For all of the hype surrounding Ultra High Definition television, no service provider has yet expanded beyond on-demand UHD content to offer a live UHD stream. However, a new trial is underway that could help turn the tide.
Satellite operator SES S.A. (Paris: SESG) and Armstrong Cable have announced the "first-ever live and linear Ultra HD" trial at Armstrong headquarters in Butler, Penn. The trial is based on SES's "camera-to-screen Ultra HD ecosystem," which was first demonstrated at the NAB conference in April. It includes satellite broadcast technology combined with multicast IP video delivery. (See Live From Vegas, It's 4K TV.)
Unlike over-the-top video services, the UHD trial is taking place over a managed IP network, much like AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) uses managed IP video delivery for U-verse, and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) will rely on a managed IP network for its new online Stream service. (See Comcast 'Stream' Joins OTT Flood.)
The multicast delivery means SES and Armstrong will cut down on bandwidth strain by creating one video stream that multiple users can tune in to rather than dedicated streams for every viewer. However, even with multicast delivery – and the use of the High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC) for compression – having enough bandwidth still promises to be a challenge. Experts predict that in real-world UHD deployments, service providers will need between 12 Mbits/s and 20 Mbits/s to deliver a UHD stream at a standard rate of 60 frames per second. (See Fuzzy Outlook for Ultra HD.)
Bandwidth isn't the only challenge either. UHD content is still limited, and many programmers and service providers alike have been reticent to commit fully to the next-generation TV spec. So far, only Comcast and DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) have launched UHD services among traditional pay-TV providers in the US, with Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) promising to follow suit later this summer.
There's been more activity recently in Europe, with BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) announcing plans to unveil a UHD sports channel with live event coverage. (See BT Unveils UHD TV Prices in Challenge to Sky.)
In the US, several major programmers are still missing in action. Both ESPN and Home Box Office Inc. (HBO) have yet to reveal plans for UHD deployment.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading