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BBC tests live sport in 4K HDR on iPlayer

Rugby League match was broadcast in UHD and High Dynamic Range on iPlayer beta

The BBC has revealed it broadcast a rugby league match in 4K HDR quality on iPlayer over the weekend.

The game between York City Knights and Catalans Dragons was available live in UHD and High Dynamic Range on BBC iPlayer Beta. It is the first time the BBC has streamed a live event in such high quality.

Writing on the BBC’s Technology + Creativity blog, Phil Layton, head of broadcast and connected systems, BBC R&D, said: “Here at the BBC, we use a type of HDR called Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), invented by BBC Research & Development and Japanese broadcaster, NHK.”

“The BBC chooses to use HLG for BBC iPlayer because it fits very well and reliably into existing live production workflows. It also provides a great picture not only to HDR devices, but to standard dynamic range (SDR) devices that support the BT.2020 wide colour gamut as well,” Layton continued. “Being able to support both HDR and SDR TVs with the same bitstream is cost-effective for the BBC and makes the content available to as wide a range of devices as possible.”

Layton 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.”

He added, live UHD “could be” the next step in the BBC’s effort to deliver the best viewing experience for their audience.