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Commentary
Baseball: Fox Misses The Big Picture
By Swanni

Washington, D.C. (October 10, 2011) -- The networks have been airing sporting events in High-Definition TV now for more than a decade. So, why does nearly every Fox Sports HD broadcast seem like it's still being produced by rank amateurs?

I ask that question again after viewing Saturday night's broadcast of the Tigers-Rangers American League Championship Series and Sunday's NFL game between the Eagles and Bills. I say "again" because I have written frequently in the past about Fox Sports' grainy HD picture and lackluster attention to image detail.

Unlike most of its competitors, such as CBS, NBC and TBS, Fox Sports can't deliver that great, eye-popping high-def picture we've all come to expect.

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Take the Saturday night baseball game, for example, The picture was not horrible, unlike last year's Fox broadcast of the World Series which looked more like standard-definition than High-Definition.

But the Fox picture on Saturday night too often exhibited significant grain, which creates the effect of small particles on screen. This reduces image clarity and detail and it tends to leave the colors a bit washed out. It's as if the Fox producers ran the video through a time machine to make the program look like a faded copy of a 1960s movie.

The centerfield camera, which focuses on the pitcher delivering the ball to the hitter, displayed more grain than a Kansas wheat field.

Now it's important to note that not all of the Fox's cameras produced this annoying effect. The sideline close-ups of Tiger manager Jim Leyland were extremely vivid and sharp. (Of course, one could argue that even high-def enthusiasts might prefer a less detailed shot of the weather-beaten face of Mr. Leyland.) And, on occasion, close-ups of hitters at bat also were much clearer and life-like. They gave hope that Fox actually can do high-def right when it wants to.

But the majority of the broadcast featured a dull, often muddy picture that made this viewer sometimes wonder why he was watching in HD in the first place. (And the sideline camera that kept going in and out of focus when shooting close-ups of Tiger pitcher Justin Verlander didn't help, either.)

In contrast, once again, TBS did a marvelous job yesterday with its broadcast of the opening game of the Milwaukee Brewers-St. Louis Cardinals NLCS. The pictures were vivid and life-like from the first inning to the last. As TBS also demonstrated in the first playoff round, broadcasting baseball in high-def can be done right. It's not easy, but it's not as difficult as Fox makes it seem.


Fox's baseball picture misses the point of high-def.

And this takes me back to Fox. The network certainly has the resources to do a better job with sports. (Fox's primetime dramas are beautiful in high-def, arguably the best use of HD among the networks.) But it seems like FoxSports -- regardless of whether it's baseball, football or even NASCAR --  just doesn't devote the attention to detail that TBS, NBC and CBS does. (I leave out ABC and Disney because their HD broadcasts of sports are inconsistent at best.)

Some HD fans might say Fox is at a disadvantage because it decided long ago to broadcast sports in 720p rather than 1080i; many feel that 1080i produces a sharper, more life-like picture than 720p. I tend to agree with that assessment, but I suspect the problem with Fox is larger than that. At times, Fox Sports' HD picture is acceptable, albeit not spectacular. But most of the time, it falls far short of its competitors.

The real tragedy for HD fans is that because Fox has enormous resources, it can buy the rights to such major events as NFL Football, the World Series, the Super Bowl, etc. And we HD fans are forced to watch our best sporting events in sub-par HD.

So, what do you think? How would you rate Fox's HD broadcast of the MLB Playoffs? Vote below in our poll. (And click poll to see how TBS did in our reader poll.) 

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Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions.com. He has been quoted in dozens of publications and broadcast outlets, including CNN, Fox News, Inside Edition, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Financial Times, The Associated Press and The Hollywood Reporter. He can be reached at swann@tvpredictions.com or at 703-505-3064.



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