M&E Daily

Olympics Providing Spotlight for Dolby Atmos, UHD, HDR and VR

NBC’s presentation of the 2018 Winter Olympics from PyeongChang, South Korea, is prominently featuring multiple technologies, including Dolby Atmos, Ultra High-Def (UHD), High Dynamic Range (HDR), and virtual reality (VR).

Although coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, prominently showcased 4K UHD and VR, this year’s games mark the first time that Dolby Atmos and HDR have been offered to viewers.

Dolby Atmos
NBC parent Comcast said in January that its Xfinity X1 customers would have on-demand access to NBC Olympics programming in not only 4K HDR, but with Dolby Atmos three-dimensional sound added as well, for the opening ceremony, ski jumping, figure skating, and snowboarding. Similarly, AT&T’s DirecTV is offering the same select events in 4K HDR with Dolby Atmos to subscribers on an on-demand basis, albeit only the following day.

“This is the first live produced Dolby Atmos event available to consumers” in the U.S., Dolby said Feb. 13.

Of course, to take advantage of the improved sound performance, X1 and DirecTV subscribers must be watching the content on Atmos-compatible devices.

The news represented the latest wins for Dolby as it continues to make strides in its expansion of Dolby Atmos. At CES in January, Sony and LG announced new Dolby Atmos sound bars. Meanwhile, the number of TVs featuring Dolby Atmos is growing, Dolby pointed out at the show. Last year at CES, LG announced its first Atmos TV, and that marked the first time consumers could get a combined Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos experience in one device.

This year at CES, LG said it would expand that experience to all its 2018 OLED and Super UHD TVs. At the same time, Chinese TV makers TCL and Skyworth announced they are bringing Dolby Atmos to TVs this year. Strides also continued to be made for Dolby Atmos on the content front, Dolby said at CES, pointing to support from Netflix and Tencent as examples.

In video games, meanwhile, there were six Atmos games available for the Microsoft Xbox One as of CES, including Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed Origins,” Square Enix’s “Final Fantasy 15” and “Battlefield 1” from Electronic Arts, which was recently updated to add support for Dolby Vision.

UHD/HDR
The NBC Olympics division of NBC Sports announced in late January that it would be offering 4K HDR Olympics coverage to cable, satellite, telco providers and other partners. It’s “the first time robust coverage of the Winter Olympics or any Olympic Games competition sessions have been presented” in 4K HDR in the U.S., it pointed out.

It’s the second-straight time that NBC has delivered coverage of the Olympic Games in 4K, following the Rio Olympics, it noted.

“The Olympics has always been a platform for the introduction of new broadcast technology,” Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics, said in the January announcement. The availability of 4K HDR coverage of Olympic ceremonies and competitions through NBC’s participating multi-channel distribution partners “will be a great showcase for this emerging advancement in the quality of televised sports coverage” in the U.S., he said.

“Providing the highest quality viewing experiences on the TV and across devices for the biggest and best moments in sports and entertainment has always been our top priority,” Matthew Strauss, EVP at Comcast’s Xfinity Services, said at the time.

NBC Olympics is distributing the 4K HDR coverage, provided by Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) and Japan’s NHK, to U.S. distribution partners who each individually decided how they would make the content available to their customers, NBC said. The 4K HDR coverage of the Winter Games is being made available on delay, it said.

4K HDR technology displays images at more than 8 million pixels (3,840 x 2,160), providing pictures with a high resolution that is about four times that of current HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels), NBC pointed out in its announcement. The 4K HDR also allows for a Wide Color Gamut (WCG) presentation, “expanding the range of both color and contrast, which provides a wider and richer range of colors delivered to viewers,” it said.

In Rio, OBS provided participating Rights Holding Broadcasters (RHBs) with 4K signals, Isidoro Moreno, OBS head of engineering, told the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) Feb. 13.

“These 4K signals were down-converted from the 8K signals which OBS and Japan’s public broadcaster NHK co-produced,” he said, adding OBS and NHK tested one 8K ENG camera featuring HDR/WCG standards for the coverage of the Rio opening ceremony.

NBC also experimented with that technology during the Rio opening ceremony with a selection of 4K HDR cameras, he said, telling us that about 130 hours of 8K/down-converted 4K coverage were produced during the Olympic Games in Rio.

In PyeongChang, via OBS’s partnership with NHK, about 70 hours of 8K HDR/WCG live coverage is being produced and distributed to Japan, while also being down-converted to provide an output 4K HDR that’s used by NBC, he said.

For the first time, OBS is also producing several events, including the ceremonies, in “full native” 4K UHD SDR “as per Olympic standards,” he told us, noting that all sources used in the coverage of the event are in 4K.

In partnership with Korean Broadcasters (SBS, KBS, MBC), three additional events with more limited coverage are also being covered in 4K this time, alongside OBS’s HD production, he said, adding the full 4K signals are down-converted in HD and “distributed through the standard HD Video and Audio (VandA) package.”

The 8K Super Hi-Vison coverage that’s being conducted for PyeongChang in collaboration with NHK is “on a far bigger scale than the single camera 8K pilot made in Rio,” he also pointed out, adding HDR broadcast technology was “still under test in Rio” at the time of the last Summer Games, but it’s proven to be of 
“high interest” for the broadcasters.

Native 4K SDR production is planned for curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing (aerials, moguls and halfpipe), ice hockey, speed skating, short track speed skating, snowboard (halfpipe), and the opening and closing ceremonies and medals ceremonies, he said.

The “baseline production is currently HD 1080i SDR as per the standard” agreed to with the rights holders, he said, adding: “We are still at an experimental stage with HDR.” Offering full HDR and SDR “simultaneously creates certain challenges which need to be addressed and solved,” she said, without specifying any of the issues.

UHD has “certainly aroused a great deal of interest amongst” broadcasters “over the last couple of years, with many exploring what this new technology has to offer,” he went on to say.

But he added: “Beyond picture resolution, the benefits of HDR are more noticeable than 4K alone.”

VR
More than 50 hours of live VR coverage of the games is being provided by NBC, the company had said.

The VR presentations are being powered by Intel True VR during the games, NBC said at its web site. They can be viewed by authenticated users with Windows mixed reality headsets, Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard and Google Daydream with compatible Android or iOS mobile devices via the NBC Sports VR app. The content includes 360-degree and 180-degree experiences, NBC said.

There were actually more hours of VR offered by NBC for the Rio games – 85 vs. the 50 this year. That’s despite the fact that there are more VR devices and consumers who own VR devices than there were two years ago. NBC didn’t specify why there’s less VR this time around, and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by deadline.