Paul Gray, Research and Analysis Director, TV IHS Technology Group examines the true arrival of UHD thanks to this major sports event

The TV set industry has pursued a pushing strategy on its 4K products for the past four years. For consumers, the value proposition of actually watching UHD content has been weak, supported only by streaming services (such as Amazon Prime and Netflix) along with some satellite channels.

The critical genre that has been missing is live coverage, in particular, sport. The 2018 FIFA World Cup was the breakout event for global UHD coverage, due to the international appeal of the event and growing UHD broadcast technology maturity.

Broadcasters have not sat on their hands in the four years since 4K TVs appeared: they have trialled live broadcasts extensively. Shooting a 4K camera offline is far removed from the complexity of live UHD TV; solving the problems required a redesign of outside broadcast systems, while compatibility and interoperability issues had to be solved.

Further challenges included the creation of maximum viewer impact and learning new production techniques. Finally, a 24-hour channel needs around 2,000 hours of ready content which represents a big difference to an on-demand library. FIFA licensed the rights for UHD separately from its HD feeds. As a result, many established TV providers with the rights to HD coverage, were either unwilling or unable to offer UHD coverage.

Global sports events are a showcase for the entire industry: from new broadcast techniques to new television sets. Unlike the 2016 Olympics, the installed base of UHD TVs by the 2018 FIFA World Cup was sufficient to establish a commercially interesting audience base.
At the Rio Olympics, no region had reached a level where 10% of households had a UHD TV. Furthermore, compatibility was questionable as many sets had the resolution but little proven decoding capability. More recent sets have converged with established standards and common norms. As a result, service providers had confidence that their transmissions were actually usable.

UHD cameras and feeds were installed at all 12 match sites in Russia. Reportedly over 300 UHD broadcast cameras were used. The camera inventory for a stadium will use 37 cameras, of which eight with UHD/ HDR and 1080p/SDR dual output and another eight with 1080p/HDR and 1080p/ SDR dual output. In addition, eight super-slow-motion, two ultra-motion cameras and a Cineflex helicam were available in each stadium. It was not possible to give complete UHD camera coverage, for example specialist miniature goalline cameras and specialist action replay cameras are still HD. Such feeds are upscaled for the UHD broadcast coverage. Around 75% of a live match would be shot in full UHD HDR with the remaining minutes using upconverted footage. From the quarter-finals onwards, two ultra-slow-motion polecams also joined the system.

We tracked coverage by country. Some notable countries including Japan, Italy and Spain had no UHD coverage of the World Cup. However, viewers in 21 Middle Eastern and North African countries plus others as diverse as the Maldives and Uruguay were able to watch UHD coverage