Major sporting events are now the proving ground for new broadcast technologies, and this Sunday's climax to the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament will be beamed live in 4k from Brazil to the Vue cinema in the Westfield shopping centre, west London, to demonstrate the higher resolution and contrast of Ultra High Definition.
Sony is using the international football event to showcase its 4k wares, both the SRX-R320 digital cinema projection system and Bravia big screen TV sets. The Vue Entertainment cinema chain has installed 4k systems in its UK theatres and screened an Ultra HD test transmission of Germany's quarter-final against France on Friday 4 July in Screen 1 of the company's cinema complex in Westfield, Shepherd's Bush, which will also host a relay of their meeting with Argentina in Sunday's final.
"These live 4k screenings mean we're able to bring an entirely new viewing experience to the world of football," said David Bush, head of marketing and business development at Sony Professional Solutions Europe. "Sony is excited to be working with FIFA to capture three 2014 FIFA World Cup matches in 4k [a group game was also recorded], making this one of the most significant milestones in sports production in recent years."
Despite ongoing research into immersive audio – so called Advanced Sound Systems – to go with Ultra HD, the test screenings of World Cup matches are accompanied by standard 5.1 surround. However, getting the visuals and sound in sync posed what David McIntosh, vice president for digital cinema at Sony Europe, described as "a challenge" but he said the company, working in conjunction with Dolby, had "done it".
The audio for the 4k screenings is the live Dolby E world contribution feed, which features two programmes: 5.1 stadium atmosphere and 2.0 commentary. Chris Mullins, digital cinema software specialist with Sony, explains that neither the cinema equipment, the 4k HEVC (high efficiency video coding) decoder supplied by distribution specialist IDC (International Datacasting Corporation) nor the Eutelsat teleport in Paris, where the signal was received from Brazil and then re-encoded in Ultra HD, was capable of decoding Dolby E. "Also, the IDC decoder only has the capability of decoding one audio programme so the fact that there were two programmes would have still caused a problem of syncing. Overall there was a video time delay of around 11 to 12 seconds due to the heavy HEVC processing."
The problem was solved by using two Dolby DP568 Dolby E decoders (one for each audio programme), an eight-channel D-A converter and an audio mixing desk, which were all employed to get the signal to the Dolby CP750 Cinema Audio Processor. "The audio was then fine-tuned using the audio mixer," says Mullins. "The onsite process of narrowing down the time delay managed to get the audio synced perfectly."
Although the commentary was occasionally swamped by the crowd noise, the commentator's words tallied with what was happening on the pitch. Perhaps more important, the ball kicks matched the action on the big screen, with a punchy sound bringing more of a live feel to the cinema auditorium.