AUSTRALIA will become one of the world’s leading authorities on the next generation of television later this year, as it joins just a handful of nations around the world to broadcast 4K entertainment to viewers.
The 4K broadcasts from pay-TV provider Foxtel, including ultra high-definition coverage of Australian cricket matches, will put Australia on the 4K map alongside countries including the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Germany.
But it could be years before free-to-air networks join the 4K revolution, experts revealed, despite efforts to test new broadcasting technology and more than one in 10 Australian households already using 4K screens.
Foxtel (part owned by News Corp) revealed plans to launch Australia’s first dedicated 4K channel earlier this week, making it available to the company’s satellite customers using an iQ4K set-top box.
Product group director Michael Ivanchenko said the new channel would offer 4K movies, documentaries, concerts, and “cross-genre taster of everything that is possible in 4K”.
But the 4K channel’s headline feature would be national sporting coverage, including Australian cricket matches.
“The universal reaction is ‘wow, I can see the player but I can also see the crowd behind them and their exact expressions’,” he said.
“For the first time, the entire picture is in focus, not just what the cameraman is focusing on.”
The upgraded TV broadcasts, offering four times as much detail as high-definition footage, would also mean viewers were better positioned to make their own calls on video referee decisions — for better or worse — and would be expanded to more sporting codes in future.
“Over time, we will add other sports,” Mr Ivanchenko said.
“The challenge we’ve got around that is there is a finite amount of 4K equipment in the country and getting those signals back to mixing broadcast centres and control rooms is actually a real challenge.”
Australia’s first 4K TV channel will arrive just months after Broadcast Australia and FreeTV held the country’s first free-to-air 4K broadcast trials in Sydney.
Broadcast Australia chief executive Peter Lambourne said the test of new broadcasting platform DVB-T2 saw 4K coverage of the Australia vs France FIFA World Cup match, a performance from Bangarra Dance Theatre, and the State of Origin successfully broadcast to off-the-shelf TVs.
“You’ve got to trial these things to work out what’s actually possible and what we want to achieve so then we can, as an industry, get alignment and talk to government about how we are going to do this,” he said.
“It’s at an embryonic stage at the moment. Viewers are getting more demanding — ‘I want to see it, I want to see it now, and I want to see it in the format I want to see it in’.
“As they get exposed to seeing things in 4K, that will further drive demand and there will be questions about why we can’t have that in terrestrial form.”
Harvey Norman audio visual general manager Ajay Calpakam said being able to see 4K content on a TV without having to stream it or buy more equipment would “be music to the ears of consumers” who often struggled to understand how to get the most out of their big-screen TVs.
Despite the trial proving 4K signals could be broadcast in Australia, Mr Lambourne said switching platforms would still take years to complete.
FreeTV chief executive Bridget Fair said the upgrade from HD to 4K broadcasts would be the biggest change to television since the end of analog broadcasts but it should take less than the 12 years given to that transition.
“Part of the (4K) trial was working out the technical characteristics of this technology and then working through a project plan and business case and discussions with the government,” she said.
“There are a lot of moving parts before we know what the time frames are and what the pathway is.”
Ms Fair said demand for 4K television from consumers was obvious, however, just as there was “a huge demand for more HD sport” when digital TV signals launched.
Despite delays in delivering 4K broadcasts, research firm Telsyte revealed 15 per cent of Australia households already have a 4K TV, and that figure is expected to climb to 50 per cent by 2022.
LG Electronics home entertainment marketing manager Tony Brown said up until now Australia had been “lagging behind” on 4K content, and talks about delivering the technology needed to happen now.
“In a lot of ways, the 4K hardware is far outstripping content availability at this point,” he said. “It’s a great time to get some conversations going and a bit of a challenge out there to get broadcasts and the government involved to improve the situation.”