2008 ESPN Winter X Games to be produced and broadcast in HD

The move will require the upgrade of ESPN’s entire workflow.

On Jan. 24-27, ESPN will produce its 12th live Winter X Games coverage from Aspen, CO, in HD for the first time. The all-sports network plans to broadcast about 15 hours of events in HD during the three-day event.

The move to 720p HD production will require the upgrade of ESPN’s entire tapeless workflow, from SD to HD, including the use of new EVS XT[2] servers, Panasonic and Sony HD cameras, Canon HD lenses and on-site HD production trucks (to be provided by NEP Supershooters among others).

ESPN will set up on-site edit rooms (using Avid Symphony and Adrenaline systems) in local hotels, with editors sharing an Avid Unity server environment to instantly access clips and begin creating finished segments for air. Previously, they’ve had to wait for tapes to be digitized before they could begin working. Working in this fashion also allows pre-screened clips to be located and retrieved with ease.

The most significant challenges facing this new HD workflow are configuration issues, according to Steve Raymond and Paul DiPietro (who lead the engineering department at ESPN), such as getting all the systems to communicate and work together.

Some of the POV shots from cameras mounted on snowmobiles and athletes’ helmets will be captured in SD and upconverted prior to broadcast.

At the Winter X-Games last year, the crew mainly used embedded audio with the video streams (two four-channel streams and one eight-channel). Looking forward, the network is developing a system of 12 channels of embedded audio. This will allow ESPN audio engineers to create 5.1 elements as well as digital stereo mixes. It will also enable them to ensure compatibility with international feeds.

With all of the various platforms that ESPN hosts (TV, radio, Web, cell phones and podcasting), each individual outlet must be sent a separate audio (and sometimes video) element or encoded file that matches specific needs. One network might be able to run an original piece of music, while another might not. So individual accommodations must be made, which the system has to be able to do semi-automatically. These separate audio elements are retrieved from the EVS and Avid Unity servers, which are stored as separate clips and linked together via highly specific metadata.

At the upcoming Winter X Games, the crew will also have the ability to send material from Aspen back to ESPN’s Digital Center in Bristol, CT. This will allow the network to take full advantage of the ongoing event in real time.