ESPN 360 Live (Me) Monday, 4 September 2006

Worth sharing right from the top, this FSU-Miami game is being broadcast in HD and is sponsored by DirecTV. I'm curious if there's somethng to read between the lines about the DirecTV sponsorship. OK, so consider this a footnote that I thought was so important that I put it at the top of the post. This footnote was written before the following text.

This is an amazing story. I am a Buckeye from Ohio and I was out grabbing a few more tee shirts and hats to wear as #1 OSU heads for #2 Texas. I want to treat my great students (and they are great!) at the University of Georgia. (How lucky can you get: red and black work both places). Well, I was hungry and had been exposed to a chain restaurant called Taco Mac before. Being alone, I thought, what the heck, I'll grab dinner and a beer, and watch part of the Monday night college football game, Florida State at Miami. As I opened the door, I saw a sign saying that this Taco Mac is a Wi-Fi site. Well, as dedicated to my job and my students as I am, of course I spent Labor Day at Starbuck's because they have a T-Moble hotspot and I am a T-Mobile customer. So, my laptop was in the car! I told the hostess I'd be right back.

I was incredulous: a place with about 400 kinds of beer, three or more dozen TVs plus two huge screen (but dim) TVs (appears to be at least 5 feet high but does not appear to have HDTV's dimensions).

I see the ESPN 360 in action for the first time. They have TVs tuned to each of the different channels and one that shows ALL the shots. I just got up and took a closer look at the "all channels" channel. It has 7 picture-in-picture shots with the small HDTV in the bottom-middle (surely I will find pics of these shots on the web). Apparently this is ESPN 2 (thanks to my brother Kraig in Iowa for confirming this). The slightly larger picture in the top center is presumably the "old fashioned" NTSC channel. A cable system in Montreal tried this with hockey some years ago that allowed viewers to switch channels to see different cameras. It did not succeed.

This was written after I got home with my regular, NTSC TV and DirecTV subscription. I now know ESPN 2 was broadcasting both NTSC and HD, the latter of which I saw in the restaurant. However, when I was able to see it at home, there were actually eight feeds on ESPN 2, not 7: both coaches, both quarterbacks, "skycam" in the bottom center, apparently more random screens on both sides of the skycam, and finally the regular shot in the middle taking close to 60% of the screen real estate. I also noticed arriving at home how much more intriguing this looked. I suspect I might have chosen this over the ESPN main channel. So this paragraph was written at about 11:45 PM, after the following observations.

This posting is going to be edited. The ESPN U channel is the one with the 7 screens. It has a camera on each team's coach and each team's quarterback. The bottom squares on either side seem to be more random. I hope my students who are football fans can help me out here. I'm on overload. I'm going to see if I can get home in time to see what this looks like on my DirecTV (I do not have ESPN U but wonder if it's a "free" preview tonight.

The place is about half full of customers (more came in as the night wore on) and most (if not all) eyes are on the huge screens...aha! They just ran an ad in 3 by 4 format and so these huge screens are 16 by 9 aspect ratio and presumably HD. The pictures are not crisp on these giant flat screens. In fact, they really lack contrast. One reason for this is that the big screens also had the big audio. Never forget the importance of audio to video.

I see they are showing different graphics on the different channels, and it appears they are showing a crawl on one of the extra channels (confirming that this is ESPN U). The old fashioned channel appears to be what we all are used to in a telecast. Interestingly, I see heads turning to the smaller screens during the commercial break. It would be much more interesting to see a Georgia (or the less popular Georgia Tech) game in these conditions. It seems to me that the large, HD screens are getting the eyeballs. I notice at the other end of the restaurant, the patrons are sitting at the tables closest to the other identical large HDTV screen.

I'm confused at this distance by the screen on an HD monitor (but not necessarily HD...people love to widen the telecast to fill the whole screen). Time for a closer look. I'm back. It's the ESPN "U" (as in "u"niversity) channel. I've not seen the channel before so I don't know if this is the usual fare, but they have lots of non-stop graphics.

OK, the half-time show is starting and it's letterboxed so it apparently is not an HD telecast. Kirk Herbstreit (Buckeye alum) is letterboxed as was the PR piece for Florida State (I was typing and didn't look quickly enough to see for sure). Now there's a promo for ESPN's Sunday Night scoreboard show, and it's back to HD. Now there's Tiger Woods winning another half dozen tournaments and this golf promo is 3 by 4 and presumably NTSC. I wonder if the viewer cares. The letterboxing makes it obvious which portions of the telecast are HD and which are NTSC.

OK, after talking to some patrons, the ESPN Full Circle channel has an ESPN radio guy in the lower left-hand part of the screen. Can you see information overload?

As expected, the patrons are watching the large screen HD picture but remember, it is not a brilliant picture at all. Nope, it's the ESPN "U" channel showing the ESPN radio guy in the lower left of the screen. It's on maybe a 32-inch HD monitor but it's hard to see if its true HD or the monitor set to 16 by 9, a phenomenon I wrote about long ago on this blog.

The second half has started. The patrons I spoke to think there are three simulcast channels. If so, I'm confused by the 7-camera shot screen. Confusion is not conducive to adoption of this innovation. One question I have already is how many zealot fans would park 3 TV sets together so they would have three views of the game at once. Based on my college football viewing experience, I wouldn't be surprised.

Whoa! There are some FSU fans here, obvious after a big play near the end of the third quarter.

The explanation of ESPN full circle appeared here tonight, anyway. I am avoiding it so that I can explore any confusion before I read what ESPN really is doing.

You may use this content (better still, argue with me!), but please cite my ideas as © 2006, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein. Find any typos! Don't smite me, let me know!


At 05 September, 2006 19:06, Blogger Matt J. Duffy said...

I watched the ESPN2 version for about 30 seconds. Found it nota at all interesting to stare at the coaches or players on the sidelines. But, I'll give ESPN an 'A' for effort.


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