Our wide world of sports

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 6:59 AM ET

With each passing day, the numbers on board with Canada's widescreen revolution continue to swell.

A million and counting, say the industry figures. Chances are, it's sports that brought many of them into the picture.

"If our audience feedback is any indicator, that certainly is true," said Rick Briggs-Jude, the production boss at Rogers Sportsnet, which is at the forefront of the HD sports wave in Canada.

In 18 months, Sportsnet has aired more than 150 HD live sports events. While some of it is "acquired" programming from other sources, the 'Net did produce 60 high-definition baseball presentations in 2004. That's No. 4 among local rightsholders in major league baseball.

The guys behind the scenes can't get enough of it.

"Just talk to my production guys," said Briggs-Jude. "They're always asking 'can we do it in HD?'

"They salivate over it."

One look at the crystal clear picture, which brings even the most insignificant blade of grass into the sharpest view, tells you why. Sports, perhaps more than anything, is ready made for high-definition television.

"It's great for the large field sports ... football, baseball, soccer," said Sportsnet director Troy Clara. "HD has changed baseball. You can see so much more. With one low camera, you can see from the third-base coach across to the pitcher.

"And everything is dead clear."

Said Briggs-Jude: "The picture quality, when you take closeups, is so much more dramatic.

"It's the wow factor."

Okay, you ask. Given all this enthusiasm, why aren't sports networks falling over themselves to show just about everything on the widescreen?

Simply put, it's all about dollars and sense.

A high-definition production truck costs $12.5 million to build -- there are only six of them in North America (Canada's Dome Productions has two), which limits HD opportunities. As well, doing a game in HD adds 50% to production costs.

WORLD CUP IN HD

In other words, it's going to take some time. But seeing the mega-event in widescreen format isn't far off. Briggs-Jude expects Sportsnet will have the opportunity to offer most -- if not all -- matches at the 2006 World Cup of soccer in HD.

Already, there's a buzz about the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, which, we've been promised, should be the first complete high-definition Games ever seen by Canadians.

Until then, the country's appetite for HD sports should continue to grow -- especially as the price for those fancy TV sets continues to drop into a more affordable range.

"We've all gone to movie theatres," said Briggs-Jude. "We've seen widescreen dramas, we've got the familiarity with it. But while dramas in HD are significantly different, you jump to another level when you put on a live sports presentation."

Sportsnet has also taken its HD revolution to the studio -- it was the first Canadian network to offer all its house shows, such as Sportsnet News and HockeyCentral, in widescreen format.

It's full steam ahead into the future, Briggs-Jude said.

"We've had really good support from the upper echelon of our company," he said of Rogers Communications. "They have always been innovators ... HD has definitely been targeted as the next area of growth."

And it's only just begun.


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