Sky was the only broadcaster in the world to show the royal wedding live in ultra high definition. Although the available audience may have been limited, Sky took the opportunity to show the BBC what it could do.
The Sky coverage of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was simulcast on Sky News and Sky One, with the UHD service available on a separate channel through the red button.
Using around 110 cameras, the Sky UHD coverage was a world first. “We’re incredibly excited to be the first and only broadcaster to televise a Royal Wedding in UHD,” said John Ryley, the head of Sky News. It involved 10 satellite uplinks and 20 fibre circuits in or out of Windsor.
The resulting pictures, with a 4K resolution of 3840×2160 pixels at 50 frames per second, were only available to Sky customers with an Ultra HD capable Sky Q box, although the coverage was also provided in high definition.
There are now around 2.5 million Sky Q subscribers, out of a total of 13 million Sky customers in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Not all of them have a UHD capable display.
Highlights were available in UHD on demand after the event through Sky Q. As fast turnaround wedding videos go it was quite impressive — a nice souvenir for the royal couple.
The ultra high definition coverage did not include high dynamic range. As it turned out, the weather was perfect with bright sunshine, presenting exposure challenges at times, with the extreme contrast between bright highlights and dark shadows. Nevertheless, it was technically a superb achievement.
The big question is why the BBC did not take the lead on this. No doubt it was as much a matter of politics, strategy and budget as much as technology.
As is generally the case, the nation nevertheless turned to the BBC to watch the coverage, with an estimated peak audience of just over 13 million viewers. ITV apparently attracted a peak audience of around 3 million.
While comparatively few will have seen the coverage in UHD, Sky continues to show its technical leadership. From the arts to news to royal weddings, Sky shows that it does more than sport and movies, and challenges the assumption that coverage of national events is the preserve of the BBC or ITV.