Where Does SkyQ Leave HFR?

This week’s issue got me thinking about developments in TV. I was particularly interested in the Sky announcement and I confess that is partly because I am a customer of Sky. Sky is incredibly good at getting UK (and increasingly German and Italian consumers) to dig deep for their TV services. Although I pay less than many US cable customers, I’m almost embarrassed by how much I pay when talking to people in Germany. However, I want the live Premiership soccer and most of that is available through Sky (although BT Sport has been more and more aggressive in gaining rights in recent years).

Sky has done a really good job in recent years in delivering new technology and gaining a premium for that new technology. It did a great job on HD and for several years, in discussions with those in other European countries, I often had dozens of channels of HD – including live sport and good movies – when other countries had only a handful of channels. I very rarely watch anything in SD any more (mainly DVDs. Although I like Blu-ray, we use a PlayStation for that and my wife has never got the hang of it, so she prefers DVD – I really ought to upgrade to a dedicated Blu-ray player – perhaps when UltraHD Blu-Ray has stabilised and got mainstream).

Sky also put a lot of effort into 3D and persevered when others dropped out, but was unable to establish the feature in the market.

Now, in comments on our article about the promised Sky box, I have speculated that it may support SAT>IP, as I have not been able to confirm it, yet. We will keep trying to get confirmation. For those that have not been following our reporting of SAT>IP, I recommend at least a quick look at the Wikipedia entry ( Briefly, where traditional satellite systems transform the incoming satellite signal at the LNB to an intermediate frequency at the tuner in the receiver, mandating the use of coax as a downfeed, with SAT>IP, the DVB stream is demodulated and packetised at the LNB and sent back to the system using IP protocols, which means UTP for cabling (which can also power the LNB using PoE).

Of course, once you have the DVB stream on your network, it can either be accessed by a server which handles decoding of the DVB stream, DRM and decompression and then distribution to devices. Alternatively the devices, which means PCs, phones and tablets or smartTVs , if they have sufficient power and rights, can handle this themselves. Panasonic already has a TV with a SAT>IP server integrated.

The big win (apart from the cabling) in switching to SAT>IP is in enabling support for large numbers of client devices and allowing relatively seamless integration between content coming over broadband and over satellite.

The other interesting point in the Sky announcement is the timing. The existing Sky box architecture is distinctly “clunky” in terms of its interface, so Sky has to do something to get closer to the state of the art in user interfaces. However, by introducing a new box next year, the company will not be able to support high frame rates (HFR), which Sky has been pushing for in order to improve the impact of UltraHD in sport. It will be able to support at least some HDR – ST2084 and HLG should be no problem – but as far as we know, the chips to support HFR will not be available in time.

That suggests to me that Sky has come to the conclusion that the DVB requirements for the next phase of UltraHD will not support HFR, or if it supports HFR it will not be implemented for some time, so to wait would simply take too long. Better, then, to make the big decision to move to a new STB platform. That will mean that the pressure will be off to push HFR as I think Sky has been the strongest promoter, because of its interest in sports. The danger of that is that it will be hard to push the industry to go further, when the only advantage is higher frame rates, as HDR and WCG will be “done”.