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NBC Unveils Mammoth HD Displays

Celebrating its return to NFL coverage, NBC unveiled a high-definition studio at its New York headquarters that features two of the world's largest HD plasma displays. A pair of Panasonic 103-inch, 1080-line progressive (1080p) plasma displays flank the anchor desk like a pair of tackles for its Football Night in America studio show, which is scheduled to premiere Sept. 10.

This represents another pigskin power play for NBC, which has also brought in Monday Night Football stalwarts John Madden and Al Michaels. The plasmas can be seen from various camera angles and will be used to conduct pre-game interviews between Madden and Michaels and the studio team of Bob Costas, Chris Collinsworth, Sterling Sharpe and Jerome Bettis at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

The plasmas will also display graphics such as NBC logos, and break down plays with analyst Collinsworth. One display is connected to a Telestrator expressly for that purpose.

“It won't just be a passive background,” says David Neal, executive producer of NBC Sports. “It will be an integral part of the show.”

NBC is the first commercial customer for this professional plasma display. It was introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January and won't be widely available until November.

The $70,000 unit caught the attention of NBC executives at the National Association of Broadcasters show in April, and since then the network has been itching to get its hands on a couple before the start of the football season.

Panasonic came through with two pre-production models late last month. They were promptly installed at the new NFL studio on the 8th floor of 30 Rock.

The units weigh about as much as nose tackles—around 350 pounds apiece. They're secured on “some big steel,” says set designer Jeremy Conway, who adds that they're the only viable option for a high-def display of that size. (The set also has four 50-inch Panasonic plasma displays scattered throughout).

Panasonic is “getting a lot of inquiries” for similar production applications, says Yoshi Yamada, CEO of Panasonic Corporation of North America. But the electronics giant has no other sales to announce at this time.

The first glimpse of the studio was scheduled for halftime of last Saturday's game between Notre Dame and Penn State. That was to promote the NFL launch.

Besides the Panasonic displays, the set also has a unique “viewing room” that the four studio hosts use to watch replays. It's basically the ultimate living room for the sports fan, complete with four large leather chairs and a giant Barco projection screen that shows 12 separate video feeds simultaneously. LED displays mounted on the walls show scrolls of fantasy-football statistics.

Director Bucky Gunts says that about half of the Football Night show will take place in the viewing room, which sprang from the NBC analysts' practice of viewing game tapes during the week. “It's a new concept, a little more informal,” he says.

Gunts has extensive experience producing in high-def, directing coverage of the Olympics and golf's U.S. Open. With a high-def studio show, “the biggest thing you have to worry about is the spacing of people,” he says—even more of a concern when working with full-figured talent like Bettis, whose nickname is The Bus.

When integrating 4:3 standard-def material into the studio show, Gunts plans to either stretch the edges of the picture to the 16:9 aspect ratio or put a colored graphic on the sides.

With tongue planted in cheek, he suggests one possible message to run next to 4:3 pictures: “Buy an HDTV set.”