When the NBA Western Conference finals tip off on May 17, it'll also signal a new era in cable sports: HDTV for TNT. For viewers, it means seeing all the sweaty details standard-definition leaves off the hardwood. And for the technical crew at Turner, Charles Barkley can take a rest—and let the pictures do the talking.
The network is already getting used to working with its 53-foot expandable production truck, which converted from SD to HD this winter. Its first HD event will take place in early April, when Tokyo Broadcasting uses it to cover the Masters golf tournament.
Come May, Craig Heyl, senior vice president at Turner Studios, and his team are confident with the gear and capabilities on hand. "Everyone is comfortable with it because we've had our HD cameras around for a while." They are also excited.
The HD production truck includes an arsenal of Ikegami HD cameras with Canon lenses. Two Canon Digi Super 100xs lenses and seven Digi Super 86xs studio/field lenses are on hand, a choice based on the crew's comfort level with the glass. The Ikegami cameras were selected because they have both fiber and triax transmission capabilities. That's important to Heyl because most sporting venues still rely on triax cable for transmitting camera signals.
Inside, operations will center on a Thomson Grass Valley Kalypso production switcher, four 4-channel HD EVS hard-disk recorders (for replays), and Sony HDCAM SRW decks.
The high-tech wizardry has great practical plusses for TNT. "The Kalypso switcher was hands down the best decision for us," Heyl explains. "One of the key functions of our truck is that we need to switch the SD and HD feeds out of a single place."
The switcher is dual-programmed, so it automatically switches to the appropriate cameral angle, graphic, or bug for the HD telecast. "It's the only switcher that enables us to do the program the way we want," he adds.
To assist on-air monitoring, there is a combination of NEC liquid-crystal-display (LCD) monitors and a Barco Hydra control system to multiplex and resize camera images on the monitors. Bottom line: great photos. "We're really happy with the picture quality the NECs are putting out," says Heyl. "We get more picture surface area on the monitor walls. Now, instead of 9-inch monitors, the images are usually 14 inches or larger."
Prior to its HD conversion, the truck averaged about 330 events per year. Though it's used for Atlanta Braves games, it's unclear how many HD broadcasts are scheduled.
Heyl and his crew are ready. He wants only one reaction from TNT viewers: "The guys at Turner are doing it better than anyone else."