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Sound and Vision: Euro 2024 and the disappointing lack of 4K broadcasts

OPINION: Not just five years ago, 8K was touted as the way in which people would be viewing sports on the big screen. Ironically the first live 8K broadcast was just a few weeks before the first lockdown. A lot has changed since then.

8K does not appear to be the future some had hoped. Viewing habits have changed, attention spans seem to have gotten shorter and what people watch has changed. Social media sites like Twitter and TikTok don’t need a big screen to watch on – they’re made for scrolling through on your smartphone or tablet.

So in the space of five years we’ve gone from 8K as being heralded as the future to 1080p HDR streams being a convenient compromise. That’s a big downgrade on what was being touted.

With UEFA deciding on producing Euro 2024 at 1080p resolution with HLG HDR, it brings me back to a recurring thought about the 4K ecosystem. For many reasons it seems to be stalling, and considering that 4K TVs make up the bulk of the TVs consumers buy, it’s galling to me how much content we still watch that’s in plain old 1080p. Again, it feels as if the future that was promised hasn’t turned up.

Rather than being the standard, 4K and HDR are viewed as premium add-ons. Out of the major video streaming services, only Prime Video still offers UHD HDR streams as part of its entry-level offering. Aside from the BBC, none of the free-to-air UK broadcasters have made the jump to 4K, even in their streaming apps. Because of streaming and waning interest in physical media, 4K Blu-ray hasn’t had the impact of previous physical media generations, creating a market where collectible items have caused prices to steadily creep up.

Are 4K TVs even worth buying?

We have 4K TVs and we’re not watching much 4K content on them. Most programming is being upscaled which, depending on your TV, might be fine or might not be so good, but the point stands that access to true 4K programming is limited which makes me ponder the whole point of 4K.

Arguably, HDR and WCG (wide colour gamut) has a more transformative effect on what you watch, but there are problems with this as to really see the effects of HDR you need a TV that can summon enough brightness. If 4K TVs make up the bulk of what’s bought in the market then affordable models are likely the most popular option, and they’re not beacons of light when it comes to showing HDR, often rendering highlights dim or not having enough prowess to render a wide range of colours.

There will be those watching the Euro 2024 tournament on their TV that won’t get the benefit of increased resolution: the detail, clarity, and added sharpness that comes with 4K. Nor will they be able to get a good sense of what HDR brings to the table either. It’ll almost be as if you’re watching a 1080p SDR presentation.

I won’t put too much blame on broadcasters and producers. 4K broadcasts are expensive, the number of cameras needed and the corralling of resources only adds to the investment required, and if people end up watching matches and clips on their smartphones via social media then what is the point of investing so much in a 4K broadcast pipeline if the majority won’t actually see that quality?

10 years into 4K TV’s existence and we’re still watching programmes in 1080p. That’s not progress. In fact, it seems like we’re going backwards.

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