Olympics goes all-HD for the first time

Along with hi-def images is a 5.1-channel surround-sound audio stream

During the next 17 days, the victories and defeats of athletes at the 2008 Olympic Games will play a big role in determining how the event will be remembered. But going into the competition, there is already one notable first: This is the first Olympics whose official video coverage will be produced entirely in high-definition.

Previous Olympics have been partially produced in HD. At the 2006 Torino winter games, around 40% of coverage was high-def, available to broadcasters that wanted the better signal, but the baseline for all coverage was standard definition. This time, the international broadcast feed is HD, with standard-definition broadcasts taking a down-converted feed.

In addition to HD video, the broadcasts will feature 5.1-channel surround-sound audio.

The scale and complexity of the coverage is large. Events will take place at 37 venues, and from most of these live images will be fed back to the International Broadcasting Center (IBC) that houses Beijing Olympic Broadcasting (BOB), the company established to cover the games on behalf of the world's TV stations and Olympics rights-holders.

Around 40 live video signals will be provided by BOB to the rights holders.

Because BOB's coverage is being beamed around the world, it has to remain neutral, giving equal access to all of the rights holders. Some TV networks also place their own cameras in the venues so that additional close-ups and shots of national favorites can be mixed in with the BOB pictures to give a slightly more national flavor to the coverage.

The company sitting at the center of this complexity is Panasonic, which is the official partner to the games in the audio and video equipment category. It is providing the 100 cameras, 250 video recorders and 1,500 monitors that will be used by BOB.

Some of the cameras use Panasonic's P2HD system, which records video in DVCPRO HD format and stores it in flash memory chips. A P2HD card can hold 32GB of memory, which works out to about 32 minutes of recording.

The big advantage of this system, or any that records directly to a flash or hard disk, is that material is available for editing immediately after it is shot. When older tape-based systems are hooked up to a PC, the footage on the tape needs to be played into the PC and digitized before editing can begin.

The result is that for events that aren't covered live, such as sailing, the images should reach the broadcast center faster because the editing process will be shorter. In the case of sailing, which is taking place in the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao, the switch to P2 cards also removes potential problems that occur when tape is exposed to salt water.

The entire Olympics is being recorded in DVCPRO HD, a Panasonic-developed variant of the DV format that records full high-definition (1,920 pixels by 1,080 pixels, interlaced) video at 100Mbit/sec.

For Panasonic, the Olympics caps a year of preparation. Panasonic has been an Olympic sponsor since 1988.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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