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Ready to watch the 2008 Beijing Olympics?

Richard Lawler, @Rjcc
August 7, 2008

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There's no doubt about it, no matter what the air quality -- or the political climate -- is like, these will be the best Olympics ever to watch from home (maybe 2012, eh Oscar?) With every moment captured in high definition and available right away, viewers will have their choice of sports to watch at all times, on a number of different platforms. Whether you're new to HD -- and are absolutely sure your HDTV is set up properly -- in the last four years or still have nightmares punctuated by "We've got chips...and salsa" (we've formed a support group for the survivors of 2004) we'll do our part to make sure you're equipped to get the most possible out of the 2008 Olympic Games.


What, you didn't grab one for the Super Bowl? All of our recommendations from January still hold, but if you're still on the fence or need to upgrade, it's hard to do better than the 1080p Panasonic TH-50PZ800U plasma TV (unless you live in one of the 70 countries where digital video on-demand rights weren't sold, where we'd suggest the PZ850U series in order to pull down the IOC's YouTube channel straight to your HDTV.) Fans of LCDs should be able to find one of Sharp's new SB-series AQUOS HDTVs mean a 52-inch 1080p model can easily be found for under $2,000 at an electronics store nearby.

The Signal

With NBC's plan for a "complete Olympics", while going rabbit-ears only will certainly work, we don't recommend it. The main NBC feed means getting only one part of the high definition games that will be broadcast this year. Whether it's cable, satellite, fiber or DSL-based, expect some combination of Universal HD, USA HD, and CNBC HD+ in your channel lineup, plus dedicated channels for basketball and soccer. MSNBC, Oxygen and Telemundo are also covering the games, albeit in SD. Expect Universal HD to swap between simulcasting anything on MSNBC or CNBC so plan DVR schedules accordingly.

By Network:
NBC: 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.***
8 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.**
Midnight - 1:30 a.m.**
MSNBC: 5 a.m. - 5 p.m.*
CNBC: Midnight - 4:30 a.m.*
5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.*
USA: 2 a.m. - 12 p.m.*
OXYGEN: 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.**

CNBC: Midnight - 4:30 a.m.
USA: 2 a.m. - 12 p.m.
MSNBC: 5 a.m. - 5 p.m.
NBC: 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
CNBC: 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
OXYGEN: 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
NBC: 8 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.
NBC: Midnight - 1:30 a.m. (late night show)

***All time zones

Still, even if with every channel there's a chance you'll miss the sport or country of your choice, which is where online comes in. plans over 2,000 hours of streaming video from Beijing, with a Microsoft Silverlight plugin, you can follow any sport, whether live or already broadcast at anytime you choose. (Note: this is part of NBC's exclusive deals with different cable and satellite providers, but in our testing this morning it doesn't matter which one you say you have, so this will be available to all.) To find out what's on everyday, we recommend keeping an eye on the official Olympics website or This morning we were either able to stream one sport in a large window, or pull up the live video control room to keep an eye on three soccer games plus women's gymnastics practice all at once, with nary a bit of buffering to be found.


With all the channels dedicated to covering these games, a single CableCARD probably won't be enough, so we'd recommend one of CannonPC's quad-CableCARD, front mounted LCD rigs or an Alienware Hangar18 to keep up with everything. Of course, any Windows Vista Media Center PC can load up TVTonic's NBC Olympics on the Go, pick a sport to follow, automatically download clips in HD or SD and share them with portable media players or media extenders alike -- all for free. It's available right now, already stocked with bits from the Olympic Trials so go ahead and have a look, we'll wait.


Whether or not you're going the media PC route, since this year's Olympics promise to be a marathon of events covered like never before, even the best combination of DVRs, hard drive space and number of tuners can't promise to catch every single second of sport. Your best bet is unfortunately your provider's DVR, clunky menu system and all, the combination of dual tuner access with daily HD video on-demand updates is hard to beat. Want to catch last night's archery highlights? VOD is your best bet so come ready and equipped.

The audio

NBC's promising 5.1 channels of audio production for the entire Games, so to make sure you hear the excitement of victory or the agony of defeat properly, you'll need a surround sound system. Sure there's always the $49.98 JVC SXXSW6000, but for a few extra dollars you can always grab a Sony STR-DG920, for a $600 MSRP, paired with any decent set of surround speakers should suffice not only for Olympic glory, but true home theater enjoyment with Blu-ray discs, videogames, or anything else you'll be watching in 2008 or beyond.

The international experience

Not in the US (psst. Even if you are, our friends at TV Squad may be able to help you get a different viewpoint on the games.)? As mentioned previously, there's always YouTube, but if grainy stuttering clips aren't your style, there's a fair chance you local broadcaster is geared up for the Olympics as well. We've kept an eye out for Olympics coverage around the world, but feel free to let us know in the comments how you're checking out the Games for any we've missed (not that we care -- we're too busy keeping up with the U.S. gold medal count. Yeah that's right, it's Olympics time and your country is going down. Synchronized swimming? We got it locked. Show jumping? It's in the bag. Brazil, you call that a judo team? We'll show you how it's done. Usain Bolt is hopeless against our 9.68 Tyson Gay in the 100m, so we're not even sure why it's being run at all.)

Belgium - Eén HD
Canada - CBC (282 hours of HD) & TSN (150 hours of HD)
China - CCTV
France - France 2 HD
Germany - Anixe HD
Hungary - m2 HD
India - Intermedia Cable
Poland - TVP HD
South Africa - DStv (70 hours of HD coverage)
Spain - Canal+ HD
UK - Freeview, Eurosport HD

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