The parade of Olympic athletes entering Pyeongchang, South Korea,could be quite colorful for a few reasons. Athletes fromNorth and South Korea will enter together for the first time in morethan a decade, and viewers at home will be able to see the ceremony — and evensome events — like never before.
NBCUniversal has decided to make the XXIIIOlympic Winter games available to cableand satellite partners in 4K High Dynamic Range, or HDR.
Dish, DirecTV and Comcast customers who have compatible TV sets andsubscriptions to the appropriate service, will be able to take in the 4KHDR coverage.
This year’s games are not the first Olympics to be delivered in 4K — NBCdistributed the Rio Olympics in 2016 in 4K Ultra High Definition. However,this year’s winter games can boast the addition of the High Dynamic Range element, whichpromises even more stunning colors in addition to higher resolution.
“For the first time, the Winter Olympics will be available in 4K HDR,marking an exciting milestone for both the TV industry and Olympicviewers,” said Dish Chief Technology Officer Vivek Khemka. “We’re pleased to work with NBCUniversal to give customers access tothis year’s inspiring Olympic performances in the clearest resolutionand richest color palette available, maximizing the potential of their4K HDR TVs.”
There is a catch, however. The opening ceremonies will take place onFriday and will be carried in the normal high definition (HD) format on NBC, thus available on all providers that carry the broadcast network. Viewers who want the higher resolution 4K HDR will have to wait until Saturday to see the ceremonies in all their glory.
Given the time difference between the United States and South Korea –14 hours to the East Coast — viewing of the games will be time-delayed anyway, to an extent. That said, most — if not all — of the 4K HDR content will be delayed until 24 hours after the “live” broadcast.
In addition, because the broadcast production world hasn’t moved fullyto 4K HDR, not all this year’s Olympic events will be provided in the format. The content will be limited to the opening ceremonies, figure skating, short track (racing), ski jumpingand ice hockey, according to NBC. The closing ceremonies aren’t listed at the presenttime, but it is likely they will be in 4K HDR as well.
Gold for TV Makers
The athletes may not be the only ones aiming for gold at these OlympicGames. TV makers could hope to score as well by offering discounts on4K HDR sets.
“Big sports events typically drive new TV sets,” said Roger Entner,principal analyst at Recon Analytics.
“It’s very difficult to buy a new TV set that isn’t 4K/UHD these days,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Sales of these sets already have been strong, with a boost from the recent Super Bowl.
“4K UHD TVs have experienced significant growth in recent years, with more than 80 million thought to have shipped during 2017,” said David Tett, market analyst for consumer electronics at Futuresource Consulting.
“The growth has been centered in North America, Western Europe andChina, but has been seen across all regions of the globe,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“As price falls further and demand for larger screens continues toincrease across the world, shipments will continue to grow strongly,with double digit growth expected for many years to come and over 25percent of worldwide homes expected to own a 4K UHD set by the end of2021,” Tett added.
Not Exactly Plug and Play
NBC may be providing 4K UHD content, but it won’t actually beavailable to broadcast viewers who receive the network programmingover the air. Even current subscribers to Comcast, Dish and DirecTVmay need to do more than simply plug in and hook up a new set.
Dish customers will need to have a Hopper 3 set-top box, while DirecTVsubscribers will need to have a Genie HD DVR (model HR54 or above) or4K Genie Mini set-top box. Certain subscription plans may be requiredas well.
“The practical question is whether [the Olympics opportunity] causes people with4K TVs to configure their pay-TV devices to actually watch some 4K content for once,” noted Joel Espelien, senior analyst at The Diffusion Group.
“DirecTV customers have to hook up a second set-top box companion device thatsits between the main satellite receiver and the 4K TV,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“It’s not clear how many people have actually bothered to do this, given the relative scarcity of 4K content,” Espelien added.
This is the first true “ready for prime time” event to be delivered in4K HDR, so it’s uncertain whether it can deliver the viewingexperience that broadcasters and TV makers have been promising.
“The Winter Olympics have a wide color gamut — white snow, black sky atnight, colorful team outfits,” noted Recon Analytics’ Entner.
I”All of this looks much better as the TV and the transmission detailincreases, and the Winter Olympics are the best international event toshow that, probably even better than the World Cup this summer,” he added.
Of course, the weather would need to agree for certain events that take place outside, such as ski jumping. That could have been a factor in thedecision not to include other outdoor events in the 4K HDR lineup, suchas downhill skiing and snowboarding. Even in ideal weather thoseevents may not show off the full potential of the new TV sets.
“The Winter Olympics are notoriously hard to shoot, as a significantproportion of the screen is filled with a ‘white” image with limitedcontrast,” noted Tristan Veale, market analyst at Futuresource Consulting.
“The extra dynamic range should provide a significantly improvedviewing experience for those with a compatible HDR TV, with fargreater definition between different shades of whites and graysdisplayed without impacting the image quality of the, often, brightlycolored competitors,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Where the quality of the picture might really be seen is inside the arenas!
“My guess is that it’s all about the figure skating, which should lookamazing in 4K,” said Espelien. “That’s what the audience mainly caresabout. It is like you’re right there in the arena.”
Future of Sports
At present, some TV productions already are being produced in 4K as away to future-proof content, but in the short term sports could bethe game changer that causes audiences to adopt the new TV technologyand even pay for the content.
“Sporting content is amongst the most important broadcasters have tooffer, and consumers with new 4K UHD sets will often be looking forcontent like this to trial their new sets and gauge the quality oftheir purchase,” said Futuresource’s Tett.
“Those who have not made the upgrade yet can try to be persuadedthrough retailer and vendor promotions, with the promise of aheightened viewing experience on a new TV,” he added.
“Traditionally, major sporting events tend to bring forward saleswithin a year rather than cause the market to grow, meaning consumerswill choose to purchase a set earlier in the year to watch the eventrather than delaying their purchase to later months, as they may haveotherwise done,” Tett noted.
The next big test could be for sports, and 4K HDR could advance this summerwhen the world’s most popular sporting event takes place in Russia.
“With the FIFA World Cup approaching, this is another reason forramping up live capture of major sporting events in 4K, as it will givethe entire broadcast chain more experience with this,” said Futuresource’s Veale.
The visuals may even get better.
“We will see higher frame rates, which will benefit any sportingevent with an element of speed, such as the key events of the WinterOlympics,” said Veale. “While some sporting events are already beingbroadcast at 50 to 60 frames per second, when we move towards 120fps this willprovide a much smoother and clearer picture of fast-moving objects.”