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Why sports fans aren’t likely to see the NFL in 4K any time soon

by on October 23, 2014

by Stephan Jukic – October 23, 2014

While there’s no doubt that 4K ultra HD will play a major role in the broadcasting of live sports events to detail hungry audiences, the overall landscape for 4K sports events so far is still pretty scant.

Sony did broadcast three games of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in 4K resolution to limited audiences in the United Kingdom and at least a couple of other broadcasters have done the same with racing events and golf matches but so far at least, these kinds of broadcasts are far behind movies and TV shows when it comes to being selected for Ultra HD production.

In fact, some major players in the 4K content streaming market, such as Netflix, have even affirmed publically that they have no immediate plans to host sports broadcasts in Ultra HD. Instead, they’re focusing exclusively on producing or licensing access to movies and TV shows in 4K.

This overall hesitance around sports is a result of the cost of filming these events live in 4K so that they can actually be transmitted to audiences. The Sony FIFA experiment in 4K, for example, required a massive investment in camera, broadcasting and production technology and many producers are simply unwilling to put that kind of capital forward on a format that’s still only viewable to a small minority of sports loving TV owners.

This investment expense applies particularly to live NFL football. While smaller soccer or golf matches can feasibly be covered by just a few Ultra HD cameras, a live NFL match would require numerous pieces of 4K video equipment spread all around the field. And this, quite frankly, is not going to be something with a low cost.

So far, the most 4K involvement being seen in the world of NFL football involves very limited UHD camera use:

CBS, FOX and ESPN all place limited numbers of cameras on or around the filed during matches but in most cases, the situation involves just a couple of remotely controlled and unmanned cameras. Furthermore, they aren’t even used for any sort of live broadcasting. Instead these UHD cameras are there simply to capture some great close-up shots with extreme detail in them for when game officials want to review challenged game plays and need a really clear look.

Other Live 4K broadcasts include the FIFA World Cup Finals earlier in 2014

Other Live 4K sports broadcasts include the FIFA World Cup Finals earlier in 2014

A large part of the problem lies in the fact that 4K isn’t even particularly exceptional unless viewed on a screen that’s larger than 55 inches and currently, only a very small number of sports fans own 4K TVs of any kind, let alone the still very expensive models that have screens with 60+ inch screens.

Furthermore, there is the also deeply damaging fact that much of the transmission infrastructure which broadcasters use isn’t yet capable of handling the data loads of live 4K sports broadcasts of any kind of sport, NFL or otherwise. And even if sports broadcasters were to try taking the internet route in delivering their live matches, only a small percentage of homes in the U.S actually have connections powerful enough to handle streaming UHD.

The resulting overall lack of viewer demand plays a major role in causing broadcasters to avoid performing the multi-million dollar overhauls that would be necessary to implement 4K cameras, transmission technology and production infrastructure to the live sports broadcast arena.

Nonetheless, once more affordable 4K TVs do penetrate the consumer market enough, they will create some serious consumer demand for the astonishing clarity of a live football match being watched at 3840 x 2160 pixels. This is when the broadcast side of 4K sports entertainment will start taking serious notice of the need for UHD upgrades.

Just as they originally did with HD once it had a much larger consumer pull, TV stations will start having to invest in UHD equipment in order to offer the kind of top level quality that sports fans eventually demand once they become aware of it.

More likely than not, a single major broadcaster will make the first major experimental live 4K broadcast that gets shown to a wider audience and others will follow from there out of competitive need.


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  • Migs
    November 29, 2015 at 5:32 am

    I have to say content providers like DirecTV and Internet Service Providers like AT&T (DiedTV’s parent company) aren’t making it easy for the average consumer to enter the 4K market.

    I consider myself to be “above average” understanding the digital marketplace and I’m finding myself frustrated over what I need to become a 4K consumer.

    One hand does NOT know what the other needs to satisfy the home market.

    I’ve had to place numerous service calls between DirecTV and AT&T and I’m still not 4K-ready in my household.

    Technicians show up having no knowledge about installation requirements, necessary equipment and bandwidth minimums …

    DirecTV and AT&T have a LONG way to go in properly satisfying customers 4K demand…

    In the Fort Worth Marketplace anyway…


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