Monday, January 13, 2003

Football on HDTV looks really super



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LOS ANGELES - Football is a whole new game on wide-screen, high definition television.

You can see all the linebackers, and often most of the defensive backs, on the 16-by-9 ratio screen.

Sometimes you can watch all 22 players on the field as a play develops - something that football fans never see on the standard 4-by-3 analog picture.

I was surprised to see what I had been missing - what has been unseen since the birth of television, actually - until a side-by-side demonstration of HD and standard analog TV for the Television Critics Association here Sunday.

The detail and scope of CBS' HDTV telecast of the New York Jets-Oakland Raiders playoff game was very impressive on 34-, 52- and 61-inch HDTV sets ranging in price from $2,599 to $3,799.

On the wide shots at the start of the game, the HDTV audience could see all 22 players spread out on 45 yards of the lush green playing field. On the analog set, I could only a 30-yard span on a yellowish green field.

And the close-up shots of the Jets sidelines allowed me to read the distinctive Gatorade logo on paper cups behind the Jets bench, or see tattoos on the player's bicep. You can't do that on your TV.

Most revealing was being able to see downfield blockers clearing the way for running backs. I could see why the ball carrier made his cuts, which I seldom see on analog telecasts that focus strictly on the ball. And I could see the defensive backs help linebackers quickly snuff a running play.

The wide-screen view also captures the pushing and shoving by players five yards downfield from the ball after the play is whistled dead.

It is, as they say, almost as good as being in the stadium.

Sports fans so accustomed to watching analog TV forget that there is more to a game than just watching the ball. We forget that TV networks give us lots of tight shots on players' faces, and concentrate on the ball-handler, because of the limited squarish analog TV picture.

So much more of the game is visible on HDTV. When Jets end Anthony Hecht was penalized for off-sides, I could three yellow flags tossed in the air by referees. On HDTV, I could count 11 helmets in the huddle.

I could distinctly see the mesh holes of the Raiders' black jerseys over their white plastic shoulder pads.

When cameras shot across the field, I could see the round faces of people in the stands, and usually tell what color of jackets they're wearing.

The bigger picture also let me see more advertising signage in the stadium.

Not that I wanted to see the Macy's sign, but it could a selling point to advertisers who generally have ignored the wide-screen HDTV format.

In fact, almost every commercial on CBS' HDTV telecast was in the 50-year-old 4-by-3 format-including Circuit City and Zenith spots for wide-screen TVs! (When will they get the picture?)

Not everything was a beautiful sight in HDTV. I'm referring to the close-up of a coach's backside as he squatted to talk to players on the bench.

CBS - including WKRC-TV - will broadcast Sunday's AFC championship in HDTV.

It also will do the NCAA basketball final four in the format. ABC also will air Super Bowl XXXVII on Jan.26 in HDTV.

Are you ready for some football - like you've never seen it before on TV? Then start thinking about getting a HDTV set. It's a kick.

E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer.com




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