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The future of live sports: 4K UHD, immersive audio and personalised content

As video service providers and broadcasters compete for eyeballs, Harmonic's Stephane Cloirec explains why providing the best possible user experience is an excellent way to gain a competitive edge and increase viewer loyalty

Premium sports events have become a key driver for innovation. It’s easy to see why: Sports events attract a massive number of viewers. Live football reportedly draws about 3.5 billion fans worldwide. As video service providers compete for eyeballs, providing the best possible user experience is an excellent way to gain a competitive edge and increase viewer loyalty. 

Software-based solutions can help video service providers enhance live sports content to deliver a viewing and listening experience like never before, including 4K HDR video, next-gen audio and advanced personalisation. Let’s look at how the sports video experience is evolving and becoming more immersive. 

Premium sports events are a catalyst for innovation

Consumer demand for more immersive and personalised content is growing. With channel variants and advanced personalisation, including customised local ads and content, video service providers can add significant value to a sports event. When video service providers adapt content to local audiences, the result is that viewers watch longer, engage more with advertisements and develop brand loyalty.

Aside from live sports becoming more personalised, the future is immersive. The 4K format allows service providers to deliver additional pixels and significantly more picture detail. HDR provides a dramatic increase in luminance range that when combined with 4K offers viewers a vivid, closer to the real-life experience. Leading video providers including Netflix have chosen Dolby Vision as their HDR format based on its unique use of dynamic metadata to optimise content brightness for each video frame.

With immersive audio formats, such as Dolby Atmos, video service providers are empowered to deliver a next-gen listening experience for live sports. Dolby Atmos renders the sound experience as a 3D-sphere, expanding beyond traditional stereo or multi-channel audio. While delivering next-generation audio is still a fairly new workflow for live sports, it is expected to ramp up in the future as more service providers aim to offer an immersive listening experience.

Common challenges with delivering customised, immersive live sports experiences 

Delivering live 4K HDR video with immersive audio and personalisation can be challenging for several reasons. The quality must be preserved across the entire chain from capture to distribution. Using a robust end-to-end solution that supports 4K media processing throughout the distribution network is the ideal way for video service providers to ensure outstanding 4K HDR quality for live sports broadcast and streaming. 

Another hurdle that service providers encounter with 4K HDR distribution is the multiplicity of HDR formats and variability in HDR production levels. An extensive HDR processing toolbox is necessary to overcome these issues.

Today, it’s not uncommon for the content to be delivered in a different format (i.e., 4K HDR and 4K SDR). Using an advanced edge media processing solution that automatically upconverts the local SDR source to HDR, service providers can maintain continuity and provide viewers with a consistent experience. Seamless switching between affiliates and the network is also imperative to ensure a fluid experience for viewers. 

Software-based solutions simplify the delivery of personalised live sports

Software-based solutions offer video service providers the agility, flexibility and scalability they need to process complex media workflows. With a software-based edge media processing solution, service providers can handle the entire sports video workflow, including ingest, encoding, graphics insertion, video encoding, audio encoding and delivery. Software-based edge media processing solutions are deployable on-premises or in the cloud, offering video service providers unparalleled flexibility. 

In addition, software-based media processing solutions are the perfect tool for handling a diverse range of formats, which is especially critical for inserting local content and ads into a live 4K sports broadcast feed. Software-based solutions make it easy to adopt new formats and codecs, such as 4K HDR and HEVC, ensuring pristine video quality at low bitrates.

The future of live sports video is centred on delivering compelling high-quality content to global audiences. Offering traditional HD video and 5.1 surround sound will soon be eclipsed by 4K HDR video, immersive audio and personalised content experiences. 

Harmonic is leading the charge with a variety of software-based solutions that solve the challenges of live sports 4K broadcast delivery and streaming. Recently, our XOS Edge media processing solution was used by a major content provider to deliver live premium-grade sports content in 4K HDR and an immersive stadium-like experiences for viewers during one of the world’s biggest sports events. By embracing next-generation technologies like 4K HDR, Dolby Atmos and content personalisation, video service providers can deliver a game-changing experience for live sports.