Having a Ball with HDTV Page 3

Another new player is the Action Sports Cable Network, which features teams owned by ex-Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen. This 24-hour, 365-day sports channel launched in the summer of 2001 and focuses on the Pacific Northwest, showing 25 to 30 Portland Trailblazers games, Seattle Seahawks preseason games, Portland Fire games, plus some USAR racing and high-school baseball—all in Dolby Digital 5.1. The Trailblazers were the first NBA team to produce games in HDTV in March 1999, and the Seahawks were the first NFL team to produce a preseason game in HDTV. ASCN's 53-foot production truck is said to be the only one of its kind west of the Mississippi, and it's being used for both sports and nonsports programming, including ballet, opera, and a Barry Manilow concert. Only a year old, ASCN already reaches 300,000 viewers in the Northwest and is angling to increase their audience with distribution on DirecTV and DISH Network.

MSG, the Madison Square Garden channel, has been broadcasting New York-area events in HD since 1998, beginning with the Knicks and the Rangers. The spring of 1999 brought HD telecasts of all Mets games on MSG, as well as all Yankees games on their sister network Fox Sports Net. Today, fans can see home games of the Mets, Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Nets, and Liberty in HD.

On the Major Networks
Among the broadcast networks, by far the busiest in the high-def arena has been CBS. In 2002, for the third consecutive year, CBS carried the U.S. Open and Masters golf tournaments, plus the NCAA Final Four. In some areas, first-round and regional NCAA games were broadcast in HD, while CBS broadcast regional final, national semifinal, and the championship game nationally. Mitsubishi sponsored the Final Four in 2001. Congressmembers got a treat this spring when Zenith installed HD RPTVs in both the Capitol Hill Republican Club and the National Democratic Club to show the NCAA men's basketball championship. This fall, CBS will team up with Samsung and Sears in an HDTV Game Day promotion linked to the first-ever full season of college football in HD.

Possibly the earliest broadcast of an NFL game came from CBS on November 8, 1998, with a local broadcast of the New York Jets versus the Buffalo Bills. Also on CBS's resume from 2001 are NCAA Southeast Conference college football and the Army/Navy game, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, and (of course) Super Bowl XXXV (cosponsored by Thomson/RCA). CBS produces programming in 1080i and converts it to NTSC for analog broadcasts.

This year, NBC and HDNet teamed up to broadcast the Triple Crown, starting with the Kentucky Derby, in HD for the first time. They also delivered some NBA games but made the biggest splash with the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. For the latter, Panasonic supplied 50 video cameras, 900 monitors, and other equipment. NBC was actually the second company to deliver the Olympics in HD. The first company was NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, which aired highlights from the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

It was ABC that delivered an HD feed of Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000, while Panasonic built the HDTV mobile production truck. ABC also delivered the 1999-2000 season of Monday Night Football (fans are hoping for a comeback) and the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals in HD. Smaller networks like the WB and UPN are just beginning to make their presence felt.

* Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater, which is available through www.practicalhometheater.com (or 800/839-8640).