‘SportsCenter’ adds 38 million pixels in Studio X upgrade

“SportsCenter” has debuted the first piece of a multi-phase upgrade of its Studio X home, aimed at modernizing technology and opening up new avenues for storytelling.

All told, Studio X has been upgraded with nearly 38 million pixels of new LED display technology.

The program’s current studio launched alongside the opening of Digital Center 2 on ESPN’s Bristol, Connecticut, campus in 2014. With five studios and six control rooms, Digital Center 2 is home to many of the network’s marquee properties, but some of the technology that was state of the art eight years ago has evolved significantly today.

“It’s been eight years and it’s time for something new and fresh, but we’re not totally abandoning the look. It will definitely feel new, but it will not feel foreign,” said Noubar Stone, senior director of studio and lighting design at ESPN.

In the first phase of the updates, which started in the summer following the NBA Playoffs, ESPN opted to add a new anchor desk and to replace the studio’s north wall, which previously housed a unique mosaic of displays at varying depths.

“The technology was basically approaching end of life,” said Stone. “The monitors were toward the end of life and the system we used feeding the monitors was also toward the end of life, and there was no obvious replacement for either.”

The north wall being disassembled in Studio X. Photo courtesy of ESPN.

“LED technology has gotten so much better … that it is both economical and resolution-wise, it’s really the way to go.”

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The new LED north video wall measures nearly 48 feet in length – spanning the space previously occupied by the individual displays and then some – with the LED extending nearly to the grid at 17 feet high, making it the largest display on ESPN’s campus.

The new wall uses 1.9mm pixel pitch COB LED supplied and installed by AV Design Services.

“The monitors were pretty cool… but it became problematic over the years. You couldn’t put a live shot into them. You couldn’t run an interview or something like that out of them, so it became more of a background element,” said Stone.

“The beauty of LED technology, whatever you can put there, you can put there,” added Stone, noting that “SportsCenter” will use a variety of video wall graphics, from virtual set extensions to live shots across its dayparts.

Two hanging vertical displays flanking the wall were also updated, with new LED and scenic surrounds fabricated by Mystic Scenic Studios. The new pieces, which look similar to the original design, feature LED displays that measure 13 feet tall.

Tying the space together is a 2.6mm floor LED – 41 feet wide and nearly 17 feet deep – which can be used in combination with the other displays as both a surface for talent to stand on and a background element from the anchor desk. It can also be used with existing augmented reality technology. 

Studio X previously had a small floor LED under the anchor desk, along with integrated floor lighting throughout the studio. As part of the upgrade, the existing studio floor was raised and a new floor was applied and leveled.

“It was much more efficient to just put the new floor on top of it,” added Stone. “We kind of knew that was going to be the big challenge going into it.”

The north wall replaces the newsroom backdrop as the primary background for “SportsCenter,” giving the program a host of new virtual and real backgrounds to take advantage of. During the debut, the background showcased a 3D scene centered around the red “SportsCenter” orb surrounded by various ringed and glassy elements and a wraparound element farther back.

The final piece of the update is an anchor desk designed to allow in-studio guests; the previous design could seat a maximum of two presenters. 

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The new desk drops an LED front in favor of branded design and upgraded capacity. 

The updated Studio X debuted on Monday, August 29, 2022 during the broadcast’s morning edition. 

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