Next Saturday will be a landmark day in the history of HDTV: CBS Sports will transmit and produce broadcasts of both U.S. Open tennis and a college football game between the University of Miami and the University of Florida in high definition.
Last year, CBS gave the U.S. Open three days of HD coverage. This year, it's six days, because Core Digital's HD/SD truck is allowing the network to do a unified production instead of the dual production of last year.
"Last year, we had two separate trucks and two separate announce teams," says Ken Aagaard, CBS Sports vice president of technology. "The big difference is that it's all together: one crew, one announce team, one set of cameras and one set of tape machines."
With cameras and tape machines capable of dual-format operation, he says, the missing ingredient last year was a production switcher. But Sony introduced a production switcher that can switch the HD cameras and tape machines and output two feeds: one SD and the other 1080i.
"We need to do this [unified production] for a whole lot of reasons, besides financial," he says. The cost saving is roughly 50%, which has allowed the network to double the amount of HD coverage while keeping costs flat.
Graphics has always been a tricky area in HD/SD production, but graphics on both Pinnacle Deko and SGI platforms will be handled by a single operator.
In Florida, the HD production will be handled by a second truck that will do "shadow cuts" of the SD production. The technical director in the truck will listen to the producer and director and make switches that parallel the SD production. But the remainder of college games produced in HD this season will use the Core Digital truck being used at the U.S. Open.
The cost of HD productions has been a sticking point with the transition to digital, but, for CBS, there is a return on investment. "HDTV puts us in a strong strategic position," says Aagaard. "As we go through this transition, we have a dual revenue stream."