Technology

Can you watch the Winter Olympics in 4K and HDR? Comcast tells Ars “no” [Updated]

Enlarge / Opening ceremonies will take place here – and if you want to see them in 4K, you will have to wait longer and jump over other hoops to do it.

You may have heard that the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will include a major deployment of 4K broadcasting, making it one of the first major sporting events the world to benefit from 4K and HDR support. Sports are unique in the 4K ecosystem for two reasons: because more pixels are paying for average viewers when they view high-speed views of high-speed sports, and because very few sports are filmed with 4K cameras.

Of course, one of the reasons they are rare is that the current wireless and cable standards do not exceed the 4K resolution and do not support the HDR format . So how can sports fans access the most demanding figure skating and hockey in the world?

Just days away from the kickoff of the Olympics, American pay TVs are scrambling to answer this question, and we've summarized the information available so far – while trying to (and failing) to ensure our own access to the 4K Olympics.

Satellite Options, 4K Limits

Unsurprisingly, as the owner of the main broadcaster of the Winter Olympics in the United States, Comcast has a keen interest in knowing how you can get hold of 4K Olympic content. Comcast announced on January 22 that it would serve as an intermediary between the film production teams (Olympic Broadcasting Services, NHK Japan) and all US distribution partners who will individually choose the way which they will make available to their customers. "Comcast NBC affiliate later confirmed that this means no 4K access by non-ISP sources, particularly NBCOlympics.com.

However, no matter where you watch your 4K Olympic stream, be warned: not all sports will be broadcast in 4K, and none of the 4K sports will be broadcast live. Instead, all content will be available "in case of delay". Anyone who is particularly interested in the Olympics in 4K resolution will probably have to stay away from social media and sports score sites for the month of February.

At press time, only two US TV providers outside of Comcast have confirmed that they will broadcast content for the 4K / HDR Olympics. The satellite provider DirecTV waited until last Saturday to confirm to viewers a notice buried in its customer service forums – that the content of 4K and HDR Olympics will broadcast on its 106 supported channel by 4K. Restricted to DirecTV's "Ultimate" level subscribers, messages posted on the company's forums suggest that such a requirement can be lifted for the duration of the Olympic Games. At this point, users will need to have a Genie HD DVR decoder (model HR54 or above) or 4K Genie Mini.

The other non-Comcast provider, Dish Network, waited until this week for to confirm its participation in the 4K Olympics . Dish customers will need to use a Hopper 3 decoder to access 4K / HDR Olympic programming on its 540 channel.

None of these vendors appears to offer a way to request access to this delayed 4K Olympics content and no provider has updated its channel guides to include the exact schedules of its channels. respectively. The closest we currently have is an unconfirmed content list from TVAnswerMan.com which confirms what NBC has already stated: that 4K content will be limited to opening ceremonies, figure skating, short track, ski jump, and ice hockey. Sorry, curling fans. (The VATnswerMan schedule does not include a time zone.)

Comcast can work for you, but not for me

Comcast appears to be the only US provider to offer on-demand viewing of these sporting events once their delays have occurred, rather than requiring customers to schedule exact recording times on the DVR. However, I will not be able to prove that … Comcast has confirmed to Ars Technica that in my hometown of Seattle, the corporate network "is not configured" to support the content 4K.

Understanding this took 47 minutes on several Comcast Customer Service calls in which I was referred to several reps. Most of them did not understand what kind of TV viewing I was looking for. (One of them asked me about this "4D" TV I was talking about.) The first agent suggested I use Xfinity Instant TV, which is a way to access Comcast's TV content, but I reminded him that this app does not support a 4K signal. The second agent advised me to use a certain URL to access paid TV content, but it did not work because I do not currently pay for Comcast TV services. Then, I was told to start a Netflix application via a Xfinity X1 decoder but, again, I do not pay for Comcast TV services, let alone have an X1 box.

A manager was able to break down the specific things I needed: a 4K compatible X1 decoder, a subscription to any Comcast TV package (even the most basic one), and support for 4K content in the network of my region. Despite the fact that my home Internet connection reaches 250Mbps and that it can mask Netflix and Amazon Video 4K content, Comcast apparently has not gotten its Seattle ducks as a result – at least, according to the manager who tried to sell me a "basic cable" service of $ 69.95 / month as a "no-contract" application. (This crazy amount would not even have included the cost of renting a box X1.)

This delivery method, by the way, differs from the delivery of Comcast 4K content for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. For these games, Comcast required the use of an integrated smart TV application on some Samsung and LG TVs, and therefore, this signal was entirely dependent on Internet streaming. (DirecTV and Dish delivered their own 4K feeds for the Rio games almost exactly as they do this year.)

Comcast does not currently provide a method for users to determine whether the network in their region supports a 4K signal to X1 boxes. At the time of writing, the Comcast Public Relations Department had not definitely responded if I had 4K Olympics options at my current address.

[ Update, 11:23 am: A representative of Comcast PR contacted Ars Technica to tell him that all of his "thumbprint" television in the United States supports the 4K signals sent to X1 boxes. The company still has not explained how its call center representative came to a completely different conclusion.]

So, for the time being, I will not be able to answer some of my major questions about the 4K Olympics: will these vendors deliver a true 2160p signal or a signal that is marked by artifacts compression? To what extent will the OBS and NHK Japan film crews capture and render a full HDR spectrum of color gamut ? And how much easier will it be to follow this tiny hockey puck with the benefit of 4K clarity? (I liked the stupid Fox Sports "glow puck" of the 90s. Sue me.)

If my access or my options change, rest assured: we will come back to the first HDR compatible Olympics.

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