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Dan Danner
Broadcast video formats
on Dec 1, 2008 at 8:29:09 pm

I'm searching for info regarding broadcast video formats. What formats do tv stations use these days? Mpeg2? H.264? I've looked around and seen answers like ".mov", but quick time is more of a container than a format.... its like uh... ok which .mov? mpeg4? h.264?...

So can anybody point me towards a list of acceptable formats for broadcast video... and one that includes info on acceptable formats after the big digital switch over in feb.?

Any help is always greatly appreciated!


Dan Danner


"Yeah.... its my real name."


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Mark Suszko
Re: Broadcast video formats
on Dec 1, 2008 at 11:31:15 pm

In a sense, there ain't no such animal. If they want to put it on the air, it is a "broadcast format" even if it is poop. See Bob Saget's show on ABC. Every station has its own mix of equipment on different standards, the last "lingua franca" you used to be able to count on was analog betacamSP and maybe digital betacam. I'm kind of hoping the next "standard" will be an HD signal on BluRay myself, because players and mass dubbers will be cheap, cheaper than tape equivalents, the media is cheap and durable, and it will be readable on multiple platforms, from game systems to stand-alone players to computer ROM drives. We get the benefit of all that if the consumers get excited and buy BD in mass quantities. Right now they are not, so BD may wind up like Mini-Disc: a lot going for it but not enough user base to keep it alive. C'mon, Apple, get on the BD bandwagon and help me out here!

You can look up CCIR601 and other standards in the SMPTE web pages, but that doesn't get you closer to what I *think* you're asking for: the "magic decoder ring" format choice that is universally playable at any station in the USA. MPEG2 might come close today, since worst-case you can buy a DVD player for $30 at the corner Walgreens and find a way to hook it up analog composite to the station's racks, or ingest it into a computer and cross-convert that file to the local preference. We picked DVCPro 25 when it came out ahead of Sony's DVCam because it was a shipping product and we needed it NOW, couldn't wait for Sony to catch up, others in our area used it, and it could play consumer DV mini-tapes as well as DVCam tapes; this was as "cross-format" as we could afford at the time, and it has served us well up to today. But your market may be really diferent so you can't go and judge by our success with the format. And that's just SD. We're looking at DVCPro HD decks to go with our Panasonic cameras and FCP workstations because that all plays well together, but how many outside users will be able to take HD off a DVCProHD tape, we can't yet know. I'm hoping to dodge the whole issue by using FTP to move the files to those stations that can handle that, and BluRay for the rest, and for deep offline archival.

I've been trying to find a standard for our shop for several years, thru annual polls and surveys of stations across the state, and IMO there just has not been enough time for one really "universal" standard to shake out and become the "next betacam". (This year I got a request for some stock footage from a major network and their producer still preferred a betaSP dub over DVC Pro or DVD, go figure. The installed user base remains strong and hard to overcome, like old habits.

Due to fragmentation of the markets, it may never happen like that again anyway. On top of that, many stations will keep the analog gear they use today and just run it into a magic box just ahead of the transmitter to be digital-legal after February. It takes time to replace years worth of physical plant, and you know the money men like to keep old stuff working until it melts, as long as it has already been amortized and still gets a job done... so my own sense of it is that many stations will still carry a wierd mix of internal standards for a while yet, until they can afford to tear out the pre-2008 stuff and start from scratch with the latest thing. Perhaps a safe strategy is to pick the codec that is easiest to transcode or render into another format while retaining quality (If you know what that is, please write me, I promise, I'll keep your secret).

I think you're going to have to do it the hard way and call every station you want to send to, ask for the Engineering or Traffic desk and talk to the actual people that actually handle incoming video about what they prefer and what they'll take if it's important enough. Don't ask the sales department because as long as you pay they'll take grease smears on acetate or old quadruplex, they really don't care about the technical details. Other station departments may also not really know, and give you a generic answer like "quicktime" which, as you point out, is a wrapper that can hold any kind of codec inside. That's no help.

No, you need to talk to someone who still knows what a "greenie" is, what a vectorscope is, and what you do with it. They are somewhere behind an overstuffed patching rack in the engineering department. They'll tell you what the station can really work with.


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Dan Danner
Re: Broadcast video formats
on Dec 1, 2008 at 11:54:04 pm

Yeah thats what I thought I was gonna have to do... just call around and find out from actual stations.

Most of the stations I've dealt with still hold on to their ancient beta decks. Few accepted dvc pro, and even fewer would take a digital format. Have you had the issue where you try to ftp a show or video to a station but they don't know what 'ftp' is? Thats always fun.

Thanks for the help.


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Michael Hancock
Re: Broadcast video formats
on Dec 2, 2008 at 3:07:00 pm

[Dan Danner] "Have you had the issue where you try to ftp a show or video to a station but they don't know what 'ftp' is?"

Makes you wonder, doesn't it? I've encountered this with out-of-market stations, but luckily every broadcast station and cable outlet in my market now accepts spots via FTP. It takes longer to upload than it does to make a Beta, but we don't have the tape cost, wear and tear on our decks, and their sales reps don't waste their time and gas driving to our office to pick up dubs. We just load the spots on a computer dedicated to FTP transfers and go back to working on the next project.

A little off-topic here, but one thing I've noticed is that many stations I've FTP'ed spots to don't have a very detailed spec sheet about what filetype they want. From only one local station did we received very specific instructions (Mpeg2 program stream with Mpeg1 layer audio, 720x480, maximum data rate 8000, etc...), but most just let you upload whatever you want and reencode it on their end.

Needless to say, there's some crunchy looking stuff on air, but if you take your time and really press them about what their systems accepts you can send a file that will ingest directly, without a reencode. In our case, our spots have never looked better because it's allowed us to remove the tape operator (who probably doesn't care that much about checking levels since he's getting maybe 7 bucks an hour) from the equation, so what we send out is exactly what goes on air.

Back on topic, definitely call the stations for their spec sheet, but don't be too surprised if you get one that says, "Mpeg2 files", and that's it. Or "Quicktimes", with nothing else to go by. So be prepared to send some tests and have them check the quality on their end. When FTP started taking off in my market I saw a lot of field reversal issues on air, so it pays to test before you send something to actually broadcast.

Michael.



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Mark Suszko
Re: Broadcast video formats
on Dec 2, 2008 at 4:49:40 pm

The field reversals may happen from more amateur producer/editors who think progressive looks more "film-like" (i.e. "cooler"), or they mix interlaced with progressive footage, but they don't check final QC on a CRT TV display for such side-effects. LCD screens may not reveal the problem.


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Bob Zelin
Re: Broadcast video formats
on Dec 2, 2008 at 9:57:58 pm

this is the answer to your question (at least my foolish opinion). You have NO CONTROL over the delivery format. You will deliver (and you WILL deliver) whatever the station wants - no matter what makes sense. Are they going "on air" with MPEG-4 ? They don't care - they want a particular TAPE format - end of story .

But, but, but - why can't I deliver xxx.dataformat ? BECAUSE, that's why.

You are correct, most stations have (and will continue to have) Beta VTR's for on air playback, but there is a RAPID CHANGE for Sony SRW-5500 VTR TAPE DELIVERY for everyone from NBC, to Bravo, to Viacom, to PBS, to Discovery, etc.

"But but but - I don't want to pay $139,000 for a VTR, and I dont' want to pay $1200 a day to rent this stupid VTR - why can't I just deliver an h.264 data file".

I just had this discussion with the local newspaper in Orlando. They work with the local stations, and one local major network affiliate shoots EVERYTHING in P2 - all news is P2. But this very station WILL NOT ACCEPT a P2 card for delivery. They MUST have a Beta (analog) or DVCProHD tape - END OF STORY. Even though they shoot P2 all day long, and injest P2 all day long, they will NOT accept a P2 master. So if you are going to deliver an HD program to them, it's either DVCProHD (Panasonic 1400), or NOTHING.

You don't like it - tough noogies. !

Bob Zelin




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Dave LaRonde
Re: Broadcast video formats
on Dec 2, 2008 at 10:05:46 pm

[Bob Zelin] "You don't like it - tough noogies."

Amen, brother!

I like your idea of Blu-Ray delivery foir HD, too. Considering the state of HD images on cable & satellite, you'd never see it WASN'T pristine.

Dave LaRonde
Sr. Promotion Producer
KCRG-TV (ABC) Cedar Rapids, IA


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Mark Suszko
Re: Broadcast video formats
on Dec 2, 2008 at 11:30:14 pm

I like how you pull your punches, Bob;-)

Your P2 story reminds me of an anecdote I share with a lot of people who have problems with beaurocracies. You probably know the roast beef story?

(Short version)

A woman serves her family and visitors a delicious roast, with the end cut off on one side. Everybody remarks how great it is, one person asks why the end is cut off that way.

The cook says she doesn't actually know, but she she was copying what her mom used to do, that's where the recipe came from.

So grandma is consulted, she says she copied it from HER mom, and never questioned the practice.

They find great-gramma, who is about 100 years old but still able to hear and understand the question. Her answer:

"Meh, ain't no special reason; I had to do it because I didn't have a bigger pan to hold the roast in!"

So it goes with organizational policies that never get questioned. Questions are good and healthy.

I'm still fighting battles with folks who think a fake 24p pulldown effect presented on a 16x9 letterbox inside a 4x3 SD frame constitutes "HD".

The P-2 thing is going to make me chuckle the rest of the day.... Thanks.


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Ron Gerber
Re: Broadcast video formats
on Dec 3, 2008 at 3:13:50 pm

Keep in mind, stations and local cable companies are run by business people, so the less money they have to spend to get advertisers on the air the happier they are. Quality does not become an issue until they start losing revenue because of it.

By only accepting a couple of formats, they are in essence streamlining the delivery process for themselves. A tape comes in, the encoding person pops it a deck and it's done. Routing multiple decks and pulling files down from FTP sites slow down the process and have the potential for errors. And business people don't want to give clients a ton of "make good" spots because the fields were inverted when the spot was pulled down. The encoding guy where I work on a busy day has about 120 spots that have to be encoded so there's no time for errors or guessing.

A lot of that will be changing as we are slowly preparing to go with a tapeless delivery system but at the moment when we receive files via FTP or on a disk they are all converted to Beta tape and then encoded.

The P2 situation is funny but it's most likely caused by the fact that the encoding stations don't talk to the edit stations. If they did accept P2 delivery at the moment it would just get dubbed to a tape and then encoded which just makes extra work for someone (sometimes me) and slows down the process.

Of course all of this is changing fast and a month from now my answer could be different.


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cow
Mark Suszko
Re: Broadcast video formats
on Dec 3, 2008 at 6:00:16 pm

These stations all need to buy new baking pans:-)


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