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BT Sport showcases 8K HDR for first time

We've seen the first HDR 8K broadcast and it's mind-blowingly sharp

BT Sport and Samsung joined forces last night to pull together the very first 8K HDR broadcast as Arsenal took on Olympiacos in the Europa League at the Emirates Stadium. Alas, for Arsenal, the night turned sour as the Greek side stole a last-minute equaliser to go through on away goals but the broadcast went off without a hitch – and it was a lot sharper than a sluggish-looking Arsenal were on the night.

Before you get all excited and go out and spend £5,999 on an 82in Samsung Q50R, though, hold your horses. This wasn’t a public broadcast; BT Sport customers will have to wait until next season at the very earliest they can watch 8K content in the comfort of their own living rooms. Instead, the raw signal was piped directly from BT’s half-million-dollar Sony 8K HDR broadcast camera to the production truck and then straight into the back of an 82in Samsung TV. 

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This was no broadcast-ready stream, either. It was delivered via specially installed fibre-optic cabling in the form of four simultaneous 4K streams – one for each corner of the final image – and reconstituted by dedicated hardware before being fed into the HDMI socket on the back of the TV. At a total of 48Gbits/sec for the raw stream, it’s not quite ready to be streamed into the TV in your living room just yet.

As a proof of concept, however, it was highly impressive. Watching the warm-up to the first half, the image on the TV actually seemed more detailed than the real-life view from the executive box the event was being held in. I was able to read the names on the backs of the players’ shirts; with my eyes, from my seat high up in the stands, that simply wasn’t possible.

At a time when TV manufacturers are selling 8K TVs with barely any real-world content to show on them, this is a much-needed development. To convince customers to buy 8K hardware, TV manufacturers like Samsung are going to have to convince users the content is there first and this, as well as the fact that the Olympics in Japan this year will also be broadcast in 8K, is a promising first step.

As always with big technological advances like this, however, there will be barriers to entry, even when watching sport in 8K finally becomes available. Assuming you have splashed out on an 8K TV you’re going to need at least an 80Mbits/sec internet connection. A BT Sport spokesman at the event said they hoped to get that down to 60-65Mbits or so eventually but that’s still more than double the amount of data required for, say a 4K Netflix stream – that’s around 26Mbits/sec.

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Because of encoding and decoding overheads, there will be much more lag between the action taking place on the pitch, too – around 45 seconds instead of around 25 seconds for a 4K stream. And you’ll need to be sat quite close to a big old screen to see a big difference between 4K and 8K, too. For the record on an 82in TV viewed from around 1.5m away it was obvious when the director switched from the 8K feed to the 4K one but that wouldn’t be the case if you dropped the size of the display much or sat much further away.

All that said, however, it’s good to see 8K content becoming a reality. How much of it we’ll see in the next year or so it’s not quite clear but for those with a big enough living room, and a big enough wallet, watching football on TV is set to become more like actually being at the game than ever before.

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