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OPINION: 1000 UHD channels by 2025

Michel Chabrol, director marketing innovation & digital cinema Eutelsat, talks about the satellite-enabled Ultra HD evolution

With technology here and content well on the way, how is Ultra HD going to actually reach the market?

It can be safely said that the implementation of commercial channels in Ultra HD will take place in two phases: first in pay-TV packages, then on DTT channels, once DVB-T2 modulation and HEVC encoding are in place. We are currently in the first phase and one of the major obstacles preventing the creation of such channels, namely content, is now being removed thanks to the increase in the number of UHD shootings and the acceleration of creation in native format.

Actors of the Ultra HD ecosystem have been discussing encoding, image frequency, the availability of equipment and production costs, as well as the installed base of Ultra HD screens. Regarding image frequency, we are currently working at 50 images/second in progressive mode in Ultra HD (against 25 images/second in interlaced mode in HDTV), but we expect to see this changing by 2017 with the advent of 100/120 images per second. In addition, we know that viewers now expect the highest image quality when viewing video content related to live sport events and this pushes the entire broadcast chain to deliver what it can do best, namely Ultra HD.

A lot is heard about Ultra
HD theoretically, but for the time being the average viewer doesn’t have much in terms of hardware nor content. What would be required to move from theory to practice?

Ultra HD is undergoing a standard cycle of development: like any new TV broadcasting format, this cycle begins with demonstration channels. Ultra HD channels are already broadcast on the Eutelsat satellite fleet. Eutelsat 4K1 is broadcast over Europe via HOT BIRD (13° East), and an additional demo channel is available in France via EUTELSAT 5 West A (5° West).

What can be said about forthcoming Eutelsat developments in the field of Ultra HD?

Satellites are clearly a natural transmission channel for Ultra HD content, due to their significant bandwidth capacity and extensive coverage, with equal quality throughout the coverage. Ultra HD requires large transmission capacity, which some terrestrial systems will be unable to provide everywhere or immediately.

This new format boosts the TV and broadcast worlds. The entire industry, from production to distribution, will benefit from this push towards enhanced quality. The next phase will be the development of commercial Ultra HD TV channels, of which we hope to see many on our satellites in the next few years.

Can the forecast of 1000 UHD channels broadcast by 2025 be considered realistic? 

Very generous figures had been publicised for other promising technologies, that didn’t always materialise.

Analysts expect some 200 UHD commercial channels to be operational throughout the world in 2020 and 1000 by 2025. The trend is already underway: the latest figures released by GfK earlier on this year reveal that by the end of this year, 600,000 to 700,000 Ultra HD screens of over 50 inches should be deployed in France, Germany and the UK alone.