IOC: No 4K from Rio Olympics

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) says it has no plans to cover the upcoming 2016 Rio games in 4K, writes Chris Forrester. The decision does not cover further tests on 8K ‘Full’ UHD which will be carried out to link Rio with Japan’s public broadcaster NHK. Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcast Services, said that they have taken their cue from their major broadcasting clients.

Most of these are public broadcasters and few – if any – have any specific plans to transmit 4K signals. “In my opinion 8K is much more of a game-changer than 4K,” Exarchos said. “You can really see a huge difference in experience whereas the gap between HD and 4K is far less,” he told the Hollywood Reporter.

However, the news has created some confusion with the 2016 main TV technology sponsor, Panasonic. In something of a non-statement, a Panasonic official said February 26, “Panasonic hasn’t been informed that the IOC had decided not to use 4K format at the Rio Olympics. Panasonic is not in a position to comment about the IOC’s decision for broadcasting format. Panasonic keeps on developing the broadcast equipment for future technological requirement.”

The 2014 Winter Games at Sochi saw experimental 4K transmissions, with help from Panasonic. Panasonic also made much of their signing of a ‘renewal’ of their relationship with the IOC in 2014 and to include the 2016 summer games.

Other major display manufacturers, off the record, said the IOC decision was not good news for their sector. Indeed, the IOC news has surprised many in the industry, and satellite operators that would have been carrying the Games (both on behalf of broadcast clients and as contribution/distribution of feeds) also expressed surprise at the apparent decision.

Nevertheless, Luxembourg-based SES stated on February 26 that it expected some 200 UHD channels to be on air by 2018, and it was confident that it would be carrying about 50 UHD channels (on 25 transponders) by 2018. SES, as well as carrying signals for SES UK and Germany and Canal+, is also a major carrier over North America for the US cable industry.

Research specialists GfK observe that sales of 4K/UHD displays throughout Europe are booming. Nigel Catlow, Business Group Director/Consumer Electronics at GfK said that last year, in the UK alone, the sales of 4K screens topped 200,000 units and that by 2017 it could be 2 million and quite possibly more, with a minimum forecast of some 500,000 units being sold in 2015. The 2014 numbers are greater for Germany (211,000) and 196,000 sold in France.

The BBC, one of the IOC’s key public broadcasters, trialled 4K/UHD at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and broadcast and streamed material to VIP visitors and at public viewing sites in and around Glasgow. More recently the BBC has experimented with High Frame Rate (100fps) 4K capture at the central London New Year’s Eve fireworks, which were “highly successful” according to BBC R&D’s Richard Salmon.

While Exarchos clearly supported Japan’s public broadcaster NHK and their own plans for 8K transmissions (scheduled to begin experimental ‘technical trials’ in 8K in 2016), NHK’s official Roadmap also calls for two-three 4K channels to be on air during 2016. These would grow to “several” 4K channels as well as a “genuine” 8K channel on air in time for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, and that year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia. All this pre-preparation is being carried out in readiness for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

However, there is a seeming reluctance for broadcasters to embrace 4K in its Ultra-HD, Phase 1 version. A February 12 London conference saw a number of well-placed executives express their preference to wait.

Typical was Chris Johns, Sky UK’s Chief Engineer/broadcast strategy, who told delegates that while consumers might well be buying into 4K sets, Sky wanted a much better viewing experience. Dr Giles Wilson, Ericsson’s head of TV compression, also argued strongly in favour of higher colour gamut (higher dynamic range) and higher frame rates achievable at 100/120 fps, although he admitted that the costs of capturing 100/120 fps might outweigh the advantages to some broadcasters. “UHDTV is a definite winner, but not yet,” said Wilson.

Samsung, the market-leader in 4K display sales, say that today’s units on the market “already incorporate most of the advanced features required by Ultra HD1-Phase 2. We tick all of the boxes that the European specification bodies were seeking”.


Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters