Pro BB: Trail Blazers Defeat Timberwolves in HDTV

The Oregon Trail Blazers of the National Basketball League lived up to their name in more ways than one on Friday, March 5, when they teamed up with Unity Motion and Oregon Public Broadcasting for the West Coast's first-ever professional basketball game in HDTV. Oregon PBS has the only functional HDTV system in the state.

The Blazers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 97-85 at Portland's Rose Garden arena. Sponsored by Mitsubishi and electronics retailer The Good Guys, the game was produced in-house by Blazers staff. Although this was not the first professional athletic event to be broadcast in HDTV---the National Football League has that distinction---it was a precursor of things to come. Many observers have noted that pro sports and HDTV are made for each other.

Satellite broadcasting and digital television are another marriage made in heaven, and Unity Motion was at the Rose Garden to take advantage of the opportunity. The St. Louis-based company operates America's first multichannel HDTV satellite-broadcast service. It also markets a high-definition distribution system capable of receiving its own HD signal as well as any terrestrial HD signal.

The broadcast was directed by Blazers executive producer/director George Wasch and produced by Blazers coordinating producer Pat Lowry, using National Mobile Television's HDTV truck. American Production Services' HDTV studio in Seattle produced the "in-game" features.

"HDTV is the next best thing to sitting courtside," says Harry Hutt, the Blazers' senior vice president of marketing. "We are thrilled to be on the cutting edge of HDTV, the future of television in this country. The Seahawks were the first NFL team to do an HDTV broadcast, and now the Trail Blazers continue forward with that initiative, sharing with the New York Knicks the pioneering effort in the NBA."

The New York Knicks, owned by Madison Square Garden/CableVision, are the only other professional sports team broadcasting in HDTV. The Seahawks and Trail Blazers are both owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Those who saw the broadcast said it was visually spectacular, but it was marred by some technical glitches, including transmission dropouts and audio that was sometimes out of sync with the picture. Electronics retailer Terry Shimek posted the following message on one of the DTV newsgroups: "Compared to the competition [i.e., legacy video---BW], it was perfect, exciting, clean, dimensional, and, as an overall experience, jaw-dropping."

Shimek's sales crew fed the signal to five Mitsubishi HDTV sets on the sales floor at Shimek's Audio Video. "By having five locations showing the live HD event," Shimek notes, "the public felt as though the technology was already ubiquitous."