4K Ultra HD TV Broadcasting Not on the Agenda for Rio Olympics, Says IOC

Instead, Olympic Broadcast Services is eyeing virtual reality for the 2016 Games.
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Michael Phelps during the 2012 Summer Olympics

While the consumer electronics industry heavily promoted 4K Ultra HD TVs last month at CES, the broadcast division of the International Olympic Committee has "no plans for 4K TV broadcasting" during the 2016 Rio Olympics, the next major globally televised event.

“There is no demand from our rights holders for 4K,” asserted Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcast Services. "We have to take our cue from broadcasters."

The IOC’s OBS unit, which has a history of using the Olympic Games as a launchpad for new viewing experiences, is instead investigating virtual reality technologies with an eye toward trials at the 2016 Games. "The technology is maturing quickly. There is real interest in virtual experiences to mobile phones," Exarchos said. “One VR application we are exploring is around viewing aspects of the Games after the event.”

This could be viewed as good news for Hollywood, as all of the major studios are already experimenting with VR. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter just prior to CES, Fox Home Entertainment president Mike Dunn called VR the “real deal” and projected that VR technology will go mainstream, potentially reaching 25 million households by 2017.

Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard are already available, which transform smartphone screens into virtual reality headgear. It’s anticipated that Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus are among the VR headsets that will also be on the market in time for the Rio Games.

Read more CES: Fox Is Bullish on Virtual Reality, But Is It the "Real Deal" for Hollywood?

While 4K Ultra HD TVs (four times HD resolution) are now available from all major set-makers, it’s not on the agenda of OBS, which instead is working with Japanese broadcaster NHK to produce 8K (16 times HD resolution) content, though not for broadcast coverage, of the Rio Games. “In my opinion 8K is much more of a game-changer than 4K,” Exarchos said. “You can really see a huge difference in experience whereas the gap between HD and 4K is far less.”

For some background, while most countries have been considering 4K, NHK and the Japanese government have decided to transition Japan’s broadcast system to 8K, with a target for completion being the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo. (Incidentally, while 4K TVs were highlighted by all major set manufacturers at CES, several including Panasonic, Samsung and Sharp additionally had prototype 8K displays on their stands.)

NHK has already tested 8K production at events including 2014's Sochi Olympics and FIFA World Cup, and it aims to start some test broadcasting during the Rio Games as OBS experiments with production techniques for the hyper-resolution of the 8K pictures. Said Exarchos: “We are experimenting with the syntax of producing in 8K. For example, do we need to edit the pictures?”

Not surprisingly, the biggest innovations OBS is concentrating on for Rio 2016 are around the delivery of richer streaming video experiences to smartphones and tablets. “You have to look at where broadcasters are placing their investment. More important to them than 4K is delivery of content to mobile,” Exarchos said.

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