'Redefining' television with WWE HD

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January 17, 2008

Imagine watching Monday Night Raw, and being able to see a picture so sharp, you can count the number of diamonds in the WWE Championship. Or an image so detailed, you can read the name and serial numbers on John Cena's dog tags.

Starting this Monday night, WWE HD will make it all crystal-clear reality.

This weekend, at an empty arena in an undisclosed location of the southern United States, WWE's television production crew is undergoing a high-definition (HD) boot camp.

The crew is putting the final touches on incredibly vibrant, high-definition versions of Raw, ECW and SmackDown, including the assembly of a revolutionary entrance set that will be used for all three brands. It's also tweaking the complex lighting and pyrotechnic elements that give each brand's broadcast their distinctive looks, as well as adjusting every Superstar's entrance package to shine in gorgeous WWE HD.

All cosmetic and technical changes must be perfected before the curtain goes up on WWE's first-ever broadcast in high-definition this Monday night, live in Hampton, Va., on USA Network (9/8 CT). The high-resolution renaissance continues throughout the week with ECW on Sci Fi (Tuesday, 10/9 CT) and Friday Night SmackDown (8/7 CT), leading up to the first-ever WWE pay-per-view event in HD, the 2008 Royal Rumble.

These state-of-the-art advancements are the whirlwind culmination of nearly five years of planning and $20 million of investments -- all so WWE can usher in its high-octane, action-packed programming into the next generation of television broadcasting for you, our fans worldwide.

A Long Time Coming

HDTV technology debuted on the North American market in 1998. At the time, however, televisions that could receive HD programming were very expensive and scarce. And there were even fewer networks that could actually broadcast HD programming.

Fast-forward to the present. Today, HDTV sets are widely available and affordable for home use. All of the major broadcast and cable networks offer HD feeds available over most cable and satellite services, as well as over the air via antenna. With an estimated 50 million HDTV sets in American homes, now is the perfect time for WWE to make the move to HD, according to Mike Grossman, WWE's Senior Vice President, Television Operations.

"It seems like the technology is in place now to make the move," Grossman said. "We also waited for the technology to mature. We wanted some of the format issues to mature."

The process of upgrading WWE programming to HDTV started approximately five years ago, as WWE looked to completely retrofit and renovate its already-advanced production equipment, including the production truck that is used at each televised event.

Duncan Leslie, WWE Vice-President for Technical Events Operations, explained that the change to HD offered unique challenges to the technical crew. "It is challenging for us, and we've been doing this for years," he explained. "It has been immensely challenging to re-create a very technically complex show in a brand-new medium."

Testing ... 1... 2 ... 3 ...

WWE's first-ever foray into the HDTV experience came in late 2006, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. It was there that the production crew rented high-definition cameras, an HD production truck and other necessary equipment to record a live event in HD.

According to Leslie, the test shoot -- which used the Raw set and TitanTron, as well as full pyrotechnics and lighting -- opened more than a few eyes as to the visual power and beauty of high-definition.

"We learned the duality of HD," he explained.  "[It showed] how unforgiving HD can be, but also how magnificent our programming looked in it. We took a lot of lessons from that night."

Among those lessons, however, was an equally clear glimpse of the monumental transition ahead that would take WWE programming into the HD age.

"What we learned from the technical vantage point was the immensity and enormity of the task in front of us," Leslie recalled.

To read Part II of this story on WWE.com, click here.

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