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BT steps up Sky battle testing 4K Ultra HD for sport

BT could be broadcasting its sports programming in 4K Ultra HD should a trial prove successful.

Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT, gave the broadest hint yet that the telecoms company and broadcaster would be rolling out ultra high definition TV at some point in the future.

He told the Daily Telegraph that the firm would “be honing new technologies to build on that position. This year our Media and Broadcast business unit is trialling 4K resolution technology, which promises a new era.”

At present, most fibre connections within the BT network are fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC). While 4K can be done with a 15Mbps connection, speeds from BT vary from around 2Mbps to more than 80Mbps, meaning an optimal 4K experience isn’t guaranteed. Petterson did not indicate when 4K was likely to be availalbe to its subscribers.

Patterson said that increasing speeds of superfast broadband connections would allow BT to introduce personailsation features for viewers such as different camera angles. He added that advertisers would also benefit.

“Direct through fibre, instead of traditional aerial and satellite, you can personalise the service in ways that haven’t been possible so far. You’ll also be able to make advertising more targeted and more interactive,” said Patterson.

4K televisions have steadily come onto the market. As reported by Recombu, Samsung demonstrated an 85-inch 4K TV that can also bend, thanks to a flexible OLED screen that can change shape at the touch of a button.

Sky has run 4K tests on Premier League football matches at Arsenal’s Emirates stadium, but has said there’s no clock running on the start of 4K broadcasts for consumers, with many technical hurdles beyond filming the events.

Sky or BT would have to launch a new generation of set-top boxes with high-performance 4K hardware inside and a tenfold leap in storage capacity to cope with recordings in the new format.

Hardware manufacturers have yet to produce even reference designs for 4K set-top boxes, while broadcasters have yet to settle on standards for 4K production, and the HDMI 2.0 digital cable standard for connecting boxes to TVs doesn’t support the high refresh rates that sport would demand.

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