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What do I need to watch World Cup games in 4K Ultra HD?

World Cup games in 4K
Detailed analysis: you can watch England games in 4K

If you’re going to watch England get handed their backsides by Panama, then you might as well watch the misery at the highest quality possible. The BBC has announced it will be streaming a selection of World Cup games in 4K Ultra HD. But what does that mean and how do you get it?

What is 4K Ultra HD?

A 4K or Ultra HD screen has a resolution of 4,096 x 2,160 pixels – pixels being the number of coloured dots that make up the screen. And that’s a hell of a lot of dots – 8.8 million of them to be precise.

A 4K screen has four times the resolution (or detail) of a standard Full HD screen (1,920 x 1,080), hence the name Ultra HD. That, according to the BBC’s blurb, means you can see “details that would otherwise be obscure – including the notes written on a yellow or red card, or the time on a referee’s watch”. The downside is you’ll also see Martin Keown’s face in all its horrific detail.

What will I need to stream World Cup games in 4K Ultra HD?

Well, first off you’ll need a 4K screen. They’re not blisteringly expensive these days. You’ll find models on sale in the supermarkets and online for as little as £250. Amazon’s Recommended Choice for “4K TV” is this 43in LG screen for £319, for instance.

You’ll then need to connect the TV to a device capable of receiving the 4K streams. It’s not clear whether the BBC iPlayer app built into most ‘smart TVs’ will offer the streams, but if not you can connect a laptop computer, a games console capable of 4K definition such as the latest Xbox and Playstation models, or a dedicated device such the Amazon Fire TV £69 at time of writing).

You’ll also need a fast internet connection. The BBC recommends a connection speed of at least 40Mbits/sec to get the highest quality streams. Given my so-called 80Mbits/sec fibre connection regularly struggles to get 40Mbits/sec at peak times, that’s no gimme. There will be a lesser quality stream (2,560 pixel) that requires only 20Mbits/sec if your broadband connection’s not up to it. The BBC recommends the streaming device is connected to your router via a wired rather than a wireless connection, to minimise the risk of wireless traffic disrupting the streams.

You’re also going to need to be quick off the mark to access these streams. The matches can only be streamed to “tens of thousands of people”, presumably because supporting such streams requires an enormous amount of bandwidth and the BBC is operating on a limited budget. These will be dished out on a first-come, first-served basis and they’re likely to be over-subscribed.

Which matches will the BBC broadcast in 4K Ultra HD?

Only those matches set to be broadcast on BBC One will be streamed in 4K Ultra HD. That’s 29 games in total, including England’s first two games against Tunisia and Panama, and potentially a quarter-final (for the born optimists in the England support).

What’s all this about HDR?

Sick of the acronym soup yet? HDR stands for high dynamic range and all of the BBC’s matches will be streamed in HDR. To benefit from that, you’ll need a HDR-compatible screen that supports the Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) version of HDR, which the BBC co-developed.

Now read this: Want to watch BT Sport mobile on your TV?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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