Just as Formula 1 pushes boundaries with technology on track, so too has it historically been at the cutting edge of developments with its television coverage.

F1 was quick to shift its broadcasts to High Definition, then real HD and, in 2017, moved to 4K ultra-high definition.

Now, in partnership with its Official Broadcast Connectivity Provider Tata Communications, it is beginning to put in place what is needed for the likely next industry standard – 8K. 

The new images will be four times sharper than current F1 broadcasts and, while that may seem an unnecessary step considering how good the current resolution is, the quest for improvement never stops. 

While some might question the need for such a step in better picture quality, Dhaval Ponda, Vice President and Global Head Media & Entertainment Business at Tata Communications, says 8K is the future. 

“What happened gradually over the last couple of years is audiences globally, in almost every single part of the world, have got used to having content in 4K. And for the young generation this is where the bar is now set,” Ponda told Motorsport.com.  

“I think that the transition to 8K is going on actually quite well in the industry. And it will definitely happen because, for the current generation that has got used to 4K, for them 8K will really offer a finer detail and a higher level of quality.” 

For those F1 fans who are pretty satisfied with the current quality of broadcast, it may be hard to imagine that things could be even better. 

Biggin Hill FOM production 2023

But as Ponda explained: “It is a step up. Again, if you go back to the days of HD and when things moved into Full HD, I think that change was fairly significant.  

“And when we went from Full HD to 4K, I think it was visibly better quality, as you have more depth and more detail. Similarly for 8K, it will capture so much more raw detail that it will be stunning. If you look at a shot of an ocean racing competition in 8K, it is sublime.” 

Ponda has identified three key stages that need to be passed for F1 to move to an era of 8K broadcasts.  

“Step one is having the underlying digital infrastructure in place, which is basically around investing significantly into next generation technologies,” Ponda said.  

“A lot of this investment is also a genuine investment into the future, because you don't see any revenue on that in the near term.” 

The second step involves working with technology partners to establish an 8K ecosystem. 

“Change is never isolated,” he added. “It is never led by a single organisation. It is always a group of companies that work together to deliver that change for viewers globally.  

Abu Dhabi GP race start 2023

“So we are actively working with technology partners, but also with major sports broadcasters and sports federations to be able to deliver this change to the audience.” 

But the final step is perhaps the most critical – and it is of 8K screens being at the right price point for the consumer to want to sign up.

With the technology currently quite expensive for the average consumer, Ponda believes that prices need to drop before the final step can be actioned.

“We would need to have 8K screens and 8K TVs at a cost-effective price point that consumers are able to adopt,” he said. “But this is also happening quite quickly.” 

Viewing experience 

Making things better for the F1 viewer at home is not just about making the images better qualifying though. 

One other critical improvement is lag. At the moment, fans at the circuit experience 1.5 seconds of latency when they are watching the trackside screens.  

For the people who tune it at home, the images arrive with a delay of six or seven seconds, from the moment they were captured by FOM’s camera operators. 

Karun Chandhok, Sky Sports F1, interviews Jonathan Wheatley at Qatar GP 2023

Tata has been evaluating ways to cut the delay so TV images are as close to live as possible.Ponda said: “Our investment has always been on how can we shave off that extra second, half a second or even milliseconds of live content that is going across thousands of miles. 

“Reducing the lag involves a host of things. It is across working with better hardware, and improving the processing power of computers.  

“But one of the ways in which we are looking at to reduce the lag and improve the quality of content is with investment into edge-based infrastructure.”  

So what would be the minimal amount of lag that can be achieved? 

“We are looking at a scenario - and this is in the near future - in which we bring the lag down sufficiently enough where, if you were to stand next to a sports venue, you would see an event like a goal or somebody crossing the finish line happening on your screen, almost at the same time as you hear the crowd’s response coming from the venue,” said Ponda. “So yes, the technology is improving significantly.

“The edge-based digital infrastructure is where most of the advances will be made. Because when you compute at the edge, it means that you are able to do processing there rather than having to go all the way to a data centre or a remote location and then come all the way back. That will be the path forward very soon.” 

Biggin Hill FOM production 2023

Getting everything synchronised 

The delay in images making it on to TV screens has opened up one of the most frustrating aspects of watching modern F1 – nothing being in sync. 

If you watch race images on a screen, take the commentary from the radio, and load up data screens on your phone, the three elements are rarely linked up. 

The live standings could show a lead change, shortly before the commentator tells you what has happened – and then it’s still a couple of seconds before the screens show it.

It is an annoyance many fans have experienced but one which, according to Ponda, could soon be a thing of the past. 

“Right now most of the content consumption across the primary screen or TV screen, the digital screens - so laptops, tablets, mobile phones - and the screens at the venues are all out of sync.

“This is because the technology is fairly fragmented across various modes of content consumption.

“So we have worked with some of the leading digital players in order to deliver a synchronised experience, as we call it, where regardless of the screen - you could be at a venue looking at a trackside screen, a digital screen and a primary screen at the same time - they would all be in sync. 

“The technology does exist today in order to deliver that experience. And I think this will be the way forward, so people will be able to have synchronised video consumption across various screens.”

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