TV Answer Man, our family has Charter Spectrum TV so we don’t have any 4K shows on it. I wanted to watch (last night’s) Alabama-Georgia national championship game in 4K but we couldn’t with Charter. We had to watch the ESPN HD channel. How did the 4K channel look for the game. Was it better than Fox’s 4K of the NFL? I am very curious. — Peter, Chincoteague, Virginia. 

Peter, the Alabama-Georgia national college football championship game (won by Georgia, 33-18) was available in 4K on four TV providers: DIRECTV, Comcast/Xfinity, YouTube TV and Verizon. (Charter’s Spectrum TV service has yet to offer a single event in 4K.)

ESPN, which broadcast the game, provided a 4K feed to the four distributors on its SkyCam channel which was part of the network’s MegaCast presentation. The SkyCam is a camera system suspended over the field and controlled by a computer. The effect is that the viewer feels like he or she is following the action from a perch positioned about 20 feet above the quarterback.

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In addition, the 4K version included the ESPN radio play-by-play rather than the play-by-play or commentary from the ESPN TV announcing crew.

I watched the game in 4K on Comcast and found the picture to be far more detailed than ESPN’s high-def feed of the game and a typical Fox 4K sportscast. You could see (almost feel) the texture of uniforms, the ball and other objects on the field. Player close-ups were even better.

However, the colors were not as vivid as a Fox 4K sportscast because ESPN’s 4K productions do not include HDR (High Dynamic Range) which Fox does.

(Fox takes a 1080p HD game broadcast and upscales it to 4K HDR. The HDR feature adds color intensity to the picture which many viewers seem to like. In contrast, ESPN produces the game and transmits it in 4K which results in a more realistic image but does not include the color enhancing HDR feature.)

I mostly enjoyed the SkyCam angle although it occasionally left me feeling a vertigo sensation when it would spin quickly from one side of the field to the other. (And if you’re wondering why ESPN restricted the 4K broadcast to the SkyCam rather than the main ESPN feed, do the math. It’s a lot cheaper to use one 4K camera than doing a complete production in the format.)

While I appreciated the 4K production, this is 4K which is a polarizing technology, to say the least. Social media sites last night were overflowing with comments about the 4K production with some good and some bad. For example:

“4k skycam looks awesome on my LG OLED / DirecTV,” tweeted @PMT703.

“The 4k skycam is lame. Randomly zooms around with lousy audio. Why not skip all the other 12 lousy feeds and do one proper 4k feed?” tweeted @HankHampshire.

“Sports in 4K are amazing (watching ESPN 4K on YouTube tv) we need this to be the norm across the board,” @damanr wrote on Twitter.

The picture quality of this @ESPN  4K broadcast is fantastic, and really highlights just how bad their regular cameras have gotten with today’s TVs. When are we going to get this for every game?” tweeted @erikPollom.

“Not feeling this ESPN 4K Skycam tho,” @Primodarebel wrote on Twitter.

@espn @YouTubeTV  your 4K feed for the National Championship game looks like a 90s knob tv quality. Get it together,” wrote @lakeoceanpond on Twitter.

“I watched the 4K feed !! Amazing,” tweeted @DTV757.

This is a typical reaction after a 4K broadcast. Depending upon various factors, including providers, home Internet service, network production standards and more, the 4K broadcast can either look great or so-so (or worse). And even if it looks great to most viewers, some will still not like it. There’s a serious eye-of-the-beholder factor with 4K.

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

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— Phillip Swann