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UPDATE BT Launch UK 4K Ultra HD Sports TV Channel and Set-Top-Box

Friday, July 17th, 2015 (10:55 am) - Score 9,259

As expected BT has today revealed the first solid details and price of their new 4K Ultra HD TV package, which claims to include “Europe’s very first live sports Ultra HD channel” (BTSport Ultra HD) and a new 4K capable 1TB YouView (IPTV) set-top-box. But you’ll need a faster than “superfast” broadband speed.

The plans for a new 4K TV channel have been floating around since earlier this year (here) and were recently confirmed after BT revealed their new BTSport packages for existing broadband and TV subscribers (here).

The new TV service will go live from 2nd August 2015, with the first broadcast being the FA Community Shield match at Wembley (Chelsea v Arsenal) and that will be followed on 8th August by the first game of the new Barclays Premier League season (Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur). Also keep an out for the Silverstone MotoGP in 4K.

All of this will form part of the new £15 a month Entertainment Ultra HD package, which includes the set-top-box (£44 installation charge), 47 premium channels (13 in HD) and the BT Sport Pack (adds EU footy to the existing UK sports line-up). On top of that a voucher for up to £500 off an LG 4K UHD TV is included, although in our opinion Samsung make better sets.

Delia Bushell, MD of BT TV and BTSport, said:

The best way to watch BT Sport is with BT TV. BT Sport Ultra HD is the next step in high definition TV and provides a truly cinematic viewing experience and is available only on BT TV. The BT Sport Ultra HD channel will bring you closer to the action than ever before.

The picture quality is absolutely amazing – it’s four times the detail of today’s high definition TV. We are proud to be innovating and leading the UK TV market with our Entertainment Ultra HD package which offers customers the best in premium TV.”

As usual there’s a catch, which is that in order to view the new channel you’ll need a reasonably fast BTInfinity (FTTC) connection, although annoyingly BT doesn’t make it clear precisely how fast the connection must be.

Thankfully a quick query to BT’s PR team reveals that the service requires an Internet download speed of 44Mbps, which is likely to exclude a lot of BTInfinity FTTC customers (Ofcom’s last report found the average FTTC speed to be 41.6Mbps, although package [40Mb or 80Mb] choice will also play a part here). It’s interesting to note that this is also well above the 20-30Mbps or so that some other 4K streaming services tend to recommend.

A BT spokesperson also noted that Infinity 1 customers will be able to order BT TV Ultra HD if their line is “technically capable” of supporting 44Mbps. The figure is quite a bit above what both the Government defines as “superfast” (24Mbps+) and Ofcom’s similar definition of 30Mbps+.

It should however be noted that video bitrates do vary depending on the content and compression quality, although 44Mbps is still higher than most 4K streams (we suspect this might be to do with a desire for higher frame rates on sports content). At least BT won’t have to worry too much about this yet as 4K TV’s are still in the minority.

UPDATE 12:37pm

BT has kindly furnished us with a few more details on the stream, which they’ve also confirmed as using an HEVC codec (several methods use this, such as the new H265 and VP9).

Apparently the actual stream will run in the 20-30Mbps range like other 4K services, but they opted to set the 44Mbps requirement so as to allow extra headroom (this means the customer can still have a good quality experience while they watch and record other IP channels and also use the internet at the same time).

Leave a Comment
26 Responses
  1. Avatar Ignition

    So about VDSL 2 being fine for everything and being deployed in lieu of mooted FTTP.

    • I suspect that somebody at BT may find the performance requirement to be a little.. awkward, especially coming so far ahead of their G.fast roll-out when it would have made more sense to set such a requirement.

    • Avatar Ignition

      The original Extra Box requirement for 23Mb wasn’t great for Openreach. This is a step beyond.

  2. Avatar AndrewH

    Might be a good idea if they provided the means to watch it first really.
    Don’t think my 1.7Mbps ADSL will cut it.

    • Avatar Pete Woods

      Couldn’t agree more. Could we actually get half decent, working broadband connections to a reasonable proportion of the country before doing “icing” like this.

    • Avatar MikeW

      There is certainly an amount of chicken vs egg here.

      However, how can you hope to persuade people to upgrade to faster infrastructure if you don’t have any content/service that requires it?

      People in the hardest-to-reach (ie expensive-to-reach) locations need to be subsidised by the ones who can be reached … and that means the ones who can be reached must be persuaded to hand over their hard-earned readies, in exchange for something.

      Then the more people who could choose it actually do choose it, the more likely BT can be persuaded to deploy it to those expensive places.

      Chicken vs egg? Or catch-22?

      Nobody stuck a satellite dish on the side of their house until Sky started transmitting content. Nobody bothered paying them for content until they had something decent that people wanted.

    • Avatar Ignition

      The part of BT providing this service and the part that would build out fibre deeper into the loop for you are quite different and have their own budgets and aims.

      One shouldn’t be affecting the other.

    • Avatar GNewton

      “The part of BT providing this service and the part that would build out fibre deeper into the loop for you are quite different and have their own budgets and aims.”

      Wrong, see MikeW’s explanations on this. Openreach, just as BT Wholesale, BT Sports, and others, are all owned by the same BT Plc.

      If Openreach (and BT Wholesale) were to become an independent company, BT Sports could become more flexible, possibly even use other networks. And the independent Openreach would have to learn to stand on its own feet, overcoming it’s hopeless ‘Can’t Do’ culture inherited from the GPO past, and become more innovative to compete in the market place.

    • Avatar Ignition

      I was going to dignify this with a proper response but as it’s your usual largely baseless ranting complete with the ‘Can’t Do’ buzzwords there’s little point.

    • Avatar Ignition

      Actually I’ll leave you with one thought – do you seriously think Openreach are happy that Retail are releasing this?

      They weren’t happy when Extra Box came online, demanding 23Mb, let alone this. It makes them look, frankly, bad, and is Retail basically pushing them, via Wholesale, to deliver higher capacity products.

      If anything this actually speaks well of the current arrangement – Retail doing their own thing and taking an action that’ll annoy both Openreach and Wholesale, alongside causing them some issues. Shows up Openreach’s VDSL deployment, and may cause further issues for the Wholesale network.

      The only part I agree with you on is that BT Retail would be able to use different networks – they’d still be relying on the Openreach loop though, as the only other big access network isn’t wholesaled, so still at the behest of OR.

  3. Avatar MikeW

    44Mbps. A significant technical limitation? Or a cynical attempt to bump people from the cheaper 40/10 service up to the 80/20 service?

    The statistics suggest the latter option is more likely.

    I saw an interesting graph in the last few days, with the distribution of FTTC speeds. Annoyingly, I can’t find it right now, but I recall that it showed roughly:
    – an upper quartile with a variety of speeds between 40 and 80Mbps
    – the middle 2 quartiles stuck at just under 40Mbps
    – the lower quartile with a variety of speeds gradually dropping from just under 40Mbs downwards.

    The shape suggested that the vast majority of that middle group is limited to 40Mbps because of package choice, rather than technical limitation.

    While I can’t find *that* graph, I can find the equivalent statistics from the Ofcom/Samknows results last November:

    And from a 2013 report, we can see more of the detail about the bottom quartile:

    It seems to me an attempt to make use of the premium content to extract more money to pay for the infrastructure leg.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Ah – found that graph, in the Ofcom 2014 infrastructure report.

      I got the quartiles out slightly – the first group (40Mb+) is larger, at around 30% of connections. The middle group remains at 50% of connections, while the slower group, below 35mbps is around 20%.

      It suggests about 70% of FTTC connections would meet that 44Mbps requirement.

    • Avatar dave

      I’m guessing that this box uses h264 for 4k rather than h265 which would require a far lower bitrate. ‘Freeview Play’ supports h265 for catchup content btw unlike youview.

    • Avatar Ignition

      The 44Mb won’t be the bitrate on the stream. Same kinda reason the Extra Box feature requires 23Mb, need to leave some bandwidth for other things.

      It’ll have a fair bit rate though, Sky Sports HD happily chews 20Mb+ on occasion.

  4. Avatar Bob2002

    I have to say 4K video is impressive in a way HD never was(have 40″ 4K monitor), and it could definitely begin to dominate streaming video (IMHO). If it causes consumers to demand higher performance broadband connections that can’t be a bad thing.

  5. Avatar Steve

    If you want to multi task whilst watching a footy match in 4k, you will need the 80/20 and an uncapped data allowance. The picture and sound is impressive in SD/HD and UHD. But it does have restrictions. The YouView Box needs to plug directly into the Home Hub and of course that speed. But its a great alternative to sky…

  6. Avatar DTMark

    Glancing out of the window and doing a quick count based on the VDSL estimates, I reckon that the cabinet placed at the edge of one half of our village could probably just manage 44Mbps to maybe 20 to 25% of the properties.

    One downpour or anything resulting in interference could be enough to drop the speed to then necessitate up to 50 call outs for repairs to failing TV services.

    So far as the “chicken and egg” is concerned, I suspect that the take-up in cabled areas hasn’t been anywhere near as good as others, because the BT platform still doesn’t have anyone with as compelling an all round offer (esp. TV) as cable.

    There were a fair few people saying that VDSL was only for the short to at most medium term even years back. It’s as if the people pushing the marketing and running BT believe that the network is much more capable than it really is.

  7. Avatar peter w jones

    BT trying to tempt their broadband customers into streaming 4K TV over the same infinity network I rely on for my business broadband really scares me. BT’s network simply is suitable for streaming high bit rate TV to individual customers. I am already experiencing a slow/intermittend infinity downlink internet connection during peak hours. My BT broadband connection has become much worse since BT Sport (TV) was introduced, and with 4K TV streaming the network will become even more crowded. If just a few BT customers in my area will be watching 4K TV during the peak hours I fear the network will become so overloaded I will no longer be able to use my connection for normal internet traffic. BT needs to understand that their broadband network is not a broadcasting network – TV broadcasting is most effectively done to millions of people over the air!

    • Avatar DTMark

      I thought that BT had added some sort of extension at the exchanges – Fibre Multicast or similar – which had the effect of saving bandwidth by ‘broadcasting’ to subscribers as opposed to every single subscriber going point-to-point from their house back to the BBC or Sky or whatever.

      Though I guess many watching at the same time are going to be a perfect recipe for cross-talk and if a consistent 30+ Meg is required, and we’re talking about live football, it’s only going to take a few glitches to potentially ruin the experience especially if at critical moments. This is an ambitious thing to try with VDSL.

      Is all that VM have to do to be able to offer this, to basically add another channel and devote 50 Meg to it, being a broadcast style network by design it should be easy enough?

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Correct it uses multicast, so whether 1 or 100 people are using it on your cab its still just one stream

    • Avatar MikeW

      Multicast is indeed used for the TV – the IP equivalent of broadcast. And capacity for it is reserved on every fibre feed to every cabinet.

      If the behaviour of your own connection became significantly worse at the start of BT sport, then it is a coincidence. The coincidence is more likely to be that having BT Sport made Infinity a more attractive product, attracting more customers, causing crosstalk.

      (Note that crosstalk will happen whatever the other lines are doing – watching TV, or sitting bone idle – they just need to be in sync. If all other lines are watching TV, it won’t change the amount of crosstalk you receive).

      The way to solve that is for BT to turn on vectoring.

      For VM to offer UHD, they need a STB to decode it, and a programme of STB replacement for subscribers who can receive the channel.

      But every channel they add to the “broadcast” side surely reduces the total shared bandwidth available to the broadband side. It might not be enough to cause headline speeds to reduce, but it may cause additional congestion.

  8. Avatar Ian

    Does anyone know how the £500 voucher works and what LG tv’s are offered???

    • Avatar Mark

      Nothing amazing. You are directed to the BT Shop with a range of TVs on offer. The biggest discount (£525) is for the most expensive TV – LG 65UF950V – normally £3499 but £2974 with the discount. Looking around, you can find the TV cheaper than the “normal price”. Savings are much lower (typically £130) on the TVs costing about £1000.

  9. Avatar Mark

    Very pleased that BT is trying to keep the bit rate pretty decent so we should actually get very good picture quality. It’s difficult to judge how many people will be able to actually get the service since many opt for the up to 40Mbps service.I’m looking forward to hearing the first reviews. Mine is installed on Monday.

  10. Avatar Alex Woodrow

    Tried to order but my 52Mb download doesn’t cut it because the wholesale checker says only 35mb is guaranteed. I’m not happy as it would have tempted me away from Sky.

    • It’s very annoying my line speed is mostly around 68mb and I can’t get it!BT say that my line could drop into the thirties it never has! So they won’t supply it I can watch 4k on netflix and prime and they work instant, we as a consumer should make the choice if we want it we have a 14 day cooling off period if it didn’t work at all.

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