BT Sport Brings 8K Broadcast Closer to Home

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BT Sport's dramatic raising of the bar by making the UK's first public live 8K sports broadcast is more than just a proof of concept, according to sources close to the broadcaster. It could herald launch of a commercial 8K service sooner than anyone thought possible only a few months ago.

Last night, BT Sport teamed with Samsung to screen the UEFA Europa League match between Arsenal and Olympiacos live from the Emirates Stadium in North London.

The technical setup was similar to the closed demo which BT Sport showcased during the IBC show last September. On this occasion an 8K picture supported with HDR10+ was screened to a small audience watching within the stadium on Samsung QLED 8K TVs.

BT Sport has long since taken over the mantle of the UK's—if not Europe's and arguably the world's—most technically progressive broadcaster. Last year it launched BT Sport Ultimate, the world's first service to feature regular programming in High Dynamic Range (HDR), as well as 4K UHD and Dolby Atmos.

This trial was another example of its boundary-pushing prowess, but Paolo Pescatore, an analyst who runs PP Foresight and who has close professional links with BT Sport, hints that there is more to this than meets the eye.

"This is more than a proof of concept," he tells Streaming Media. "8K is happening a lot faster than 4K ever did. It's similar to the transition to mobile 5G networks. This will proliferate when forthcoming big global sporting events are produced in 8K, including the Olympics." BT Sport, he says, is proud of its heritage of taking fans closer to the action and does not want to lose this technical leadership.

Indeed, BT Sport's Jamie Hindaugh confirmed Pescatore's hunch in a press release: "This is the first time we’ve broadcast 8K HDR live and it isn’t just a proof of concept – if you’re a BT Ultimate subscriber and you’ve got an 8K TV, you’ll be able to watch Premier League and Champions League in 8K next season," said Hindhaugh.

This latest broadcast over IP enhances the potential of BT Sport Ultimate with providing viewers with the best viewing experience possible on the platforms and devices they watch on, BT Sport claimed.

"In this rapidly converged world, it is becoming increasingly hard to differentiate beyond price alone," Pescatore says. "BT is uniquely placed with its network assets to provide sports fans with the best experience on any device. People can choose whatever device, knowing they'll get the best experience. This is the future of watching programming, all about personalisation.

"Fans will need to upgrade their existing packages (of TV, broadband line etc) to superfast fibre. Therefore, expect to see some interesting bundles in the future … delivered to any 8K TV." 

While most content of this resolution can be expected to reach viewers via an upscaling engine, this was not the case here. This was a pure native 8K production. 

"It was impressive as the image on screen looked to the eye as good if not better than watching the match in the stadium," reports Pescatore.

There's also an added benefit of one master ultra-high resolution plus HDR workflow, which will improve images for 4K, HD, and HDR-compatible services and devices downstream.

BT Sport is already trialling 8K around 360°, allowing users to pinch and zoom into the picture on their mobile device. 

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 to reach just 5.6 million globally, of which North America will have 1.4 million and China 2.1 million, according to Futuresource Consulting.

The highest margin product which BT has within its portfolio is broadband—an asset tricky to upsell, since many consumers treat it as a utility.

"Telcos are finding fibre is a difficult upsell: Once consumers have 50-70Mbps to the home over copper then there is presently only a limited need to upgrade," says Futuresource market analyst Simon Forrest.

"However, if you are to introduce 8K—which requires full end to end fibre or fixed wireless 5G—then this becomes a reason to sell the higher cost bundle. So telcos will be looking towards new video and smart home technology that supports the infrastructure investment."

Other technical components in the 8K trial include Fujinon 8K lenses mounted on Sony 8K HDR cameras, Socionext Quad HDMI 2.0 to HDMI 2.1a converter, Blackmagic Design's Quad 12GB SDI-to-HDMI converter, and Beamr's 8K HEVC encoder. Telegenic and Timeline TV were facilities partners.

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