Ultra HD broadcast TV has finally arrived, and BT is first past the post with its BT Sport Ultra HD channel.
We watch the Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle and even a dreadful performance from both sides looks eye-poppingly marvellous on the screen.
This is what a hawk must feel like. The level of detail and clarity is remarkable. Not only can you make out the individual beads of sweat on Bastian Schweinsteiger’s brow – you can count the lines on the shirt of a Toon fan’s shirt 50 yards behind.
Then there’s this year’s hideous Premier League ball. Even during wide shots, it’s easy to make out its splashes of orange, spinning in the grass. It’s a stable image too, the super-slow pans show barely a hint of judder.
It’s not just a little sharper than regular HD, it’s a huge step up.
Granted, the regular HD broadcast isn’t the best we’ve seen, but the UHD performance is next-level stuff. Once you’ve sampled UHD, it will be very hard to go back.
What about the hardware? BT continues its partnership with Humax, who actually build the box. Despite all the BT branding and an appearance that fits in with BT’s routers (everything looks like a 1995 modem) the device’s real name is the Humax DTR-T4000.
Essentially, the hardware is the same as every Humax YouView box we’ve reviewed. It’s a set-top box with a built-in hard disk, which lets you record broadcast programming.
This unit has 1TB of storage, which we’re told is good for 60 hours of UHD content. That translates to 250 hours of HD recordings, or 600 hours of standard definition. Operation is a swift, stable affair, although start-up time is very long if you have ‘eco mode’ activated.
The software is where the fun is. YouView’s interface is full of features, lovely to use and nice to look at too. For newcomers, YouView is a free service that uses the internet to bring Freeview and on-demand services under a single roof.
You get a clever electronic programme guide that lets you scroll back and forth by seven days. Seen something you missed? If it’s tied to an app (say, BBC iPlayer for The Great British Bake Off), you’ll be taken straight to it. You can also pause, rewind and record live TV, as well as set timers to schedule recordings.
What does BT bring to the party? Extra channels, including BT Sports 1 and 2, BT Sport Europe and BT Sport ESPN, but the main course is channel 434, where you’ll find UHD content.
But unfortunately, you can’t just buy a BT Ultra HD YouView box and watch 4K straight away. Firstly, you must be a BT Infinity subscriber, and you’ll need a line with a minimum download speed of 44Mbps.
Then you’ll have to subscribe to the BT Entertainment Ultra HD package, yours for £15 per month, on top of the standard £17.99 a month line rental, £44 engineer installation fee, and £50 for the box.
Newcomers to BT will get the box for free, but they need to pay an activation fee of £35 for Infinity, as well as a Home Hub delivery charge of £6.95.
Then you’ll want a compatible 4K TV. That’s a set of 2160p resolution, with an HDMI 2.0 connection that supports HDCP 2.2 content protection – many older sets won’t cut it. Of course, you can watch downscaled 4K on a regular HD TV, but you won’t get your money’s worth.
All set? The final thing you’ll need is patience. Only certain events are being filmed and broadcast in UHD. It’s mostly football – Premier League, UEFA Champions League and FA Cup matches.
There’s also Aviva Premiership rugby and the NBA basketball match from London. In between, you get endless adverts for UHD and for BT.
Is it worth it? Yes if you’re a sports fan with an existing BT Infinity subscription. Yes even if you’re not, but desperately want to watch UHD TV right now.
No doubt about it – this is most accomplished live TV you can watch right now, and BT deserves a gold star for being the first to deliver it.
Our only concern is the amount of money you have to spend for what is currently a very limited amount of content. If BT can give us more to watch, we can reconsider that fifth star.
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