Venerable old Hockey Night in Canada is about to take a mighty leap into the future.
Starting tomorrow night, the CBC will produce the first game of its Saturday night NHL doubleheader in high-definition format each weekend. It'll be available on the CBC's HD channel to viewers owning a television with high-definition capability.
While the CBC has produced some HD hockey in the past -- the outdoor game at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium two years ago the most notable -- this season signals HNIC's first full-fledged plunge into the high-def world. It's a place where TSN and Rogers Sportsnet have both already been with some frequency.
"This is about us getting in the game on a regular basis," said Joel Darling, Hockey Night's executive producer.
"There's no question we're really excited about being able to do an HD game once a week. We've seen how clear and how brilliant the pictures are ... anytime you can be at the forefront of new technology, it's exciting."
Making this all more plausible -- the CBC's launch of its own HD mobile back in August. The multi-mullion dollar production truck will also see use during the Grey Cup and CFL West final. But hockey is the priority at the moment.
"Having our own mobile (instead of paying to rent one) helps with costs. That certainly makes it easier," said Darling (HD games cost 50% more to produce than conventional telecasts).
Not everything is completely aligned for a true HD broadcast. Things like net cam replays and the pictures you see between periods in the hallways won't yet be seen in the widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio. Obviously, archival footage will always remain in the 4:3 conventional format.
But it's the live action that matters most. "The most important thing is that the game itself is in HD," said Darling. "And that's what people really want."
Hockey Night had hoped to begin its HD presentations on the first Saturday of the season. But the CBC labour dispute, which wasn't settled until days before opening night, put those plans on hold.
"A lot of things from the lockout had us slowly getting back up to speed. This was one of them," said Darling.
MOST STILL CONVENTIONAL
While production types can't get enough of the high-definition picture's clarity, the trick is remembering that the vast majority of Canadians still don't have HD capability in their homes.
"(Among viewers) who see hockey in HD on a regular basis, a lot have said that once you've seen a game in HD, you don't want to see it any other way," said Darling. "But when you shoot the game, you still have to remember 97% of the audience is watching the game on standard TV.
"As much as you want to make the experience great for the HD viewer ... you have to make sure you protect the 4:3 broadcast. You have to make sure (commentators) aren't talking about something that someone watching on standard TV can't see."
Two HD telecasts are set Jan. 7 for Hockey Day in Canada. But Darling said it's too soon to tell yet when HNIC will be wall-to-wall HD.
"It sure looks like it down the road," he said. "But there are still a lot of digital and some analog (production) trucks out there."
Oh, and count on this: The sharp-dressed man should look bigger and bolder than you've ever seen him during Coach's Corner in HD.
If that's at all possible.
"(Don Cherry's) suits and ties will look even more brilliant than ever," said Darling with a laugh.
A whole new world, indeed.