In their rush to beat Sky and others to the post and be the first to launch a 4K pay TV channel, BT has made broadcasting history.
While we’ve only been able to see looped promotional footage so far, we think that BT Sport Ultra HD is going to look fantastic. From individual blades of grass to ripples in players shirts, BT Sport Ultra HD promises to bring live sporting action to your living room in a seriously big way.
At the same time, this TV milestone moment isn’t going to blow everyone away – at least not initially. There’s a number of reasons why BT Sport Ultra HD might not kick off in your living room this season and here they are.
1. BT Sport Ultra HD might not be broadcast-quality 4K
BT’s 4K content will be streamed to set-top boxes at 50 fps (frames per second) and in 10 bits of colour.
This is the current standard for 4K Ultra HD content as it’s delivered over the Internet – Netflix’s 4K content is also shown at 50fps.
One potential problem here is that some broadcasters think that 50fps isn’t enough to deliver frantic, fast-paced live TV smoothly, suggesting that 100fps or even higher is the way to go.
When we saw Sky’s 50fps test footage of a football match last year, we agreed that motion blur was a big issue. Presumably BT engineers have worked out a solution to combat this very obvious problem.
Broadcasters including BT have been working with the DTG’s UK UHD Forum, a cross-industry body that’s been set up to define broadcast standards for 4K. This involves setting the benchmark for things like frame rates, color depth and dynamic range.
The BT Sport Ultra HD set-top box won’t support HDR (High Dynamic Range) from launch, but we understand that an upgrade solution – in the form of a firmware update or upgrade kit, similar to Sony’s FMP-X5 – is in the works, but we don’t have an ETA for that yet.
What if the industry collectively opts for something higher than 50fps? HDMI 2.0 (which can be found on most 4K TVs) enables 4K video at up to 60fps, but that’s it. BT Sport Ultra HD could end up looking old hat if Sky guns for 100fps or higher.
Right now, it’s hard to say how future-proof the hardware you’ll need for BT Sport Ultra HD is.
2. BT Sport Ultra HD is a postcode lottery
In order to get BT Sport Ultra HD, you’re going to need a BT Infinity FTTC (Fibre to the Cabient) service.
While BT has gamely got on with making FTTC available to two thirds of the UK and the various BDUK projects have pushed this out to the rural fringes, there are still entire towns, villages and streets that won’t be able to order it.
You might be able to afford a 4K telly and pay for BT Sport Ultra HD, but if there’s no green street cabinets in your area, tough luck.
What’s more, even if you can order BT Infinity, there’s a chance that it won’t be fast enough.
BT’s general manager of product for BT Sport David Kelly told us that the great majority – roughly 80 per cent – of customers who can order a BT Infinity service today will be able to get BT Sport Ultra HD from launch.
While that’s great news for the 80 per cent, it’s not so great for the remaining 20. Advances in compression technology and continued rollout of superfast broadband could mitigate this – but neither of those things will materialise before August 2.
If you’re living in the wrong part of town, you might not be able to get BT Sport Ultra HD for physical reasons, not least financial ones. See our feature here for more details on the bandwidth requirements for BT Sport Ultra HD.
3. BT Infinity and BT Sport Ultra HD isn’t cheap
BT Sport Ultra HD is part of BT’s new Entertainment Ultra HD pack. This top of the line package gives you access to over 40 premium channels including, Comedy Central, Discovery, SyFy and Fox. It costs £15/month.
On top of that, as we mentioned above, you need BT Infinity. This isn’t exactly cheap either. Depending on which Infinity service you go for, you’ll have to pay at least £41.74/month for the privilege – and that’s with a broadband service that’s capped at 20GB a month.
Given that it’s a premium pay TV service, we really shouldn’t expect it to be either. All the same, football fans may question the value of a £40+ service that won’t show every game in 4K.
Here’s how all the costs break down, reproduced from our bigger feature here.
|BT Infinity 1 (20GB)||Unlimited BT Infinity 1||Unlimited BT Infinity 2|
|BT Ultra HD Entertainment pack||£15/month||£15/month||£15/month|
|Standard line rental||£16.99/month||£16.99/month||£16.99/month|
|One off charge||£50.95||£50.95||£50.95|
|Total Monthly Cost||£41.74/month||£54.99/month||£61.99/month|
4. Not every Premier League game will be broadcast in 4K Ultra HD
Right now, BT only has one broadcasting unit capable of shooting and transmitting live 4K TV. This means it can only show a small number of games in Ultra HD.
The kit and crew all need transporting from place to place, which means unless they borrow the TARDIS every weekend, it’s simply not possible for BT’s 4K team to be in two places at once.
It’s expected that in the future, every match, race, game and sport shown by BT will be broadcast in lovely Ultra HD, but from launch that is not going to be the case.
Admittedly, 4K Ultra HD is in its infancy and we shouldn’t really expect that every single second of content will be shot using emerging technology. Did we already mention that broadcast standards still aren’t defined?
5. If you’ve got an early 4K TV, it might be too old for BT Sport Ultra HD
We’ve long urged caution against dipping into your wallet and spunking hundreds (or thousands) of pounds on a new telly that might not be good enough to handle 4K channels once they’re ready.
One Recombu reader recently asked if BT Sport Ultra HD will work on his Philips 4K set and the answer, sadly, is no.
To be fair, this point applies to a whole range of services and will almost certainly apply to Sky and the BBC too, once their 4K services are live.
6. Your local pub won’t have BT Sport Ultra HD
Watching the game with your mates round your house is one thing, but watching the game with your mates in the pub is something else.
Any early drinkers out there who want to pull up a stool at their local in time for a 12:45 kick off may be disappointed to learn that publicans won’t be able to apply for BT Sport Ultra HD from launch.
We understand that this is a temporary issue that BT intends to resolve at in the very near future. Folks who can’t afford a 4K TV right now but were hoping to catch the latest games in Ultra HD will need to play the waiting game.
So, is BT Sport Ultra HD worth it?
We’re excited about the impending launch of BT Sport Ultra HD. As we say, it’s a landmark moment in British broadcasting history. If you can get it and you can afford it, we’d urge you to check it out.
The fact is however, not everyone will be able to get it initially, and for the amount of content that’ll be on offer from launch, it’s understandable that some sports fans will want to sit this one out, for the time being at least.
You’ll need to perform a cost-benefit analysis. Will you need to buy a new 4K TV just to watch this? How fast is BT Infinity in your area? Would you buy a BT Infinity service anyway if you could?
If your answers to all of these is a comfortable yes (or, ‘pretty fast’) then head over to BT’s site now and sign up. If you answer negatively to any, then we’d suggest playing the waiting game.