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Football’s World Cup produced plenty of heat and light on the pitch – and off it, too.

For the first time in the championship’s history, all 64 matches were produced in the wide-screen 16:9 HDTV (high-definition television) digital format, with 25 high-definition cameras carrying each match. The games produced more than 1,500 hours of programming, including near-live video clips in HDTV quality especially formatted for mobile phones.

By comparison, at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, 48 matches were covered in HDTV with a maximum eight cameras. There was no special production for mobile phones.

High-definition television, as its name suggests, delivers a much sharper picture than standard TV, consisting of 1,080 horizontal lines compared with 625. Converted to pixels, each picture – in the highest resolution digital TV formats – contains between 1m and 2m pixels, compared to standard definition’s effective picture resolution of about 400,000. Moreover, the new technology offers superb stereo surround sound, giving viewers a cinema-like experience.

Despite its superior quality, however, HDTV has experienced slow take-up, largely for cost reasons, said Brian Elliott, head of the World Cup international broadcast operations for Host Broadcast Services (HBS), which was hired by Fifa, football’s governing body, to provide production services. Studios, he said, needed cameras, recording equipment and other systems, while consumers need an HDTV-ready TV and set-top box.

Costs, however, have been falling thanks in part to substantial take-up of high-definition in Asia and the US. And the excitement created by the German tournament, billed as the world’s biggest HDTV event ever, could help kick-start the technology in other parts of the world. “The German World Cup, unquestionably, has given HDTV a real push,” Elliot said.

Cumulative viewing of the 64 matches was estimated at more than 32bn people, with millions of them glued to HDTV sets. Of the 250 television stations that purchased television feeds, including many small stations from developing countries, 17 had contracts for HDTV. HBS and its partners put on a good HDTV show. Newly equipped outdoor broadcast vehicles processed signals from the stadium cameras and sent them along fibre optic cables to the International Broadcast Center in Munich for processing and global distribution.

To transport the HDTV feeds, T-Systems, a unit of Deutsche Telekom, built one of the biggest, most reliable and secure private broadcast transmission networks ever to operate in Europe.

“We plan to put our HDTV experience to good use for the German Bundesliga (football league) where the technology will definitely play a role,” said Walter Zorneck, head of the Fifa World Cup engineering project at T-Systems.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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