Live From the NBA Global Games London 2016: BT Sport and Rogers Media deliver 4K match first to UK and Canadian audiences

Inside Telegenic's T25 truck at the O2 Arena, London, on 14 January 2016.

Inside Telegenic’s T25 truck at the O2 Arena, London, on 14 January 2016.

Last week occasioned the latest stage of BT Sport’s UHD odyssey as the broadcaster teamed up with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Rogers Media to deliver a live NBA game in 4K for the first time, live from London’s O2 Arena. The match – which saw the Toronto Raptors take on the Orlando Magic, and yielded a 106-103 victory for the former – was accessible to viewers in the UK and Canada.

As previously documented by SVG Europe, last year’s Global Games London saw the NBA become the first US professional sports league to capture a game in 4K – but, crucially, that broadcast was available only to an invited list of NBA and BT Sport executives. This time the match was available to the public to view in full, live, via BT Sport’s Ultra High Definition channel in the UK and Rogers 4K (channel 999 via NextBox 4K) in Canada.

Speaking ahead of the historic broadcast, NBA executive vice-president of operations and technology Steve Hellmuth placed the live 4K game in the context of a continuing history of innovation. “We are thrilled to team with BT Sport and Rogers to bring fans the first NBA game broadcast live in 4K,” he said. “We are always looking for new and innovative ways to bring our passionate fans closer to our game, and this groundbreaking 4K broadcast is a great opportunity to provide fans at home [with] the sharpest-ever look at the NBA.”

4K capture fundamentals

Setting the scene for the NBA's historic live 4K broadcast.

Setting the scene for the NBA’s historic live 4K broadcast.

As in 2015, BT Sport engaged Telegenic and its UHD OB ‘super-truck’, T25, to help deliver the 4K match coverage. An additional unit brought the total 4K camera count to 10, including a single Sony F55, multiple Sony HDC-4300s and an I-MOVIX. New for the 2016 set-up were UHD net cameras, courtesy of Hitachi.

In terms of the challenges involved in capturing this event, BT Sport chief engineer Andy Beale says that it’s “actually not too bad; the only problem is that we do have to crank in the I-MOVIX a little bit. But otherwise it’s not too different from doing standard HD.”

To serve the Canadian market, BT Sport partnered with Rogers Media and facilitated the necessary upconversion from 50p to 60p. Rick Brace, president of Rogers Media, confirmed that demand for 4K is now beginning to mature. “We’ve been working on 4K technology for the past few months to deliver superior quality for our Sportsnet productions. This is cutting-edge technology that continues to evolve, and will only get stronger. 4K is taking off and we’re building world-class content and investing in technology to deliver a true 4K experience for our customers,” says Brace.

VR trial… and HDR prospects

BT Sport's Andy Beale (left) and Jamie Hindhaugh mull the future of 4K, HDR and enhanced audio.

BT Sport’s Andy Beale (left) and Jamie Hindhaugh mull the future of 4K, HDR and enhanced audio.

The O2 match also saw BT Sport undertake a closed trial of a possible VR app service through a link-up with LiveLike. Miheer Walavalkarwas, chief business officer of LiveLike, was on hand to introduce the trial, which gave participants the opportunity to view the action from a variety of vantage points in the stadium. The eventual goal of a BT VR app might be some way off, “but they want to be ready and that’s why the tests are being done. They are clear that it’s an area that is developing rapidly.”

Jamie Hindhaugh, COO of BT Sport and BT TV, confirms that the broadcaster is “always looking for ways to bring viewers closer to the action, and it is clear that [VR] provides some exciting opportunities to do just that.”

Hindhaugh also confirms that, like a number of other broadcasters, it is exploring the potential for a more ‘immersive’ audio experience. “Sound is incredibly important but I sometimes think that it is the ‘forgotten pleasure’ of live sports,” says Hindhaugh. Features that allow greater personalisation of home audio are among the broadcaster’s current plans, and viewers should expect to see something tangible in time for the “next [football] season”.

Meanwhile, BT Sport will continue to develop its 4K expertise with productions taking place on a weekly basis – and weigh up the prospects for adding High Dynamic Range to its workflow as HDR becomes an increasingly hot topic. “We have already done some trials [of HDR], during the America’s Cup and the FA Cup semi-final, and it should be noted that our UHD G5 box is compatible with HDR,” says Beale.

The broadcaster will therefore continue to examine the ways by which “HDR can be added to our UHD workflow”, but suggests that the main obstacle to implementation may reside at the consumer end. “People will only buy so many TVs and it could be that [those who have already purchased a 4K set] may require a different one for HDR,” notes Hindhaugh.

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