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Ultra HD from Sky in ‘two to three years’ says satellite boss

Sky could be launching ultra high definition TV services via satellite within three years says the owner of the Astra satellites used by Sky and Freesat.

Astra's satellite control roomSES boss Romain Bausch added that ultra high definition TV – also known as Super Hi-Vision – is a better long-term bet for his company than broadband via satellite.

Ultra HD has been developed by Japanese public broadcaster NHK, with some help from our own BBC, as the ultimate 2D TV system with a resolution to match human vision.

Speaking to industry analysts, Bausch, the president and CEO of SES Global, said: “We are very confident that U-HDTV will happen. BSkyB lead the introduction of HDTV in Europe so do not be surprised if you see us partnering with BSkyB in order to pioneer the introduction of ultra-HDTV in the next two to three years. We are in close cooperation with our customers on their plans.

“U-HDTV is still in its early days but NHK’s approach is for full 8K. The other U-HDTV is 4K and we see this as being more commercially focussed and could be a reality only two or three years from now.

“SES is well prepared, and as soon as our customers are ready we are ready and without any additional capacity investment needed on our behalf.”

NHK has conducted tests of Ultra HD by satellite, fibre and internet connections, each requiring hundreds of Gigabits of transmission capacity.

The ultimate goal is an ‘8K’ signal with 7,680 x 4,320 pixels, but a ‘4K’ version at 3,840 x 2,160 pixels would match the format of today’s digital cinema technology, providing an instant source of films for a broadcaster like Sky. Today’s ‘Full HD’ TV uses 1,920 x 1,080 pixels.

NHK will partner with the BBC this summer to deliver Ultra HD TV streams at hundreds of Megabits to public screens around the UK, and to several locations worldwide, using high speed internet connections like the UK’s JANET academic network.

Satellite would be the most efficient option for delivering Ultra HD to a national service, however, with thousands of Megabits in orbit, covering the whole country.

Satellite dish and broadband modemSatellite broadband a hard bet

If Ultra HD looks promising, SES isn’t so confident about the future of two-way satellite broadband, despite the new Ka-band technology which could offer up to 50Mbps.

SES has several satellites due to launch carrying Ka-band equipment alongside traditional Ku-band for TV, while rival sat operator Eutelsat has a dedicated Ka-band satellite in orbit already.

Bausch said: “We deliberately decided not to invest in a dedicated Ka-band satellite. We do not believe consumer satellite broadband is a sustainable business over the life of the satellite.

“A satellite takes about three years to build and then is in operation for about 15 years. You need a good feeling about the business for 18 years, but the last mile for broadband for consumers is best done by terrestrial, not by satellite.”

SES owns and operates the giant Astra satellite fleet over Europe, including the three satellites orbiting at the 28.2 degrees East geostationary slot, used by Sky and Freesat.

It has 80,000 subscribers across Europe using the Astra2Connect service on slower Ku-band equipment, but expects many to upgrade to Ka-band.

Both Astra, Eutelsat and British newcomer Avanti Connect are competing for broadband users who are too remote for fibre or copper connections on the ground, but the evidence is that both community groups and governments throughout Europe are keen to get fibre connections installed from the highest mountain-top to the deepest vale. 

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