ESPN Embraces High-Def

Mar 17, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Special to TelevisionWeek
ESPN launches a new era in sports television March 30 with a high-definition simulcast of the game between the world champion Anaheim Angels and the Texas Rangers from Anaheim’s Edison Field. It’s the first of 100 live events the network will offer this year in HD as a complement to its standard-definition coverage on ESPN.
ESPN HD, as the service is called, will offer, in addition to Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League, College baseball championships and Women’s NCAA basketball semfinals and championships in HDTV for viewers with wide-screen digital TVs. Others get to see the games on standard analog sets, which Bryan Burns, ESPN’s VP, strategic business planning and development, said will show an improved picture, because the HD cameras pick up more lines of resolution than do standard cameras. Or as he prophetically said: “It’s beautiful stuff in, beautiful stuff out.”
In addition to airing the 100 events this year, the network plans to increase its HD coverage by around 50 percent in spring 2004 and will produce 3,700 hours of studio programming, including its centerpiece show, SportsCenter, from a new 120,000-square-foot digital facility in Bristol, Conn., scheduled to open in the spring of next year.
ESPN, in concert with Disney-owned ABC Labs, selected the 720 progressive-scan HD system, one of the FCC-approved formats, explained Mr. Burns, “because it captures sports motion better than the de facto 1080i interlace technology. ABC used it for its Super Bowl coverage, uses it in prime time for Alias and will use it for its Stanley Cup finals coverage.”
ESPN is deciding which sound system to marry with its video, which will intermittently carry an HD symbol on the simulcast. “Normally, we use straight stereo sound,” Mr. Burns said.
Technically, to deliver an HD signal “[we will] take the output in Bristol from ESPN and upconvert the signal from the normal 4.5 aspect ratio to a 16.9 ratio for wide-screen TV,” Mr. Burns said, adding, “We’ll be covering events using HD equipment rather than converting regular equipment.”