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Public Access vs Network Quality

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Ian Cooley
Public Access vs Network Quality
on May 11, 2008 at 8:19:36 pm

how come SD video on public access television typically looks terrible compared to SD video on a major network? Cameral Quality? Additional Compression? What are steps that I can take to make my SD video look better on the public access channel? I shoot with a Canon xh a1 and edit/composite in ProRess422.

Thanks

ian


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Tom Matthies
Re: Public Access vs Network Quality
on May 12, 2008 at 3:58:30 pm

Most major network shows (with the possible exception of some reality shows) are largely shot on film or high definition video using broadcast quality cameras & lenses. Lighting also plays a HUGE part in getting a quality image to begin with. The post production standards are maintained as a higher level of quality than required for public access-type production. They will generally have full color correction and other processing to optimize the quality of the picture. Many if not most shows are being produced in HD these days with the down converted versions playing on the analog channels and the full HD versions playing on the digital channels. There are many, many steps required in a "Network Quality" show.
To maintain as much quality in your productions as possible (you don't mention just what your shows are) try to light it as best as your budget allows for. Use professional quality microphones, mixers and techniques for the audio. Keep your post production in the digital word. NEVER capture composite video. It is about the worst quality video you can use. Capture digital if possible using a good codec (ProRes 422 is good) and a quality capture board. After everything is edited, do a color correction pass to optimize the look of the completed video from start to finish. Just about any scene, no matter how well it was shot, can usually be tweaked to look better! Output back to a good quality format for delivery when the edit is finished.
AND...most cable outlets are not known for the quality or bandwidth for delivering good locally produced programming to the public. Most of them do it because they have to do it to maintain their charters. Talk to the technical people at the head end and ask them if they are providing the best quality possible to the viewers on that particular channel. After they get done laughing at your question, look them squarely in the eyes and ask them AGAIN and keep at it until you get an actual answer from them. Nothing worse than trying to maintain good standards while editing your video just to have the quality trashed in the final step.
It's the old story of GI/GO--garbage in/garbage out. Keep up with the highest standards that your budget can afford and resist the temptations to cut corners. You will get a better look out of your videos. Follow your workflow from beginning to end and define places where you may be able to kick the quality up a notch or two and remember that if it's easy, you're not doing enough. Push yourself to do more and don't accept compromises along the way.
Tom





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Mark Suszko
Re: Public Access vs Network Quality
on May 12, 2008 at 5:38:48 pm

I agree totally. Proper lighting and sound is a major part of it. The other is, shooting with 12-year-old S-VHS cameras with a single simple imaging chip is not going to look as good as network product.

Probably the most common problem would be multigeneration dubbing and transcoding between the format you aquired on, the format you edited in, the format you distributed the master back to that cable company on, and the format the head end eventually plays out to the viewers. Start with older analog shooting, then take it thru as many as five generations of analog dubs and A/D conversions, and then play it out of a server hard drive at 25 megs or less, and that's why it looks like it does.

It doesn't help that some Access operations still are using retired analog gear or prosumer gear for that service, or using formats like VHS for play-out. And if you give them a DVCAM tape, you have no assurance it won't be played out as composite, direct, or worse, composite out into another encoder that finally puts it on the server that plays out to the viewers.

(/rant mode on) The exclusive franchise to serve a community is a license for the cable company to print money. Providing good access facilities is prt of their bargain. Access should never be considered something to dispense with as a "bare minimum" effort. Communities and their governments need to hold the cable company's feet to the fire to provide decent gear and facilites and training to the community members that participate in access programming. If nothing else, for legal reasons. (/end rant mode)

If you do some snooping around on the engineering tour, find out exactly what the signal chain is like, and see if you can provide something as close to their final output format/standards as possible, so your show doesn't need to run that gauntlet of conversions and transcodings.


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Bob Zelin
Re: Public Access vs Network Quality
on May 23, 2008 at 2:06:00 am

I disagree with everyone on this forum. Several year ago, I rebuilt Orange County Television (before they got a large grant to build a serious station). I tried to do a good job, and the quality of the final signal coming out was very nice. However, I saw the public access signal on my home TV, and it was HORRIBLE - all kinds of lines, and vertical hum bars going thru the signal. I was very frustrated.

So one day, I was feeling angry (what a surprise for me), and I said "I don't give a crap", and I took the output of the NTSC color bar signal, and fed it right into the main feed of the Brighthouse Networks uplink feed (the main feed into the cable system in Orlando for the Public Access station) - so there was NOTHING but a clean NTSC Color Bar Signal from a $5000 Tektronix Sync Generator, and the signal on air was FULL of lines, and noise, and hum bars.

And what does this all mean ? It means that the cable networks could not give a RATS ASS about Public Access Television, and you can send in a pristing 4:4:4 signal that has been downconverted with a Teranex to SD, and it will STILL look like crap.

Welcome to free television. Your cable provider could not give a damn.

Bob Zelin
ps - Orange County TV STILL looks like crap, even though they have a large SDI router, and a Facilis Terablock shared storage system. To the cable system, free is free.




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