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BBC Will Trial Live 4K IP and DTT Delivery With 3 World Cup Matches
In a closed research project, the BBC will deliver the FIFA final and two other matches in ultra-high definition. The project should pave the way for a 4K channel launch in the future.

The BBC plans to broadcast the World Cup final, a quarter final, and a match from the last sixteen of the tournament in 4K simultaneously over IP and digital terrestrial television (DTT) in what it's calling a world's first.

The project, organised with telco BT and communications infrastructure partner Arqiva, marks the BBC's first live 4K outside broadcast and paves the way for a 4K channel launch.

Live ultra-HD streams will be transported from Brazil by satellite to the U.K. where they will be decoded and distributed, via existing broadcast and super-fast broadband infrastructure, to a number of compatible consumer UHD TV sets in BBC, BT, and other partner R&D facilities in London and Salford.

“We believe in increasing definition which offers a tangible benefit for audiences,” says Matthew Postgate, controller for BBC Research & Development. “In doing this development work we are starting to piece together 4K distribution for U.K. audiences and -- over the next 12-18 months -- how a strategy might manifest itself.”

The project's aims include exploration of afuture hybrid broadcasting model which combines the strengths of traditional terrestrial broadcasting's universal access and efficiency at distributing content once, en mass, with broadband's flexibility for on-demand consumption.

The trial will also examine the use of High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) for distribution over both DTT and over-the-top IP networks.

“By experimenting with both [IP and DTT] we can bring to life our vision of a hybrid distribution infrastructure,” explains Postgate. “By understanding what roll DTT can play in ultra-HD, alongside the role of IP in ultra-HD, we are hoping to end up with some view of what the distribution system of the future will be.”

The FIFA-supplied 4K 59.94p feed of three matches including the final, will be linked via satellite direct from Rio's Maracanã stadium to London data centre Telehouse and onto BBC R&D in Shepherd's Bush for encoding in HEVC using MPEG-DASH.

Arqiva will then take the feed through its fibre network Arqnet for DTT transmission over three transmitters while BT will handle IP routing through its content delivery network.

The BBC said logistical issues prevented a live public screening (mainly time constraints and the extra hurdles a public view would give to this R&D).

The performance of HEVC under live conditions is going to be critical in the trials, says Postgate. The trial will likely test encoders from Elemental Technologies and one other provider, although this isn't confirmed as of this writing.

“One of the experiments we're doing is to try and ascertain with first-generation HEVC codecs what bitrate we need to maintain adequate quality of service on the network,” adds Phil Layton, head of broadcast and connected systems for BBC R&D. “We're also taking into account the quality of contribution feed from FIFA. It's an interesting cascading of codecs and we'll probably vary the bitrate to understand more about what works.

 “We're also looking to learn lessons around MPEG-DASH in order for future high quality distribution to work within our existing multi-platform services.”

According to the BBC, much of the research can also be applied to existing services and technologies to provide near-term benefits to the BBC and the wider industry. It will also help to inform BBC R&D’s contributions to the international standardisation of UHD TV, and its ongoing work exploring video and audio technologies that may be relevant to future UHD enhancements.

The BBC hints that, pending results of this trial, a wider programme of 4K Ultra HD content might be initiated for public viewing in the U.K. over the BBC HD red button channel. A similar trial of occasional and varied content was used to test user reaction to stereoscopic 3D.

Last July the BBC conducted a closed test of 4K from the Wimbledon tennis tournament using recorded footage.

The BBC made a set of 8K ultra-HD (Super Hi-Vision) live broadcasts to giant screens in Glasgow, Bradford, and Broadcasting house in conjunction with Japanese broadcaster NHK during the London Olympics in 2012.

“The Olympics was a really great opportunity to share our research on 8K more widely, but 8K it is still a long way to being ready and remains a big challenge,” says Postgate. “This [4K] piece of work is tending toward a deliverable solution in that there is real kit available in retail and for professional organisations to use.

“The idea is that we will learn some practical lessons on top of the theoretical work we've been doing to look at how we might start to piece together 4K distribution for a U.K. audience. The advantage of doing DTT and IP together will give us some lessons about how each of those can be used to their strengths.”

The BBC will be far from the only broadcaster experimenting with the FIFA- and Sony-produced 4K feed of three matches during the coming month. The World Cup from Brazil begins 12 June with the final on 13 July.

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