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BBC Streaming in Ultra High-Definition TV

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Three World Cup football matches played in Brazil this summer were streamed in ultra high-definition (UHD) by the BBC.  The format, also known as 4K, offers four times the resolution of 1080p high definition video. The matches  including the final  marked one of the first times a live event has been streamed over the air in UHD in the UK.

It is hoped that this will pave the way for more widespread use of the technology. One of the biggest challenges of distributing UHD TV to the home is how to make it compatible with existing broadcast and broadband capacities.

Users need speeds of around 20Mbps (megabits per second) in order to watch 4K content without glitches. The next step  will be a trial of live broadcasting over 4G, Ultra HD and 3D audio and will be seen as part of a BBC R&D showcase in Glasgow, timed to coincide with the Commonwealth Games, which is being staged in the city.

A range of UHD TVs were shown off at tech show CES this year

These demonstrations, will be open to the public, can be seen at the Glasgow Science Centre’s Clyde Suite from 10am – 5pm throughout the Games (July 24 – August3) and will form part of the wider BBC at the Quay festivities.

Matthew Postgate, Controller of BBC R&D said “The future isn’t being created by one company or different companies working in isolation, this is a future that is going to be created by collaboration, and the BBC is committed to open innovation and open research” .

In a UK first, BBC R&D will collaborate with EE, Huawei and Qualcomm on a trial to broadcast live footage from the Games over the EE 4G mobile network. 4G broadcasting is designed to offer an alternative to conventional streaming that can buffer and freeze at times of peak traffic because the content needs to be sent individually to each user.

Visitors will be able to view a live 4G broadcast of the feed from demo handsets through a special Commonwealth Games application.  Previously the BBC has worked with Japanese broadcaster NHK on such trials. Rival broadcaster Sky has also run 4K trials.

The world cup live streams were sent via satellite from Brazil, and then distributed via Digital Terrestrial TV (DTT) and Internet Protocol (IP) but only to a handful of UHD TV sets in selected BBC Research and Development facilities.

Matthew Postgate, controller of BBC Research and Development said: "The trials will prove hugely valuable in furthering our understanding of UHD technology, and potential distribution models for the future."

4K is the next great hope for TV manufacturers hoping to persuade viewers to upgrade their sets but like any fledging technology it has experienced teething problems.

As usual there is not a great deal of content available in the format and the costs of 4K TV sets remain ridiculously high.

Netflix recently made some of its TV shows - including House of Cards and Breaking Bad - available in the new technology but the decoder required to view the content was not compatible with some earlier 4K televisions.

The demonstration shows a complete end to end chain, with BBC R&D providing live content for the trial in the MPEG-DASH format. This is sent over an IP link to a Huawei server situated within EE’s test labs. The content is then encapsulated within multicast and sent to base stations (eNodeBs), one of which is situated within the showcase at the Glasgow Science Centre where it is transmitted on 2.6 GHz spectrum. How-ever does this kill off 3D television, with or without glasses. Resellers and dealers will be asking what new gimmick is next watch this space.

Also being given an outing is an augmented video version of the BBC iPlayer that can draw graphical overlays on top of video streams. As with subtitles, these graphics can be activated or deactivated by the viewer. In sport these could a include putting names above player’s heads, adding text to show how fast a person is running or highlighting a ball to assist viewers with poor eyesight. At the Showcase, visitors will be able to see the prototype in action, where the graphics will be used to provide insights into gymnastics events.

BBC R&D also has a display of White Spaces technology that in Glasgow will be used to provide live and on-demand IP streaming of multimedia content to user devices in a home environment.