Although Foxtel says that 4K video streaming is eventually coming to its existing streaming services, Australia's major subscription Pay TV provider is starting first by delivering "guaranteed" 4K quality over its new iQ4 set-top-box via satellite connectivity.
Noting that 4K streaming services deliver 4K at the whim of your current Internet connection, which means the 4K stream could dynamically rise and lower in quality depending on your NBN connection and the number of devices connected to it, Foxtel's satellite delivery is designed to eliminate this problem.
As it is a live channel (which you can obviously time-shift by recording content to your iQ4 box's hard drive), Foxtel's 4K channel, on Channel 444, is sending the same signal at the same time to everyone with an iQ4 box, Foxtel doesn't have to deliver zillions of individual 4K streams to zillions of people, making its 4K promise easy to deliver.
Foxtel also notes that 4K is 20 times the resolution of SD television, and four times the resolution of HD TV.
Naturally, Foxtel is exuberant with its new offering, saying it is a revolution in TV that "heralds the next wave of change in Australian television".
Foxtel's marketing reminds us that "the arrival of Foxtel’s 4K channel is an Australian first, bringing with it a live 4K experience and an unprecedented way to enjoy sport, documentaries, movies and more through Australia’s only guaranteed 4K satellite signal".
We're told that "Foxtel in 4K will launch in October on channel 444 and will come as part of a Foxtel Platinum HD or Foxtel Sports HD subscription for customers with an iQ4.
"At launch, the channel will start previewing 4K content – including live sport, documentaries, concerts and more, and over the next 12 months, Foxtel will continue to expand the selection of unique 4K content to its subscribers."
Here's the evening launch of Foxtel's 4K event, which featured famous sports stars and a surprise performance by an astounding singer, and which I recorded in 4K – the article and a second launch video continue below, please read on:
Note – I recorded the video in 4K, and uploaded it to YouTube in "full quality" which is greater than 1080P HD, so hopefully this video can be watched in 4K by those with the bandwidth to do that.
Here's the morning media launch of Foxtel's 4K event, which I didn't think to record in 4K at the time, but did make sure to record in 4K at the video above. This video includes questions and answers from the media at the end, including my quips about Channel 444 being rebroadcast on Channel 888 as well for reasons that become clear as the article continues below this video:
Channel 444, can it also be made available on Channel 888?
Of course, airing on Channel 444 is a cute way to denote the 4K quality of the stream, but given my knowledge of the number 4 in Chinese being a homonym for the word "death" in Chinese, I did ask a question (as you'll see in the media version of the Foxtel launch embedded below) about this.
I half-jokingly and half-deadly-seriously asked whether Foxtel would herald and pre-empt the still years-away 8K revolution by rebroadcasting the 4K 444 channel on Channel 888, naturally in 4K quality for now (as very, very few people on planet Earth own an 8K TV and there is an infinitesimally small amount of actual 8K content), but on Channel 888 as well.
Doing this allows those of Chinese heritage who actively dislike the number 4 for the reasons explained above who could punch in Channel 888 instead, seeing as 8 is the luckiest number for the Chinese and 888 being particularly auspicious, favourable and fortunate, although perhaps it is unfortunate that the word fortunate has the sound of the word and number four in it.
Well, we'll see what Foxtel does, but given you just don't see levels or rooms with the number 4, 14, 24 etc in them in many Chinese hotels and elsewhere in China, and given Australia's large Chinese population, it makes sense to me and would presumably be utterly effortless for Foxtel to do.
If Channel 888 becomes real, well, you heard it here first, and I'll be buying a lucky lottery ticket to celebrate in the hope of winning a massive jackpot with the number 8 in it somewhere.
Indeed, should Foxtel decide it wants to be really lucky, it might just rebroadcast Channel 444 not only on Channel 888, but Channel 777 too for westerners who see the number 7 as the luckiest of all, but perhaps I'm drifting off here into plot lines even more fanciful than those found in any episode of "Lost".
New iQ4 set-top-box
Landing back to reality in stunning 4K UHD quality, Foxtel's news comes as it announces "the arrival of the new iQ4 set top box".
We're told the iQ4 is "Foxtel’s most advanced streaming set top and is designed to be continually upgraded with newer, smarter features that make finding and streaming your favourite Foxtel programming easier, while delivering the best in live television via Foxtel’s satellite service", with the new iQ4 featuring internals that the media were advised was five times more powerful than that found in the iQ3.
Foxtel also reminds us that "the new iQ4 will also enable subscribers with a compatible 4K TV to access Foxtel’s new 4K channel and enjoy Australia’s ultimate entertainment and sports service in HD and 4K UHD".
And, as noted above, Foxtel in 4K "arrives just in time for the 4 November, Australia v. South Africa, Cricket ODI, which will kick off Foxtel’s sports coverage in 4K, bringing the sights of the game to fans like they’ve never seen it before".
So, what's next?
Well, Foxtel says its iQ4 "marks the start of a new wave of innovations for Foxtel that will maximise the value of a Foxtel subscription".
"The iQ4 combines satellite delivery; incredible 4K programming via the 4K channel, along with a host of other linear channels, alongside a massive library of TV and movies to stream On Demand via the Internet."
More innovations were promised, so we'll just have to see what they entail, but Foxtel's recently appointed new chief executive, Patrick Delany, said, “Innovation is in Foxtel’s DNA and we have continuously redefined entertainment for Australia putting us at the centre of connecting subscribers with the sports and the shows they love.
“Today’s news is just the first step into a 4K future – this incredible experience will continue to expand as we bring even more sport and entertainment programming to life in guaranteed 4K, making the most of today’s ultra-modern 4K TVs. It’s TV like never before.”
What about multiple 4K channels in the future?
I did ask during the media event of a Foxtel executive whether more 4K channels could be broadcast, or if only one 4K channel could be made available, and I was advised that more 4K channels were definitely possible, effectively suggesting more would come in the future.
How do you get an iQ4?
Foxtel advised that all new satellite connections sold from 14 August onwards would come with iQ4 boxes, and that existing customers on satellite with Foxtel Platinum HD or Foxtel Sports HD could upgrade to an iQ4 for a cost yet to be announced, with more detail here.
So, what is Foxtel saying about its 4K service at the 4K section of its site?
Here's the list:
Know if I can get Foxtel 4K?
If you have a Satellite service from Foxtel, you’ll need the new iQ4 set top box, a compatible 4K TV and an eligible Foxtel subscription. To find out the full list of eligibility requirements head to the compatibility page.
Will live broadcasts on the 4K channel be in full 4K?
Foxtel will broadcast its live events via a mixture of native 4K and up-scaled, or “up-res”, formats. Native resolution means that the event is filmed, encoded and broadcast in 4K end-to-end. Upscaling is a process that takes video filmed at a lower resolution (e.g. HD) and adds pixels to produce images at 4K resolution.
What will be available on the channel from October?
At launch, the dedicated 4K channel will feature a great selection of programs across multiple genres, including concerts, documentaries and movies before it goes big with the first live cricket match in 4K in November. Foxtel says it will continue to invest in securing additional 4K content for the channel and keep viewers up-to-date with all the big live, 4K moments.
How do I know if my TV is compatible?
Head over to the compatibility page to find out whether the TV is compatible with Foxtel's 4K UHD Standard. The TV manufacturer should also be able to help out out if more information is required.
How does the 4K experience differ from 4K streaming services?
While other services have 4K content, these 4K programs are considerably larger than HD and the picture quality is entirely subject to your home Internet speed and data plan. With Foxtel’s 4K channel, the viewer is guaranteed a 4K image every time as the picture is delivered via Satellite broadcast.
I’ve heard about iQ4, is this the same as the iQ4K?
You may sometimes hear the new set top box referred to as the iQ4, the iQ4K, or the iQ4K Ultra-HD. These are all just naming variations of the latest version of Foxtel’s set-top box that is 4K enabled.
Foxtel ends its media release by noting that "Access to Foxtel’s 4K channel requires an iQ4 set top box, compatible HDMI cable and compatible 4K TV".
"Any other connected equipment must also be compatible with Foxtel’s 4K UHD Standard. Available to customers with Sports + HD packs starting in October 2018. For more info see Foxtel's compatibility page. Foxtel and some services not available to all homes."