Q. I’m very excited about the Super Bowl being in 4K, but I was wondering if this weekend’s championship games will be in 4K, too. It would seem likely considering the Super Bowl will be. So what’s the deal, Mr. Answer Man? — Lauren, Vero Beach, Florida.
Lauren, before I answer, allow me to offer a little background on the NFL and 4K.
Fox, which has the broadcast rights to the 2020 Super Bowl (February 2 from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami), will produce the event in 1080p and ‘upscale’ it to 4K via a stream on its Fox Sports apps.
Upscaling is the process when one video format is converted to another. In this case, Fox will take the 1080p HDR signal and convert it to a 4K format. (This is what Fox did during the 2019 season with the 4K display of Thursday Night Football; the Thursday games were not produced in 4K, but they were upscaled to 4K.)
This will be the first time that the Super Bowl will be in 4K, albeit an upscaled 4K.
DIRECTV, Altice (Optimum) and the live streaming service, fuboTV, have announced they will offer the game in the new display format. Who else might sign up? Well, Comcast said it would a week ago, but is now saying it’s uncertain. Dish is another possibility, but has yet to announce. (The TV Answer Man will monitor this situation and report back here if the 4K provider list changes.)
Update: Verizon has announced it will show the Super Bowl in 4K.
So, you ask, if the Super Bowl is in 4K, wouldn’t the AFC and NFC championship games be as well.
And why is that?
For starters, CBS, which is airing the Titans-Chiefs AFC championship game at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, hasn’t even broadcast a NFL game in 4K yet, although it has done some golf tournaments in the format. (Note: Fox was the first network to offer NFL games in 4K, starting last September with Thursday Night Football contests.)
But what about Fox, which is broadcasting the NFC Championship between the 49ers and Packers?
Well, Fox is doing the Super Bowl in 4K, but the location of that game (Miami) has been known for a few years, allowing the network ample time to set up a 1080p broadcast and 4K stream. The NFC championship locale (Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California) wasn’t known until last Sunday, making it more difficult, and probably more expensive, to get a reliable 4K broadcast in place, even just a 4K stream.
There are other reasons as well for the no-4K policy such as an industry consensus that 4K is not sufficiently popular yet to justify more 4K coverage. (Lachlan Murdoch, Fox’s CEO, says just 10 percent of the network’s Thursday Night Football streaming audience watches the 4K stream.)
This will likely change by the 2021 playoff season, but for now, it is what it is.
Lauren, hope that helps. Happy viewing!
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— Phillip Swann