Sony Eyes 4K to Broadcast 2014 World Cup

World Cup Horizontal - H 2013
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World Cup Horizontal - H 2013

With 4K a big topic as the NAB Show opens, don't be surprised if Sony and FIFA announce that the 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil will be shot and broadcast, at least in part, in the higher-than-HD-resolution format.

The equipment manufacturer aims to drive adoption of 4K -- four times the resolution of today’s HD and what the consumer electronics industry refers to as “Ultra HD” -- just as it did with 3D, which was used at the 2010 World Cup.

The Hollywood Reporter has learned that Sony is exploring a test of the technology at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil -- a sort of dress rehearsal for the World Cup -- beginning June 6 as well as at the Wimbledon tennis championships beginning June 24.

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The Confederations Cup, which will be held in stadiums that will be used at the World Cup, would be a natural precursor to producing and transmitting a number of matches in Ultra HD when the World Cup kicks off on June 12, 2014.

Additionally, Sony has a three-year arrangement ending in 2013 with the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club -- which hosts Wimbledon-- to test the new technology. In the past two years, Sony has put its efforts behind a 3D production of key matches from Centre Court, with the live feed taken by broadcasters including ESPN and the BBC.

Sony has confirmed to THR that five days of Wimbledon 2013 will be covered in 3D as it also explores Ultra HD testing. The two technologies are mutually compatible, and some say Ultra HD’s higher resolution could improve the 3D experience, particularly on emerging glasses-free screens.

3D coverage of the 2014 World Cup has yet to be ruled in or out by FIFA or its host broadcaster HBS, with the decision dependent on interest to broadcast the feed from rightsholders.

While Sony paid more than $10 million to produce 25 matches from South Africa 2010 in a separate 3D production, FIFA this time is understood to be seeking a new funding partner.

2014 is the last year of Sony’s eight-year, $305 million sponsorship of FIFA, and its professional services arm is the primary technical partner for HBS at next year’s tournament.

Sony is already supplying broadcast equipment to HBS for the World Cup, including 340 HD cameras, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to include a few of its 4K-capable cameras.

Its F65 model 4K camera has already been tested in live sports action by Fox Sports and ESPN in the U.S., Sky Deutschland in Germany and SIS LIVE and BSkyB in the U.K., primarily for extracting HD images from the higher-resolution 4K frame.

Other aspects of an Ultra HD live production have been tested and will likely be further discussed in Las Vegas. Broadcast equipment manufacturer EVS, for example, which will provide HBS with its servers and replay systems for 2014, has tested live 4K capability at soccer matches in Japan.

TV Globo, Latin America's largest broadcaster and the exclusive Brazilian rightsholder to the World Cup (which will share rights to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro), has been testing Ultra HD in anticipation of both events for two years, shooting the Rio Carnival with Sony’s F65 camera in 2012 and 2013.

The Japanese government has reportedly committed to launching an Ultra HD satellite service in July 2014, which would coincide with the World Cup final on July 13 at Rio's Maracana Stadium.

FIFA's priority, however, will be to safeguard the HD coverage of 64 matches, which up to 3.2 billion people (according to FIFA viewing figures for the past tournament) are expected to tune in to.

With all that said, a tiny number of households will have 4K TV sets by next summer. Futuresource Consulting, for example, thinks there will be 250,000 Ultra HD sets in U.S. homes by 2014, rising to about 1.6 million by 2016.

Select matches from Brazil also could be beamed directly to public viewing sites and digital cinemas – as with the 2010 World Cup 3D broadcast – provided the rights to do so are agreed.