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HDTV is the life of the DisplaySearch party

But is the world really ready for "Gilligan's Island" in HD? Studio execs sure think so. Photos: HDTV showcase

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.--The era of high-definition has arrived and it's going to be the life of the party, according to representatives of Warner Bros., ESPN and CBS.

Addressing a gathering of DisplaySearch's 4th Annual HDTV Conference: The Future of Television here, major media content providers and distributors challenged any remaining notions that high-definition televisions have been deployed without complementary high-definition programming.

"HD is one of the catalyst technologies that will define the next generation in consumer entertainment," said Darcy Antonellis, executive vice president of distribution and technology operations for Warner Bros.


Antonellis told the audience of TV, DVD and cable set-top box manufacturers, retailers and distributors that it's "not just about broadcast" anymore. With more than a dozen ways to deliver the 6,500 movie titles and 65,000 TV episodes in the Warner Bros. vault, she said it makes "business sense" to remaster them in high-definition 1080p format. Warner, incidentally, is releasing titles concurrently in both HD DVD and Blu-ray format.

Warner and other studios are battling piracy and illegal distribution of those films. But an easy way to determine which titles should be pulled out of the giant pile and converted to high definition is to see what the pirates want. Using the example of "Gilligan's Island," Antonellis said that Gilligan, the Skipper and the other castaways have great nostalgic value, but asked whether younger audiences want to see a 40-year-old property in high definition. A recent search of eMule, a peer-to-peer network, showed more than 30 episodes of the show uploaded to the site. "The demand is going to satisfied one way or another," she said.

Bryan Burns, vice president of strategic business planning and development for ESPN, had even bolder statements about the sports television network's contribution to the HD world: "High-definition entertainment is a sports platform."

The intent is to reinvent TV as the primary entertainment device for the American family, Burns said. "Good old TV is now becoming great new TV."

The numbers seem to back him up. According to studies he cited by Parks Associates, 54 percent of buyers interested in purchasing an HDTV are men. One in three of those expect to watch more sports, and 71 percent of sports fans watch more sports after buying an HDTV set. Basically, men want to buy high-definition sets to watch sports.

Failure to provide high-definition programming and advertisements will only serve to disappoint HDTV set buyers, Burns said. Only 52 percent of HDTV owners receive HDTV services, according to a poll he cited.

"Early-adopting programmers will win when it comes to viewing. HDTV is driving revenue and value for our distributors on cable and satellite."

To that end, Burns explained the all-out effort of ESPNHD and ESPN2HD to meet those demands. The entire ESPN staff has been trained to operate in an HD world, he said.

Since 2004, Sports Center, Baseball Tonight and other shows filmed in the company's Bristol, Conn., studio are filmed in high definition. A secondary studio, being built in Los Angeles, will also be HD-ready. Graphics packages and "opens" for big games like Monday Night Football and the Super Bowl are all high-definition all the time. And as of April 1, Burns said, every ad on ESPN is played in HD. He cited the HD broadcast of the 2006 World Cup as the network's "proudest moment."

CBS vice president of engineering and advanced technology, Robert Seidel, reeled off an impressive lineup of HD broadcasting, too. Seidel is responsible for overseeing the transition of CBS and UPN from standard-definition to high-definition programming.

With the exception of news and reality programs, CBS's entire prime-time roster this year will be presented in high definition, as have the Grammy Awards since 2003, and this year's U.S. Open, NCAA men's basketball Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Masters' golf tournament. Even the daytime soap "The Young and the Restless" is now in high definition.

The increased cost of deploying HD equipment is negligible, Seidel said, since there's "very little difference in an SD camera and HD camera." Dual-mode cameras that record in both standard- and high-definition are replacing old standard-definition cameras whenever studios undergo scheduled refurbishment.

Editing in high-definition isn't an issue either, Seidel said. "People are editing electronically, doesn't matter whether it's in SD or HD...The goal is to preserve that future asset value, so you don't have to go back into the vault (and) take out the film--(a) very expensive proposition." He guessed the cost as approximately $100,000 per hour to convert film negatives into 1080p format.

Though referring specifically to his own company, ESPN, Burns could have been speaking for the television and film industries when he slyly told the audience, "We have more future tricks up our sleeves."