BT Launches Europe's First Ultra HD 4K Channel; Premier League Match Among First Live Broadcasts

BT Sport Ultra HD will also show UEFA Champions League, Aviva Premiership Rugby and MotoGP.
AP Images/Invision

BT launched Europe’s first Ultra HD 4K channel last weekend, and on Aug. 8, it conducted its first live broadcast in 4K of a Premier League match, which was Manchester United versus Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford.

Following the match, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Jaime Hindbaugh, COO of BT TV and BT Sport, who said 4K is a “natural next step” in broadcasting, and spectators were “blown away” by the image quality, which is four times that of HD. For its live productions, BT recently purchased the first 12 Sony HDC-4300 4K broadcast cameras, as well as Fujinon 4K Ultra HD lenses.

The new channel, BT Sport Ultra HD, went on air last weekend with a live broadcast of the FA Community Shield match at Wembley, between Chelsea and Arsenal. According to Hingbaugh, initial plans are to broadcast one live event per week, and during the remaining time, rebroadcast sports such as soccer, rugby and basketball that were shot in 4K during BT’s trial period. Other live events in the plans include UEFA Champions League, Aviva Premiership Rugby and MotoGP.

The Ultra HD channel is offered through BT’s TV Entertainment Ultra HD package, which includes BT’s 4K-capable 1TB Ultra HD YouView+ set top box, for £15 (roughly $23) a month. To deliver 4K, BT is using IP broadcasting over its Infinity broadband network with HEVC compression to carry the extra picture data.

Like any new consumer format, a rollout has hurdles and can take time — and requires both an installed base and available content.

To view the content in 4K, consumers need a 4K-capable UHDTV. The earliest models began shipping in 2012, and today all major set makers offer these displays. With its Ultra HD package, BT is aiming to grow the installed base by offering a voucher for up to £500 (roughly $775) off an LG UHDTV.

On the content side of the equation, a few additional European broadcasters might soon get on board. For instance, Sky UK and Sky Deutschland are already testing 4K with an eye toward offering UHD services.

In the U.S., 4K UHD content is currently only available through streaming or download from services such as Netflix and Amazon.

A new Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray format is also on the way. This past week, the Blu-ray Disc Association began licensing the format to developers, and anticipates products to begin to arrive this holiday season.

While most stakeholders that are looking to move to Ultra HD are pursuing 4K, Japan is planning to roll out the 8K flavor of Ultra HD, which is 16 times the resolution of HD. Calling 8K an "admirable aspiration," Hingbaugh commented that BT's 4K strategy is "not far off from 8K" and has notably lower data requirements.