by Fredy Künzler

Reading time: 7 minutes

When the neighbours cheer earlier: football TV hell

Every two years, the European or World Cup takes place in alternation. With the same regularity, countless fans ask themselves why the push notification on their cell phone beeps a goal by the Swiss national team even though, they haven’t even seen it on TV yet. Even worse: this summer too, it’s annoying when the neighbors cheer or moan 30 seconds earlier for every dicey scene!

“What’s wrong with my TV?” thinks the fan and switches his cell phone to flight mode. Unfortunately, the neighbors can’t be turned off so easily – the best method is probably to ring the neighbors’ doorbell with a six-pack of beer at half-time. Alternatively, you could take a quick look at the technology used to broadcast live TV and draw the right conclusions.

7 seconds from the stadium to the TV

Some time ago, we measured how long it takes to transmit the action from the stadium to the TV at a match of our favorite club FC Winterthur: 7 seconds.

This time is needed to transmit the TV signal from the various cameras in the stadium to the video control room, for signal processing (encoding), playout to the providers in the data centers and transmission through the provider network back to the WiFi in the stadium. Actually, 7 seconds is incredibly short for the many functions required – but it’s actually just the right amount of time to look at your cell phone after the goal celebration and watch the goal again from different angles. Some sofa football fans only realize during their first visit to the stadium that there is no replay during the live game.

The “multicast” transmission method (see blog article Broadcast, unicast, multicast and anycast: video transmission on the Internet (in German) and our FAQ), which Fiber7 customers can use, transmits the TV signal virtually in real time with a delay of just 7 seconds. Signal transmission via satellite (DVB-S) or TV cable (DVB-C) is about the same speed. Conventional linear cable television is therefore actually the measure of all things when it comes to goal celebrations. The neighbors, on whose sofa you sneak a temporary seat with a crate of beer, are presumably still watching TV conventionally via coaxial cable.

OTT, IPTV, Unicast and HLS

However, linear television is on the decline: the majority of Swiss households now watch television via OTT (over the top) – there are various terms for this, but they all mean the same thing: Internet television, IPTV, unicast or HLS (HTTP Live Streaming). The method: The multicast TV signal is split into short video files. These are normally 5 seconds long. These are strung together and transmitted from a server to the playback device like short YouTube films. Not only do all videos on social media such as TikTok, Instagram or Facebook work in this way; the well-known time-shifted television (Zattoo, Teleboy, Swisscom TV but also the PlaySRF app) and video on demand (Netflix & Co.) also use HLS as a streaming method. The production of these 5-second video chunks during live transmission takes time: typically at least 10 to 15 seconds. There is also a safety margin that each OTT provider can set themselves. If the quality of the internet connection or Wi-Fi is poor or temporarily overloaded, the chunks can only be transmitted irregularly and data congestion occurs. Pixel mush, artifacts or poor image quality of the video are the consequences – you can see it immediately.

The processing of the video signal in HLS therefore takes time, as does the image compression. To save bandwidth, the TV signals are heavily compressed. An uncompressed HD stream (720 pixels) from SRF requires around 10 Mbit/s of bandwidth; with the appropriate compression, it can be squeezed down to 1.5 to 3 Mbit/s. Compression requires computing power and time: good quality compression that is barely visible takes longer. Time that is not available for live TV. Providers who want to save bandwidth compress more. At Init7, however, we are convinced that compression is always at the expense of picture quality, which is why we do not compress TV7 at all, as our Internet connections are equipped with adequate capacity.

A balancing of interests

Broadcasting live TV via the Internet is therefore a trade-off: Better quality and a greater margin of safety – i.e. immunity to transmission interference – requires more time. Time that is not available – because the neighbors are already cheering, and as many six-packs as there are European Championship games – no, not even a die-hard fan can manage that. So the neighbor’s sofa is not a permanent solution.

HLS works across all providers and also with mobile networks, while fast multicast is limited to the provider’s network, if multicast is available at all. Multicast is also particularly susceptible to transmission interference. This is why we strongly recommend connecting multicast players via Ethernet cable and never watching via WLAN – the enjoyment is usually very limited.

Bureaucrat TV

In addition to picture interference, overload in the provider’s network, neighbors cheering too early, too much picture compression, lukewarm beer and the Swiss national team’s poor shooting, Swiss television is also spoiling the joy of unadulterated TV football. As our colleagues at report, SRF now only provides HD with 720 pixels to most providers, but no longer Full HD with 1080 pixels. The reason for this is so-called HBB TV (Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV) – a TV standard that provides people with disabilities with additional functions such as subtitling, audio description and sign language. Although this is well-intentioned, the HBB TV standard has never caught on. Malicious tongues claim that SRF still wants to ride on HBB-TV, but has not yet realized that the HBB-TV horse is long dead. There are hardly any HBB-TV-compatible players or software. SRF’s regulations stipulate “the signal integrity required by law”, otherwise providers will no longer receive the Full HD signal.

Do-it-yourself TV

Our TV7 apps therefore also use the normal HD streams with 720 pixels, regardless of whether you are watching in multicast or HLS mode. However, and this is where Init7 differs from most other providers, the Full HD signal with 1080 pixels from all seven SRG channels is still available to Fiber7 customers, but simply without a playback device or app. We transmit the signal to the end customer exactly as integrally as we receive it from the SRF Playout Center. This means we comply with the regulations. The end customer alone decides which playback device is ultimately used for viewing and whether it supports all HBB TV options. In other words, quasi DIY TV, as described in our FAQ. For example, the open source software VLC, which is available on all common platforms (also as an Apple TV or Android TV app), can be used as a player.

Important to know: Only the latest generation Apple TV, which is connected to the Fiber7 router via Ethernet cable (!), supports the encoding standard H.265, which is used by SRF for Full HD with 1080 pixels. Older devices are too weak for the H.265 codec.

It’s complicated

Unfortunately, watching football in real time and in the highest quality has become complicated these days. Technical and bureaucratic obstacles have to be overcome or the neighbors have to be bribed with a six-pack. And even then, there is still no guarantee that the Swiss national team will play really well. The alternative: a visit to the stadium, if you can get hold of tickets. Our favorite club FC Winterthur is always sold out.