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DirecTV to Begin 4K Broadcasts this Year

By Caleb Henry | September 22, 2014
Ultra-HD 4K Television 4KTV

An LG IPS curved Ultra HD TV. Photo: Maurizio Pesce (Flickr)

[Via Satellite 09-18-2014] United States pay-TV giant DirecTV is actively looking into supporting Ultra-HD content in 2014, Michael White, chairman, president and CEO told investors at Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. Despite being critical of the market potential of Ultra-HD in the past, he said it is a service DirecTV still intends to be ready for in order to hold a leading position.

“This year is probably the first year you will start to see some critical mass of television sets in the home — still tiny but more than prior years … our plan is to have an Ultra-HD [Video on Demand] VOD capability by the end of this year,” he said.

White highlighted the lackluster outcome of the hype that surrounded 3-D television as a reason for his reservation. He said the acceptance of Ultra-HD will likely depend on purchase patterns with 4K TV sets.

“Ultra-HD on an 80-inch screen is fabulous for certain content … but on a less than 40-inch screen, it’s not so clear to me it’s different enough, but we’ll see from consumers as the industry evolves,” he added.

Currently, most early adopters of Ultra-HD televisions have high levels of disposable income, but the number of buyers is expected to ramp up significantly by the end of the decade. Research group Strategy Analytics expects Ultra-HD television sales to see a 10-fold increase by 2020, climbing from 4 percent to 41 percent in the global flat panel TV market. David Watkins, service director of connected home devices at Strategy Analytics said the potential for Ultra-HD far outweighs what happened with 3-D televisions.

“Many commentators compare the current buzz around Ultra-HD to the early days of 3-D and argue that interest in Ultra-HD may just peter out as it has largely done for 3-D,” Watkins told Via Satellite. “However, we would argue that Ultra-HD is a natural progression from HD and will ultimately become the ‘standard’ resolution for displays. Consumers consistently cite picture quality as a key criteria when buying a new TV and Ultra-HD TV will offer not only increased pixel count but also wider color range and better contrast ratio leading to brighter images.”

Strategy Analytics expects North America, one of DirecTV’s top markets for satellite pay-TV, to be the second largest market for Ultra-HD televisions after China. The U.S. in particular is a strong market because of the higher proportion of televisions already sold that exceed 50 inches in screen size. Watkins said the research group expects to see a tipping point this decade where televisions larger than 50 inches will mostly be Ultra-HD.

White said he anticipates DirecTV’s first Ultra-HD content will likely focus on events rather than regular content. In the following years, he said DirecTV intends to stream Ultra-HD content live. DirecTV currently supports 184 channels in HD but the big push to include Ultra-HD will be supported by new satellites planned for launch over the next 18 months.

DirecTV 14, built by Space Systems/Loral (SSL), will support Ka-band and reverse digital broadcast satellite spectrum for high quality broadcasts. The satellite is slated to launch with Arianespace this December. Following DirecTV 14 is DirecTV 15, which, built by Airbus Defence and Space, is scheduled for launch in the first half of 2015. Weighing in at 6,300kg, this 16-kW spacecraft will cover the continental U.S., along with Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico using Ku-, Ka- and reverse band beams. Both DirecTV 14 and DirecTV 15 will be dual launched on Ariane 5 rockets with other satellites.

Preceding these two satellites is the DLA 1 payload set to fly on Intelsat 30. Currently scheduled to launch Oct. 16, this payload will focus on Direct-to-Home (DTH) broadcasts in Latin America. The addition of new satellites will provide fresh capacity for DirecTV to build up its 4K broadcasts as well as HD and SD broadcasts over the coming years.