Major sporting events have long been showcases and proving grounds for the latest TV display technology, from colour in the 1960s to HD in the early noughties. The coming Euro 2016 football championships is no exception and will provide a major stage for services billed as Ultra HD, although as yet without some of the latest features like HDR (High Dynamic Range) and 10 bit colour gamut. The services will deliver the full UHD resolution commonly called 4K at 2048 x 3840 pixels, along with Dolby 5.1 surround sound, through a multilateral world feed available in principle to any broadcaster or pay TV operator with suitable infrastructure.
It is still a significant achievement, putting UEFA once again at the pinnacle of broadcast technology, having first tested 4K at the 2014 Champions League final in Lisbon. It is a proving ground in particular for picture capture with the aim of establishing a standard camera format as a precursor for full blown commercial 4K services. The pictures will be obtained from a 12 camera production team, with the aim of setting that as the standard procedure for future football tournaments at any rate.
Given the event’s prestige it is perhaps surprising that some major countries have decided not to show 4K pictures this time. In the UK for example both the BBC and commercial broadcaster ITV are delivering pictures only in standard HD, focusing instead on making the programming available as widely as possible including via social media.
But 4K transmissions of the matches will be available in other countries, including naturally France as the host, where Orange has exclusive rights to the 4K pictures via broadcasters TF1 and M6. This will include the opening match, three quarter-finals and one semi-final, all reserved just for users of the recently launched Livebox Orange 4K set top box and gateway. This will be a proud moment for SoftAtHome since we helped develop this box and provided the software enabling 4K delivery. The Livebox combines Wi-Fi n (2.4 GHz) and Wi-Fi ac (5 GHz) technologies to deliver up to 1.9 Gbps connectivity, and is also notable for incorporating the Dolby Atmos audio technology based on object based sound, which in the case of football would allow the transmission to pick up, say, chanting from a particular section of the crowd as the camera zooms in there. Dolby Atmos is in that respect a significant improvement over standard Dolby 5.1 surround sound.
Other European operators transmitting Euro 2016 matches in 4K include NOS, Vodafone and Meo in Portugal taking pictures from the public broadcaster there RTP, which has launched a 4K channel specially for the tournament. Then in Italy some matches will be screened by public broadcaster Rai from the Eutelsat Hotbird satellite cluster. Eutelsat says this will be a trial run for regular 4K channels over its satellite network.
A natural question is what TV display technology will follow and be shown off at future events such as the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. It is a good bet that this will include transmissions based on the recently released Ultra HD Premium specification from the UHD Alliance with backing from the other standards group, the UHD Forum. But this will require new TV sets capable of displaying HDR, 10 bit colour gamut and the other additional specifications incorporated in Ultra HD Premium. At least the 4K pictures from Euro 2016 can be enjoyed in their full dynamic splendour on current 4K TV sets.
Photo: Orange celebrates it sponsorship of Euro 2016 at the Eiffel Tower (Copyright Orange)