NCAA Finals in HDTV

College basketball fans will get right in the midst of the high definition action when the NCAA men's 2003 basketball championship series begins next month.

All 12 championship series games will be broadcast by CBS Television in 1080i high definition video and 5.1-channel surround sound, according to a February 20 announcement. Sears, Roebuck & Company will sponsor the HD coverage of the annual event in its entirety.

The live CBS Sports telecasts will be produced in HDTV's highest-definition format and downconverted in real time for the CBS television network's analog broadcast coverage. Unlike some early HD sports productions that employed separate announcers and separate cameras for HD and analog broadcast, the NCAA series will be "unified," with 4x3 analog images "cut out" from the 16:9 original. This production technique is said to offer better quality analog pictures, and gives viewers the same play-by-play commentary, and same camera angles, replays, and graphics regardless of the quality of their televisions.

The sound of the games will also add to their impact. The tournament will be broadcast in 5.1 surround sound for the first time, "bringing the stadium experience into viewers' homes," the announcement stated. 2003 will be the fourth year the NCAA championships have been broadcast in HD, but the first year in surround sound. CBS is planning to roll out 5.1 surround sound to all markets currently offering HDTV in the coming year. The company claims that 130 CBS-owned-and-affiliated stations are now broadcasting in digital, covering approximately 88% of the US.

"The combination of high-definition and CD-quality surround sound provide an extraordinary experience for NCAA Basketball Tournament viewers watching the games on CBS," said CBS Sports president Sean McManus. "The coverage will really bring the game home for millions of college basketball fans, and we are very pleased to be partnering with Sears in making this experience a reality. This is the fourth consecutive year we have broadcast the Final Four in HDTV, re-affirming CBS's leadership in presenting big-ticket marquee events in high definition."

The coverage will begin with four first-round games from Birmingham, AL, on Friday, March 21, followed by two games on Sunday, March 23. The southern regional championship series will consist of two games in San Antonio, TX on Friday, March 28, followed by one game on Sunday, March 30. The first eight games will be regional broadcasts, while the southern regional final in San Antonio, the two national semi-final games, and the National Championship Game will be national broadcasts. The Final Four and National Championship games will be broadcast live Saturday, April 5 (6:00–11:00pm, ET) and Monday, April 7 (9:00–11:00pm, ET) from New Orleans.