BT scores an early goal in the Ultra HD content race with the launch of Europe's first 4K channel
BT Sport Ultra HD has left me giddy.
Ten years ago I wandered into the Tokyo equivalent of Currys and saw an HD broadcast for the first time. The clarity blew my mind and I’ve never forgotten the moment. Since then nothing that’s been broadcast has had the same impact. That all changed when the Humax DTR-T4000 turned up, the UK's first set-top box to cater for 4K TV owners, as part of the BT TV ecosystem.
There’s a lot more to the DTR-T4000 than just UHD, being a fully-fledged YouView PVR with seven-day rollback EPG, an array of on-demand content (some of it free, some rentable, some for purchase) and access to BT TV’s subscription package.
Humax has taken the uninspired-looking DTR-T1000 (reviewed in HCC# 249) and shoehorned in a UHD tuner and slightly larger hard disk (1TB). Connectivity includes the all-important HDMI 2.0 socket, compatible with HDCP 2.2 and capable of outputting 2160/50p images with 10-bit colour and PCM stereo or Dolby Digital+ surround sound. The box is easy to accommodate - at 234mm wide it'll sit neatly on your kit rack.
Not so long ago the BT TV onscreen interface was more complex than Spaghetti Junction. Things have improved greatly and the remote control (lengthy but light) works nicely in tandem with the operating system, which is enjoyable to use, moving slickly along its two-tier carousel of options that appears at the bottom of the screen.
The 1TB capacity of the internal hard disk is perhaps a bit mean as you can only record 60 hours of UHD material, but it is sufficient for around 250 hours in HD, 600 hours in standard-def, or somewhere in between for a mix of the three. Recording two live UHD football matches (five hours and eight minutes in total) filled nine per cent of the hard disk, according to the onscreen info. For watch-n-wipers all this won't be an issue, but those who like to hoard TV series and are planning to gorge on as much 4K fare as possible, it could be.
To access the UHD channels you must be a BT broadband customer. And it must be of the Infinity variety – a fast connection is essential. Some clarification is needed here, in fact - don't assume that a BT Infinity 1 subscription will suffice. 'BT TV Ultra HD is available to BT Infinity 1 and 2 customers,' explains BT. 'The service requires 44Mbps which ensures a high-quality TV viewing experience and concurrent internet use. Infinity 1 customers will be able to order BT TV Ultra HD if their line is technically capable of supporting 44Mb (broadband usage, however, will still be subject to the 40Mbps limit). The majority of BT Infinity customers will be able to receive the service.'
You must also be a BT TV Entertainment Plus subscriber (£15/month). You get 248 channels including 47 premium ones with a decent roster of aerial-delivered non-4K Freeview channels and broadband-delivered BT TV ones. BT says the service will only work if the Humax box is connected by Ethernet (or Powerline, maybe) to a BT Home Hub router (£6.95 for new customers).
Netflix is absent but is coming at an unspecified later date and you can subscribe to Sky Movies, Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2, although these are not in HD, let alone UHD, and look diabolical on a 55in screen.
Included in the subscription is the BT Sport Pack (BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2, BT Sport Europe, BT Sport ESPN), which includes all of the UEFA Champions League and a number of Premier League games. Approximately 50 channels are in HD but that includes seven BT Sport red button options.
One or two live matches a week will be shown in 4K on the Ultra HD Sport channel (number 434 on the EPG). Other sports lined up include MotoGP, UFC and rugby. To help satiate your desire for 2,160p material, there’s a handful of short promos in 4K designed to show off the format, located in the BT TV portal.
The EPG is a paragon of onscreen guides, so that finding and recording shows is about as easy as it gets. The PVR is highly responsive apart from taking its time to boot up (a real annoyance) and re-tune channels. Pausing is instantaneous but fast-forward and rewind aren’t the expected progressions that simply double the speed smoothly with each press. Instead, they stutter and jump like a kangaroo doing a steeplechase.
When viewed live or in replay the quality of the UHD pictures (in this case on a Samsung UE55JU7500) is truly spectacular, with those additional pixels paying rich dividends in terms of definition and clarity. And, from my early viewings, it's clear the event director is choosing shots that take advantage of this, with hunting out wider angles that allow you to see more of the pitch and stadium.
A major benefit is how well defined nearly everything is. Large amorphous areas such as the turf still look like a solid carpet rather than lawn grass, especially when the camera pans. The frame rate of 50fps combined well with my screen’s motion processing to keep everything supremely smooth, although the shape of the ball did slightly distort sometimes. Note that you could partner this PVR with a Full HD TV (the HDMI output can be set to 720p and 1080p) and still enjoy those 50fps broadcasts.
During Chelsea vs Arsenal in the Community Shield, one shot showed Jose Mourinho standing on the touchline. The faces of around 800 supporters were clearly visible behind him. When Eden Hazard took a free kick just outside the Arsenal box, the camera zoomed in slightly so that every player appeared pin-sharp against the turf. It was football with a real sense of drama.
Colour fidelity and contrast of the 4K content were first-rate. Looking at the same game on the non-4K BT Sport HD channel, it was as if someone had smeared vaseline on the screen.
With no compatible studio cameras, the half-time bit is done by the commentator up in the stands, which gives the game away that BT has yet to put resources in to the overall presentation. But when the actual live footage is so impressive, that hardly seems important. The bottom line is that UHD is here, and not before time. Those already signed up for BT broadband are advised to book an engineer in for an install as soon as possible.
BT TV UHD box (Humax DTR-T4000)
Price: Installation plus £15/month sub
Highs: Pin-sharp UHD image clarity and detail; slick menu system; YouView seven-day rollback EPG; plenty of catch-up content
Lows: Needs more regular UHD broadcasts; requires fast BT broadband; box slow to boot up; no Netflix yet
HDD: Yes. 1TB
Catch-up channels: Yes. (BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All4, Demand 5, BT Player, S4C)
Connections: 1 x HDMI; 1 x optical audio; 1 x Ethernet; RF aerial loopthrough; 1 x USB (charge port)
Dimensions: 234(w) x 40(h) x 149(d)mm
Features: 14-day (seven-day rollback) YouView EPG; Series Link; live pause, rewind, fast-forward; PCM stereo or Dolby Digital+ sound output; HDMI UHD 8-bit/10-bit colour output; 2160p/1080p/1080i/720p output; on-demand content (Sky Store, Curzon Cinema, Nat Geo Wild, E!, SyFy, Universal, Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery, Sony TV, Discovery, TLC, History, Fox, Comedy Central, MTV, Now TV, Milkshake!, UKTV Play, Quest); parental controls; audio description; subtitles
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