Hong Kong takes leading role in 4K Ultra HD television as top telecoms provider HKT, NowTV to roll out citywide service in early 2016

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 September, 2015, 10:57am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 September, 2015, 11:06am

HKT and NowTV, the flagship telecommunications and pay-television businesses of Hong Kong mogul Richard Li Tzar-kai’s PCCW group, unveiled this week a city-wide, 4K ultra high definition service that will be launched early next year.

Alex Arena, the group managing director at HKT, said the introduction of this service marks a new milestone not only for the city, but the global telecommunications industry.

Lots of people are talking about [deploying an extensive 4K ultra high-definition service], but Hong Kong is leading on this one
Alex Arena

“Lots of people are talking about [deploying an extensive 4K ultra high-definition service], but Hong Kong is leading on this one,” Arena said on Wednesday.

The service, which will offer each HKT Netvigator and NowTV subscriber a single desktop appliance for streaming video and other online applications, is to have a pilot testing phase with selected customers from next month. The commercial rollout starts in the first quarter next year.

The term 4K ultra high definition refers to the most advanced visual resolution technology at present, displaying more pixels than regular high-definition TV sets. That means viewing 4K content that has more lifelike colours and sharper focus.

According to HKT, a 4K ultra high definition TV provides resolution of up to “4,000 (horizontal) x 2,160 pixels (vertical)”. Regular HDTV sets in the market offer display resolution of up to 1,920 x 1,080 pixels.

READ MORE: Hong Kong telecoms giant HKT sees a likely rate increase amid hefty network investments

“The demand for 4K viewing is increasing as more large-sized TV sets come onto the market at more affordable prices,” Arena said. 

“In this respect, we are working with NowTV to bring a true 4K ultra high definition experience to our customers.”

Like other recent advances in information technology, the hardware has come first before the software. The power of smartphones, for example, was realised with the introduction of new mobile applications. 

The amount of 4K content available for viewing has only just started to increase, with 4K movies and TV shows now widely available through online services like Amazon Prime and Netflix.

Janice Lee, the managing director at PCCW Media, which oversees NowTV operations, said the new all-in-one appliance for the 4K service is “geared up to offer the best content for our Hong Kong audience”.

The appliance delivers broadband TV content offered by NowTV, online video from the likes of YouTube, regular digital terrestrial television channels and so-called over-the-top online services, such as those from Netflix and Hulu.

NowTV and Netvigator users can also use the appliance to record shows and to handle future apps that support near-field communications services, such as HKT’s “Tap & Go” mobile payment system.

READ MORE: 'The service keeps cutting out': Angry residents of Hong Kong's outlying islands bemoan PCCW's 'dismal' broadband speeds

Lee said NowTV, which had 1.292 million subscribers as of June 30, currently has more than 200 leading content partners, including HBO, Fox, TVB, the Disney Channel and National Geographic.

Arena said the 4K service is supported by a vast fibre-optic broadband network, with high bandwidth capacity, which covers more than 87 per cent of the city. 

Despite recent criticisms about HKT’s broadband services, Arena said the company was currently engaged in a major exercise to expand and upgrade its network in villages across the New Territories and outlying islands.

“We’re doing this [4K service] for everybody in Hong Kong,” Arena said. 

“We’re not trying to just sell this to five per cent of Hong Kong. We think this is going to be what everybody wants, irrespective of where they live and what their income level is.”

He declined to provide the rates for the new service, but said “consumers will be very happy with the pricing”.