By Jacob Cohen and Matthew Stamper
If you’ve always wanted to watch NHL games in such great detail that you can count every hair in Brent Burns’ beard, then Rogers’ latest innovation will have you bubbling with excitement. Saturday’s contest between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre will be broadcast in 4K, the first hockey game ever to do so.
Canada’s leading national sports broadcasters are taking steps to let fans watching at home see every detail of the game. The Raptors’ win over the Celtics Wednesday night on TSN was the first-ever live 4K broadcast in North America. Saturday’s Original Six matchup on Sportsnet will be the first of eight NHL games to be broadcast in 4K.
“It’s impressive,” Scott Moore, President of Sportsnet and NHL properties, said. “I think it’s going to make even more of a difference than I thought originally.”
In case you don’t know what 4K is, it’s the latest in TV technology that offers previously unimaginable quality. It boils down to the number of pixels that make up an image. High definition quality comes in two formats, 720 or 1080. 720p is made up of 1,280 pixels displayed horizontally by 720 pixels vertically, while 1080p is made up of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. 4K, or Ultra HD, blows the competition out of the water, with four times the pixel resolution compared to 1080p (4096 by 2160), meaning the picture quality and detail is absolutely breathtaking.
In order to watch 4K broadcasts, you need a 4K compatible TV as well as a 4K receiver. The Rogers NextBox or the Bell 4K PVR need to be installed in order to take advantage of 4K channels. Both PVRs are currently sold-out, and you’ll need to sign up for a waiting list before actually receiving a 4K PVR.
The difference 4K can make for hockey fans watching at home or at the bar is significant.
“What I noticed is that the puck really is a lot easier to spot,” said Moore. “Because of the speed of the puck, which is the fastest projectile in professional sports, it’s not as blurry. It’s amazing; you can see the edges of the puck. The other thing that you’ll note is it’s so easy to read the names and the numbers on the jerseys.”
If you want tangible evidence of the difference between 4K and HD, use the video below as an example. YouTube videos automatically play in HD (or 720p). Click the gear at the bottom of the video and change the quality of the video to 240p. The difference in pixels between 240p and 720p (three times the pixels) is the same as 720p to 4K.
Night and day. 720p might not look like a fuzzy void when compared to 4K, but there are significant advantages to watching in Ultra HD. According to Moore, there is a 20-30 per cent improvement over HD, and should jump to 50-60 per cent within the next 9-16 months when the technology becomes more advanced. He also echoed what many technophiles had said about Ultra HD, which is that the larger the screen, the more noticeable the difference between HD and 4K is.
“The definition is really noticeable, especially as you get into larger screens,” he said. “Anything over a 42” screen you’re going to really start to notice the definition.”
One of Montreal or Toronto will be playing in each of the games Sportsnet will air in 4K this season. Rogers has already announced 300 hours of 4K sports in 2016, including a total of 20 NHL games as well as all 81 Blue Jays home games. Meanwhile on TSN, 11 NHL games will air in 4K, each featuring either the Leafs or Ottawa Senators.
As for Brent Burns’ beard, Moore says you probably could count his beard hairs in 4K, although there’d be millions to keep track of.