ESPN, ABC Sports Ready for World Cup Kickoff

Tomorrow afternoon, officially, the World catches up to the U.S. when it comes to high-definition. When Germany and Costa Rice kick off the World Cup it begins a new era in the HD transition with broadcasters in the UK, Italy, Germany, among others, delivering the action in HD.

Stateside it will be up to ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC Sports to handle English-language distribution of World Cup matches. The two networks will broadcast all 64 matches in high-definition, a move that makes the 2006 World Cup the first multi-day international sporting event to be broadcast entirely in HD.

The World Cup Host Broadcaster, which is Switzerland, will handle all of the primary game coverage and distribution, pulling in game feeds from 12 venues across Germany to the International Broadcast Center located in Munich. A redundant Vanda fiber network with two 20GB pipes will be used to move feeds around Germany and satellite will be used as a second backup.

While the game coverage will be in HD there will still be some format conversion work. The production format is 1080i at 50 Hz but ESPN and ABC broadcast at 720p at 60 Hz. As a result ESPN had a first-of-its kind converter box built to ensure the highest picture quality is maintained.

For ESPN and ABC Sports the production will be a tricky dance of melding operations based in ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. headquarters with the game coverage from Germany. “We’ll be taking advantage of our technology and handle all graphics and tape elements from Bristol,” says Tim Scanlan, ESPN/ABC senior coordinating producer. ESPN HD and ESPN2 HD will use the VizRT graphic platform while ABC Sports HD will use the Duet Hyper X graphic platform.

Scanlan says each game will use a minimum of 22 cameras while the second and latter rounds will use 32 cameras. All of those cameras, the goal-cams, the robotic jib cameras, and the handheld units will be HD with companies like Grass Valley providing more than 180 HD cameras for both HD standard and slow-motion playback.