WWE takes initial steps on road leading to eventual HD shift

Inside the WWE video machine room, a video technician works with a DVW digital Sony deck.

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has recently acquired an HD upgrade to its Snell & Wilcox Alchemist Platinum Ph.C standards converter and Ukon system to do up-, down- and cross conversion.

WWE produces nine hours of original programming for domestic broadcast every week. It also creates 40 hours of international programming weekly, in addition to producing assorted specials and home videos, and launching a video on demand network.

HDTU called Marty Ludwin, WWE senior director of engineering, to find out if the organization has plans to deliver high-flying ring hijinks in high-definition television.

HDTU: What are the WWE’s plans for HD programming?

Marty Ludwin: While there are no plans to start producing weekly programming in HD in the near future, we do have to prepare for the day when the phone call will come.

HDTU: So, what shape have your preparations taken?

Ludwin: We’ve been laying the roadmap for the growth into HD for sometime.

We started in 2001 on a project to update our 15-year-old facility that was built around 1in VTRs. We began working to bring the facility up to full digital. HD has been a consideration from the onset of this task, especially in terms of cabling, jack fields and location of the HD-capable router. All of this has been part of the process.

The facility was based on an old BTS router with two-channel audio. It was beginning to fail, and it needed to be replaced. Initially, the rebuild was based around the router.

We performed a testing and approval process of cable types to ensure that everything was HD-ready.

We have a strategic relationship with Thomson Grass Valley and the majority of our design is based on their products, including the Venus and Trinity routers.

HDTU: So, HD was part of your thinking in shifting from your old analog facility?

Ludwin: Right. We are seeing a very big shift in the trends of production throughout the industry, and that affects us as well.

For instance, in the past WWE specials and promos have been shot on film. Now they are being shot in HD.

In fact, we are in the process of installing a few nonlinear editing systems based on Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD. We are looking to edit those specials and promos in HD.

HDTU: So what is your thinking on a preferred HD standard when you eventually get the call to begin weekly HD program production?

Ludwin: We haven’t decided yet, but since we provide content to our many broadcast partners, the HD standard they choose will help determine what we provide. With that thinking we have to be prepared to accept the many HD standards and deliver just as many standards. We’re already seeing HDCAM and DVCPRO HD starting to roll through our facility.

HDTU: So your goal is to support current HD production of promos and specials, while planning for an eventual roll out of weekly WWE programming in HD at some indefinite future date?

Ludwin: On one level that’s correct. But the bottom line is our fans are the most important element. We are always pushing to improve their experience, and HD will help do this. Our live shows can be improved with HD, enhancing the fans’ experience. And of course, there is the expectation that the viewer at home will have an enhanced experience when HD is rolled out. That’s something we are all looking forward to.

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