Monday Night Football gets a few new wrinkles for 2010, like 5.1 audio, super slow motion and more (video)

One of the most watched programs on television is getting a makeover, as ESPN prepares to introduce several new elements for this season of Monday Night Football. According to the press release, this year will be the first time ESPN's MNF is produced in 5.1 -- does this mark the death of "Circle Surround"? We've asked for more details, but we'll wait for our ears and receivers to tell us if there's a difference. A few things that should definitely be noticeable to all (even international viewers, with ESPN Deportes on the scene and, for the first time, live coverage in the UK) are the addition of high speed cameras set to shoot at 500-600 fps (up from last year's mere 300fps cameras and capable of up to 1,000fps, remember the Olympics?) for even clearer shots, and new "Maxx Zoom" cameras. These should provide a whole new angle on goal line plays from a cluster of cameras mounted at the goal line and shooting at "up to eight times normal HD resolution." Even the old telestrator has gotten a revamp, with features that look straight out of Madden 2011 highlighting what players see, do and tracking their movement. Check a quick trailer of the new elements after the break, or hit the source link for a preview of tonight's opener featuring Hank Williams in his 22nd year on the show.

Update: ESPN's Colleen Lynch has responded with details about tonight's audio production, check for the full details after the break.

"Previously ESPN had been sending remote audio back from site as a matrixed audio (left total, right total). The audio was passed through the plant as two channels and matrixed just before it went out on the transmit path. The upmix was done through an audio processor which outputs mono rears. ‬ Tonight site is sending 6 channels of discrete surround sound audio into Bristol. We are then passing all 6 channels through the plant as individual channels and then out through the transmission path. This is a true 5.1 with stereo rears. Any other audio that passes through the plant will be either stereo or dual mono so that audio will be matrixed to a synthesized surround in the master control."

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ESPN's 2010 NFL Studio and Monday Night Football Production

Season-Opening MNF Doubleheader with games at New Meadowlands and Renovated Arrowhead Stadiums September 13

ESPN's Monday Night Football kicks off with a doubleheader Monday, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m. ET when Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets host Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens in a matchup of AFC playoff teams from a year ago in the first primetime regular season game at the New Meadowlands Stadium. In the nightcap (10:15 p.m.), Phillip Rivers and the defending AFC West champion San Diego Chargers battle Matt Cassel and the Kansas City Chiefs in the first regular season game at the newly renovated Arrowhead Stadium, one of the NFL's iconic venues -- and the first MNF game in Kansas City since Nov. 22, 2004.

Mike Tirico and analysts Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski will call the Ravens-Jets, and Brad Nessler and Trent Dilfer will be in the booth for the late game. MNF reporters Michele Tafoya (Meadowlands) and Suzy Kolber (Arrowhead) will provide updates on the teams throughout the day.

New MNF Technology in 2010:

Already one of the most highly-sophisticated productions in sports television, MNF will feature a host of new enhancements in 2010. Highlights:

* Virtual telestrator – Using the ORAD MVP system, this multi-channel virtual telestrator has been upgraded specifically for MNF. Using multiple camera feeds, Gruden and Jaworski can select the best angle of a play to diagram in real-time. They can highlight individual or groups of players, as well as specific zones on the field. The system is calibrated so virtual graphics appear cleanly on the screen and do not obstruct the viewer from seeing how plays develop. It also calculates unique stats like the actual distance a player runs on a particular play.
* Maxx Zoom – ESPN is mounting clusters of small cameras (four each) perpendicular at the left and right goal-lines on both the near and far sidelines. Each camera, 2-3 inches square, is mounted in an adjustable frame and then fixed on the goal-line shooting a specific area of the field up to eight times normal HD resolution. The images from the cameras are aligned using stitching technology to create large hi-resolution panoramic images that can be zoomed and manipulated in order to show close ups in the red zone and goal-line situations. Similar cameras will also be positioned at the 50-yard line to help analyze key plays during games;
* E-Strator – Similar to the virtual touchscreen that is used on SportsCenter, the new E-strator will be used by Gruden and Jaworski in the MNF booth to illustrate plays and track game statistics.
* Hi-speed cameras –MNF has added two new "ultra slo-mo" cameras that will be used at a rate of up to 500-600-frames per second (though they are capable of up to 1,000 per second), replacing a pair of 300-frames per second "super slo-mo" cameras that were used a year ago. The move will ensure even clearer resolution and clarity on some replays and isolation shots;
* 5.1 Surround Sound – ESPN's MNF will be produced in 5.1 surround sound for the first time this fall.
* Tech Center on MNF bus – The specially-designed motor coach that travels to each week's MNF game is equipped with a customized interview area/film room for the 2010 season. The MNF crew will conduct meetings on the bus. Also, following the success of the popular "Gruden's QB Camp" special in April, "Gruden Extra" will be a new weekly three-minute feature on Monday Night Countdown as ESPN's Super Bowl-winning coach will sit down for an interview and film session with an impact player in advance of each week's MNF game, beginning with the Jets' Darrelle Revis in week 1.

To view examples of some of these new MNF technology elements, click here.

Hank and Frank are back!

Hank Williams Jr. is back on MNF for his 22nd season to perform "All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night." Williams appears in the opening video, which is set at an art gallery amidst framed images of NFL players and coaches. The video was filmed this summer in Nashville, Tenn., with Williams and the Tennessee Volunteers dance team. It will debut before the Ravens-Jets game and a different version will kick off each of ESPN's 17 MNF games this season. Williams will even sing some lyrics in Spanish before the Packers-Bears game Sept. 27 as part of ESPN's involvement in the NFL's Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration. To preview the open, click here. For images, click here.

Legendary NFL player and broadcaster Frank Gifford – whose 27 years (1971-97) in the ABC booth gives him the longest tenure of any broadcaster in MNF history – will return to MNF for the second straight season to highlight a key moment in the series' 40-year history at the start of each week's ESPN telecast.

Monday Night Football Chalk Talk Series

The Monday Night Football Chalk Talk Series returns for its fourth year with seven events, beginning Sept. 13 at Cipriani 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan before the Jets-Ravens game. ESPN's Jeremy Schaap will host with co-host Greg Buttle, former Jets linebacker and co-host of 1050 ESPN Radio's Jets Gameday show. Anticipated guests include NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Jets Chairman & CEO Woody Johnson, and ESPN President George Bodenheimer. MNF's Tirico, Gruden and Jaworski will be part of the program, along with alumni players from both teams. Chalk Talk events will also include an ESPN RISE Above Award segment. For the complete release on the Chalk Talk series, click here.

ESPN NFL Studio Shows

ESPN's NFL studio shows return in earnest Sunday, Sept. 12, for Kickoff Weekend, starting early with fan favorite NFL Matchup (4:30 a.m., 5:30 a.m. (ESPN2) and 7:30 a.m.) hosted by Sal Paolantonio with analysts Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge. Chris Berman, recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2010 Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, returns for his 25th season as host of the Emmy Award-winning Sunday NFL Countdown presented by IBM (11 a.m.), where he will be joined by analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson and Chris Mortensen, and Insider Adam Schefter for the two-hour weekly NFL preview show. After the games, Berman and Jackson will be joined by John Saunders and Trent Dilfer throughout the season during the 7 p.m. SportsCenter to review all the day's action. Berman and Jackson will team up again at 11 p.m. for "The Blitz" on SportsCenter to discuss all the day's games and highlights.

ESPN's day-long Monday Night Football coverage begins with NFL Live each week at 3:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. on Sept. 13), followed by NFL Primetime at 4 p.m. (2 p.m. on Sept. 13) with Trey Wingo and analysts Hoge and Dilfer. SportsCenter Monday Kickoff presented by Miller Lite begins at 6 p.m. (4 p.m. on Sept. 13), followed by Monday Night Countdown served by Applebee's at 7 p.m. (5 p.m. on Sept. 13) with Berman, Carter, Jackson, Johnson, Mortensen and Schefter in Bristol, Stuart Scott, Matt Millen, Steve Young and reporter Michele Tafoya at the New Meadowlands Stadium and Suzy Kolber in Kansas City. Following the Monday Night Football telecast, Scott, Millen and Young will return for SportsCenter at 11:30 p.m. (1:30 a.m. on Sept. 13) and an updated NFL PrimeTime at 1 a.m. (3 a.m. on Sept. 13).