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ESPN: An Engineering Exploration

With its engineering team already busy readying a new high-definition production facility in Los Angeles that will launch next month, cable sports giant ESPN is heading to NAB on less of a shopping mission and in more of an “exploration and wide-eyed” mode, says Chuck Pagano, the network's executive VP of technology.

ESPN's engineering division is sending a smaller team than usual, some five staffers, who will focus on emerging technologies such as 1080-line-progressive production and 3-gig routing. He is also interested in the push for standards for stereoscopic 3D production, which ESPN has experimented with privately.

“The ability to do stereoscopic 3D on the TV could be a real paradigm shift in the living room,” Pagano says. “There's still not a way of getting it as a mature business process, but at least you can build your facility to react to it in a timely fashion.”

Transmission is always a focus for ESPN, which handles more than 50,000 feeds a year from its multitude of satellite and fiber links, and regularly ingests 250 to 300 hours of content each day, with a weekend load sometimes double that. ESPN also regularly backhauls live games in HD at the high-quality bitrate of 270 megabits per second over its extensive fiber capacity.

ESPN is looking for ways to optimize new fiber links to the Los Angeles facility, including content-sharing between the facilities and allowing an earth station to be controlled remotely. As Pagano says, “We'll also be looking into transport and transmission optimization tools, as we've put a lot of new fiber into Bristol and also built a new teleport.”