Following the BBC’s Ultra HD trials this summer, the Corporation has revealed that BBC iPlayer received over 1.6 million requests for its live Ultra HD coverage of the World Cup and Wimbledon.
The trial successfully delivered all 29 BBC One World Cup games and every Centre Court match at Wimbledon – all live in Ultra HD on BBC iPlayer. The most popular days were:
Rank Date Peak UHD streams Content
1 Sat 07 July 60.3k Sweden v England QF / Day 6 Wimbledon
2 Tues 10 July 48.1k France v Belgium QF / Day 8 Wimbledon
3 Sun 15 July 44.3k France v Croatia Final / Men’s Singles Final
4 Fri 06 July 41.6K Brazil v Belgium QF / Day 5 Wimbledon
5 Mon 02 July 37.3K Belgium v Japan last 16 / Day 1 Wimbledon
“The trial is an important step forward, showing for the first time that Ultra HD and High Dynamic Range (HDR) can be delivered live and ‘free-to-air’ over the Internet,” noted Phil Layton, Head of Broadcast and Connected Systems, BBC R&D. “It’s part of the BBC’s mission to ensure that future audiences can enjoy the benefits of improved picture quality, and this trial follows on from our work ensuring viewers were not left behind by the move to HDTV, albeit with different technologies.”
“We wanted to demonstrate live end-to-end Ultra HD, but we have always felt that Ultra HD needed to be more than just extra pixels. So we also wanted to demonstrate a wide colour gamut and the Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) that the BBC and NHK have standardised. This is essential to improving the visual experience irrespective of the viewer’s screen size. Finally, we wanted to do this free-to-air, streamed to BBC iPlayer, at a scale never seen before in the UK.”
In a BBC R&D Blog Post, Layton said that to test Internet delivery, scale is needed, suggesting that scale only comes from there being compelling content that viewers wish to watch. “It is only then that we can see how the Internet reacts to carrying high bit rate live Ultra HD streams. The World Cup and Wimbledon provided scale much greater than our earlier testing.”
“Even with broadcasting there is complex functionality in TVs and set-top boxes which have an important influence on the picture quality. With Internet delivery the coupling is even greater, and the trial was again designed to allow us to work with consumer equipment (CE) manufacturers to develop the capability to deliver a standards based approach to live Ultra HD via iPlayer. We were very pleased with the response from the CE industry in the large number of compatible devices we could enable.”
“The final purpose of the trial was to show that BBC iPlayer can be used to deliver new formats. We had shown previously we could deliver on-demand Ultra HD with Blue Planet II, and now we wanted to show that live Ultra HD was also possible using today’s infrastructure and TV sets,” he explained.
According to Layton, the project has left the BBC with the ongoing capability to receive an incoming Ultra HD contribution, and to encode, package and distribute via commercial CDNs. “Over time, we will add our own CDN to this. We’ve worked with the production community to build knowledge of producing HDR content. Whilst not quite business-as-usual, the BBC now has the capability for streaming live Ultra HD content into BBC iPlayer on compatible devices.”
“The trial revealed issues around latency and buffering that were expected. However, it is clear from the feedback that a great number of viewers enjoyed seeing football and tennis in Ultra HD with wide colour gamut and high dynamic range. The trial has been extremely useful for moving live Ultra HD production and distribution forward. We clearly have some issues to work on which is to be expected from a trial of this nature, but our overall summary is that the trial has been a great success. We have managed to go from a handful of devices in laboratories to full scale Internet delivery of Ultra HD in less than six months. Each test has grown in scale and we very much hope we can continue the trajectory,” he concluded.