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Sky takes a ‘watching brief’ on 4K Ultra HD with nature docs and sport

Sky has taken a ‘watching brief’ on 4K Ultra HD but is quietly creating a catalogue of nature documentaries and building live production skills.

The UK pay-TV broadcaster is keeping an eye on the ultra high definition technology as the TV and broadcasting industries create the standards Sky will need to launch a fully-fledged service.

Sky is producing all of its 3D nature documentaries in 4K for cinemas – with some in 5K for IMAX – including a new 3D 4K doc about giant pandas in China’s Wolong National Nature Reserve.

Sky takes a ‘watching brief’ on 4K Ultra HD with nature docs and sport
The Arsenal on Sky Sports HD – also produced in 4K

Read more about 4K Ultra High Definition TVSpeaking at the launch of Sky’s world first (and sadly one-off) Formula One 3D trial broadcast – video here – John Cassy, head of Sky 3D, told Recombu Digital: “We have got very much a watching brief on 4K. 

“All of the David Attenborough nature documentaries have been in 4K because they are going out in cinemas, and Galapagos was made in 5K because it is going out in IMAX.

“The new 4K screens will also make 3D TV shows in high definition look all the better, but it’s very early days and we have not taken a firm position.”

Ultra high definition 4K TV has around eight million pixels, compared to the two million in today’s Full HD TV pictures – that’s four times the detail.

A long road to 4K

There are also a host of technical barriers to launching a dedicated 4K service on Sky, not least that the current Sky+HD box is not 4K-ready.

Worldwide, the broadcast industry and TV manufacturers have yet to define many of the standards needed for 4K TV, adds Chris Johns, chief engineer for Sky’s Central Architecture Group.

The current HDMI 1.4 standard, for instance, only supports 4K up to 30 frames per second – HD TV works at 50fps or 60fps, but it’s looking like 4K TV will have to be produced in 100Hz or better to produce smooth motion at ultra high definition.

The industry has also only recently agreed the High Efficiency Video Coding compression system which will be needed to squeeze 4K TV through broadband and broadcast transmission systems to our homes.

Meanwhile, Sky has been filming games at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium to develop experience in 4K, and evaluate the first generation of cameras and production kit. 

“A lot of the challenges are like the early days of HD,” adds Johns. “The cameras are drama cameras so they have a very short depth of field, which is not what we need in sports.

“If you remember the early days of HD sports, the encoders were not very good with movement – it used to go into a blur and then snap back into detail as the camera panned and stopped – and we are seeing the same thing in 4K. There is a long way to go.”

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