As prices for 4K televisions come down, TV service providers are starting to get serious about supporting live 4K telecasts. Consumers are increasingly adopting devices with 4k-resolution displays, but UHD content to match is still relatively sparse.
That will change for DirecTV subscribers starting next year, with a new report claiming the company will introduce a live 4K broadcast service in early 2016
Ahead of that launch, DirecTV has been testing 4K broadcasts with Ultra HD sports offerings. Even if 4K TVs were popular Black Friday and Cyber Monday steals, there continues to be a lack of 4K content to watch on them. DirecTV wants to provide a solution: the company’s SVP of Video and Space Communications Phil Goswitz confirmed at New York’s TranSPORT conference that DirecTV will launch a live 4K broadcasting service sometime in “early 2016.”
At the conference, Goswitz explained that the company currently has the ability to transmit up to 50 new UHD channels, and live sports transmissions are already being tested as part of next year’s rollout. DirecTV already has the hardware in place, and according to Goswitz, the company wants to get ahead of cable companies and provide viewers with 4K content they can’t get from their cable companies.
The problem, though, is scraping together enough 4K content. Said Goswitz:
I think the belief that there are technology challenges is a bit of a misinformed myth. I think technology throughout the entire ecosystem is ready. But I think content is king; the plane is ready to take off and there is no king on board.
4K TVs are likely to get a huge boost this holiday season thanks to fast-falling prices and retailer promotions. So even with limited content out there, DirecTV wants to beat cable companies at providing customers with 4K channels they can tune to at any time. “Forty percent of people are going to have UHD TVs coming out of Christmas and they are going to be looking for something to watch
So we are moving into working with partners who are enthusiastic about it and we are bringing our cheque-books. Forty per cent of people are going to have UHD TVs coming out of Christmas and they are going to be looking for something to watch. Our goal is to have them tuned to DirecTV and have as much linear live content, especially sports content, as soon as possible.
Why this matters: Although 4K video is already available through on-demand streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, traditional TV channels have been slower to get on board with live programming. First, they’ve had to plant the seeds with 4K set-top boxes, and the next step is to get the actual TV networks to start producing 4K telecasts. It appears that’s what DirecTV is aiming to do now.
Goswitz went on to say that DirecTV is “moving into working with partners” to create more 4K content. Currently Netflix and YouTube have some 4K video ready to stream, but most companies continue to focus on hardware. Roku and TiVo recently came out with updated set-top boxes ready for 4K streaming, but they still have to work with the finite amount of 4K content available.
This isn’t DirecTV’s first experiment with 4K—last year, the company launched its own 4K streaming service that featured content from Paramount Pictures and others. However, the service required the company’s Genie HD DVR and one of a few select Samsung 4K/UHD TVs. Goswitz was not forthcoming with specifics about DirecTV’s 4K broadcasting service, and there’s no word on when in 2016 it will launch.
Plenty of talk, few specifics
DirecTV has the capacity for 50 UltraHD channels, atop the company’s existing HD and SD offerings, Goswitz said. However, he didn’t name any particular channels that would be part of the launch, or how much of their content would actually be available in 4K.
Also unclear is how much extra DirecTV customers will have to pay for higher-resolution content. DirecTV already charges a fee for access to its existing 4K movie download service, and many pay-TV providers used to charge a fee for HD channels when standard definition was still the norm. Netflix also charges $2 per month extra for UltraHD video, although it also allows four streams at once, compared to two streams with an HD video plan. If DirecTV is opening up its wallet for 4K telecasts, that money will have to come from somewhere.
But hopefully DirecTV won’t be the only pay TV provider bankrolling 4K channels for too long. With Comcast and Dish Network both offering 4K set-top boxes already, 2016 seems like the year they’ll finally bring some higher-resolution channels online.
DirecTV already has the capacity to launch as many as 50 UHD 4K channels at a transmission rate of 30Mb/s
In addition to its extensive collection of HD and SD channels which are well established on the consumer media market. According to Goswitz, the technical challenges around offering the same breadth of service with 4K video content have already been mostly solved.
In other words, we can assume that DirecTV is now simply ironing out the details and serious about launching their service in the first quarters of next year.
Goswitz also went on to state that, “I think the belief that there are technology challenges is a bit of a misinformed myth. I think technology throughout the entire ecosystem is ready. But I think content is king; the plane is ready to take off and there is no king on board. So we are moving into working with partners who are enthusiastic about it [4K entertainment content] and we are bringing our check-books. 40% of people are going to have UHD TVs coming out of Christmas…”
Now, for us consumers and 4K technology watchers alike, the only thing left to do is wait and see. The current content landscape for 4K movies, programming and live entertainment broadcasts most of all is still strangely and annoyingly sparse, even as 4K UHD TV sales grow almost exponentially in nearly all major electronics markets. With this strange divergence of trends in place, a massive new injection of advanced and possibly even live satellite broadcast content in 4K ultra HD from DirecTV would certainly be welcome news to millions of UHD TV owners in the U.S alone.