ESPN goes live HD

With its inaugural broadcast on March 28 of a Major League Baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., ESPN will televise the first of some 100 sporting events throughout the year. The production will be captured in widescreen 720p, ESPN's preferred HD format.

Mobile production company New Century Productions (NCP), based in Allentown, Penn., will provide its newest all-HD truck, NCPV, on site, using 17 Grass Valley LDK 6000 mkII HD cameras, a Grass Valley XtenDD digital HD production switcher, a Grass Valley multichannel profile video server and nine EVS slo-motion disk recorders.

On board the truck these EVS "ELVIS" systems are networked together so that the actual production will not touch the tape until it’s completed. The crew will also use several POV "box-style" 720p cameras from Panasonic for field level perspective, in a robotically controlled system set up by rental house Fletcher Chicago.

Footage acquired with Panasonic DVCPRO HD camcorders on the field will be immediately digitized into the NCPV's network before going to air. All other specialty cameras, such as ESPN's "CatcherCam" will operate in standard definition mode and be upconverted before being inserted into the live broadcast.

"The most significant thing about this production is that we've pretty much abandoned videotape," said NCP's manager Mike Mundt. "We have 18 channels of hard disc replay, courtesy of the EVS systems, which allows us to do anything we ever did before and a whole lot more."

Mundt said all of the EVS units are networked via the SDTI networking protocol to enable any machine on board the truck to grab and share clips with any other. "This will save us time and lots of frustration," he said. Eventually the game will be mastered onto Panasonic D-5 VTRs.

Once the game is captured on the truck in HD, the signal is then uplinked to ESPN's new 120,000 sq. ft. digital facility in Bristol, Conn., where it will be downconverted for analog audiences (with stereo audio) and passed through in 720p with Circle surround sound audio for HD viewers.

Multichannel Circle Surround audio elements during the game will be captured with numerous stereo microphones strategically placed throughout the Angels' Edison Field stadium and fed into an analog Calrec audio console that will create the multichannel mix.

Graphics for the production will be done in SD on Chyron iNFiNiT and Duet systems and then upconverted with Sony upconverters. Once the program feed goes through the switcher, it will be distributed to a full complement of TANDBERG Television multiplexers and sent out via C-band uplink to Bristol.

In addition to airing 100 events this year, ESPN said it also plans to increase its HD coverage by 50 percent in spring 2004, when it will debut its new SportsCenter studio, designed for HD production.

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