SES Sets Ultra HD Trials With Cable Operators

SES S.A. said it has secured agreements with a handful of U.S. cable operators to trial the delivery of live, linear Ultra HD/4K channels later this year.

Operators that are on board to test SES’s managed UHD platform include Cable America in Missouri, Golden West Telecommunications in South Dakota, MTC Cable in New York, Sjoberg’s Cable TV in Minnesota, and ATMC in North Carolina.

SES said those operators will trial the delivery of 4K using managed IP multicast DOCSIS 3.0 streams, rather than over-the-top on public Internet connections.  

To prepare for the tests, SES is shipping 4K-capable IP set-tops equipped with HEVC/H.265, a new video codec that is 50% more bandwidth efficient than H.264/MPEG-4.

Steve Corda, SES’s vice president of business development in North America, said it will initially be supplying cable MSO trial partners with IP set-tops from AirTies (the Air 7410X), though SES has also been evaluating boxes from suppliers such as Entone (acquired last year by Amino) and Technicolor, as well as the new 4K-capable TiVo Bolt.

Corda said the participating operators are looking to trial 4K/UHD in several ways, including demos at their local offices as well as broader tests that will be advertised to subscribers with 4K-capable TVs. He noted that, in addition to IP deliver, some cable operators are also looking to test 4K using more traditional QAM transport streams.

As for content, SES is currently carrying four Ultra HD channels on satellites that, it says, reaches nearly 100 million homes across North America -- Fashion One 4K, NASA TV UHD, High 4K TV, and SES’s own UHD1 channel.

“As millions of cable subscribers increasingly press for 4K content on their new Ultra HD TVs, some of the smallest cable operators in the US are now leading the way to bringing Ultra HD to homes across the country,” Corda said, in a statement.

SES’s test partners are among a small but growing list of U.S. MVPDs to test or launch 4K. For example, DirecTV haslaunched a set of 4K channels, and Dish Network introduced the 4K-capable Hopper 3 earlier this year. Comcast offers a 4K OTT app on Samsung TVs, but is working on the Xi6, a set-top that supports both 4K and High Dynamic Range.