SVGE FutureSport: 4K on the way but roadmap still unclear

The cycle of technological turnover is accelerating, but the precise timeline by which 4K will be widely adopted has yet to be defined. That was one of the main threads of an illuminating panel session on the future of sports TV, which commenced proceedings at the SVG Europe-organised FutureSport event, held at The Kia Oval, London, on 3 December.

Brian Clark, NEP Visions, Commercial and Technical Projects Director, observed that there was still a need for the market to “settle on a standard [for 4K], settle on the kit, and then there will be a trickle-down. But broadcasters have not decided [their plans] with regard to 4K, so one of the questions has to be ‘will I spend millions to buy the kit if I don’t know whether it has a life?’”

Andy Quested, EBU, Programme Manager, pointed out the extent to which technological turnover has intensified in recent years. “NTSC lasted 50 years, PAL lasted 50 years, but it will probably only be ten years before consumers decide that HD is old.” The outlook for 4K could be problematic, he warned, since the Japanese are coming down in favour of 8K. “NHK wants to start trials of 8K in 2020. They don’t consider 4K to be viable, so they are going straight for 8K.”

Quested also raised some of the other issues confronting broadcasters, including OTT-style broadcasting (“the popularity of this content delivery is incredibly high in the US”) and the general expectation of more second screen content: “It could be that second screen is important that resolution per se.”

In determining a viable future for 4K, he said that the related standards must be forward-looking – applicable, in fact, for “the next 5, 10, 20 years. In particular, a high frame rate is absolutely vital.”

Keith Lane, Sky Sports, Director of Operations, spoke of the challenges involved in “knowing where to invest. Is 4K really the right way to go, or should it be 8K? You have to go in at the right level and at the right time, and I don’t think we are there yet.” Lane anticipates a hiatus in 4K testing while people “work to understand the standards and think about what kind of services they want to provide.”

David Shield, IMG Media, SVG Global Director of Engineering and Technology, expressed his belief that “the current incarnation of 4K is not suitable for sport. [4K] is on hold, I think, until a higher frame rate standard is developed. As for second screen [that trend is undeniable]: people want to interact via social media. More and more content will be available over IP, second screen over the next few years.”

Peter Angell, ICE in Sport, COO, and SVG Europe, Chairman of the Advisory Board, focused on the concerns of the emerging generations of sports fans. “The ‘good enough’ equation is pretty key, I think,” he said. “Ask any 16-year-old if they want to spend £2 on the 4K transmission of their favourite football team, or if they want to watch for free on their iPad, they will take the iPod for free option… even if the HD quality is crappy.”

The premium market for content, suggested Quested, “disappeared very quickly. But there are people who want to shoot in 4K as it has a different market. There is therefore a demand to experiment and get a workflow correct.”

For NEP Visions’ part, Clark confirmed that “there will still be experiments [with Ultra-HD]. We won’t put the breaks on it, but if we invest massively now it would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. Across the board we have to make sure we get it right.”

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters