I recently took a long weekend to visit some friends in Portland, OR, where they have a second home. They pop over from their main home in London two or three times a year, so they decided not to pay for cable or satellite TV in Portland because it wouldn't be used in the months they aren't there. Unfortunately, their townhouse complex won't allow rooftop over-the-air (OTA) antennas, and none of the several indoor OTA antennas they tried worked well at all, so they are limited to streaming, which is normally just fine with them.
However, they will be in Portland during the 2016 Summer Olympics, and they asked me if it is possible to watch the games via online streaming. It's a great question for all cord cutters, so I decided to do some research.
NBCUniversal is carrying the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in the US on its networks and digital platforms. Amazingly, the coverage will include a combined total of 6755 hours—roughly 356 hours per day! And because Rio de Janeiro's time zone is only one hour ahead of east-coast time, viewers in the US will be able to see more live action than is practical for most Olympics.
A total of 11 broadcast channels will be carrying various competitions and highlights, including two OTA terrestrial networks (NBC and Telemundo [Spanish language]) and nine cable/satellite channels (Bravo, CNBC, Golf Channel, MSNBC, NBC Sports Network [NBCSN], NBC Universo [Spanish language], USA Network, and two channels dedicated to basketball and soccer).
If you're a Dish satellite subscriber, channel 148 will be labeled "2016 Rio Olympics" and offer easy navigation among all 11 channels, and the Hopper DVR's Sports Bar mode lets you watch multiple channels simultaneously. Likewise, AT&T's DirecTV satellite and U-verse fiber-optic services offer a similar multiview channel that displays multiple networks simultaneously. The DirecTV Mix Channel offers NBC, NBCSN, Golf Channel, Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network, and NBC Universo, while the U-verse Multiview channels are NBCSN, Bravo, USA, and the local NBC affiliate.
What about online streaming? NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app (available on the Apple App Store, Google Play, the Windows Store, and Roku) will live stream 4500 hours, including all Olympic competition as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. However, the streams will be available only to authenticated pay-TV subscribers on desktop computers, mobile devices, and—for the first time—connected TVs with the NBC Sports app.
Actually, there is another way to get access to the streaming coverage: Sling TV. You can install the Sling app on many different devices, including streaming receivers (Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast), mobile devices (iOS, Android, Windows), computers (Mac, Windows), and the Xbox One game console. Also, the Channel Master DVR+ has the Sling app built in, though it does not record streaming content. (For a complete list of devices with OS requirements and how to install the app, click here
To watch the Olympics via Sling, you need the Blue service package, which costs $25/month and gets you NBC (in select areas), NBCSN, USA, and Bravo among its 40+ channels. The World News Extra add-on gives you CNBC and MSNBC along with seven other news channels for an additional $5/month, but Sling is including these two channels in its Blue package at no extra charge for the duration of the Olympics. You'll need the Sports Extra add-on ($5/month) to watch the Golf Channel and the Best of Spanish TV Extra add-on ($5/month) for coverage in Spanish on NBC Universo. The service comes with a 7-day free trial, and you can cancel your subscription at any time, though this is quite a good deal for cord cutters who want access to many cable/satellite channels without paying cable/satellite prices. (For a list of Sling packages and channels, click here
Sony's PlayStation Vue streaming service is another option. Of course, it's available on the PlayStation 3 and 4, but other devices also support it, including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and iOS and Android mobile devices. The basic Access package provides NBC, Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, NBCSN, USA, and Telemundo among its 60+ channels for $40/month, and the Core package adds the Golf Channel with its 75+ channels for $45/month. PlayStation Vue is more expensive than Sling, but if you already have it, you can watch the Olympics without needing a pay-TV subscription. (For more details on the PlayStation Vue service, click here
The Dish satellite service will offer an NBC Olympics app on its Hopper set-top boxes and accompanying Joey, Super Joey, Wireless Joey, and 4K Joey extenders. And AT&T's DirecTV satellite and U-verse fiber-optic services offer apps to stream the coverage as well.
4K/UHD & HDR
For those who have a 4K/UHD display, NBC will distribute 83 hours of coverage in Ultra HD, including the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, swimming, track and field, basketball, judo, the men's soccer final, and scenic views of Rio. Even better, the Opening Ceremony in UHD will be produced with high dynamic range (HDR) and Dolby Atmos sound. The UHD footage will be provided by Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) and Japan's NHK, both of which are actually shooting in 8K that can be seen at full resolution only in Japan—and only by a very few individuals who have an 8K display.
Otherwise, the footage will be downconverted to 4K/UHD for NBC's US distribution partners, "who will individually choose how they will make the content available to their customers," according to the NBC Olympics website. In other words, each partner can choose how much 4K/UHD footage to carry and whether or not to deliver HDR and Atmos sound during the Opening Ceremony. Also, most of this footage will be delivered on a one-day delay.
The four distribution partners that will carry the UHD footage are satellite providers DirecTV and Dish, cable provider Comcast, and EPB, an electric power company serving Chattanooga, TN, that has expanded into providing Internet access and TV and phone service using a community-wide fiber-optic network.
As you might expect, this early foray into UHD/HDR broadcasting is quite limited. DirecTV is planning a linear broadcast on channel 106 for customers with the latest Genie HD DVR set-top box (STB), DirecTV 4K-Ready TV, or compatible 4K TV connected to the latest 4K Genie Mini (for a list of compatible TVs, click here
) and the Ultimate channel package. The Opening Ceremony will be broadcast in 4K/UHD one hour after the event starts on the East Coast and two hours after it starts on the West Coast, and it will be replayed throughout the following day (August 6). Unfortunately, this event will not be broadcast with HDR or Dolby Atmos sound. The Closing Ceremony will be broadcast in 4K/UHD two hours after the event starts on the East Coast and three hours after it starts on the West Coast. Other events will be broadcast in 4K/UHD the day after they occur, though there will be no video on demand (VOD) of this content.
Dish is planning a linear broadcast on channel 146 and video-on-demand (VOD) for customers with a Hopper 3 set-top box and, if present, one or more 4K Joey extenders. Unfortunately, Dish will not be broadcasting the Opening Ceremony in 4K/UHD or HDR, but it will offer all other UHD content, including various competitions, the Closing Ceremony, and Rio scenics.
Comcast won't be pushing the 4K/UHD footage to its cable boxes; instead, it will be available only to customers who have a Samsung or LG smart TV with the Xfinity Ultra HD Sampler app. The footage will include the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and 3-5 hours of competition highlights and replays each day, all on a one-day delay and available as VOD thereafter. The Opening Ceremony will be presented in HDR with Dolby Atmos sound on Samsung TVs (not LG), but I don't know how the Atmos bitstream will travel from the TV to an external sound system; I speculate it will be via HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC).
Chattanooga residents should contact EPB
for details on how to get the UHD footage on linear channel 803. The company did not respond to my request for information regarding its plans to include HDR and Dolby Atmos sound in its broadcast of the Opening Ceremony or how much of the 4K/UHD footage it will deliver.
For my friends in Portland, OR—and any cord cutter without an OTA antenna—my advice is to sign up for Sling TV and use that to watch the Olympics. Then, if you don't want to keep the service after the games are over, you can easily cancel it. If you have an OTA antenna, you can watch whatever your local NBC affiliate broadcasts. For those who have a cable/satellite pay-TV subscription, you can watch the Olympics on a variety of broadcast channels and use the NBC Sports app for all your Olympic streaming.
Either way, this year's Olympics are taking the next step into TV streaming—and one of the first steps into HDR broadcasting for those with an appropriate display and Comcast cable service.
The Opening Ceremonies will take place on August 5, 2016, starting at 23:00 UTC (3:00 PM Pacific time, 6:00 PM Eastern time).
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