The original launch date for the Sky+ HD product was 2010. With the arrival of James Murdoch the launch date was brought forward to 2006. There were five reasons for this.
- The HD screen vendors started to report high early adopter penetration and predicted that they could bring down the cost of HD screens quickly.
- The 2006 World Cup would be available in HD.
- Virgin Media were emerging from the chaos of NTL and Telewest, but their device strategy was looking very weak.
- BT could not operate a HD service over the launch infrastructure they had put in place for BT Vision.
- Freeview was viewed as an emerging threat, but their development cycle was incredibly slow and it looked like there would be a considerable gap until they could launch an HD service.
Thus the competitors had left the door wide open for Sky to seize the opportunity. A great strategy, but there were just a few kinks when it came to actually delivering the new service:
- The original HD cameras were found to be ‘tuned’ for fixed positions. If you panned the camera (e.g. to follow a football on a grass pitch), the image would turn into a green blur. A high resolution blur, but still a blur.
- The DBS2 satellite transmission protocol was still being debated.
- The studios insisted that we included HDCP. When we asked Intel how to implement their specification, we were told it was up to us as nobody else had done it.
- None of our existing suppliers had a HD chipset.
- The Sky Technology team wanted to use a known supplier for this high risk project, whereas the Supply Chain team wanted a new supplier to ensure suppliers remained competitive.
A lot of other companies would have stopped at this point.
Broadcom purchased Sand Video , this gave Broadcom the opportunity to integrate a HD chip into a STB chipset.
We placed a very large order, aware of the risks that are associated with adopting an chipset that was still being created.
One of the most common misunderstandings about a Sky set-top box is how involved Sky are, and how many suppliers you need to bring together. For the HD PVR we had:
- NDS a provider of Conditional Access and PVR middleware
- Open TV a legacy interactive engine and part of the middleware
- Seagate primary internal storage provider
- Broadcom chips and associated software drivers
- Thomson supply chain, physical design and manufacturing
It was not the smoothest of deliveries, and larger broadcasters like Direct TV had to add a significant delay to their version. We eventually launched the month prior to World Cup and had an amazing number of pre-orders to fulfil.
This is when Thomson’s decision to close their manufacturing plant in Wales (which we had used previously) and to move production to an OEM in Hungary became an issue. The failure rate on the production line was atrocious. With a lot of effort from Sky and other partners we eventually managed to obtain a reasonable production rate.
There are now over 10M Sky+ HD units in the UK - well worth the agony.
Image courtesy of BSkyB.