sky has managed to squeeze down the size of its 4K test broadcasts from an original, raw and enormous 8.3 Gbps to a much more practical 30Mbps that almost nears the compressed size of streaming broacasts sent out by existing services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Heimbecher claims that “A year from now I am confident that further testing and improvements will take place where we will make further reductions in the size of the signal, and perhaps two years from now match today’s HDTV signal size but delivering superb quality”.

One of the first services to be upgraded to 4K resolution will be Sky Germany's Live sportscasts

One of the first services to be upgraded to 4K resolution will be Sky Germany’s Live sportscasts

This claim sounds very useful for millions of potential 4K broadcast customers in Germany and elsewhere but Sky itself will also have to bear in mind that while it moves through its testing procedure over such a long time span, internet streaming services like Netflix will move in and take away a lot of its potential market share. Netflix is in fact already available in Europe and offering a growing selection of 4K entertainment content through broadband connections.

For the most part, the 4K emphasis by companies like Sky Germany has been directed at more refined tests of end-to-end production of 4K transmissions.

This means duplicating many of the technical teams at live events and managing a more efficient method of using 4K cameras strategically for maximal video capture that doesn’t lose out on specific details of a given event.

Heimbecher stated at Spelplanen that the lessons Sky had learned were very important and that Ultra HD truly is a new leap in live event broadcasting because “Ultra HD really does draw you in immersively. You are present at the event”.

However, he cautioned that challenges still remain and that there will first be a phase 1 Ultra HD broadcasting quality and then, later, a phase 2 level in which other factors like higher dynamic range and better pixels will make 4K transmissions even more impressive. Moving beyond these, the company (and other broadcasters who follow the same loose plan for 4K) will move on to phase 3 Ultra HD and finally on to the still highly experimental technology of 8K broadcasts.

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