Standards conversion for sporting events makes gains

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Fox Sports is the latest network to take on the challenge of converting a 50 Hz signal captured in Europe to 60 Hz for distribution here in the U.S. when it broadcast last Sunday’s NFL game between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins from London’s Wembley Stadium.

With the help of both Pro-Bel’s Cifer and Snell & Wilcox Alchemist systems Fox Network operations in Los Angeles successfully converted the incoming MPEG2 720p/50Hz signals to 720p/60Hz.

“The biggest kudos were from viewers who said the broadcasts looked like it was down the street,” says Andrew Setos, Fox Entertainment Group, president of engineering. “The viewer presentation had all the video and audio features found in a regular telecast.”

Setos says Fox tested a number of standards converter units in the lab but only the Cifer and Alchemist passed the test. “What was exciting to us was that 720p/50 isn’t even a standard in the ITU so this was the first event ever captured all the way from the camera at 720p/50.” Sony and Ikegami HD cameras acquired the images.

Fox engineering now has tapes of native 720p/50 images and the converted 720p/60 images, providing a means to properly compare and analyze the performance of today’s standards conversion equipment.

“You can’t use test signals,” says Setos. “Those will tell you that the system sort of works and even waving a camera in the lab won’t reflect what happens when converting a professional, high-impact sporting event.”

Martin Holmes, VP of engineering at Snell & Wilcox, says standards conversion demands will only grow here in the U.S. “It seems that with the increasing amount of U.S. channels carrying ‘true’ HD content there is scarcity of U.S. made content to be shown,” he says. “Other obvious choices are the Olympics from China and World Cup Football from South Africa both of which will be 50 Hz.”

Holmes adds that only the very best standards converters can deal with the high-speed motion of sports in an “essentially transparent” manner allowing the compressor to deal with the real images and not be driven to waste valuable bitrate to handle unwanted judder and broken motion portrayal.

His educational efforts will continue on Nov. 14 at a special SMPTE NYC Chapter meeting discussing HD Standards Conversion. The event will be held at EUE Screen Gems at 222 East 44th Street, Fifth Floor, NY, NY beginning at 6 p.m.

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