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Athens 2006 HD Cut: test tapes found and to be broadcast for first time

28 July 2021 at 18:00 CEST
Finnish metal band Lordi won the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest in Athens, Greece
A never-seen-before HD (high definition) cut of the Eurovision Song Contest 2006 held in Athens is now available to watch for the first time on the official Eurovision YouTube channel.

Here’s the groundbreaking story of why Athens 2006 was filmed in HD but not shown until 15 years later…

Only in high definition can you truly appreciate the benefits of Mr Lordi’s skin care regime
Hi-Def Hallelujah!

Eurovision Song Contest 2006 HD Cut

Athens 2006 HD Cut: Now available to watch on the official Eurovision YouTube channel.

We all know Athens is the birthplace of the Olympic Games but you might be unaware of the impact the Greek capital had on HD (high-definition) television, thanks to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Although the first Contest to be fully produced and broadcast in HD was the Helsinki 2007 show by Finnish broadcaster YLE, it was Greek broadcaster ERT, along with the EBU (European Broadcasting Union), Rai, the BBC and other EBU Members, that pioneered HD technology by testing the format at the Athens 2006 Contest.

Fans packed out the Nikos Galis Olympic Indoor Hall, Athens, Greece
Natalia Gordienko made her Eurovision debut alongside Arsenium with the song 'Loca’

Large parts of the Athenian extravaganza were filmed in high definition to gather artistic and scientific knowledge for future shows, but the footage was never intended to be used as part of the broadcast.

Finnish rockers Lordi won the experimental Contest, preparations for Helsinki 2007 began immediately, and the HD footage was eventually archived away at the ERT headquarters and forgotten about.

Someone’s been drinking a well known energy drink

Eurovision fans will know that the 65 year history of the Contest, the fact that it passes from broadcaster to broadcaster, and the relatively recent attempts at archiving, means that we’re still hunting for ‘clean’ versions (broadcasts without commentary) of historical shows and in some cases (such as Copenhagen 1964) entire shows.

It’s unlikely that the Eurovision Song Contest archive will ever be 100% complete… but every now and then an exciting discovery is made.

HD technology wasn’t quite ready to take centre stage in 2006

In 2019, in the audiovisual archive at Broadcasting House, Athens, a box marked ‘ESC 2006 Final’ was rediscovered.

The tapes inside that box were quickly shipped to the Netherlands for digitisation and thanks to the superb conditions of ERT’s archiving facilities, we’re able to share with you the results 15 years later: the Athens 2006 Eurovision Song Contest HD Cut will be broadcast on Saturday 31 July at 21:00 CEST on the official Eurovision YouTube channel. It will then remain online permanently.

Mihai Trăistariu’s performance for Romania deserves the high definition treatment

How is the Athens 2006 HD Cut different from the Contest that was broadcast?

As the high definition footage was never intended to be broadcast, there are a number of differences that viewers will notice.

Not all of the cameras used in the Athens experiment were able to film in high definition (like those attached to some telescopic cranes) and so in this cut the difference in picture quality becomes apparent very soon on.

Maria Menounos and Eurovision favourite Sakis Rouvas

The new HD technology is used from the opening seconds of the film: sweeping shots of the audience that are so crystal clear it’s possible to pick out individuals from the event that took place over 15 years ago.

Something else fans will notice is that this is not a 'broadcast’ version of the show complete with postcards, on-screen graphics and all the bells and whistles that were added on top of the standard definition broadcast version at the time.

However, in this version fans will be able to view the never-seen-before transitions between acts – some captured in full HD. The clear-up required after Daz Sampson’s Teenage Life to make way for Anna Vissi’s Everything is a spectacle in itself.

In keeping with Greek tradition, the Goddess of Wind makes an appearance

Why was Athens filmed in HD if it was never meant to be shown?

But why was Athens 2006 filmed in HD and what was the impact of this experiment? tuned in to Hans Hoffmann, the EBU’s Senior Manager in Technology and Innovation and Head of Media Fundamentals and Production Technology, to find out more.

‘We’re always looking for ways to innovate and the Athens shows offered the opportunity to push boundaries, ' explains Hans, who led the transition to HD at the time of the 2006 Contest. `We started experimenting with HD around 2002, investigating in detail the potential that HD television could have for broadcasters in order to enhance their audience’s experience.’

‘In Athens, we worked very closely with the research and development labs of the IRT (Institute for Broadcasting Technology) in Munich, as well as Rai R&D (Italy) and the BBC R&D (United Kingdom) laboratories, and with our combined resources, teams and equipment, we were able to gain and share editorial and technical experience and insight.’

Nana Mouskouri making her HD debut

‘This was translated into specifications and recommendations for the EBU Members to carry out for their own HD strategic planning and to make the right decisions in their investment strategies. So Athens 2006 was a huge, important experience with a lasting impact on the television industry.’

‘The test material that we generated at the time [that you’ll be able to watch on Saturday] was used many times in large scale investigations throughout the whole scientific research community. For example, the footage was used to help design the compression format H.264 and for production codecs, which is still in use because the results were so fantastic. It’s great that the entire broadcast community could benefit from the Eurovision Song Contest in this way.’

Ireland’s Brian Kennedy after delivering a Top 10 performance

‘The Athens project allowed us space to ask questions about everything from what’s the best distribution and production formats, to investigating the new types of compression we’d need and the production workflows including optics of the camera. And that’s not forgetting there was a big battle at the time between progressive and interlaced scans to display video. Today it has been proven that the EBU findings by promoting progressive scan was right.’

Fans might not necessarily know (or, let’s face it, even care) about compression formats or the differences between interlaced and progressive content, but being able to explore the technology through tests like Eurovision 2006 resulted in the high quality TV productions you enjoy today.

This is why innovation through research and development is still at the top of the agenda today, as Hans explains:

‘Now the research and debate has moved on to UHD (Ultra High Definition), high dynamic range (HDR) and wider colour gamut (WDC) and what brings added value to the viewer in the home and, just as importantly, what brings added value to the viewer on mobile phones as these phones are capable of showing HDR too. HDR is becoming increasingly important for large scale events such as the Eurovision Song Contest.’

The understated opening act: 'The Mermaid Song’
Fans waiting patiently to see where 'Loca’ would place

‘Then of course there’s always a big debate around audio and what we call the 'Next Generation of Personal Sound Experience’ and how that can be a hugely improved audience experience!’

So there we are! The 2006 Eurovision Song Contest not only gave us a good dose of heavy metal but it also paved the way for the high definition live events that you enjoy today.

With the Olympics in full swing, what better time to share our own Athenian innovation for fans to enjoy?

The 'Eurovision Song Contest 2006 HD Cut’ will be broadcast on Saturday 31 July at 21:00 CEST on the Eurovision YouTube channel.

Make sure to join in the discussion on the official Eurovision Song Contest Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook channels using the hashtag #EurovisionAgain.