Smizik / On the Air: FSN responding to HD demand

New control room to expand capabilities in '10

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The superb picture clarity of high-definition television has spoiled sports fans. Once they've seen an event in HD, everything else is third rate. That's particularly true of hockey, a game that never translated well to standard definition television. But in HD, hockey comes to life.

Which is why viewers were so angered last season and this season by FSN Pittsburgh's failure to carry all Penguins playoff games in HD.

FSN did not carry any of the five playoff games last year. This season, it carried only the first game of the four played against the Ottawa Senators through last night. If a fifth game is necessary Saturday, it will be carried in high definition.

FSN has strongly pushed the number of events it carries in HD, particularly during the Pirates and Penguins regular seasons. But as Shawn McClintock, the executive producer at FSN, said, "it's not as easy as pushing a button."

The problem is this: The demand from sports fans for the HD technology has come so fast it has outstripped FSN's ability to deliver it. This is particularly true when the dates and sites of games are not known well in advance, as is the case with the NHL playoffs.

The various FSN regional networks carry 40 professional teams -- 15 in the NBA, 14 in MLB and 11 in the NHL. All three leagues are playing in April. Yet in its Houston control center, FSN has the ability to produce only seven games a night in HD.

That leaves a lot of disappointed viewers around the country.

FSN is working hard to increase its capabilities.

For example: A truck, which costs about $4 million, is needed on-site to deliver an HD telecast. In 2004-05, FSN had five trucks on the road -- all rented from Mobile TV Group. Currently, FSN has access to 14 trucks, and it expects to have 23 by the end of 2009.

Even if a truck is on site, if there is no path to Houston, the game can't be done in HD. FSN has seven control rooms in Houston. A new control center is under construction in the Houston area that will enable FSN to do every game in HD by 2010.

Locally, FSN is doing all it can to deliver HD telecasts. The Penguins have gone from 10 games in HD in 2005-06 to 25 in '06-07 to 36 this season. The Pirates have gone from 15 games in '06 to 40 last year to 75 this year. In '05-06 there weren't any college football or basketball games in HD. In '06-07 there were 24 and 56 in 2007-08.

As for the immediate future, if a seventh game in the Penguins-Ottawa series is necessary, it's too early to determine if it will be in HD but it probably will. As far as the second round, because dates and an opponent have yet to be determined, it is difficult to project. But with the number of teams still playing in decline -- the NHL will be reduced from 16 teams in the playoffs to eight and the NBA from 30 in the regular season to 16 in the playoffs -- the chances are greater of the availability being there.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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