Q. I don’t understand why the Super Bowl, the biggest game in the world, is not going to be in 4K. This makes no sense! I bought a 4K TV for Christmas for our family just to watch stuff in 4K and the Super Bowl isn’t even going to be in 4K. Come on!! — Hank, Boulder, Colorado.
Hank, you’re right. CBS has announced that Super Bowl 2021, which will pit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Kansas City Chiefs on February 7, will not be available in 4K. That includes streaming, cable and satellite. The game will only be available in High-Definition on all devices and services.
The decision has surprised many 4K TV owners because Fox last year became the first network to offer the Super Bowl in 4K. Once a specific event is available in 4K, it usually remains available in the format. However, there are some things that are different this year that might explain why CBS is only doing the game in high-def.
Before I explain, let me say that I asked CBS — twice — why it’s not doing the game in 4K. The network’s PR team did not respond, which is surprising because I did get a response last week when I asked if the game would be in 4K. But two different spokesmen did not respond to my follow-up questions regarding why.
So that leaves me to offer some educated guesses.
First, there’s an international pandemic.
Yes, if you haven’t noticed, that Coronavirus thing has shut down and/or altered many aspects of our life for the last year. While sporting events resumed last summer, they did so with several safety restrictions such as no fans and frequent testing of the athletes. The pandemic isn’t over and it continues to affect how the networks cover the games. Due to the need for social distancing and other precautions, it’s not as easy for CBS to place its production people everywhere it would like. It’s quite possible that CBS would need more people and production trucks for 4K than Fox because the latter actually produced the 2020 Super Bowl in 1080p HD and upscaled it to 4K. If CBS wanted to do a ‘native 4K’ production — the game is broadcast on site in 4K and transmitted in 4K — it would likely require greater personnel and that’s easier than it looks these days.
Second, CBS has never done a NFL game in 4K.
I can hear people already saying, hey, didn’t ESPN just do the college football championship game in 4K? The pandemic didn’t stop them.
Well, that’s right. But ESPN has been doing 4K broadcasts for a few years. CBS has only been involved in producing select holes of The Masters golf tournament in 4K. The network has never done a football game in 4K, let alone a game of the magnitude of the Super Bowl. The prospect of producing next month’s game in 4K during a pandemic – and without the past experience of doing a major 4K broadcast — probably scared the network’s executives to death.
Again, this is just speculation because CBS is refusing to say officially why it’s decided against a 4K broadcast. (And, guys, if you would like to offer a reason, it’s not too late. You know where I am.) For all we know, the reason is something quirky, such as an executive’s whim.
Hank, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann