Ultra HD and the Future of Sports Broadcasting
Beginning next week football madness around the globe will begin to hit new heights as there is first the Champions League Final on 24 May and then the FIFA World Cup in a little less than four weeks.
But both of those events will do more than just attract the attention of sports fans. They will also capture the attention of technology geeks as both will be the first major global sports events to be produced for next-generation Ultra HD TV.
Whether or not you will be able to actually see the Champions League and World Cup Ultra HD broadcasts outside of the stadiums in Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro remains to be seen but, regardless, both are a major stepping-stone for next-generation TV viewing. And for those of you involved in sports production it will definitely change the way you work within the next two years.
Before discussing why it will change things it’s best to start with defining what exactly Ultra HD is. What makes it “ultra”?
First there is four times the amount of pixels as HD: 3840 wide x 2160 tall compared to 1920x1080 for HD. And then there are two additional goals: more accurate color and twice as many frames per second delivered to the home. Put those three things together and the viewer has a much more life-like viewing experience as there is less motion blur, realistic color, and more pixels that allow for a larger TV and a more immersive experience.
In an era where viewers have new viewing options beyond the TV living room, those who create and deliver high-quality sports content wonder what will it take to keep viewers tuned in and, more importantly, paying for pay TV subscriptions? Delivering an experience that can make viewers feel as if they are in the stands at the World Cup is a first step.
The key for the sports industry, however, is to understand what next steps it should take with respect to Ultra HD after the World Cup.
The short answer? The smart move is to wait and see as there are still plenty of technical challenges to be overcome before Ultra HD can begin to become a real business model.
First there are the still-to-come developments related to producing Ultra HD images. The good news is that cost, unlike the move to HD in the early 1990s, is not the primary issue. Instead the primary challenge is that much of the equipment in terms of cameras and lenses was originally designed for film and TV production. So there is still some work to be done from companies like Sony, Grass Valley, EVS, and others to make the production workflow closer to today’s current HD workflow.
But the real gating factor for Ultra HD currently is the fact that there are no consumer set-top boxes available that can receive and deliver an Ultra HD signal. So even if the production could easily be done in Ultra HD getting it to the home is going to require a new generation of set-top boxes to make sure people can actually watch it.
In many ways that failing today is a blessing for tomorrow. The phrase “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you can” springs to mind as Ultra HD can be freed from some of the hype that occurred during the early days of 3D delivery that led to less-than-perfect productions making it to air and allowing viewers to give a thumbs down on a format that honestly could have used another 24 months of development so that the viewers at home could see the same quality of images that were seen at the broadcast production center. And the inability of 3D reality to match the hype also has those who are considering Ultra HD to be more cautious.
So when the World Cup kicks off on 12 June keep you eyes and ears out for stories related to Ultra HD as the format most likely will be part of your business plans in 2016 or 2017. One place you will be able to find out more about the progress of Ultra HD will be www.svgeurope.org, the home of Sports Video Group Europe, a partner of Global Sports Jobs that is likewise dedicated to improving your career through education, networking, and more. SVG Europe will be on site in Brasil going behind the scenes of the action and we will also be on site in Lisbon. More importantly, stay tuned to GlobalSportsJobs.com as we will be filing exclusive reports here as well.
The Technology in Sport Series - In association with SVG Europe.
Ken Kerschbaumer is the Editorial Director of The Sports Video Group