Sky Confirms August UHD Launch

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As expected, pan-European pay TV broadcaster Sky has confirmed the launch of a new Ultra HD service for UK subscribers beginning August 13.

The service will go live on its Sky Q Silver receiver which was unveiled in February.

According to analyst Paolo Pescatore, director, multiplay and media at CCS Insight, the move will kickstart consumer appetite for 4K in the UK. "Though BT was the first provider to launch 4K in the UK, it has failed to see any meaningful uptake to its BT TV service," he says. "Despite a huge investment in 4K, BT has failed to build upon its early mover advantage."

Mobile operator EE, owned by BT, announced this week that BT Sport would be available free to its mobile customers for six months in a bid to increase take-up.

The Sky UHD programme line up includes 70 movies including Spectre, drama and documentaries including the series of David Attenborough-fronted natural histories like Galapagos, which was produced by Atlantic Productions for Sky's 3D channel but shot in 4K or higher.

More significantly, a series of live sports including 124 English Premier League football matches will be shot and aired in the format. From 2017, Formula 1 motor racing will also be available for UHD badging.

It is not yet clear what Sky classifies as UHD, i.e. whether it will demand a high dynamic range finish on drama or in the live sports coverage.

Sky is among broadcasters known to be interested in introducing Dolby Atmos, an object-based audio format, to the home. This technology was tested by Telegenic, a Sky outside broadcast supplier, for UEFA at the UEFA Euros last month.

Sky is also testing virtual reality, particularly around sports, and it would be logical to see it stream live VR from F1 circuits next year in tandem with the sport's new sponsor Heineken, which has stated its intent to shake up the sport's broadcast with VR.

BT Sport has a year's lead on its main rival and plans to up its quota of live sports for the coming season to include all EPL matches plus games from the UEFA Champions League. Virgin Media is also believed to be planning to introduce Ultra HD channels this year.

Sky's new product range is corralled into a TV Everywhere ecosystem. Sky Q, Sky Q Silver, Sky Q Mini, a Sky Q touch remote, Sky Q Hub and a Sky Q app all connect together under the term Fluid Viewing.

Set-up costs for Sky Q start at £99, and for those new to Sky the monthly cost starts at £42. The UHD programming will not cost users any further premium.

"Though the concept of fluid viewing has failed to resonate with consumers, premium content in 4K such as Premier League will drive awareness [and] appetite, and enhance their viewing experience," says Pescatore. "Sky's close relationship with content and rights owners still puts it in a far stronger position than its competitors. It comes when all providers will start to heavily promote their respective multi-play bundles ahead of the new Premier League football season. It's going to be a very busy second half of the year with Sky's entry into mobile, Vodafone's debut in TV and Virgin Media's new set-top box. Sky's latest move throws down the gauntlet to others, so let battle commence."

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