Here Comes the Flood of UHD Content

– DirecTV to Offer UHD Movies on VoD in 2014
– ‘Live’ TV in 2015

The satellite TV service DirecTV, known for being on the cutting edge in content and technology, is going to start showing UHD movies by year end on its pay-to-view rental service and will offer “live” TV channels starting in 2015 or early-2016 — depending on when it launches a couple more satellites.

DirecTV CEO Michael White told financial analysts, “We expect to be able to do 4K VoD before the end of the year.” He said DirecTV is looking to secure distribution rights to shows that are shot in UHD. He said that in 2015 or early 2016 DirecTV expects to show live content, depending on when it launches two planned satellites to increase capacity. He said, “We fully expect some of that capacity to be used to be able to stream 4K content.”

White said he expects DirecTV to be the first US pay TV service to launch a UHD service, and that UHD will have a material impact on the company’s revenues by around 2018.

When DirecTV starts making its UHD intentions known to its millions of subscribers, there’ll be an uptick in sales of UHD sets in the States.

White did not say what UHD content the company is seeking.

White’s full statement about UHD was: “I’m certainly excited about [UHD]. We expect to be able to do 4K VoD before the end of the year. We’re working to secure some content because one of the challenges is getting content that’s shot in 4K. And we expect certainly in 2015 or early ’16 to be able to stream live content. That’ll somewhat depend on the scheduled launches we have of two new satellites for the US business that will be going up over the next 18 months. So as we get those satellites up in the air, that’s going to unlock a tremendous amount of incremental capacity for our system. And we fully expect some of that capacity to be used to be able to stream 4K content.”

Including subscribers outside the States, DirecTV is the world’s largest pay TV service. After 20 years in operation, it has 32.71 million subscribers, including 20.3 million in the States and 12.45 in Latin America. It also owns 41% of Sky Mexico, which has an additional 6.36 million subscribers. However, AT&T has said it’ll sell the Sky Mexico shares if it’s allowed to buy DirecTV.

AT&T, which has 5.83 million pay TV subscribers on its wireline service, wants DirecTV for a number of reasons such as wanting to own a major TV service that’s available nationwide as is AT&T’s mobile phone service. Another reason is UHD as AT&T’s copper wire network will be pressed to handle multiple channels of UHD videos. AT&T chief Randall Stephenson has said a satellite service such as DirecTV is the most efficient way to deliver UHD shows to the home.

DirecTV will send HEVC-compressed UHD signals via a satellite to a new STB/DVR that can de-compress the UHD streams. The STB will connect with a HDMI 2.0 cable to any UHD TV set. It’ll be interesting to see whose UHD STBs DirecTV buys — we’re betting ARRIS, Pace or Technicolor (which landed the Tata Sky order for India) — and whose HEVC chips will be in them — more than likely Broadcom’s. It’s going to be a very large order, especially if most of DirecTV subscribers eventually upgrade to UHD…


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