Sky has revealed that its first 4K offerings will include more than 70 on-demand films and more than 100 of this season’s live Premier League games.
The UK broadcaster will start showing ultra-high resolution content to some of its satellite customers from 13 August.
BT, Netflix and Amazon already offer 4K material, but analysts say Sky has a better line-up of films and sport.
But demand will be limited by the cost of the premium subscriptions required.
In addition, only a minority of UK households currently own a TV capable of showing the 2160p resolution footage involved, which contains four times as many pixels as a 1080p “full HD” image.
Virgin Media has said its 4K service will be announced later this year.
To access Sky’s 4K content, users will need to have signed up to one of the firm’s Q Silver packages.
The minimum cost is £56 a month. But if a Sky Sports, Sky Cinema and broadband connection – required for on-demand streams – are added, the price rises to £114.40.
The initial line-up of material includes:
- recent films including The Revenant, Spectre, The Martian and Bridge of Spies
- 124 Premier League matches, beginning with Hull City v Leicester City
- every Formula 1 race in 2017
- 30 hours of documentaries
- five new drama series
“It compares pretty favourably with what the competition are doing,” commented Ted Hall, from the consultancy IHS Markit.
“On sports, they appear to have trumped BT, which only offers an average of one UHD TV live event a week.
“On movies, their offering is unrivalled, with many 4K premieres of blockbuster films.
“But if you wanted to point to an area where the competition is a bit stronger, Netflix and Amazon have a broader range of UHD TV series.”
Sky’s package also lacks support for high dynamic range content – something that many of the top-end 4K TVs support.
HDR allows a much larger number of colours to be shown. In addition, because it takes advantage of a greater range of brightness levels between black and white, pictures can appear to be more detailed.
By contrast, Netflix and Amazon do stream some of their 4K libraries in HDR, and 4K Blu-Ray discs also support the format.
Many experts say HDR offers a greater leap forward in picture quality than just moving from 1080p to 4K.
But Sky says it is waiting until a broadcasting standard had been agreed to show live HDR content.
“I think they can take a wait-and-see approach,” said Mr Hall.
“I’m not sure many consumers are aware of HDR’s benefits at this point.”
4K by default
About 1.7 million UK homes own a 4K-ready TV at present, according to research firm Strategy Analytics, representing 6% of the population.
Competition from Chinese manufacturers has helped encourage the major brands to rapidly cut their prices, meaning there are now several UHD sets on sale on the high street for less than £500.
“There’s no question 4K is becoming the norm above 40in to 50in, which is the most popular category now,” said Strategy Analytics’ David Mercer.
“And very soon you will have no choice, you will get 4K by default.
“The sets are clever, as they do lots of processing to improve images – so you wouldn’t be disappointed with the picture even if it was broadcast in normal HD.
“But you will notice the difference with UHD, especially if you get a good sports production on a 60in or 70in TV. The difference is quite obvious.”
Not on Now
Sky’s 4K content will not be offered via its internet-TV platform for now.
Some tech blogs were surprised when the feature was missing from the new Now TV Smart Box unveiled by the firm at the end of last month.
But Mr Hall said investors would welcome this two-tiered approach.
“The firm has to give its customers a clear reason to stay subscribing to satellite,” Mr Hall said.
“Now TV was a response to the likes of Netflix coming in with lower-priced pay TV options.
“But what Sky doesn’t want is a lot of cannabilisation, where its core customers who are paying £50 to more than £100 a month thinking they can get the same content and level of functionality for a fraction of the price.”