It may be happening slowly, but 4K content is creeping toward ubiquity. Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, and Ultraflix have steadily bulked up their Ultra HD video offerings. There are 4K versions of Roku and Amazon Fire TV. 4K Blu-ray has arrived, and the newest cameras all shoot 4K video. Hell, our smartphones can even shoot 4K now.
But this Thursday marks the arrival of a key avenue of 4K distribution in the U.S. For the first time ever, viewers in the United States will see a 4K broadcast of a live event, delivered via satellite. It’ll be golf’s biggest show, the 2016 Masters Tournament. And because 4K content involves a wider color gamut in addition to all those extra pixels, the winner’s jacket will never look so green or so sharp. You’ll likely be able to see crumbs from pimento cheese sandwiches on faces deep in the crowd.
AT&T and DirecTV will be delivering the feed, and the production work is being done by CBS. They’ll use 13 Sony 4K cameras equipped with Fuji and Canon glass to capture all the action.
Hefty Greens Fee
Watching the Masters in 4K won’t be as easy as flipping on your Zenith and adjusting the ResolutionatorTM knob. You’ll need AT&T DirecTV’s Genie HD DVR HR54 box, which is a $300 piece of kit. You’ll also need DirecTV’s Ultimate ($40 per month) or Premier ($90 per month) package. And of course, you’ll need a 4K TV, but only select models from LG, Samsung, and Sony are “DirectTV 4K Ready.”
But if you have another brand of 4K TV, you’ll need to make sure its ports are HDMI 2.0-compatible with HDCP 2.2 copy protection. If not, you’ll have to settle for HD or virtual reality. Provided your 4K set can handle HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, you’ll need another piece of DirecTV hardware: The $100 4K Genie Mini box.
If all those stars line up, it’ll be on channel 106.
So, it’s not exactly a plug-and-play scenario to watch it via satellite, and it’s also pretty costly. DirecTV sometimes offers discounts and subscription plans on the boxes, but if you pay full price for the Genie hardware, it’s $300 to $400 depending on your set. Tack on $40 to $90 per month for the compatible packages, and you’re in the $340 to $490 range before you even factor in the price of a 4K set. Pricey as that sounds, it’s couch change compared to a last-minute ticket to the Masters.
If you don’t have satellite service, there’s also a streaming option. However, that scenario is restrictive as well: You’ll need an internet connection capable of downloading a steady 25Mbps worth of visors and flop shots, and you’ll also need a Samsung or Sony 4K TV. You can stream the live Ultra HD content by searching for the “Masters Amen Corner in 4K” app in each TV’s app store and installing it.
There’s a reason why the app is called “Masters Amen Corner.” The 4K production team set up its Ultra HD cameras at Augusta National’s picturesque “Amen Corner,” a lake- and bridge-flanked intersection of the 11th, 12th, and 13th holes. Even if you’re not into golf, the backdrop should look beautiful in 4K, even if the camera setup won’t allow for full 4K coverage of every hole.
Still a Three-Putt
While this is the first live broadcast of an event in Ultra HD in the United States, quite a few live sporting events have been shown in other countries in 4K. In Canada, select NBA and NHL games were broadcast in 4K earlier this year, and in Europe, BT Sport and Sky Sports have show live soccer games, NBA games, and auto races.
So live 4K broadcasts are getting there, but there are still big costs and compatibility issues to keep in mind. It’s far less crucial to wait than it was a year ago, as prices on 4K sets have dipped, the availability of Ultra HD content has greatly improved, and important standards have been ironed out. Still, a few lingering reminders of 4K’s early-adopter challenges are visible in razor-sharp detail.