There's something new about the National Basketball Association playoffs that kicked off this past weekend: Some games were broadcast in high-definition format.
After carrying four regular-season games in HD (as well as the Feb. 9 All Star Game from Turner Network Television) the league-owned NBA TV channel will televise three games this week and seven first-round games overall in HDTV.
NBA TV is available via direct-broadcast satellite on DirecTV Inc. and Dish Network, and the league is still talking with cable operators about carrying it. Commissioner David Stern recently said he was hopeful several deals could be struck by fall.
The HD games are part of an effort to juice up the content on NBA TV. Launched in 1999, the network carried scores and highlights until January, when original series and four games each were added.
The NBA worked with TNT to present the Feb. 9 All Star Game in HD and carried four regular season games in HD in March and April, including Michael Jordan's last home game April 14.
Gregg Winik, executive vice president of NBA TV, said the feedback on the HD games "has been incredible. It's a courtside seat."
Indeed, the NBA might benefit the most among all sports leagues with HD coverage because the action of the game and players are so close to the fans and the HD cameras.
"Basketball is playing well to the HD audience," Winik said.
HD feeds are so lifelike, viewers can see beads of sweat on foreheads and the fabric players are wearing. "You feel up close," Winik said.
The NBA is currently renting mobile production equipment for its HD feeds, which have largely been shot in 1080 interlace format.
Winik said the league may experiment with several WNBA games in HD this summer. (For the NBA playoffs this spring, the league is restricted to first-round games, since the other-round games will be carried by ESPN, TNT and NBC. ESPN plans to carry several playoff games in HD this spring.)
Winik expects NBA TV this fall to carry more HD games, which will help "sell" the network to cable operators.