BT Sport Ultra HD, Europe’s First 4K Channel, Broadcasts Live

On August 8, BT aired a live broadcast of a Premier League match on its newly launched BT Sport Ultra HD channel, the first such channel in Europe. The broadcast, which featured Manchester United versus Tottenham Hotspur, is the first of a series of live weekly broadcasts; future live broadcasts include UEFA Champions League, Aviva Premiership Rugby and MotoGP. BT’s TV Entertainment Ultra HD package, which costs subscribers about $23 a month, relies on a 4K-capable TV and BT’s 4K-capable 1TB Ultra HD YouView+ set-top box.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, BT TV/BT Sport chief operating officer Jamie Hindhaugh dubbed 4K a “natural next step” in broadcasting, and reported that spectators were “blown away” by the image quality. To shoot Ultra HD 4K broadcasts, BT bought the first 12 Sony HDC-4300 4K broadcast cameras and Fujinon 4K Ultra HD lenses. BT delivers the Ultra HD 4K signal with IP broadcasting over its Infinity broadband network, utilizing HEVC compression.

In addition to the weekly live sports broadcasts, BT will rebroadcast soccer, rugby and basketball that it shot in 4K during the channel’s trial period. The channel debuted with a live broadcast of the FA Community Shield match at Wembley, between Chelsea and Arsenal.

One obstacle that the new channel faces includes the fact that subscribers will need to have an Ultra HD 4K TV. To that end, BT offers a voucher for up to £500 (about $775) off an LG UHDTV. The dearth of 4K content is another issue; in the U.S., UHD 4K content is only available by streaming or download from Amazon and Netflix. Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray is expected to make a showing by the holiday season this year.

Ultra HD isn’t the end of the trail. Japan has been at work for some time preparing to roll out 8K. THR quotes Hindhaugh as calling 8K an “admirable aspiration” and noting that BT’s 4K strategy is “not far off from 8K.”