TV Answer Man, I’ve been watching the Olympics in 4K but I can’t tell if it’s native 4K or an upconvert 4K from a 1080p picture. It doesn’t look as sharp as it could so I think it’s an upconvert. Do you know? — Scott, Madison, Wisconsin. 

Scott, before I answer, a few words on what ‘native 4K’ and ‘upconverted 4K’ is for our readers who are not familiar with the terms and their differences.

Some networks, such as Fox, produce their live sporting events, including NFL games, in 1080p HD and ‘upconvert’ them to a 4K broadcast as opposed to shooting the event in 4K and transmitting in the same format. Upconverting, or upscaling, is the process when one video format is converted to another.

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Upconverting 4K is different than what’s called, native 4K, which means the original event was produced in 4K, and broadcast or streamed in 4K as well. This is how ESPN produces its 4K sportscasts.

Many 4K enthusiasts say ESPN’s 4K picture is better than Fox because native 4K produces a sharper picture with more clarity and details. This shouldn’t be a surprise because when the event is ‘filmed’ in 4K and transmitted in the format as well, you are more likely to deliver the added resolution that 4K is known for.

However, Fox upconverts its live sports in 4K HDR (High Dynamic Range) rather than just 4K. HDR provides a more vivid picture, particularly more vivid colors. If done poorly, it can look like someone took out a few crayons and colored the images. But if it’s done right, the picture is more dynamic and evocative. You can really feel the action.

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ESPN, and other networks that do native 4K, usually do not include HDR in its sportscasts. Minus HDR, ESPN’s 4K broadcasts lack that special sauce that can make a Fox 4K game particularly compelling. But the sports channel arguably makes up for it by doing native 4K, which creates a more accurate display.

Now, what about the Olympics, you ask?

NBCUniversal, which is broadcasting the 2021 Summer Games, is taking a 1080p HD HDR feed and upconverting it to 4K HDR, which is what’s delivered to the home. Depending upon which TV provider you’re using, you may be getting a 4K upconverted signal, or a 4K HDR one. (Not every provider is offering both 4K and HDR. For instance, Comcast, which owns NBC, is doing the games in 4K HDR, but DIRECTV and FuboTV are among the providers that are not.)

Scott, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann