By the end of this year more than 47 million households in the United States will have high-definition TV sets, up from 35 million at the end of last year. And many of those set owners will buy their new TVs in the next week in order to catch the biggest television event of the year-the Super Bowl-in hi-def.
“If you’re a retailer in Illinois or Indiana you better stock up on HDTV sets,” said Ken Kerschbaumer, editorial director for Sports Video Group, an industry association formed to help those in the sports business understand how to use technology to grow the business.
The catch is that many of the new sets being sold this year-and existing ones-still don’t funnel hi-def programming into the home. By year end, only 16 million of those 47 million homes will have hooked up their hi-def sets to hi-def programming, according to Jupiter Research.
Many consumers don’t realize they must sign up for HD programming from their cable or satellite operator. They often assume once they have the set, programming automatically comes in HD. Retailers, programmers and service providers are working to improve consumer education on this topic.
But consumers who do have both a hi-def set and hi-def programming will be able to see virtually every angle, frame and shot in hi-def when the Indianapolis Colts play the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl in Miami this Sunday.
The Super Bowl is no longer a testing ground for extending hi-def production techniques into new nooks and crannies of the game. “It still drives the sales, it’s still the top event by a long shot, but from a production side, they are sort of there. There’s not much more they can do,” Mr. Kerschbaumer said.
However, when CBS carries the big game for the first time since the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004, this year’s bout will have its own unique set of challenges for the camera crews. That’s because the Colts frequently do not use a huddle and the action can be faster as a result, explained Ken Aagaard, senior VP of operations, engineering and production services at CBS Sports. “You’re just trying to cover the action,” he said. “You have to stay on the field. You can’t do as many replays.”
CBS will devote more than four times its usual resources. That includes 48 hi-def cameras, up from about 12 during a regular-season game; six Super SloMo cameras, up from one or two; and a crew of about 400, an increase from the regular 75.
That additional cameras will allow CBS to capture more angles-from the goals and sidelines, for instance. “In the Super Bowl there’s no excuse to miss anything, especially as it relates to a play that could change the course of the game,” Mr. Aagaard said. “There should be no play we don’t have covered from every angle. Shame on us if we don’t have every play covered.”
CBS can handle that big bump in equipment because the network won’t be unveiling any new tricks or gee-whiz gadgetry for the game, he said. Rather, CBS will use the same production techniques for the Super Bowl as it did with games in the fall.
“Anything we are going to bring to the Super Bowl we want production people to have been introduced to along the way,” he said.
One difference, though, is that CBS has banished the EyeVision system it used for games in 2000 and 2004. The network relied on a 30-camera system mounted around the upper deck of the stadium. Those cameras revolved around a play from various angles, but the system was expensive and based on standard-definition technology.
In its place, CBS will turn to six Super SloMo cameras from Sony and a trio of high-speed hi-def cameras that can shoot from 300 to 1,000 frames per second to get finer detail. “We can get down on the line of scrimmage and see if the ball was fumbled or if it fell out of the quarterback’s hand,” Mr. Aagaard said.
Those cameras were critical in a number of playoff games. “Anything that goes on our air is used by officials in the replay decision,” he said.
ABC broke in the Super SloMo cameras last year when it carried the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Prior to the availability of the hi-def Super SloMo cameras, broadcasters upconverted slow-motion footage into hi-def. Upconverting is useful because it allows a broadcaster to include a production element it wouldn’t otherwise have, but shooting in hi-def is preferable for better clarity and quality.
As has been the case with all Super Bowl broadcasters since 9/11, CBS won’t be permitted to fly over the stadium after 4:30 p.m. ET. Instead, the network will rely on aerial shots from a nearby TV tower operated by CBS-owned WFOR-TV. Also, last week Mr. Aagard said the network was negotiating with the local police department about putting a hi-def camera system on a police helicopter. “We are trying to get some sort of aerial views of the stadium,” he said.
NFL Network is also going all out this year. The football-centric network plans to carry 63 hours of total programming in hi-def before the game, including 55 hours of live programming. That’s up from about five total hours last year, when the network didn’t carry any live pre-Super Bowl programming in hi-def.