HDTV Insider: This Is /Digital/ SportsCenter

"Welcome to the ESPN diner."

Those are the first words that greet me as I walk onto the brand-new SportsCenter set on ESPN's Bristol, Connecticut, campus on a humid summer afternoon. They're spoken by longtime SportsCenter anchor and radio host Dan Patrick, who gestures with his chin toward the 18-foot-high video tower that lords over the room. "Not bad, right?" he adds in his drier-than-the-desert deadpan.

The diner quip, of course, is a joke. Purplish art deco overtones aside, little about the 5,000-square-foot room suggests tuna melts or gum-snapping waitresses. Its high-tech amenities include that 18-foot tower, a wall of glass that's clear when charged with electricity but otherwise opaque so that three projectors can beam images or video onto it from behind, and a studio floor containing 5,000 fiber-optic lights that can be synced to the show music. Overall, the set has 12 high-definition projectors and 11 LCD screens.

"This is like NASA," says Dana Jacobson, Patrick's SportsCenter co-anchor for the 6 p.m. show. "When people who have been doing this for a living walk in and are totally amazed, that's when you know you have something."

The SportsCenter studio is the crown jewel of the ESPN Digital Center , which opened its doors on June 7 for the 11 p.m. broadcast of the network's flagship show. And while the mammoth building won't be completed until next year - only one of its three studios and one of its three production control rooms were fully operational as of early July - its very presence says all you need to know about ESPN's commitment to high-definition broadcasting.

Front and CenterThe ESPN campus looks and feels like a college. The buildings are spread across 65 acres, with the new facility only a quick jump from a power generator so sturdy that many people on the campus didn't even notice when much of the East Coast went dark in August 2003. "It kicked right in. We were on the air, even though viewers couldn't see us for miles around," recalls Bryan Burns, vice president for strategic business planning and development. espn digital 2 The new SportsCenter control room features flat-panel monitors at every work position and a series of large "virtual" monitors on the front wall that can divided up to show multiple feeds.

Even before ESPN broke ground on the estimated $135 million, 120,000-square-foot Digital Center, the network had beaten its media peers to the HD punch. The company launched ESPN HD, a high-definition simulcast channel, in March 2003 and plans to deliver nearly 200 games and original programs in high-def by the end of this year.

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