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Will 2018 Finally Be the Year for 4K Broadcast TV Content?

4K Ultra HD Olympics Content with HDR Looked Spectacular, but I Want More of It

I can’t remember the last non-4K TV I sold. Well, that’s actually not true; about a month ago I special ordered a 32-inch base Sony model for a customer that needed a set small enough to fit above a doorway in his kitchen. But, my point is, on the video front, 4K TVs have fully arrived on the scene and that is what people are buying—and have been buying—for the past few years. Even browsing the electronics aisles at Costco and Walmart, 4K UltraHD is the option being presented.

So where is the 4K content?

Sure, we have an amazing 4K UltraHD Blu-ray disc library now that is approaching 300 titles. There are also a near-equivalent number of titles available for download in equal pristine quality from the Kaleidescape Movie Store. And you can stream a host of movie content from services like AppleTV and Vudu. On the subscription side, you have Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and others all vying for your entertainment time and dollars.

But on the broadcast side, 4K content remains a mostly barren wasteland.

By “most barren,” I mean that there is still no broadcast TV show available in 4K resolution. We’re at a point where 4K TVs have been available at market for nearly five years, so why is it you still can’t tune into anything on any of the four major networks—or any channel for that matter—to enjoy 4K content?

While scripted dramas and sitcoms seem like they could be a prime candidate for the 4K HDR treatment—and don’t think I wouldn’t love to watch Survivor in 4K—there doesn’t seem to be much movement from the broadcasters on this front. The area where we see 4K really being pushed is in sports, but even there, things are moving…slowly.

The glacial pace of 4K broadcast coverage was readily apparent for anyone that tuned in to watch the coverage of this year’s Winter Olympics.

Before I start the bashing, let me first give a massive kudos, because the 4K Ultra HD content with HDR looked spectacular. HDR loves bright, colorful images, and the ultra-high contrast of the white of the skating and hockey rinks contrasted with the colorful outfits and uniforms was delicious eye candy to be sure. Adding HDR was a major technological step forward over the previous coverage at the 2016 Summer Olympics, where it didn’t seem like the broadcasters felt HDR was ready for a primetime rollout.

But if you compare this year’s 4K Olympics coverage to what we had back in 2016, you’ll see how painfully little ground we’ve covered in the past two years. First, just like in 2016, the coverage was on a full 24-hour delay. For things like sports, a 24-minute delay can be a real bummer, let alone a full day. If you really cared about the drama of who won an event, this is unforgiveable and really killed the drama of watching live.

Second, the coverage was still limited to just a few pre-selected events with no flexibility to follow developing stories like the U.S. men’s curling team winning a historic gold medal, the drama of Lindsey Vonn, or Mikaela Shiffrin’s downhill and slalom runs, or the excitement of Chloe Kim and Shaun White taking Olympic Gold in the halfpipe. Instead of the near endless 4K judo matches in 2016, this year we were “treated” to hours—generally 7.5 to 9 a day—of figure skating, short track speed skating races, and ice hockey. (Serendipity meant that you could actually watch the U.S. women’s hockey team take gold over Canada in 4K in the final!)

Finally, you can tell that there are far fewer camera views and angles available for the 4K presentation, often just a lone camera that zooms and pans the action, probably a major factor in which events were selected for coverage.

While we already missed out on the biggest sporting event of the year—the Super Bowl—in 4K, there is hope for 2018 seeing more live coverage of sporting events. DirecTV seems to really be pushing exclusive sports coverage and has already televised the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament in 4K with HDR and will presumably carry The Masters for the third straight year in 4K, hopefully adding HDR to the signal and perhaps expanding coverage beyond Amen Corner (holes 11, 12, and 13) on one channel and holes 15 and 16 on another. DirecTV has also broadcast select NBA, Major League Baseball, and English Premier Soccer in 4K, and offers this link to upcoming 4K coverage.

DISH announced a deal with FOX Sports last year to bring more 4K sports to market, which included a college football game each week during last season as well as “a broader agreement that includes future 4K coverage of college basketball games, Major League Baseball, and NASCAR racing.”

Will 2018 be the year that we see the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, the World Series, Wimbledon, the Stanley Cup, the NBA Championship, The U.S. Open, and the College Football Championship finally get a full 4K HDR treatment? We can hope.