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Will we ever have Freeview Ultra HD or Freesat Ultra HD?

You can already buy Ultra HD television sets in the high street. If I buy one, how long will I have to wait for Freeview and Freesat to broadcast my favourite shows in the better format?

Freeview Ultra HD unofficial  logo.  Photograph: UK Free TV
Freeview Ultra HD unofficial logo. Photograph: UK Free TV
published on UK Free TV

What is Ultra HD all about?

By increasing the number of picture cells (pixels) on the television screen, the overall watching experience can be enhanced.

There are five things you need to watch in Ultra HD

  • A TV set that can display Ultra HD pictures;
  • A receiver box that can drive a Ultra HD TV set at the full resolution and that can decode the data;
  • A service (online or broadcast) that can provide enough data and
  • The service to have Ultra HD source material.

A TV set that can display Ultra HD pictures

This is actually the easiest bit.    You can pop out to John Lewis today and grab a suitable television set for as little as £649, or as much as £6000.  [1]

For a television set to count as "Ultra HD" is must be able to display pictures at a resolution of 3840x2160 pixels.    As the former number is around four thousands, this is sometimes called "4k TV".

This means each image has 8.3 megapixels (million picture cells) which is four times that of a "Full HD" screen and a massive 20 times a standard definition picture (as found on most TVs).

if this box is Ultra HD then this one is Full HD and this one is standard

A receiver box that can drive a Ultra HD TV set at the full resolution and that can decode the data

The problem with trying to deliver 8 megapixels as moving images is the amount of data created.  It is necessary to move on from MPEG4 compression to a new standard called HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding)[3].

This means that existing consumer hardware (set top boxes or in-screen hardware) cannot decode HEVC.  Modern computer hardware with an operating system that uses software "codec" may be able to cope, but is processor intensive.


A service (online or broadcast) that can provide enough data

This does mean that for broadcast TV this requires a very large amount of bandwidth.    Looking at the current demo service on   ASTRA 28.2°E (see [2]) one single channel is taking 24.6Mb/s.

This compares to around 3Mb/s for standard TV channels and 5.5Mb/s for normal High Definition. 

This really leaves two options at the moment, either single satellite channels per transponder (around 44Mb/s) or via a high speed internet connection.   

Terrestrial transmitters using the DVB-T2 standard provide 40Mb/s.  This means that it unlikely that Freeview Ultra HD will be viable soon.   If good quality Ultra HD using HEVC can work with 13Mb/s you might be able to provide a three-channel Ultra HD service.

In the past a preview service of HD transmissions was first provided from two transmitters (the Guildford mast from July 2008 and Crystal Palace from December 2009) so it is possible that a Ultra HD Freeview preview may happen.  It is also possible that one channel may start using using half of the Com8 multiplex as it is mysteriously empty.[4]


The service to have Ultra HD source material.

Given all the above, there is one main issue: who is going to provide the source material?

For new content, it is necessary to record at the higher resolutions and have all parts of the production chain using 4k.   This is quite straightforward for a single high-value event (such as BT football match), but is harder where existing equipment is in use (in say a news studio).  

Existing material created for the cinema is already in higher resolutions (film stock or digital cinema), but will require time and effort to make available.

It is probably worth noting that popular UK shows have only been made in High Definition since around 2011 (say Doctor Who Season 6), many years after the start of the "preview" HD service.  







Help with High Definition?
Whenever i watch moving sport especially football I experience much poorer pictu1
In this section
Channel 4 abandons Freesat HD in TWO DAYS1
Five tips for when you are buying a new TV to watch Freeview or Freesat2
Why do less than one in five people with an HD set watch in HD?3
All five public service channels now free to air!4
New Freeview TVs and boxes to be HD only from 20165
On the tenth day of Christmas Auntie brought to me ... five more HD channels6

Saturday, 2 January 2016
John H Williams
11:51 AM

Hi. I enjoyed reading all comments appertaining to 4K Ultra HD, I have recently bought a Sony 4K UltraHD Television, the problem I have, I cannot receive Ultra HD transmission from BT because I do not have Superfast Broadband. I can view Ultra HD on YouTube, and the quality of picture is superb. I wish I could receive & obtain the BT package, but Superfast Wales do not think I will be able to receive it for 12 months approx, very disappointed. Remember superfast fibre optic is required at your home for 4K Ultra HD prior to purchasing a 4K TV.

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John H Williams's 13 posts GB
8:09 PM

John H Williams: There is a reason I normally ask customers who are unsure about 4K the speed of their broadband! However, hopefully you will get speeds fast enough (17mbps) for you to get the best out of the set. Sky is just about to bring out their Q box, so its worth looking into that, if only so you can bargain with BT (if enough people complain, then perhaps something might happen..). And 4K discs/players are also about to be launched, which would at least mean you wouldn't have to rely on the net alone.

In the meantime, if its the x83 series, you've got a very good set, which will be no worse on HD than your old set, and possibly better.

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MikeB's 2,559 posts Platinum Platinum GB
Tuesday, 19 January 2016
12:24 AM

MikeB Ordinary HD tuners in Freeview and Freesat HD are NOT capable of handling 4k UHD transmissions so only external UHD 4k set top boxes, in that regard, will provide a satisfactory source for 4k ready sets BUT these sets will NOT receive such transmissions internally in their in-built tuners;there be pressure brought to bear on the owners of Freeview and Freesat to deliver satellite and terrestrial UHD 4k services on a free-to-air basis terrestrially and via satellite because that is consumers will EXPECT and that is what broadcasters and transmission providers will WANT, and set manufacturers HAVE to respond to the call by bringing out sets with in-built UHD 4k tuners, it'll happen, it just has to.

Also broadband is still not available around the UK widely as you think it is;there are still areas that don't have it and will take years to get it to everybody also broadband speeds are not the greatest to deliver 4k UHD down phonelines with mediocre speeds in many areas even with promises of fast speeds in rural areas a pipedream.

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Anthony's 46 posts Bronze Bronze GB
9:53 AM

Anthony: I totally agree about broadband coverage/speed, and have been saying so for some years, in relation to those people insisting that streaming all TV is feasible in the near future.

4K tuners are more difficult, since, as you point out, Freeview is currently unable to handle that amount of data (sat. systems are a slightly different matter). Since manufacturers have only just agreed on a 4K standard, developing a 4K tuner for terrestial TV might take a while! Although streaming is not practical for many people at present, it is growing are there are a growing number of people who barely use the tuner built into the TV - they are using Virgin or Sky, or beyond that, they are watching everything on demand, from Iplayer to Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc. My brother largely watches that way, and he pointed out to me last year that there was little point in buying a TV with a tuner - he is basically using it as a giant computer monitor.

I'm fairly sure that the tuner will continue to be standard in TV's, but streaming will be the main route for many for 4K, which of course has nothing to do with any transmissions or the technology they use. At some point, there will possibly be 4K capable tuners, but that assumes that there will be 4K channels, which is reliant on transmission technology (plus its large scale use) and the ability to compress 4K signals to an acceptable amount of bandwidth. Whats surprising is how slowly technology moves - think about how perhaps 80% of TV's in the UK are HD Ready, and that the bulk of boxsets sold are still DVD's....

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MikeB's 2,559 posts Platinum Platinum GB
Thursday, 21 January 2016
3:54 PM

MikeB satellite has tonnes of bandwidth and can easily carry lots of fta and pay-tv UHD 4K services as for Freeview that will requires a bit more engineering ingenuity and technical jiggery-pokery to accommodate UHD 4K services due to the more limited bandwidth.

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Anthony's 46 posts Bronze Bronze GB
Friday, 22 January 2016
9:24 AM

Anthony: You'll notice I said 'sat. systems are a different matter', and yes, its the limited bandwidth of Freeview which is currently a limiting factor.

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MikeB's 2,559 posts Platinum Platinum GB
Monday, 8 February 2016
John H Williams
9:14 AM

Hi, an update to my comment on the 2nd of January 2016.Latest info that I am unable to have Superfast Broadband is that my telephone line has been installed directly to my local telephone exchange, not via the street green box. Bt has increased my speed last week to 17mbps, will not be enough to work with Ultra HD 4K Television. Apparently to receive Ultra HD 4K you must have a link to the Infinity telephone line, so Frustrating.

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John H Williams's 13 posts GB
10:01 AM

John H Williams: Thats not quite true. If you look around the internet, you'll see guidence on streaming 4K - and the figures range from roughly 15 to 25 mbps as a minimum. In other words, who knows. Give it a try - its not going to hurt. Infinity is a service, not a must have for 4K.

An article here reckons you might get away with 15mbps What is 4K TV and Ultra HD? Everything you need to know , although Netflix itself says 25. I can't find a number for Amazon.

And of course there is Sky Q....

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MikeB's 2,559 posts Platinum Platinum GB
Sunday, 21 February 2016
Richard Johns
10:49 AM

Do I deduce from all this that, at present, there are no benefits to be obtained from upgrading to a 4K
televison set?
My existing Panasonic is a HD ready one that can receive HD via my Humax Freesat receiver but
can't show Freeview HD (not a great problem if you have Freesat).
If I upgrade to BT Infinity would that mean I could get BT Vision reception in HD on my existing set?
Is BT showing selected football in 4K yet?
So many questions for the non-tech person!

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Richard Johns's 22 posts Bronze Bronze GB
12:31 PM

Richard Johns: Ok - its true that there isn't much 4K content around at the moment, but thats changing - BT, Netflix, Amazon and especially Sky all want to supply you, and of course that will grow. 4K films on disc are being released as well, and players should be out soon. And of course a 4K will upscale from HD pretty well - a customer yesterday thought a 4K TV showing BBC 1HD looked better than a Full HD Tv next to it showing the same thing.

You've got an HD TV, and a HD source - fine. HD content is everywhere, and 10mb or less would be fine to stream, plus whatever else you can find on Freesat, etc.. If you want to watch 4K you need a 4K set and a 4K source. There seems to be a little on Freesat, but its going to be Sky and streaming where the action is. So that needs above 15mbps is average broadband speed (when everyone tries downloading at the same time is another story).

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MikeB's 2,559 posts Platinum Platinum GB
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