Harris, Avid help SportsCentre make HD leap

By Ken Kerschbaumer
Look out ESPN: there’s a new HD SportsCenter in town. Err, make that SportsCentre. Last month TSN, Canada’s top sports network that broadcasts everything from NHL playoffs to NASCAR and Curling championships, flipped the HD switch on SportsCentre, making it the first daily HD newscast to be available in Canada.

“We’ve been doing HD remote production of sporting events for three years now with the help of Dome Productions,”says Rick Chisholm, TSN VP, programming and production. “So the next question was how do we get more HD on the network? SportsCentre is our highest profile show and also involves the most staff and hours of the day. So it was a matter of getting behind moving it to HD and helping the engineering department.”

The move pushes TSN over the 50% mark when it comes to the amount of HD programming available during the day. SportsCentre makes up nine hours of the weekday schedule and 15 hours of weekend programming.

Allan Morris, CTV senior VP, engineering and operations, headed up the engineering planning and integration. The original plan called for a three-step process with a move first to HD tape-based editing and playback followed by a move to server-based editing and playback. But technology curves slow for no one and Morria says the engineering staff quickly found itself tearing up tape-based plans and making server-based broadcasts a part of the first phase.

“When we started planning server-based HD wasn’t on the horizon,” says Morris. “Server based HD editing wasn’t on the horizon and while going back to tape wasn’t really appealing it was what we thought we would have to do. But Leitch introduced a server-based HD system and now we find ourselves on the bleeding edge.”

Chisholm says getting to that bleeding edge involved a lot of meetings. “In a formal sense we met on a bi-weekly basis but there were conversations in the hallway every day,” he says. “A solid schedule and training were absolutely integral so that everyone knew how to operate their camera, switcher and even graphics as the Vizrt systems are new.”

For now the Leitch system is relatively small, with six ingest and three playout channels. But it’s the perfect size for the amount of HD content that will be arriving into TSN’s facility.

“The production department was the big winner,”adds Chisholm.”The idea of getting an HD server was a huge Christmas present.”

Avid HD editing systems are on hand for quickly turning HD material stored at 50 Mbps into story packages ready for air. Morris says HD content was originally stored at 100 Mbps but that, after some tests, TSN decided to dial it down to 50 Mbps to effectively double storage capacity without sacrificing image quality. The system can now store approximately 300 hours of HD content. SD material is still stored at 25 Mbps.

Other new gear included a Ross MDX Synergy production switcher with three mix-effects, Hitachi 3100 HD studio cameras, an Avid Nitris system for show opens and other long-form material and a couple of Sony HDCAM SR VTRs. Evertz up-and-down conversion gear is also on hand to convert content as it passes through a Pro-Bel 96×96 router (plans call for an expanded 512×512 router to be added in phase two).

“We also have two Avid HD Dekos and Avid Thunder servers plus two HD Vizrt graphic systems,” says Morris. “The only thing that is still SD is the lower-third ticker which is upconverted. But you can definitely tell the difference when graphics are originated in HD.”

The newsroom workflow is now HD with the end product downconverted to SD for non-HD viewers.
The big issue is dealing with 4:3 and 16:9 material in terms of handling the left and right side of material and archives,
says Morris.

Stage two involves expanding the use of HD ENG gear. “Right now we have a few HD cameras and we’re also trying out Sony’s XDCAM-HD,” says Morris. He expects the HD ENG situation to sort itself out in the next few months or early next year.

The third phase will involve continued expansion of both the Leitch server system and satellite-receive facilities.

Second and third phases aside, TSN staffers are now settling in to the reality of HD workflows. Chisholm will be the first to say it wasn’t an easy process.

“There was some mental fatigue, especially when you go to a new technology overnight,”he explains. “But we’re extremely happy with the way things turned out.”

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