It’s Super Bowl Sunday. Where’s the 4K?

The lawyers would like me to tell you that displaying this graphic doesn’t imply any relationship with the NFL or anyone else and that we’ll take it down if they ask. So there.

Seriously? I know I’ve beat this particular drum before, but how can it be that 4K TVs have been out on the market almost 4 years and there’s still no Super Bowl in 4K? You can’t stream it, you can’t get it off satellite, and you sure as shootin’ can’t get it over the air.

To make matters worse, you know that the fine folks at CBS are using 4K cameras. You know it because you can see them zoom in to ridiculous degrees. A 4K picture has four times the image of an HD one, and you can blow up an HD picture about 2X before it really suffers, so multiply that out and it means an 800% zoom level from any 4K camera.

The problem just isn’t on the “production” end. Many shows today are captured and edited in 4K, but then at the last minute they’re scaled down to HD for broadcast. I’m sure the Super Bowl is too, because at some point in the distant future people will want to see replays of today’s game and they’re going to want them in 4K. Great for future me, but how does that help today me?

The big problem with 4K is still distribution. While you see Netflix and a few others distributing 4K in theory, very few people really have the bandwidth coming into the home to get a high-quality 4K picture so it’s beat up and compressed so it’s barely better than HD. And let’s be honest, Netflix HD isn’t that great (although it’s better than it used to be.) Satellite distribution would seem to be made for 4K, but neither DIRECTV or DISH are broadcasting live 4K. Both say that they’re ready, but there aren’t any live 4K broadcasts. Personally I would have thought today would be the perfect time to try that, but who am I.

Everyone from satellite companies to movie studios to the trade associations say that this is the year it’s going to actually happen; there’s finally a standard for 4K display and people are getting faster internet at the same time compression technology is getting better. When people can really stream a 40mbps signal reliably, we’ll see decent quality 4K over the internet. DIRECTV launched two massive, RV-sized satellites to handle 4K, and DISH has made arrangements for live 4K as well. They even have 4K hardware… coming soon. The pieces are all in place. But most of those pieces were in place last year, and we didn’t see a lot of movement in 4K.

Oh, and the idea of 4K over-the-air TV? Let’s put one thing out there: it would take an act of Congress to make it happen, not to mention a long transition period. So all I’m going to say is good luck with that. If 4K broadcast ever comes let’s just automatically assume it won’t be for 5 years or more. By then, will people even still use antennas, or will the internet have totally taken over? Given the growth of streaming content, the question’s not as silly as you think.

So, will I be asking this question again when Super Bowl Sunday rolls around in 2017? Yeah, probably. And be warned… I’ll be twice as cranky.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.