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HD Beacon

Baseball fans love the swing of San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds. But only Comcast subscribers who have ponied up $5 for the cable system's HD tier can appreciate a high-def close-up of the All-Star's eyes at bat.

"To get in tight and get a shot like that from the centerfield camera is something we couldn't do in standard-definition," says Jeff Krolik, FSN Bay Area senior vice president and general manager.

FSN Bay Area began its HD telecasts at the end of July. Less than two weeks into the new service, Krolik is happy with the results—at least technologically. The network is currently broadcasting Giants and Oakland Athletic Major League Baseball games in HD. It also plans to broadcast NBA Golden State Warriors games and NHL San Jose Sharks games in HD. The goal is to deliver 50 events in HD by the end of the year.

Krolik says the HD channel serves one function: to make the network's product offering better. "As time goes on, our product continues to get better," he says. "We can charge an affiliate rate that the affiliates see a value in and an advertising rate that advertisers see a value in."

Advertisers, however, have yet to pay more for commercials on the HD channel. That's one of the problems of HD transition. Cable operators, satellite providers and HD-set owners make HD attractive to cable networks, but an obvious financial return eludes them.

The channel is a joint effort of Fox Sports Network and Rainbow Sports. FSN Bay Area is the third joint network to go HD, joining MSG and Fox Sports New York. Co-owned networks in Florida, Ohio and New England are expected to go HD within 18 months.

To reduce costs, all the networks have game feeds sent to a shared master-control facility in Bethpage, N.Y. The facility has two HD master-control rooms with Thomson Grass Valley M2100 HD production switchers used to insert commercials and interstitials into the game feeds. (It also has SD master-control facilities.) The feeds are then sent back to the home market for distribution.

A second concern is the HD trucks.

FSN Bay Area is using National Mobile Television (NMT) HD trucks for production of home games. Road games are handled by either NMT or Denver-based Mountain Mobile.

There is a high demand for HD production vehicles. Says Ted Griggs, vice president, program operations, for FSN Bay Area, "It's hard to get them. In fact, the truck that does our home games wasn't available recently because it was down in San Diego doing the Xgames for ESPN."

With more sports networks broadcasting in HD, the rollout of additional HD trucks for the NFL season is a bonus. But those trucks will be tied up through the end of the football season; demand won't be alleviated until January. "There's always an HD-truck crunch," says Krolik. "It's like, once you start driving a Cadillac, your Yugo isn't that great."