4K World Cup – can it beat the real thing?

It's the ultimate versus test: we watched a World Cup quarter-final in 4K and went all the way to Brazil to see the real thing, to find out if those extra pixels make you feel like you’re actually at the game.

Last week’s World Cup quarter-final between France and Germany might’ve decided which team would be first to advance to the last four of Brazil 2014 but it also had extra significance in the world of TV. The game was beamed back in Ultra HD (or 4K to its friends) to the Vue cinema in London’s Westfield, and we were there to check it out.

A fortnight prior to this we were lucky enough to travel to Brazil for England’s group game versus Uruguay. Having seen both, how well does 4K recreate the experience of being at a World Cup match in Brazil? Let’s take a look.

The view

My seat at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo was about seven rows from the front, meaning my view of the action when it neared our end of the pitch was not dissimilar to that of the pitchside cameras at the Maracanã. They’re the ones that show off the extra pixels so well you could almost read the accreditation badges hanging around the necks of pitchside photographers, but they still couldn’t quite compete with my view of Wayne Rooney’s first-ever World Cup goal. Unfortunately (or should that be fortunately?) the same can’t be said for Uruguay’s second, as it happened down the far end of the ground. That’s not a problem for the 4K cameras, with 13 of them scattered around the stadium to pick up every bit of the action no matter where it happens. On that basis alone, 4K nicks all three points here.

The resolution

Nobody ever told us what resolution the game was being shown at in Sao Paulo but it looked even better than 4K to me. I asked the stewards, checked the small print on the back of my ticket and even tried to get in touch with Sepp Blatter but apparently he had ‘better things to do’. Back in London, Sony was far more helpful. They showed it at 3840x2160, which I discovered is enough to see Raphael Varane’s nipples through his shirt during the national anthems, if that’s your sort of thing. Like football in 3D, it’s less noticeable on the wide shots from the top of the stands, although you could practically pick out individual faces in the crowd on the far side. Get down to the dugouts or close-up at a corner kick and the effect is obvious. It looks fantastic. Unfortunately, despite Sony being much more accommodating than FIFA (quelle surprise), no matter how many pixels you add to the screen it’ll always look sharper in real life. Another 3 points to reality.

The atmosphere

Attending a World Cup is always a special experience but doing so in Brazil is incomparable. Brazilians live for football and being in a packed stadium surrounded by excited locals, Uruguayans, Americans, Chileans and who knows what other nationalities was incredible. Thankfully the England Supporters Band were nowhere to be seen (or, more importantly, heard) due to a ban on musical instruments in stadiums. Back in England I shared the cinema showing the game with people in suits, who looked like they’d have no issue with participating in a Mexican Wave or mugging at the camera despite their team being 3-0 down. Apart from the noisy German sitting directly behind me it wasn’t exactly raucous. Another victory for real life.

The game

Neither were exactly World Cup classics but the England game certainly provided more clear cut chances to get out of your seat. The header that Rooney put against the bar from about four centimetres will haunt us for a good few years yet, while the one he put straight at the keeper from a few yards out would’ve been a goal had he been wearing a United shirt. In the 4K quarter-final there were times when the ref’s wonderfully rendered combover seemed more entertaining than the game itself and an Ultra HD half-time replay of Hamez Rodriguez’s wondertonk against a Suarez-less Uruguay was certainly well received, although that would look spectacular no matter how many pixels it was made up of. Considering England’s defeat we’ll call this one a draw.

Post-match analysis

Compared to watching in normal HD, 4K was like putting Lionel Messi up against Iain Dowie but apart from the multiple views, it loses out to attending a match in every way. Stick it in a VR headset and we may be onto something, though…
(All images by Getty Images for Sony)