Ángel García Castillejo and Javier Sánchez Pérez (RTVE)

It has been a little over ten years since RTVE and Cellnex carried out UHD test broadcasts on digital terrestrial television (DTT) at the Mobile World Congress in 2013. These were pioneering tests at that time, as no one had previously broadcast UHD over DVB-T2. There were not even commercial TV sets that could decode UHD Phase 1 in DVB-T/ T2 – it would be a few more years before they became widely available.

Since then, RTVE has conducted further tests, gradually incorporating the features that accompany the higher UHD resolution and improve “pixel quality” to reach UHD-1 Phase 2, with HDR (high dynamic range) leading the way. All of this without neglecting audio, where NGA (next generation audio) has taken over from traditional multichannel sound. These tests have been carried out on platforms that distribute linear television and video on demand. However, the understanding has always been that the top priority for providing public service media via linear television in Spain is through free-to-air DTT, as it is the platform with the highest consumption and provides the widest social coverage.

World Cup tests

Since SD (standard definition) DTT channels will be switched off in February 2024, freeing up space in RTVE’s multiplexes, we initiated further UHD tests in collaboration with Cellnex last year. We wanted those tests to have relevant content to gain experience, so we took advantage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. In fact, the most-watched television content in Spain in 2022 was the FIFA World Cup final, offered by RTVE on DTT.

Our plan has been to continue with these experimental UHD broadcasts until the SD DTT channels are switched off, with content such as the World Athletics Championships or Spain’s matches in the FIFA Women’s World Cup last August. The final of the latter gained a large audience thanks to Spain’s presence and eventual success.

Nevertheless, conducting UHD tests is quite different to starting a new regular UHD DTT channel with over 98% population coverage. To do this, it was necessary to have the unanimous approval of the RTVE Council of Administration, to provide detailed information to the State Secretariat for Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructures, and to work closely with Cellnex.

February launch

Having done all of this, and taking advantage of the SD switch-off, RTVE will launch the first free-to-air UHD DTT channel in Spain next February, using the country’s most significant consumption platform. It is intended for all citizens, free of charge and accessible to everyone, because this is public service; and because UHD is not only for the IP world and pay-TV. We are also fully aware that it will take a long time before RTVE can offer all its production in UHD, because this entails a sustained investment effort over the years to adapt all our production and regional centres. Therefore, we will begin by offering all the native content that is available in UHD and carefully upscaling to UHD content that is only available in HD, progressively increasing the native UHD content offer.

In any case, we strongly believe in the technological evolution of DTT and our commitment is intended to be long-lasting, as it is the most important platform in Spain in any foreseeable long-term scenario. This is one reason we have advocated for its continuity well beyond 2030 at this year’s WRC-23 gathering.

This article first appeared in issue 58 of EBU tech-i magazine .

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