by Walt McGinn
HD Online Editor
American Production Services
The following information has been compiled from various sources including: Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc., Dale Cripps, Sony, John Alonzo ASC, Steve Wiedemann, Douglas Munro CSC., American Production Services, and Broadcasting & Cable.
What is it?
HDTV is an acronym for High Definition Television, which is Digital TV in its highest and best form. The current NTSC television signal is made up of 525 lines that are scanned horizontally with 480 lines being dedicated to the actual picture information. HDTV pictures are created by scanning 1,125 lines with 1080 lines of picture. Adding twice the lines multiplies the amount of pixels (the small dots that create a clearer and more detailed picture). The screens of the older analog sets contained about 300,000 pixels, while the wider HDTV screen is composed of more than 2 million pixels. The movie theater-like format (16×9 versus 4×3 like on today’s sets) and separate surround sound channels more closely resemble your vision and hearing, thus drawing you deeper into the experience and enhancing your viewing pleasure. The pictures are clearer, crisper and more detailed, involving the viewer in an almost three-dimensional feeling.
How can I as a Producer integrate HDTV into my productions today?
HDTV can be used at each stage of production depending on your project’s needs and budget. You may choose to shoot in HD only, edit in HD, or display your production using an HD video projector or monitor.
The most common use of HD is in the initial shooting stage. Producers who wish to futurize and give longevity to their original material prefer to shoot in HDTV. They like the 16×9 wider aspect ratio and the higher resolution. Other producer’s appreciate the greater latitude and quality of the image that is similar to 35mm origination. Through the use of HDTV recording, their clients obtain the highest quality electronic digital imaging available today.
There are several options in the editing stage.
1) You may choose to downconvert the high definition (HDCAM or HD-D5) camera originals to 4×3 or 16×9 NTSC(525) VHS w/time-code dubs for viewing or offline editing.
2) You can downconvert to Digital Betacam or Betacam (SP) dubs for online 4×3 or 16×9 NTSC(525) final editing.
3) You can downconvert into an AVID or other nonlinear edit suite and work in either offline or online mode for a finished 4×3 or 16×9 NTSC(525) finish.
4) Once offlined using VHS or nonlinear you can online HD edit at a high definition facility. There are suites in Seattle, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo.
The final high definition show can be projected on large-size screens yielding excellent results using readily available HD projectors. HD Flat-panel television displays and HD monitors are now available . You may also downconvert your final HD program to DVD or other formats for distribution.
Does crew size change when using HDTV?
For documentary, corporate, sports, promotional programming your camera crew size remains the same as common Betacam shooting. If your method of working includes, for instance, a camera assistant/focus-puller then the same applies for HD shooting.
For dramatic and high-end work the HD camera system can include follow-focus, extended eyepiece, and a remote electronic control unit for the camera operator and camera assistants. Unlike in film origination a film loader assistant is not required.
Audio can be recorded directly onto the HD camera from the audio mixer or can be sync’d to a DAT or Nagra-type sound recorder.
How do I budget for HDTV?
The camera equipment cost is approximately double the cost of current Betacam equipment for a similar package. HD camera gear is more expensive than its 16mm equivalent, but remember the cost of tape is significantly less than film including developing and transfer to tape. Compared to 35mm, HD camera equipment is about 1/3 less. The advantages are you can see exactly what you have shot on set – no surprises.
The costs for offline dubbing and transferring into a nonlinear suite are increased by approximately 2 to 3 times that of Betacam equivalent. This is due to the need for the HDCAM player/recorder use for downconversion.
Offline editing remains the same, here are some points to remember:
• The key to any edit is a clean list!
• Plan ahead and allow time in your edit session for graphic effect building as well as title placement
• High definition online editing is currently $700./hr and up.
• HDTV editing in a linear edit suite is the same as editing in a digital beta suite. You have a/b roll options and preread capabilities for single roll dissolves. Most HD suites have dve’s for image movement on screen in real time. Color correction is an option in most edit suites. Our edit suite uses the Sony full range color correction system incorporated in the switcher. This allows color correction during the edit that goes into the edit list in case of later show changes.
Font generation is accomplished with the Chyron Duet HD, Collage Graphics Clarity HD, or other HD character generator. With font generation comes a new concern- real estate on screen and where do I put the graphics? You need to consider how the end product is to be released: 4×3 edge crop, letterboxed or HD. These affect character placement on the screen. Also your standard 30 or 40 point size font looks small on screen with the larger 16×9 screen size. You can create graphic looks in Adobe Photoshop in the 1920 x 1080 format and transfer into the CG, making graphic challenges a lot easier.
HD has 4 discrete audio channels available and makes separate tracks for audio sweetening a breeze.
HDCAM videotape cost is approximately 3 times that of Betacam SP. Compared to either 16mm or 35mm film, HDCAM is far less.
How do I have to think differently when shooting in HDTV?
The HD format is much sharper than the current system so greater attention must be given to small details. You are more likely see flaws in the set or in the wardrobe in high definition. Good make-up is essential. The finer detail of HD imaging is immediately apparent.
HDTV is a wider format. Set design and staging may need to be made slightly larger in the horizontal plane to accommodate the wider angle of view. A wide shot can now hold much more interest than before so you may in certain instances wish to rely less on close-ups to tell your story. Your camera operator will have to be concerned with both the 16×9 and 4×3 frameline indications on the viewfinder depending on your end market. The 4×3 image can easily be panned & scanned from the 16×9 giving flexibility in post.
How do I have to think differently when editing in HDTV?
Current nonlinear edit systems like AVID allow for 16×9 or 4×3 formats. If you choose to offline and then conform in an HD online suite you need to be very organized to be cost effective. The edit decision list needs to be clean and correct.
Most high-end effects and graphics can be accomplished beautifully in high definition. The cost however can be high. Render time for effects on computers are longer due to the increased pixel size per frame. Color correction and enhancement in post is similar to film transfer technology wherein extreme changes can be made quickly and effectively.
Can I upconvert SDTV to HDTV?
Technically, standard resolution television images can be converted to HDTV images with the use of an upconvertor. This device is a television standards converter that will interpolate, or “line double” standard resolution images to effectively be HDTV. If elements of current video tape libraries are to be included in HDTV product, upconversion is the only answer. Decisions about aspect ratio and re-framing will be encountered during upconversion of 4:3 programs. During the production of the 1999 National Desk series in HDTV, we put curtains on each side of the 4:3 image to make it look like a theater. Other innovative solutions to this format problem will be interesting to watch as others confront it in the future. Programming finished as 16:9 SDTV video may be upconverted without regard to aspect ratio decisions.
There will be a strong budgetary temptation to use upconversion as a means to create HDTV masters using standard component digital editing equipment. A Digital Betacam master can be upconverted for delivery as an HDTV program. Even though high quality upconversions subjectively look appealing on an HDTV monitor, the upconvertor cannot manufacture resolution that does not exist in the original material. The television picture may be HDTV in an electrical sense, but not in image quality.
The issues of upconversion relate to image quality. A standard definition image will turn into a standard definition image with more scan lines. Increasing the scan line count will reduce some of the problems associated with our current television system. The image, however, is still short on the high frequency detail that makes a higher resolution image. Also, a standard image with 350,000 pixels upconverted to a two million pixel image will challenge the DTV encoder unnecessarily and degrade the image further at the home DTV receiver. Since the DTV standards allow for broadcast of what is essentially our current television resolution, the image will look better if it is transmitted as SDTV and not upconverted to an artificially high pixel count.
HDTV video production may rival or exceed the image quality of 35mm film and allows for downconversion to any lesser video standard. Any video image standard will become a limiting factor for future use of the product. The resolution, bit depth and aspect ratio become frozen in the video product and cannot be changed without some compromise. The compromise may indeed be slight however with 1080i HDTV. In particular, the subject of interlace versus progressive scan image formats may become a factor in judging the future value of an image asset. Products are being designed and tested that will capture live images at 1080 lines with progressive scanning. (1080/24p) The equipment, particularly the recorders, will have to bear enormous data rates to store these images. They will be the direct rival of 35mm film capture when available.