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ABC Sports Turns to an Old Friend

There will no doubt be at least one Super Bowl commercial that will look to exploit the sentimentality attached to watching a reunion: a young boy with a lost puppy, a soldier returning home, and almost surely a man reunited with a beer. That last one is a gimme.

For all the on-air reunions, there will also be one off-air reunion at this year's game: the return of the 720p production truck that ABC Sports used for its HDTV coverage of the 1999 Monday Night Football
season and the 2000 Super Bowl. It won't drive any viewers to tears, but it will make HDTV viewers happy.

The truck itself has had a story similar to a puppy in a pound. Built by Panasonic for use by ABC, the truck was sold to Allbritton, then found itself in the hands of Clear Channel, and finally landed at Janus Jensen Productions in Seattle. And now it's being reunited with its first important user.

The big change in the truck, says ABC President of Operations and Engineering Preston Davis, will be the use of Ikegami 720p cameras; the original truck, owned by Panasonic, had, not surprisingly, Panasonic cameras. But the same production switcher, videotape replay sources, dual-channel Chyron Duet CG and a still store will be in place.

The current trend in producing HD events has been to share the camera feeds with the SD and HD production vehicles. ABC instead will do two separate and distinct productions. The HD production will have seven HD cameras: five studio and two handheld.

"Logistically, it's harder because you need to find seven additional camera positions in addition to all the camera positions for the SD production," says Davis. There will also be a camera away from the site to get a beauty shot of the stadium.

It may be harder to deal with the logistics of camera placement, but the separate production makes things easier. "As you start to share the outputs of the analog camera and the analog truck and the HD cameras and HD truck, the logistics of who is controlling what camera when becomes very difficult," says Davis. "Separate productions will give us complete freedom to really take advantage of 16:9 for the HDTV viewers without having to worry about compromising the analog viewers."

When ABC Sports stepped away from HD NFL games after the 2000 Super Bowl, it disappointed those who had HD sets, but it was the right move at the time, just as returning is the right move now. With HD sets available for as little as $1,200 and potential HD viewership well over a million, the mix is finally getting attractive.

For all of ABC's HD programming, 720p is the format of choice. Davis says the network's goal is to be native progressive scan. "We aren't necessarily hung up on 720p, but we want to be native progressive scan from the camera straight through the video chain."

For all the talk of 720p vs. 1080i, there is one unifying factor: 5.1-channel audio. Davis considers the expanded audio almost 80% of the experience. Super Bowl Sunday will provide such experience because the HD telecast will feature 5.1 audio.

With the Super Bowl in HD and next season's MNF
set for HD telecasts, it would appear that HD telecasts of all future NFL games on ABC would be a given. But Davis says that isn't the case. The reason is yet another chicken-and-egg quandary: A production-vehicle manufacturer can't afford to make an HD truck unless it can find commitments for it every week, and broadcasters can't commit to HD broadcasts every week unless they can find trucks to be committed to the commitment.