ESPN is moving to all-MPEG-4 HD distribution using Motorola's video distribution equipment, freeing up satellite bandwidth for additional high-definition services and also putting ESPN in a position to offer 1080p60 HD -- known as "full HD" -- when service providers are ready for it.
As previously reported by Multichannel News, ESPN expects to convert to all MPEG-4 distribution effective June 30, when it will drop the four MPEG-2 simulcasts of its HD services. ESPN is one of the first programmers to phase out the older compression format altogether.
The 1080p60 HD format, the highest quality current HDTVs are able to display, uses progressive scan to display video at 60 frames per second. HD today is typically distributed in 720p60 or 1080i60 (interlaced) format.
ESPN is using Motorola's SE-6601A MPEG-4 encoder and is providing affiliates with the DSR-6100 integrated receiver/decoder (IRD) that uses MPEG-4 to MPEG-2 transcoding for delivery to MPEG-2 cable set-tops.
Video encoded in MPEG-4 requires roughly half the bandwidth as MPEG-2. But most set-top boxes currently deployed by cable operators are capable of decoding only MPEG-2.
In addition, the programmer is using Motorola's modular uplink and control system to be able to deliver HD programming on a regional basis.
"Motorola's MPEG-4 HD distribution system will allow us to consolidate our distribution while efficiently delivering the highest-quality 1080p60 HD sports programming," ESPN executive vice president of technology Chuck Pagano said in a statement. "This enables us to future proof for delivery of services as well as providing our affiliates the option of lower-resolution services to support existing video infrastructure systems."
At downlink sites, ESPN's content will be received and processed with Motorola's DSR-6100, which receives MPEG-4 720p60 or 1080p60 video (including 3D), and then transcodes to MPEG-2 HD, SD and/or analog NTSC to support whatever video infrastructure the service provider has in place. The DSR-6100 uses the in-band active format descriptor (AFD) to translate input HD services to an appropriate SD service with proper aspect ratio.