4K is coming to DStv and Showmax Pro as soon as next year

MultiChoice Group is working to launch 4K content and may be ready to showcase it in time for the 2022 soccer World Cup, which kicks off on 21 November next year.

4K is coming to DStv and Showmax Pro as soon as next year

That’s the word from the chief operating officer at MultiChoice Connected Video, Barry Dubovsky, who was speaking to TechCentral on Thursday after the group’s annual Showcase event.

Dubovsky, who joined MultiChoice from Australian telecommunications operator Telstra in 2018 – he took on his current role in August this year – said the group is working hard to get 4K broadcasts and streams ready in time for the Fifa World Cup in Qatar. However, he said he can’t make any promises yet that it will be ready in time for the soccer showcase, which will be broadcast on both DStv and Showmax Pro, the top-tier streaming Showmax tier that includes live sports events from sister company SuperSport.

Moving to 4K for the World Cup would be a significant step-up in quality. MultiChoice’s streaming DStv product currently tops out at 1080p resolution, while Showmax tops out at 720p. Its satellite product broadcasts at up to 1080i resolution. 1080p and 1080i both offer 1 920×1 080-pixel resolution, or about 2.1 million pixels, while 4K content is 3 840×2 160 pixels, for a massive pixel count of 8.3 million.

While MultiChoice is excited about moving to 4K content, Dubovsky emphasised in the interview that the company’s priority remains minimising data costs for customers, “to make sure the content is accessible to everyone”.

“We want to make sure the quality of the streaming is sufficient, so that people don’t have a terrible experience and start complaining and move away. You have to get the basics right – that’s the ticket to play,” Dubovsky said.

‘A great outcome’

“Going forward, though, absolutely, we are seeing more and more content being accessed via smart TVs and on bigger screens, so we need to be where our customers are. With that in mind, 4K and 1080p, everything is absolutely on the agenda.

“4K, heading into the World Cup… It’s not a promise, but we want to ensure we can get the experience as good as it possibly can be ahead of that flagship event.”

Asked for further clarity, and whether that means viewers can expect to enjoy the World Cup in 4K, Dubovsky said: “That would be a great outcome.”

Moving to 4K, however, adds to the complexity of the infrastructure required, he said. “It’s complexity around infrastructure, it’s resourcing, it’s operational management – there’s a lot of support required. But it’s something the business is taking very seriously because we need to continually evolve the viewing experience.”

There are a lot of moments of truth coming up with the World Cup, where we are expecting a significant influx of users onto the platform

MultiChoice’s new set-top box decoder, the Explora Ultra launched last year, is already 4K-ready and subscribers can access 4K content through bundled apps from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Asked whether its own 4K content would be available to all MultiChoice customers, including those using the Explora Ultra, Dubovsky said: “Ultimately, it’s a similar proposition in terms of optimising the viewing experience for customers. I don’t want to give a generic answer here, but absolutely, it’s a priority. We can’t fall behind the market in this space. But we have immediate priorities to ensure the mass market and the middle market can consume our content as a starting point. We can spread the love initially and then progressively step up into the new world.”

Even without 4K, delivering an event like the Fifa World Cup on a streaming platform like Showmax Pro is a daunting task, Dubovsky said.

“There will be a lot of pressure on our engineers to ensure stability and that the service doesn’t go down. There are a lot of moments of truth coming up with the World Cup, where we are expecting a significant influx of users onto the platform. We need to ensure we don’t disappoint them.” 

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