First Cable Trials of Ultra HD Linear TV Channels Launch in U.S.

Satellite operator SES distributing four UHD feeds to small cable operators

NASA Ultra High Definition 4k
Courtesy of NASA

Here’s the classic equation of inertia holding back the emergence of TV networks in Ultra HD: Programmers aren’t investing in launching UHD services, because most pay-TV operators aren’t equipped to distribute them — and most consumers don’t have Ultra HD sets to view them.

But 15 years ago, the scenario was the same for high-definition television, and HDTV is now ubiquitous. Many in the industry believe it’s just a matter of time before the same technology shift happens with Ultra HD, which provides four times the resolution of 1080p HD.

In a baby step forward, satellite operator SES has launched the first trials of Ultra HD 4K linear channels with U.S. cable operators, in preparation for subscriber tests later this year. But the participating cable companies are relatively tiny and the content selection, for now, is slim pickings.

Moreover, these aren’t the first UHD services on pay television: AT&T’s DirecTV, an early adopter of new video technologies, first began offering Ultra HD titles on VOD in late 2014 and now delivers its own 24-hour linear UHD channel with documentaries and original series from AT&T’s Audience Network.

In addition, DirecTV is delivering multiple MLB Network games in the format this season, and it has delivered events including the Masters and UFC 200 in UHD.

Meanwhile, Netflix and Amazon offer 4K Ultra HD content on their streaming services, and Sony earlier this spring launched its Ultra streaming service. Comcast, for its part, offers a selection of VOD titles in the format on compatible broadband-connected Samsung and LG Ultra HDTVs.

SES’s trial will distribute four linear networks: the non-commercial NASA TV UHDFashion One 4K, High 4K TV and SES’s UHD1 channel, with a sampling of content from up-and-coming 4K content producers. Operators participating in the trial are 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 claims its managed solution is superior to other Internet-delivered 4K services, because it’s delivered over dedicated bandwidth to eliminate buffering and network congestion.

The satellite operator is supplying HEVC 4K IP-based set-top boxes (initially from AirTies Wireless Networks) to participating operators. Those use the multicasting features of the DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem transmission standard and traditional digital TV to deliver the 4K programming to subscriber homes.

Pictured above: NASA UHD video image of the sun’s atmosphere