Sports Broadcasters Eye Total HD Productions But Challenges Remain To Fill In Gaps

By Carl Lindemann

HD has become the “standard” definition, and the transition to HD has
come faster than expected. However, the real issue is when HD will become universal, and what it will
take to get there? Until then, where are the rough edges that need
to be smoothed out? Much of these challenges revolve around managing
simultaneous SD and HD productions as well as working out the bugs in 5.1
audio and wireless camera connects.

Speaking on the “Total HD” panel at the League Technology Summit Ken Aagaard, CBS Sports SVP operations and production services, views today’s reality as managing a mix-and-match
hodgepodge of HD and SD productions.

“When you look at the number of HD sets out there, you see that HD is
here. But as far as total HD, we always have one or two SD games to mix
in with HD,” he explained. “Also, we have to look at other issues, mostly in audio. 5.1
has created many issues that are difficult to troubleshoot.”

Aagaard predicts that “Total HD” isn’t likely until the mandated
changeover in 2009. In the meantime, he expects to be working through
much of the same issues tomorrow that he’s been working on these past

On the Olympics front, “Total HD” will come sooner. Chip Adams, NBC
Olympics’ Director of venue engineering, says that the upcoming Beijing
Games marks the end of the switchover that began in 2002.

“In Salt Lake City, we had just a single HD feed for the opening
ceremonies. In China, everything will be in HD,” said Adams.

But Adams pointed out that the nature of the Olympic HD production will
be different than might be expected. It will not be produced like an
amalgamation of marquee events with maximum-sized broadcast production
trucks descending en mass.

“To go forward with Olympic movement, we have to downsize. There’s no way to
move such huge facility around. We have been living on flight packs since
Sydney, taking the host feed and adding a couple of cameras,” Adams

Rick Abbott, VP, Remote Operations for ESPN sees this Olympic trend
coming stateside fast. “Our production staff is thinking that we’ve got to get out of the
expando world and start thinking about straight trucks. That’s the only way
the pricing can come down for one-day set shoots,” Abbott said.

Abbott pointed to the past trend towards large productions. Some of ESPN’s
most visible HD events have grown to use five or more trucks and require
huge staffs. This is not where HD will continue to grow.

“We’ve got to go small – much smaller. The flypack world is going to pick
up steam,” said Abbott.

For Jerry Steinberg, Fox Sports SVP, Operations, what lies ahead is
building on the solid foundation now in place

“We’re into enhancement devices. Next year, everything will be in HD. The
mystery and drama are gone. What we’re doing now is television,
television with better sound, more pixels,” Steinberg said.

Two of those key “enhancements” are wireless HD field acquisition and 5.1
audio production. Aagaard detailed the trials and tribulations of getting
wireless HD cameras out on the PGA tour. “It’s been a tough learning
curve, and we’re not home yet,” he said. However, the effort’s been worth
it because after getting it figured out “it made a difference to people
watching, with 60% (of footage) cut from handhelds.”

Bob Ayars, VP Technical Operations for Comcast SportsNet ,agreed that HD
acquisition is key, with Sony’s XDCAM HD now the standard Comcast has

Finally, panelists agreed that another key hurdle before the arrival of
“Total HD” will be when the audio capabilities of the new technology is
achieved. For now, the promise of 5.1 audio remains unfulfilled.
According to Fox’s Steinberg , that may remain the situation until a new
generation of audio engineers come into the fold.

“We’re bringing computer science students in from the local schools,
trying to attract new blood into the business. Hopefully we’ll get
some with fire in the belly,” Steinberg said.

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