2009 should be the last year that golf fans have to make do with upconverted standard-definition coverage of the British Open on their high-definition TV sets, according to executives at ABC Sports/ESPN.
The legendary tournament, one of professional golf’s four major championships, is one of the few big-time sporting events to not yet adopt HD production. So cable network TNT, which is airing the first two rounds from the Ailsa Course at Turnberry, Scotland this Thursday and Friday, as well as early-morning coverage Saturday and Sunday, and ABC, which will broadcast the final two rounds, will once again upconvert the SD pictures for U.S. hi-def audiences.
But that will change for the 2010 Open at St. Andrews, when live coverage of the tournament’s four rounds will be telecast on cable network ESPN, with broadcast network and corporate sibling ABC airing a highlights show on Saturday and Sunday.
“Next year will be in HD, and that’s been guaranteed by the R&A and by the BBC,” says Mike McQuade, VP of event production, referring to the Open’s event organizer and host broadcaster, respectively.
ABC, like TNT, uses camera feeds from the BBC for the bulk of its Open coverage. It supplements them with its own additional cameras, such as an “X-Mo” ultra-high-frame rate camera for slow-motion replays and a camera in an airplane that will provide flyovers of the course. Theoretically, ABC could have hired its own HD production truck to produce the Open in pure HD this year, but it would have been prohibitively expensive.
“For us to come over and do a completely separate production just to be in HD would cost us a billion dollars,” jokes McQuade. “So we can certainly afford to work with the BBC, particularly since there has not been a great demand for HD until the last couple years.”
McQuade notes that the BBC offers widescreen SD pictures in the European PAL 625-line/50 hertz format, which produce a much better end result when upconverted than the U.S.’s 4:3 NTSC analog format. He adds that while the Wimbledon tennis tournament made the move to HD from widescreen PAL this year, he “didn’t see a dramatic difference” from the upconverted 16:9 SD pictures ESPN showed last year.
ABC/ESPN will once again use the X-Mo camera from Inertia Unlimited, which made its debut at last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale and which can output both live pictures and slow-motion replay images. But the X-Mo will be used differently this year as a show element, and will likely be placed on the driving range to show replays of top contenders warming up. The plane-mounted camera will also provide several live shots per broadcast, says McQuade.
For its part, TNT will offer abundant broadband streaming coverage of this year’s Open in addition to its cable telecasts through PGA.com, the Website that Turner Sports manages for the PGA. The “Open Championship LIVE” video player on PGA.com will broadcast live feeds directly from the tournament, with three channels available for the first and second rounds.
Channel #1 will begin at 4 a.m. ET Thursday with the World Feed, which will then switch to a simulcast of TNT’s live coverage at 7 a.m. Channel #2 will offer “Close Up Coverage” beginning at 4 a.m. ET, following groups at holes #9, #10 and #11 in a produced feed, while Channel #3 will provide “Inside the Ropes” on-demand video including daily highlights and footage from past Opens. Live online Open coverage will also be available on Channel #1 on Saturday and Sunday morning within TNT’s broadcast window, while on-demand video will be available throughout the weekend on Channel #3.