More than 18 months of planning and R&D will come to fruition this weekend when Sky officially launches an Ultra-High Definition (UHD) service, starting with coverage of Hull City versus Leicester City in the English Premier League.
Available as an optional event service for Sky Q Silver customers, the UHD content will be delivered via satellite at 50 frames per second in a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels.
It will be the UK’s second UHD offering following the launch of BT Sport’s Ultra HD channel last August.
To facilitate the service, Sky Sports has opted for an IP-based UHD contribution path from each football stadium to its Osterley headquarters that makes use of SIS Live’s Anylive fibre network but is self-managed by Sky at each end. A separate HD content path will continue to be managed by BT Media & Broadcast.
Ericsson and NTT Electronics encoders will encode the UHD video to H.264. Early in the season, it is likely that this will migrate to HEVC (H.265), providing the same picture quality for around half the bandwidth.
The network itself will be partitioned into four segments: the IPencoded UHD video and audio in two directions; a broadcast media network for transferring video files on the trucks back to an asset management system at Sky; a corporate network that includes internet access; and a monitoring and control network running communications.
This set-up will allow for remote production in HD and, eventually, in UHD if required.
At Osterley, a dedicated position has been created in the Master Control Room to handle the feeds and pass them on to UHD transmission.Recently installed kit includes an Arista network switch.
Following playout, content will be broadcast via satellite, making use of statistical multiplexing so that bandwidth can be allocated depending on demand.
Sky Sports head of operations James Clement told Broadcast that the UHD roadmap includes higher frame rates and HDR but there is no commitment to either at this stage.
He said: “As new technologies are ratified, we then explore the opportunities for how they can be delivered to our viewers.” He added that they are currently trialling HDR but have “no current plans to launch anything” as they are “hamstrung by the lack of standardisation.”
Asked about higher frame rates, head of technology Mike Ruddell added: “Like the rest of the industry, we understand that as you increase the spatial resolution of the picture, you need to up the frame rate commensurately to avoid motion artefacts.
“But we’ve settled on 50p as achievable. Everyone knows that more is needed in the long term.”
Sky will show 124 Premier League games in UHD this season.