SkyTV upgrades to high definition

New broadcast centre and datacentre feature in high definition TV upgrade

Sky TV is in the midst of upgrading its operations to a fully digital and tape-less broadcast facility, providing over 100 channels of high-definition, standard-definition and mobile content.

New MySky set-top boxes with support for HD will be launched in mid-2008, says Sky’s IT director, Charles Ingley.

The new generation boxes will have a 320GB hard drive onboard, compared to the 160GB hard drive in today’s boxes, he says.

The new boxes will also have an ethernet port, which will enable users to pull content across the internet, says Wayne Tibby, strategic project specialist at Sky. However, this will not be part of the initial release in the middle of next year. Ingley and Tibby declined to give a timeframe for when the ethernet capability will be released, other than saying it will be part of the phase two delivery.

Sky plans to support what Ingley calls “progressive playback”, where users can start watching content while it is still being downloaded, but how well this works will depend on the user’s broadband connection, he says. Users can either compile a list of items that they pre-book, or watch it at the time.

There will be a catalogue of content that users will be able to choose from and download via broadband, says Tibby.

The new HD boxes are being developed in conjunction with subscription television provider Foxtel in Australia. UK-based Pace manufactures the boxes.

Some testing is done in Sydney, but most of it is done in the test lab in Auckland, where staff monitor the broadcast satellite and make sure all subscribers can connect to the service. Tibby and his team have a daily conference call with Sydney, but a lot of testing has to be done in-country, says Tibby.

The test lab staff also does extensive software testing and debugging before upgrades, which are usually pushed out twice a year over the air, says Ingley.

The main challenge of the HD-project is that it is a whole new concept, says Tibby. Sky is more leading edge with this project than with previous upgrades of the service, he says.

The HD boxes have a new operating system, new software drivers, and a huge amount of new software, he says. In addition, existing software has to be enhanced to be able to support the new functionalities, he says.

Sky was a hot topic on blogs and forums in July this year when about 200 subscribers had their MySky hard drives wiped, allegedly caused by a software update.

The company is still investigating what caused the problems, says Ingley.

“It was a software glitch and it only affected a very small number of subscribers,” he says. It affected less than 1% of MySky subscribers, he adds.

As part of the new Broadcast Centre, Sky has also built a new datacentre, referred to as a Central Apparatus Room (CAR) in the broadcast industry. The datacentre is equipped with over 120 racks for both IT and broadcast equipment. Each rack holds up to nine TV channels, says Ingley. The digital video archive has over 500TB of tape storage and 23TB of near-line disk store, he adds.

Sky has over 700,000 subscribers, of which 26,000 are MySky subscribers. There are nine different versions of boxes being used today.

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Tags technologyhigh definitionskytvtelevisionSky TV

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