Roland Garros 2015: France Télévisions ups the stakes on 4K and VR production
As the 2015 French Open dashes through the middle of its first week of tennis competition, pubcaster France Télévisions has considerably ramped up its 4K innovation strategy, writes Catherine Wright in Paris. Whereas last year it launched a 24-hour trial of a full 4K broadcast chain with a number of partners, in 2015 the broadcaster has gone a huge step further by producing and broadcasting in 4K, for the duration of the tournament, all the matches which take place on Central Court (also known as the Philippe Chatrier Court).
This means that all French homes equipped with a 4K TV set can access UHD images of the main matches, on a 24/7 basis. On the production side, the broadcaster has opted for Grass Valley 4K cameras and servers, (recently launched at NAB), alongside a 3D sound system.
For transmission, France Télévisions has chosen TDF and Fransat. TDF transmits from the Eiffel Tower, on digital terrestrial television (channel 81), to all Parisian and suburban homes equipped with a 4K TV set. Envivio provides the HEVC UHD encoding, together with Dolby, which, for the first time has been able to produce a Dolby AC4 audio signal.
Satellite operator Fransat broadcasts to French homes in the rest of the country, the first time the company is transmitting UHD on such a wide scale area and for such a length of time. The matches are being aired on Francetv Sport Ultra HD (channel 444), with HEVC encoding supplied by Ateme and Thomson Video Networks.
4K images are also being delivered over IP networks, thanks to BBright encoding, Samsung UHD TV sets, Technicolor set-top boxes and Stmicroeletronics’ UHD platform — a set up which can be seen around the courts and in the broadcaster’s Roland-Garros Lab. The lab is also where France Télévisions is showing its latest UHD research developments, which it has decided to make public, despite strong competition issues.
The broadcaster is testing a full UHD HDR production chain with Sony, together with 4Ever’s R&D team and Atmosphère Production. Two different transmission technologies are being studied: the first, a hybrid approach in line with the European H2B2VS project led by TH-VN, enables UHD content to be transmitted to a TV set, by synchronising video streams from the internet and digital terrestrial television. The other option studied by the broadcaster is the transmission of UHD content through DTTV or satellite, directly to the TV set, without any connection to the internet.
On a different note, but just as important for sports fans around the world, the broadcaster also announced a big first in the virtual reality field. Owners of Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR headsets can watch the Central Court and Suzanne Lenglen (the second most important court at Roland Garros) matches in full 360° immersion mode, either during live transmissions or in VOD thanks to Lille-based Giroptic cameras. Other companies at the forefront of VR technology are being tested in the lab: Youfoot, Catopsys, Seppia and Intel, to name but a few.