IBC '19: BT Sport Resets the Bar with 8K Live Demo

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Even though 8K transmissions in Europe aren't going mainstream anytime soon, 8K is gaining ground as a high-end broadcast production format quicker than anyone imagined.

BT Sport's live 8Kdemonstration of this at IBC offered a crucial example.

"This is a showcase for what we think is coming next," said BT Sport COO Jamie Hindhaugh. "8K will be rolling out really fast."

Last month BT Sport launched its top-level live coverage of sports in 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos sound for a service branded BT Sport Ultimate.

Its approach is to produce at the highest quality and distribute various output formats —such as HD HDR to mobile—that deliver the best picture and sound experience appropriate to the device.

That's exactly where it sees the value in introducing 8K.

"We're enhancing the capture of coverage to break it down to give to different people in different formats," Hindhaugh said. "This technology will enable us to offer something different from a creative storytelling point of view."

The pay TV broadcaster is only experimenting at this stage, but its ambition is earnest. It has already trialled 8K feeds giving 360-degrees, allowing users to pinch and zoom into the "magic window" on their mobile device. 

The 8K demo of a rugby sevens match from Northampton's ground in the UK was arranged specifically for showing at IBC.

The game was covered by a single Ikegami 8K camera (with additional 4K cameras). The signal was fed through a Blackmagic Design 8K mixer to key custom graphics developed by Moov—allowing BT Sport to claim the world's first live 8K CG. The picture was encoded in Appear encoders encapsulated in IP and transported over BT's network into the Netherlands before decoding in Appear onsite at the RAI in Amsterdam. Astro boxes converted the raw quad SDI signal into HDMI 2.1 for display on a Samsung QLED 8K 75-inch display.

The only thing preventing the picture from being augmented with HDR was conversion into HDMI 2.1.

It's also made possible by BT Sport's links to the telco's own broadcast unit. "We are in lucky position where we have an 80GB network in the UK to enable the guys to do what we want to do," said Dominik Wrona, Head of Outside Broadcast at BT. 

Though it might seem that 8K is many years away, the reality is that forthcoming big global sporting events will be produced in 8K, including the Rugby World Cup from Japan and next year's Olympics, both by Japanese broadcaster NHK for its domestic audience.

An 8K TV service is not imminent from BT Sport though.

"[Any launch] would be in stark contrast to its new approach of BT Sport Ultimate," says Paolo Pescatore, analyst at PPForesight. "Potentially it could offer a red button access to an 8K channel but this unlikely and a few years away.:

One reason for the demo is simply to show what's possible. It's something rival Sky used to do with HD and then stereo 3D.

"BT Sport is proud of its heritage in bringing a number of broadcasting firsts in the UK. It does not want to lose this technical leadership," says Pescatore

A keen stakeholder is Amazon, which is starting to rely on BT Sport for production and capabilities as a service. BT Sport is producing Amazon Prime Video's 20-match coverage of the English PremieR League  this season.

Samsung will upscale Amazon's EPL broadcast from 4K to 8K on its TVs this year.

Any 8K channel, even a pop-up one around a major live event, would require sufficient 8K device penetration in the market. Even by 2023, 8K TV shipments are predicted, by Futuresource Consulting, to reach just 5.6 million globally, of which North America will have 1.4 million and China 2.1 million.

"It's too early for consumers to care or understand," says Pescatore. "They've only just understood 4K and are now starting to understand the merits of HDR."

BT's approach makes perfect sense. "Sports fans do not want to mess around finding the right inputs for 4K, HDR, Dolby Atmos and eventually 8K," he says. "It should just work. Therefore, on a mobile device HD and HDR makes perfect sense, while 4K and 8K along with HDR work best for the big TV screen."

Yoeri Geutskens of the UHD Forum believes there is massive pent-up demand for 4K HDR content. "Broadcasters are struggling to keep up with consumers. BT is running way ahead of the rest of the crowd.," he said.

It feels like the 8K ecosystem is moving a lot faster than previous generations. Consumer electronics brands are rolling out 8K TVs as their new flagship, and IBC is awash with 8K production kit.

Panasonic, for example, has brought a prototype 8K camera system with the world's first 8K organic CMOS image sensor to achieve, according to Panasonic, "a wide dynamic range to cover large contrast differences in high-resolution 8K imagery"—perfect for the shade and light of your typical televised sports event.

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