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BBC trials live UHD stream for the first time

The BBC iPlayer was used over the weekend to conduct a test of a live UHD stream of a Rugby League match.

Sunday's Rugby League match between the York City Knights and Catalans Dragons was streamed live in UHD and High Dynamic Range on BBC iPlayer Beta and what was the first time the BBC has ever streamed an event in such high quality.

Revealing details of the weekend test on the BBC's Technology and Creativity Blog, Phil Layton, Head of Broadcast and Connected Systems at BBC R&D said:
"Making the move from on-demand UHD programmes to live UHD footage presents significant engineering challenges for our teams. High quality real-time HEVC encoding of UHD is still in its infancy, and is much more demanding for live programmes than for on-demand. That means we need to use higher distribution bitrates, and that people’s TVs will need to work harder to show the best picture."

The iPlayer is seen by the BBC as the main way it will distribute Ultra High Definition content in the future. In conjunction with Ultra HD broadcasts, the BBC uses a type of High Dynamic Range (HDR) called Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), invented by BBC Research & Development and Japanese broadcaster, NHK, and tested a few years back on satellite.

Several users of the blog as well as social media users expressed their disappointment that the live test had not been pre-advertised.

Meanwhile, German and Swiss broadcasters have begun to confirm plans to provide UHD coverage of the FIFA World Cup in Russia. There have been thus far no announcements from either the BBC or ITV, the UK rights holders for the event, of any such coverage for British viewers.

Mr Layton explained that BBC R&D were "looking at the results from this latest experiment to help us build our understanding for how we might be able to provide live events in UHD in the future."