Sky to launch Ultra HD service next month

‘Sky Q Silver’ customers to get better picture quality as Premier League season starts

Laura Slattery

Sky will begin broadcasting in Ultra HD from the first day of the English Premier League football season next month.

Its Ultra HD content, available to customers with the Sky Q Silver bundle and compatible television sets, will include 124 Premier League games and more than 70 films.

Ultra HD, also known as 4k, refers to picture quality that is at least 3,840 pixels wide and 2,160 pixels high. “It gives it a far more cinematic feel than HD,” said Sky’s director of TV experience David Cameron.


"If you look at the moustache, you can see all the individual hairs," added Mr Cameron, referring to Leonardo DiCaprio's appearance as a fur trapper in The Revenant.

Other films that will be shown in Ultra HD on the Sky platform include the latest James Bond outing Spectre and science fiction blockbuster The Martian.

David Attenborough-fronted natural history programmes and The Young Pope, an eight-part co-production between Sky Atlantic, HBO and French company Canal+, will also be part of its Ultra HD catalogue.

The first live Ultra HD content will be the Saturday lunchtime kick-off between Hull and Leicester City on August 13th. Sky has the rights to a total of 126 Premier League matches in the UK and 159 in Ireland. The additional matches to which it has rights in Ireland are the Saturday 3pm games, which will not be available in Ultra HD.

The monthly subscription cost of Sky Q Silver starts at €67, while set-up fees also apply.

Most households in Ireland do not own a television set that can show Ultra HD pictures and have little incentive to buy one unless Ultra HD content is available. But Sky’s move to show football matches in the format may encourage some fans to update their sets.

“I think we’re probably a few years from Ultra HD becoming the norm and not feeling special,” said Mr Cameron. About 10-15 per cent of television sets in UK households are thought to be compatible with Ultra HD, but “Sky customers are over-indexed on that”, he added.

Mr Cameron said Sky believed the Ultra HD tag would be easier to market to consumers than 4k, which is the term used by some manufacturers and rivals such as Netflix.

Sky, which has exclusive programming deals with US networks such as HBO, AMC and Showtime, is hoping that more Ultra HD content becomes available in the future, while it also plans to originate its own programmes in the format.

Greater take-up of Ultra HD sets is also likely to go hand-in-hand with the fashion for larger screens. The higher resolution is said to only be fully effective on screens that are at least 55-inches in size.

Owners of smart TVs that are already “Ultra HD-ready” probably shouldn’t sit too comfortably. Japanese broadcaster NHK has begun broadcast tests for 8k or Super Hi-Vision. The world’s first 8k set, by manufacturer Sharp, went on sale last October for a price of $133,000.

Sky, meanwhile, is testing High-Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging, which has been tipped to become the next big thing in the television industry because of its ability to transmit more accurate and vivid colour.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics