Tour de France rolling with first HD production

By Kevin Hilton
SVG Europe correspondent

The 94th Tour de France began on July 7 with a number of firsts: the first year of full high definition production, the first time the gruelling race has begun in England and the first use of a GPS/cartography animation system to show the progress of the cyclists. Host broadcaster France Televisions tested HD during last year’s Tour, the crucial element being HF wireless links to get pictures from cameras on motorcycles and helicopters back to the broadcast facilities. Trials of the technology were also held in April this year for the Paris-Roubaix race.

Equipment is being supplied by facilities company SFP, including cameras for five motorcycles, two helicopters and the ten fixed positions at each finish line. An international feed in 1080i is being made available to any of the 185 broadcasters taking the race that work in the format. This includes an ADSL service from Orange, sponsor of this year’s Tour.

Many channels continue to take the standard definition version, including Eurosport and ITV in the UK. A Eurosport spokesman described the bulk of its technical coverage as “classic” but the broadcaster is using a 2D animation system based on a combination of global positioning technology and cartography.

This is the first time such a system has been used for the Tour de France and is exclusive to Eurosport. GPS flashes are being inserted into the live coverage, showing the position of riders on the route and indicating speed and the distance still to go.

ITV’s coverage is being produced by Venner TV, in conjunction with editor Peter Wiggins and post-production house Molinare, and is based on a combination of Apple Final Cut Studio and XSAN shared storage. The system is supplied by rental company root6 and allows material to be cut five seconds after being received. Editing can carry on while recording continues.

The Tour de France arrives on the continent today for the stage from Dunkirk to Ghent, a visit to Belgium that will be followed by one to Spain, and finishes in Paris on July 29.