BBC to trial 4K Ultra HD streaming during World Cup

With the World Cup fast approaching, TV viewers across the globe are looking forward to enjoying the jewel in the crown of football (or soccer, if you prefer). Technology will make this event a truly multimedia experience, with many watching on smart TVs or streaming via their smartphones, and enjoying additional content through web experiences like the World Cup Essentials site from Microsoft and ESPN.

But broadcasters are already looking beyond this year's World Cup and readying new technologies for us to embrace in future ones. While many will enjoy the tournament in beautiful high-definition, the BBC has announced that it will be testing Ultra High Definition (UHD) streaming from Brazil, with 4K resolution - that's four times higher than Full HD (1920x1080px) resolution offers. 

The trials will be carried out by BBC Research & Development in co-operation with tournament broadcaster FIFA TV, which will be producing and filming three matches: one from the last sixteen, one quarter-final, and the World Cup final itself. The live UHD streams will be carried from Brazil to the UK via satellite, where BBC R&D will handle decoding and distribution of the streams using digital terrestrial DVB-T2 and internet protocol (IP) technologies. 

The tests are being handled as a 'closed trial', and the streams will not be available to the general public. Rather, the streams will be delivered to UHD televisions in BBC R&D facilities across the United Kingdom, with the findings of the trial being used to develop the underlying technologies as part of continuing efforts to prepare for wider availability of 4K technology in the home. 

Availability of both 4K equipment and content is still extremely limited. Netflix is among a tiny handful of content providers that have made such high-resolution programming available, but the cost of upgrading to UHD-compatible equipment remains prohibitively high for many. 

The BBC says that it "will work closely with strategic research partners, major consumer electronics vendors and technology providers" to develop the technologies further, and prepare for wider adoption of 4K TV in the future. BBC R&D believes that the best approach is to establish "a world where traditional means of distribution and IP technologies complement each other, taking advantage of their respective strengths".

Matthew Postgate, controller of BBC R&D, added that "the trials will prove hugely valuable in our understanding of UHD technology, and potential distribution models for the future, as well as providing real benefits for licence fee payers in the near-term." 

Source: BBC Media Centre | upper image via BBC Sport; lower image via TV with Thinus

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That's interesting. Wonder if they'll use H.265 or H.264. I'm not sure there's yet any H.265 encoder that would be up to the task of real-time encoding at that resolution. At the same time, H.264 is woefully inadequate at 4K.

How come 4K is the next bump, I mean why resolution? Why not bump current HD quality? I mean current HDTV looks great, but not like a blu-ray does.

Probably because it is being pushed by people who want to put things out on physical media (I am guessing).

You are right though, HD broadcasts/cable etc are all such low bitrate the image quality is HD in name only. Over time it has only got worse as more HD channels have come on the bitrate of the others has been lowered to make space. They only have a certain amount of bandwidth so I don't think we will ever see the kind of proliferation of 4K channels like we have today with HD.

I can see the only real 4K stuff will either be from physical media or streaming services such as Netflix.

Dan~ said,
BBC don't even stream in 1080p now do they? I thought it was 720p, so big step if so

1080i. There's no need for progressive in broadcast media it is a colossal waste of bandwidth when your TV handles it.

DeltaXray said,

1080i. There's no need for progressive in broadcast media it is a colossal waste of bandwidth when your TV handles it.


Ah didn't know that, as I don't have Freeview HD, I've never taken notice of what the current resolution they stream in

Most cable companies today arent even sending a 1080p signal so how about we work on standardizing that before we make the next jump. Otherwise we'll have tv channels in 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, UHD...

4K tv is a chicken and egg situation. Waste of money buying TVs until there is content and waste of money making content until there is the audience with capable TVs.

4K tv will be a harder sell than normal HD because in a normal living room there simply won't be that huge jump in image quality. Although technically there are that many extra pixels but with how far away most people sit from their TVs the jump in quality won't be perceived as as big.

OLED TVs on the other hand, now that is something worth pushing, the quality of those are amazing. If only the price would come down.

Ding ding ding, this was what I was going to come in here to say. Absolutely a chicken <--> egg issue as the primary culprit. Convincing people with current HDTVs to move up to 4K is going to be a lot harder IMO. That jump from SD --> HD was a lot bigger [important] than HD --> 4K

DeltaXray said,
4K tv is a chicken and egg situation. Waste of money buying TVs until there is content and waste of money making content until there is the audience with capable TVs.

4K tv will be a harder sell than normal HD because in a normal living room there simply won't be that huge jump in image quality. Although technically there are that many extra pixels but with how far away most people sit from their TVs the jump in quality won't be perceived as as big.

OLED TVs on the other hand, now that is something worth pushing, the quality of those are amazing. If only the price would come down.

All new technology is chicken and egg. Just look at SD to HD back in the mid 00s. We had the same comments. Why bother getting an HDTV when there are only 3 channels? Why bother with HDTV when DVD is good enough? People don't want to have to pay extra just for a couple of channels. People don't want to pay £5 more for a Blu-ray over a DVD for the same film. Etc. Then you had the whole ###### deal with HD vs. Full HD. There will always be people who push back on such things. We had the same thing with black and white TV vs. colour. Analogue vs. digital. I find it kind of strange that so many people on a new tech site such as Neowin are of the opinion that 4K is a waste of money, the quality difference isn't worth it, etc.

bithush said,

All new technology is chicken and egg. Just look at SD to HD back in the mid 00s. We had the same comments. Why bother getting an HDTV when there are only 3 channels? Why bother with HDTV when DVD is good enough? People don't want to have to pay extra just for a couple of channels. People don't want to pay £5 more for a Blu-ray over a DVD for the same film. Etc. Then you had the whole ###### deal with HD vs. Full HD. There will always be people who push back on such things. We had the same thing with black and white TV vs. colour. Analogue vs. digital. I find it kind of strange that so many people on a new tech site such as Neowin are of the opinion that 4K is a waste of money, the quality difference isn't worth it, etc.

The difference just isn't that great on a TV you are sitting many feet away from. I've seen a fair few 4K TVs now and none of them are very impressive, certainly nowhere near the scale of SD>HD. On a monitor you are close to there is a big difference but it's just not that noticible on a TV in the living room.

Then there's the issue of performance. They aren't putting enough processing specs into 4K TVs yet so gaming on a 4K tv on most sets has noticeable input lag from all the extra processing.

They should definitely invest more in getting OLED TVs more mainstream so the price comes down. If I had 3 or 4 grand to drop on a TV I'd get one in a heartbeat. Absolutely noticible increase in picture quality.


Edited by DeltaXray, Jun 5 2014, 5:41pm :

Yeah but the same was true with HDTVs in the first years too. No content, input lag, ghosting, image burn (on plasma), etc. These things improved though and they will with 4K too.

In a blind test I did I got 100% on the 1080 vs. 4K comparisons but that was on a 85" TV :D Doubt I would get 100% on a 50" in my living room lol.

I agree on OLED. Then again I am still heart broken with Pioneer and now Panasonic leaving the plasma business :'( I loved my Kuro which I had to replace with a Panasonic but this time I replaced it with a Bravia but it just isn't the same :(

Hmm. Wondering how much it will cost, knowing that even sports today do not use the 1080p standard due to high costs.

Tests like this are important though as it shows real world use. This allows everyone, not just the BBC, to learn by doing. People said HD trials were pointless as hardly anyone owned an HD TV, let alone a Full HD TV, at the time but in order to progress investment and testing needs to be done in the early days.

Star-Pirate said,
What a waste of time and money... as very few people have 4K TV's.

The alternative would be to wait to begin their research until a much larger number of people have 4K TVs - and then, of course, everyone would complain that the BBC didn't act quickly enough.

Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

Star-Pirate said,
What a waste of time and money... as very few people have 4K TV's.

lol, great comment!!!!!

People don't have 4k TVs due to lack of content

Star-Pirate said,
What a waste of time and money... as very few people have 4K TV's.

Agreed they should wait until we all get 4K equipment, what are they thinking.

Also, we should wait for them to at least start trialling methods of delivery for 4K content - without that we might be buying into a dead technology.

I think it should be scrapped to be honest, I mean whats the point if we're waiting for them and they are waiting for us?

what a waste of time and money /s

4K is something that can be accommodated in more living rooms than 8K devices. With 8K , you're looking at screens above 85 inches with a huge viewing distance. People don't have that kind of space.

bithush said,

4K is pushing the limits of what we can currently broadcast, no chance 8K is going to happen before 2020 in the consumer space.

plus there is the issue of effect, as in 4K is an obvious improvement even on 42" TV's sat at a reasonable distance, but fro 4K to 8K you really wont be able to tell until you get right up to the TV.

4K is pushing boundaries just fine right now, and has almost zero content as its hard to get it to the living room, no chance 8K will have a chance in hell until we're all on gigabit internet and/or massive cheap disposable storage is available.

Quality so sharp, you'll be able to see the individual blades of grass the footballers like to keep tripping over!