BBC iplayer 4K live streaming
Though 4K TVS may have been around as long as internet memes, live 4K broadcasts are still comparatively novel. While UK pay-tv providers – Sky, BT and Eurosport – have been in the game for a few years, broadcasting Premier League matches, Motogp, Formula 1, Aviva Premiership rugby and tennis between them via satellite, this year marks the first time the BBC has offered live free-to-air content in 4K and HLG HDR.
Following its iplayer-hosted Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II on-demand trials in 2016 and 2017, the BBC has live streamed the FA Cup final, a rugby league fixture, the 2018 Wimbledon tennis and the FIFA World Cup on its iplayer platform. It also worked with Sky to broadcast the Royal Wedding in 4K.
These were all trials. As Phil Layton (head of broadcast and connected systems in BBC’S R&D) is keen to stress, it’s still a learning process. “We’re still learning about UHD production and how you make good HDR pictures. Each event has different workflows,” he says.
But the overall success of the trials, and the future it promises for 4K content for licence payers, is a giant step forward. In the lead up to the World Cup, the BBC promised ‘tens of thousands’ of viewers would be able to access each UHD stream on a first-come, first-served basis – and it delivered. According to the BBC, the peak audience was 60,300 on 7th July, for the Sweden v England quarter-final and day six of Wimbledon combined. The BBC also worked on improving some of the issues that were flagged up during the trial, leading to an improved performance. By the tournament’s end, latency was reduced by 20 seconds, for example, lowering the risk of hearing a goal scored on your neighbour’s TV before it appeared on yours.
A permanent service is not yet guaranteed for the future, but the success and appetite for the programming offered by BBC this year can only help make it more likely. “The big events will drive this. The workflows and technology only get worked out on big events. You have to do it for real. We’ve taken big steps forward in workflows this year, but we have to keep doing it,” says Layton.
The BBC also revealed it will run some High Frame Rate trials, at 120 frames per second (Wimbledon streams were 50fps). And those hoping to fill the surround channels of their speaker package may also soon be in luck.
“Most of the sound issues were not at our end, they were with the receivers,” says Layton. “But we didn’t have time to work through them with receiver manufacturers. We’d like to be offering 5.1, we’d like to be thinking about next-gen audio, and using some complex functionality in people’s televisions, which is all part of delivering the service,” he adds.
More than a decent start, it feels now as if the journey toward 4K HDR live streaming – as well as the potential for 5.1 surround sound – is gathering real pace. For that, BBC undoubtedly deserves this year’s Award for innovation.
The BBC has taken big steps forward in 2018 with its 4K trial broadcasts