Streaming the FIFA World Cup in UHD 50p HDR to Hisense TVs
Most people watching the 2018 FIFA World Cup this year are doing so at HD resolution, despite the fact that many own 4K-capable TVs. While HD looks great compared to SD, there is a select group of viewers that have managed to watch the matches live in stunning UHD (3840x2160) and HDR 10 (high dynamic range) color. Beyond pixels, it’s HDR that promises to be the game changer for viewer engagement. For those lucky viewers, it might very well be the next best thing to being there.
One way to see the event in 4K HDR is through an exclusive agreement announced between Fox Sports and Chinese TV manufacturer Hisense. Owners of certain Hisense 4K HDR connected TVs who also download the custom-developed UHD version of the Fox Sports Go app are able to watch every World Cup game in stunning UHD 50p with HDR color.
Why has this been a challenge until now?
There haven’t been many live events streamed at UHD resolution, and even fewer containing HDR 10 metadata. Why not? One reason might be that the overall marketplace is still small, and it has traditionally been cost-prohibitive to deliver high quality streams at such resolutions. The HDR component alone has lacked standards for streaming, and playback platforms continue to evolve. In general, OTT UHD programming delivered via a cost-optimized compressed video stream is nascent.
Although a greater number of connected TVs are now capable of displaying UHD HDR content, one of the most important evolutions has been the development of more efficient ways to compress video with the standards that have become widely adopted. HEVC (H.265) compression has become a principle avenue for minimizing bandwidth costs while preserving quality. Internet connected TVs equipped with specialized applications (apps) can present these UHD resolution HDR 10 streaming experiences whereas cable and over-the-air connections cannot.
Naturally it costs more to deliver an 18MB stream than a 6MB variant. There’s also a premium on the encoding equipment and a premium on the type of connection required at the venue. However, by using HEVC compression, it is possible to almost half the requirement for high framerate HDR-enabled UHD content in terms of bitrate.
Special sauce added to Fox Sports Go application
Fox Sports Go is a widely available app for connected TVs, tablets, phones, and browsers. The standard app presents this year’s FIFA World Cup matches in 720p 25. If, however, you have a supported Hisense TV with the UHD-capable app developed in partnership with Fox Sports, you can access a full HEVC UHD 50p HDR stream, which is orders of magnitude better than the standard HD offering.
“For the most popular sporting event in the world, it’s a natural that some of our viewers would jump at the chance to see World Cup matches in the brilliance of UHD/HDR. Fox Sports’ goal is to offer our audiences the most extensive and most engaging coverage of their favorite sports," says Kevin Callahan, Fox Sports vice president of field operations and engineering. "We were excited to work with Hisense to offer live streaming UHD/HDR content. The real challenge was ensuring that the viewing experience was seamless.”
Overcoming the challenges of streaming live UHD/HDR around the world
As with previous FIFA World Cup events, HBS (Host Broadcast Services) provides a produced feed to all licensed broadcasters with its common infrastructure. HBS creates an HLS stream and Fox Sports sends this HLS stream to its CDN (Akamai) to provide the 720p 25 image on the Fox Sports Go app.
For the unique UHD 50p HDR 10 stream, a special wide color gamut UHD video feed, via SDI from HBS, is connected directly into Telestream Lightspeed Live where it is encoded to the exacting standards required by the Fox Sports Go app and Hisense. In this case, that standard is an HLS package containing a Main 10 profile—level 5.1 HEVC/H.265 compressed bitstream with HDR 10 metadata. This combination of acronym alphabet soup is what makes the workflow challenging. Encoding a full complement HLS package containing the above essence in real-time requires serious processing muscle, such as a custom hardware UHD ASIC (application specific integrated chip). Encoding such a package is approximately 50 percent harder to compress than standard HEVC which in turn is 100 percent harder to compress than AVC. Lightspeed Live also produces multiple bitrate variants of HD using GPU acceleration, with CPU processing creating the lowest bitrates, all within the 1RU server.
For the UHD/HDR stream, the resultant Lightspeed Live HLS package is delivered direct to Akamai where it is distributed to the Fox Sports Go app on Hisense TVs. “We were confident in Telestream’s ability to take on a production grade UHD/HDR live stream, and the results bear that out," says Clark Pierce, senior vice president of TV Everywhere and special projects, digital technology and integration, for Fox Sports. "The ability to work in HDR10 makes an enormous difference in both quality and performance.”
How good is it?
As one might expect, the quality is stunning and all but guaranteed to enhance audience engagement to a compltely new level. Most importantly, this new technology is able to provide jaw-dropping video and audio quality at not just 18MB per second, but also 12, 8, 5.5, and even 3MB per second variants which includes the HDR color space and the high frame rate.
What about latency and other streaming challenges?
Latency is always a challenge when encoding live events. Using the Lightspeed Live, the FIFA World Cup UHD feed has incurred no additional latency, and in fact, is frequently ahead of the standard HD feeds being delivered. Telestream has been able to confirm a smooth and efficiently-delivered playback experience by using Telestream IQ probes to monitor performance across the delivery chain.
More than 4.2 million people visited various Fox Sports digital platforms on day 2 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, a 77 percent increase from day 1. Spain vs. Portugal, for example, attracted 819,000 unique viewers. This year’s event has seen a confluence of technology coming together to reap new benefits for consumers and broadcasters alike. The event has demonstrated that organizations can deliver UHD with HDR to TV platforms over-the-top more efficiently with HEVC codecs. The number of total viewers that have UHD TV sets is growing, but more importantly, the number of avenues to receive 4K/HDR content OTT via apps is growing. The event has also provided a valuable proof point demonstrating that such high-resolution images can be provided without incurring cost burdens due to excessive data rates. Using the same technology for traditional HD streams, costs are proportionally lower which can further offset UHD production and delivery costs.
[Editor's Note: This is a contributed article from Telestream. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]
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