NBA All-Star Report: ESPN360 unveils HD plans

By Ken Kerschbaumer

ESPN360, ESPN’s streaming video service available through DSL providers like AT&T and Verizon as well as select cable operators, is bringing HD content to the small screen. Based on the same technology sister company ABC uses for its HD streaming service the offering requires changes to the encoding workflow and will give viewers improved resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio.

John Zehr, ESPN360 senior vice president, digital media production, says HD streaming requires encoding at 13 bitrates instead of just seven for SD. They span from 50 kbps to 2.5 Mbps and the system automatically chooses the most suitable bitrate for a quality experience, taking into account the broadband speed available and the processing power of the computer on the other end.

The first event to be streamed in HD will be an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns. A wide variety of future ESPN HD events are expected to be available, including college basketball and football games.

While it’s debatable whether true HD quality video can be delivered over 2.5 Mbps there is no question that it will be sharper and clearer than current SD streams. “The 16:9 aspect ratio makes it a big win for users because they can see a better view of the field of play,” says Zehr. “We are really at the point where video streaming is no longer a novelty.”

“This is all about long-tail content,” adds John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president, content. “Eventually we want ESPN360 to have 100% exclusive content.”