Twelve months ago, sport broadcasts in HD were, but finally it seems we've been spoilt for choice — especially with the coming of Ten's "One" channel in the new year.
Not only has this year seen 24-hourplus AFL coverage, but the cricket is now broadcast in HD for the first time.
HD can make a big difference to sport — which usually consists of long, fast-moving shots with lots of green — because for the first time you can more easily make out the players and the ball, and even individual tufts of grass. The effect is a greater sense of realism, and when combined with a surround sound system, a high degree of immersion.
But are we getting all the resolution promised to us? Though the coverage may be broadcast in 1080i we've seen excessive compression rear its ugly head in many over-the-air sports programs. What does this mean? Blocky pictures mostly. It's usually most obvious when red appears on-screen. The local standard uses MPEG-2 compression (as used in DVD) which is a fairly lossy system when compared to more efficient codecs like MPEG-4 (most well-known for its use in DivX and H.264).
Because a lot of sport is broadcast in real time it's not able to be given the same care that a DVD is, for example. When it goes bad mostly what you'll end up with is large green blocks instead of grass and smearing on quick camera movements.
While we've seen problems with Ten's golf and Nine's NRL coverage, the worst examples we've seen this year were during the Olympics. The poolside coverage was a blocky, artefacty mess, and even some of the static, in-studio shots had some blocking problems. But to counteract this, the track and field coverage was great, even if Bruce McAvaney does have a tendency to drone on.
HD sport is here to stay, and when done right it looks amazing. Being the sports-mad nation we are, it probably makes sense that a station like Ten is providing an all-sports channel. The major drawback, of course, is that we'll see a lot of American sport and repeats to make up each day. Plus, it'll be converting the existing Ten HD channel meaning we'll be losing shows such as Californication, House and NCIS in HD. Do we really want this, are we ready? Take our poll!