Why aren’t sports programs in 1080p?

Because they’re not? Ok, that’s not a very good answer, but it actually is pretty close to the right one. You would think that sports programming would be out there in glorious 1080p or even 4K, but the truth is it isnt, and there is a very good reason for that: money.

Let’s look first at broadcast sports. You know what I mean… sports that you find on your local broadcast station. There are zero — precisely no — broadcasters that put out a 1080p signal. They could if they wanted to, it’s part of the broadcast specifications, but when broadcasters went to high definition about ten years ago, there were no 1080p televisions and 1080p equipment was insanely expensive. (Yeah, today your cell phone can record 1080p, but broadcasters are still paying the bill for the transmitters and encoders they bought back in the last decade.) All HD broadcasting in the US is in either 720p or 1080i. 1080i may sound a lot like 1080p, but it’s really only half as good, and 720p is even worse.

So, if a game starts with recording and broadcasting equipment provided by a local station, it won’t be 1080p. Sorry, that’s just the way it is, as Bruce Hornsby used to say.

What about cable channels like ESPN and those pesky regional sports networks? ESPN also goes out at 720p because it’s part of the “Disney Industrial Complex” that includes ABC, and all Disney-owned stations use the same technology. Regional sports networks mostly use 1080i, sometimes because they share equipment with local broadcasters, and sometimes … just because they’re virtual monopolies that don’t need to really improve in order to get people to watch. Sorry folks, the truth hurts.

To make matters worse, ESPN is still smarting from the days that it tried to to 3D sports, only to have that land with a big thud because no one had enough 3D glasses for an entire gameday party. They’re going to be a lot more careful with any new technologies.

The landscape is changing though, but 1080p isn’t the future. Broadcast networks, led by CBS, are getting into 4K cameras, just to be able to zoom in further, and slowly but surely we’re seeing more events captured in 4K so that future sports fans can look at them more closely. 4K broadcast equipment may never show up, but 4K cameras and recorders are cheaper than ever. This doesn’t mean that any sports network is going to go 100% 4K in the near future, but the wheels are turning slowly. We may start to see some special broadcasts in 4K in 2015, if pay-TV companies have 4K receivers out at that point. There may some streaming 4K events, but my guess is that the quality won’t be that good, so that’s just a gimmick.

Bottom line here, folks, you’ll never see 1080p sports. But in a few years, you won’t care.