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ESPN’s SportsCenter to begin production in HD

All-sports network ESPN announced that its new ESPN Digital Center, a 120,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art, all digital high-definition facility in Bristol, CT, will begin operation June 7, 2004 with the premiere HD telecast of the company’s signature news program "SportsCenter". The announcement was made on the eve of ESPN HD’s first year of operations at the Consumer Electronics Association's (CEA) eighth annual HDTV Summit in Washington DC.

The digital infrastructure inside the 120,000 sq. ft. ESPN Digital Center - that uses seven million feet of cable - is so complex that the all-sports broadcaster selected Thomson to design and implement one of the largest signal routing systems on the east coast. They’ve combined multiple Grass Valley Trinix routing switchers configured as a 1024x512 I/O matrix for HD video signals and an equally dense Grass Valley Apex router system with 1500x800 I/O functionality to handle all in-coming audio sources, and convert them to multichannel AES digital audio files. There’s also a wide array of Grass Valley modular products installed.

The center also boasts three HDTV studios (9000, 5000 and 3000 square feet, respectively) and that will be home to all ESPN Bristol-based studio shows. Like sister company ABC (both are owned by Disney), programs will be shot in 720p, ESPN’s preferred digital HD format, with Grass Valley LDK 6000 mkII WorldCam HD cameras.

For its master control and production control rooms, ESPN has purchased several Grass Valley Kalypso HD video production switchers to capture multi-camera shows such as "SportsCenter."

"ESPN’s conversion from analog to high-definition digital will be a significant milestone for the entire company," said Chuck Pagano, senior vice president of Technology, Engineering, and Operations at ESPN. "To become entirely digital, we must have the technical capability to ingest an enormous amount of content from a wide variety of sources and digitally prepare it for 720 line progressive HDTV and, with this new facility, we will now be able to do so."

When the new building is completed in 2005, ESPN HD viewers will see 3500 hours of originally produced HD studio programming each year. After delivering more originally produced telecasts than expected in its first year, ESPN HD said it plans to deliver over 185 originally produced events in HD in 2004. The HD telecast schedule continues to include games from Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, the National Football League, and college football and basketball games, as well as movies from ESPN’s Original Entertainment (EOE) division.

ESPN HD has carriage agreements with Charter Communications, Comcast Cable, Cox Communications, DirecTV, EchoStar Communications, Insight Communications, the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC), Service Electric Cable TV, Utilacom, Comporium Communications systems and more.

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