Ultra HD unveiled: Behind the scenes of the UK's first 4K live trial

Behind the scenes of the UK's first 4K live trial - a peek into the future of TV
Sky's 4K test showcased the next generation of television

The problem with a lot of the latest television technology is that, at its heart, it doesn't actually make watching television better.

Something like 3D is fun enough but would you choose to watch the finale of Breaking Bad or the World Cup final in that format? Smart functionality is nice but doesn't really enhance the actual content significantly.

If we're being entirely honest, the most significant improvement in televisions of late has been the arrival of HD, which is why - even at this early stage - we're entirely prepared to be excited about 4K.

4K or Ultra HD, for the uninitiated, is what HD dreams of being when it grows up. With a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 it offers up four times as many pixels as Full HD 1080p.

Sky 4K UHD test - on a whopping 85-inch television

Sky 4K UHD test - on a whopping 85-inch television

That means four times the clarity of a 1080p picture, bringing a clearer, more vibrant picture that becomes significantly closer to looking real.

So we jumped at the chance when Sky invited TechRadar to its Osterley headquarters to watch an important test broadcast of 4K. We've seen plenty of 4K picture tests in the past, and we've even taken a look at some sport from the BBC filmed in Ultra HD.

But Sky were testing 4K using their existing infrastructure, not the boxes you have in your home, but the system that underpins their satellite broadcast platform. And that gave us unprecedented access to how 4K live broadcasts are actually going to look and feel.

And what better way to offer up a true test of Sky's service than to showcase a live Premier League match?

There's less proprietary kit needed than you might think

There's less proprietary kit needed than you might think

The company is at pains to point out that these tests do not necessarily mean that we will see Sky Sports Ultra HD any time soon, but it's clear that the company is taking this next evolution of television incredibly seriously.

The match chosen was West Ham's match against Stoke City at the Boleyn Ground (Upton Park to the majority of us). TechRadar was the only publication outside of Sky to be watching the broadcast on an 85-inch Sony 4K television worth a little more than a family car, with filming done on four Sony 4K cameras (and an upscaling 1080p camera as part of the test).

Tony Mills directed the game for UHD - and he knows a bit about using new technology to show off football having been in charge of Sky's first ever Premier League match, the first broadcast in HD and the first 3D one to, ahem, boot.

What is truly remarkable about the entire broadcast is just how close it feels to readiness. With the early 3D tests and trials there were huge problems on show, but the extra resolution being offered up by 4K seems far less prone to pitfalls and issues.

The picture was being sent through the system as four 1080p pictures which are stitched together then routed through, what for now is, proprietary Sony kit and into the television using an as-yet unratified HDMI version to the television.

Sony - helping out with Sky's trial

Sony - helping out with Sky's trial

Given that Sky's current HD service is 1080i, that means each quarter of the picture is using twice the bandwidth of a typical broadcast, making it, in total, 8 times more data being transferred to populate more than 8.2 million pixels that make up the television.

What does that mean in terms of viewing experience? Well, the tech demos that we have seen to date at various shows have been polished for the audience, graded and checked for problems before we have had a chance to check them out.

Sky's live pictures are obviously live, raw and therefore we fully expected to be a little disappointed.

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.