Beeb send experimental 4K and virtual reality video across a 5G network

20 November 2017

5G network

Smartphone and tablet owners in the 5G era can expect to stream 4K video, TV and immersive 360º virtual reality (VR) games if the latest involvement in 5G trials by Sir David Attenborough and the BBC is anything to go by.

Arqiva has announced that its 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) trial in London is now showing advanced experimental content from the BBC that also uses the corporation's latest compression technology.

The Beeb's flagship natural history series from 2016, Planet Earth II, will be transmitted in 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) to a demo suite at Arqiva’s London offices. Also narrated by Sir David Attenborough, Attenborough-360, a 360º VR experience, is also being sent across the trial 5G network.

Using intelligent beam-forming technology in high-frequency mmWave spectrum, Arqiva claims that its trial is reliably achieving speeds in excess of 1Gbps. "Bandwidth required for high quality UHD services is highly content-dependant," a BBC spokesperson told "In some cases perfect quality can be delivered with 1 Mbps for very simple content, while demanding content cannot be delivered with sufficiently good quality even with the bandwidth around 10 Mbps."

Just as important in delivering what Arqiva calls 'multiple bandwidth-intensive UHD and VR streams' is the BBC R&D’s Turing encoder, an High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) open-source software video standard – also known as H.265 – that compresses video to reduce its size. "The streaming technology deployed, as well as all decoding and display equipment, supported HEVC format parameters used by BBC’s Turing coder," said the BBC spokesperson about the Arqiva 5G trial conditions.

Capable of highly efficient compression of video, Turing's now-proven interoperability with a 5G wireless system and the latest TVs and VR headgear could be crucial for post-5G TV and video-delivery across ultra-fast broadband. "In a systematic study we have shown that HEVC can reduce compression efficiency by approximately 60% for UHD content," said the BBC spokesperson.

UHD is a widescreen video format measuring 3840 x 2160 pixels that equates to an eight megapixel image, whereas high definition TV channels in the UK currently broadcast in 1920 x 1080 pixels, or two megapixels. HLG is a new technology aimed at broadcasting High Dynamic Range (HDR) video, which expands the range of contrast, brightness and colour to create more true-to-life images. Created jointly by research teams at the BBC and Japanese state broadcaster NHK, HLG is a light-coding technique that makes the video signal readable by HDR-ready and non-HDR displays alike, therefore allowing the same content to be broadcast to, and read by, all devices.

Earlier this year the BBC iPlayer hosted a four-minute demo of Planet Earth II footage UHD and HLG, while the website currently hosts a series of short films called Planet Earth II in 360º. A BBC 'taster' project, Attenborough-360, where the presenter came face to face with a titanosaur, is also available online.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Technical Writer at

Jamie has been writing journalism, books and white papers about science & nature for 20 years.

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