The transition to Ultra HD is the classic chicken-and-egg scenario: Programmers don’t launch services because pay TV operators can’t distribute them, and consumers don’t buy UHD TV sets because there’s nothing to watch. Fifteen years ago that was the identical conundrum for High Definition, however, and now HDTV is ubiquitous in the U.S. Ultra HD just got one step closer to that with satellite operator SES’s launch of its first trials of Ultra HD 4K linear channels, to be followed by subscriber tests later in 2016.
Variety describes the SES trial as distributing four linear networks: the non-commercial NASA TV UHD, Fashion One 4K, High 4K TV and SES’s UHD1 channel, the latter of which will feature “a sampling of content from up-and-coming 4K content producers.”
The U.S. cable companies participating in the trial are smaller, regional operators, including Cable America in Missouri; Golden West Telecommunications in South Dakota; MTC Cable in New York; Sjoberg’s Cable TV in Minnesota; and ATMC in North Carolina. SES reports its content is delivered over dedicated bandwidth, which it notes avoids the buffering and network congestion of Internet-based 4K solutions.
Operators participating in the trials will receive HEVC 4K IP-based set-top boxes, initially from AirTies Wireless Networks, that rely on “the multicasting features of the DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem transmission standard and traditional digital TV to deliver the 4K programming to subscriber homes.”
Variety also notes that SES is not the first to deliver Ultra HD to the home; AT&T’s DirecTV began offering 4K titles via VOD in 2014 and “now delivers its own 24-hour linear UHD channel with documentaries and original series from AT&T’s Audience Network” as well as several MLB Network games and events including the Masters and UFC 200.
Others offering UHD content include Netflix, Amazon and Sony Ultra, all via streaming; and Comcast, which offers some VOD titles “on compatible broadband-connected Samsung and LG Ultra HDTVs.”