NASCAR Revs Up HD

NBC Daytona 500 production brings new vividness to racing fans
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When NBC tackles HD coverage of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 15, at least one person involved with the production will wish he could be in two places at once. Mike Wells, director of NASCAR on NBC & TNT, is an HDTV owner who won't be able to enjoy his production in his own home because he'll be in the truck making sure other viewers at home enjoy it. Nonetheless, his familiarity with HD at home has him excited about the race. After 22 years of directing motor sports and winning 17 Emmys, he'll be able to add another accomplishment to his list.

"I'm on cloud nine," he says.

NBC has tackled HD sports before, with the 2002 Winter Olympics and the Triple Crown horseraces. But the Daytona 500 provides a weekend of action, and the depth of the HD coverage will be substantial. NEP Supershooters' Nova HDTV production truck will be on site, switching among nearly 80 cameras—18 HD, the vast majority of the rest operating in widescreen 16:9 mode. The only cameras that won't be in widescreen will be the in-car cameras, the wallcam and the grasscam.

"If you upconverted those cameras, it would stretch the picture instead of keeping it in 4:3," says Wells. "And we'd rather keep it in 4:3 so the viewer can see the real view from the car."

The Nova truck was built by Sony in 2001 and features Sony HDC series cameras and HDW VTRs. It also has the Sony MVS8000 production switcher, which generates two outputs: one for the HD feed, one for the SD. An Accom DVEous digital-video-effect unit is also on hand, and audio, which will be done in surround mode, is mixed on a Sony Oxford digital mixing console.

"Surround sound won't designate the channels like working in 5.1 Surround Sound would," Wells explains. "While there is a difference, the standard audience will be wowed enough with the surround sound mix."

The one aspect of HDTV's improved resolution and color that Wells is most excited about is the opportunity to bring the vivid colors of the cars to life. "The colors are just going to punch right out of the screen. Even in the pre-race, the thousands of people on screen in HD are going to give a real electricity to the broadcast."

Wells won't direct the race differently because he'll still have to frame the action around the 4:3 mode. "But HD viewers will get to see more cars, and they'll be much more vivid. The HD viewers will get a much bigger feel than the regular viewer."

Sportvision's NASCAR graphics that provide much on-screen information will be upconverted to HD, but many of NBC's other graphics will be in HD. They'll be built for HD mode and placed on the outer edge of the HDTV raster instead of floating in the middle of the screen at the edge of the 4:3 picture.

One change in this year's production is the addition of a jib camera on a 30-foot arm on turn four. Wells is looking forward to working with the new camera. He believes it'll give viewers a sense of the "valley of people" located in the grandstand. "It'll let the viewers feel like they're there."

The race coverage isn't necessarily an experiment, but the network will consider more HD NASCAR coverage in the future if reaction is strong enough. The additional cost of the HD production for Daytona is being picked up by an anonymous sponsor.

"This is the first step to having HD for the whole series," says Wells, "but we'll have to wait and see."

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