ESPN News HD goes tapeless

By Ken Kerschbaumer

This Sunday morning ESPN flips the switch on ESPN News HD, integrating what had been a Digital Betacam tape-based network into the massive ESPN Digital Center architecture that is based around Quantel editing systems and servers. “They will adapt the same proven workflow we use for ESPN and ESPN2,” says Mitch Rymanowski, ESPN VP of technology and engineering.

Prior to this weekend ESPN News relied on four Digital Betacam machines to record incoming feeds. Some “pretty ancient” Grass Valley Profiles were also used along with an analog routing infrastructure. “Six months ago we began training the dedicated edit staff [for ESPN News],” says Rymanowski. “It’s a very young staff and it was actually more difficult to train them to work in the linear environment because they had experience with low-end NLE systems at school.”

Beginning early Sunday morning (the network officially leaps to HD at 8 a.m. EST) the staff will take advantage of more than 30 Quantel Qedit + and Quantel finishing systems to make clips sparkle. The big benefit, however, is immediate access to 21 Quantel servers that record all incoming feeds, giving the network access to up to 60 hours of HD material at any time.

“Once the feeds are on the server any Quantel NLE system can access the media,” says Rymanowski. “While the game is being screened the clips become available in the edit room.”

ESPN, with the help of National Teleconsultants (NTC), built a new HD production control room (PCR-D6) and studio (NTC also installed the first router to support ESPN News when it was originally launched). The control room features a Thomson Grass Valley Kalypso production switcher and Evertz MVP display processor used to distribute signals through 128×128 Grass Valley monitor router to 47-inch Tamuz HD LCD panels. “We originally used three Christie rear-screen projectors but heat and maintenance costs make the flat-screens a better fit,” says Rymanowski.

Audio is handled via a Calrec Alpha audio console, supporting 5.1 Surround Sound, and other gear includes Image Video UMD (under monitor display) system, EVS and Quantel servers, and RTS Telex intercom systems, and Avocent KVM matrix.

“For ESPN, I think PCR-D6 represents the latest refinement in production control capability, to support the network’s ongoing transition to HD,” says Steve Mendel, NTC project manager. “For NTC, this was an opportunity to help design and deploy a class-leading technology platform to service the next generation of this most demanding sports news program.”

The studio has five Thomson Grass Valley LDK-4000 cameras with Fujinon lenses and Vinten Radamec robotic pedestals. “It has more space than the previous set and we got everything up and running in about three months,” adds Rymanowski.

Converting ESPN Australia to HD is the next project for ESPN, a move that is expected to be completed by the end of May. “We want to offer the highest-quality video possible when it leaves Bristol and heads to Australia.”

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