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When HD really isn't HD

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Chris Blair
When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 1:46:17 am

In the last few months our clients have started asking for HD on TV commercial projects. Most of the HD stuff we've done in the past has been for display specific purposes. Things like video projected on a wall of a casino, video played back on specific in-store HDTVs, Kisok Information systems and stuff like that.

Recently we've done a couple of HD TV spots and I've been amazed at how few broadcasters accept HD for spot delivery.

In our market, only one accepts it but they require what they call "center-cut" HD, because for SD playback, the station (and the cable outlets that rebroadcast their signal) just place the HD spot full-frame inside the SD frame (cutting off 17% of the left and right side of the HD content).

They said this is standard in the industry and I certainly can't argue since I have no clue if it is or not. But it seems crazy to me to do that to 16:9 material that was designed for widescreen.

Is this common?

I've also been amazed that with all the hype about HD, that it seems the majority of local broadcasters are likely up-rezzing SD TV spots for playback in HD. In a world where most TV stations and cable outlets can't dub or encode an SD spot correctly for playback in SD, I can't imagine what's happening to SD spots being up-rezzed to HD.

So why bother producing in HD if only one of 7 or 8 outlets for media distribution will accept it...and they're going to cut off a third of your content when it airs in SD in viewers homes? For the projects we've done, there is a LOT of extra work in creating both an HD and SD version, especially considering the "center-cut" requirement for the HD delivery.

Any thoughts or real-world workflow suggestions on this?

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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grinner hester
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 2:47:57 am

It's quite common. Our local cable company often boasts about their HD service. The dude who came out to "upgrade" us actually went into a pitch telling me how it was uncompressed and componant.
It comes into the house via coax. lol
I have an Avid Adrenaline so HD is not an option as an end result here yet but the truth is, I've no need to upgade yet as all of my clients are SD. My biggest client, a satallite network, airs composite mono and sadly, man I don't think most who watch it even know or care. I know of only one station here in town that would accept an HD tape and they'd transfer it to beta if I turned it in that way. HD is much more of a buzz word than a requirement in many cases. Much like the word Avid was in '95. This will change over time but it will be some time before it does.



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Arnie Schlissel
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 3:39:11 am

[Chris Blair] "
So why bother producing in HD if only one of 7 or 8 outlets for media distribution will accept it."


1- Because your client asked you to. They may not really need it, but, hey, it's HD. It must be better, right?

2- Because your client asked you to. There may be an outlet that will be using it in HD, and the client wants to take advantage of that.

3- Because in a couple of years, everything will be HD, anyway.

[Chris Blair] "For the projects we've done, there is a LOT of extra work in creating both an HD and SD version, especially considering the "center-cut" requirement for the HD delivery."

Try & find a way to design your text & graphics for the center cut. IOW, keep all of the text inside where the 4x3 title safety will be. Keep any infographics & logos inside that area. Things like color mattes, patterns, textures, those can go to the edges to fill out the 16x9 frame.

Arnie

Post production is not an afterthought!
http://www.arniepix.com/


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Ron Gerber
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 2:15:17 pm

It's all tied to budgets. Generally speaking the people writing the budgets and approving the budgets look a one thing, the bottom line for the company. Since most stations (cable & broadcast) are still primarily viewed in an SD environment I suspect they simply don't want to spend the money on new equipment especially with ad revenue down (think automotive).

Once the number of HD viewers outnumber the SD viewers you'll see things change in a hurry. Or in individual markets if enough big dollar advertisers demand it, it might change sooner.




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Todd Terry
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 2:35:45 pm

Two of our three suites are HD, but to date we have produced exactly one HD project for broadcast... a 30-minute program for Public Television. All the rest of our HD productions have been for things like trade show displays, etc.

We have never produced a commercial that ended up airing in HD, as none of the stations that we serve can take them yet. All of the stations say they are HD, but really meaning that they just pass on the networks' HD signals, nothing originating from them is in HD, it's all still the SD Betacam world.

Sometimes we will produce a commercial in HD, if it's something we think is going to be around for a while, or something good enough to put on our reel. In those cases though the broadcast delivery is still an SD version. We will either do a center-punched or letterboxed version for SD... it's exactly the same amount of extra work with either version.

Strangely enough, about a year ago we did get a call from one of the advertising agencies that we serve saying that one of the stations that we regularly send commercials to (in another state) can now accept HD commercials. Which was very surprising, considering that particular station is in a very small market. The big market stations we serve still want Betacam only.

Not sure when that will change... although I will be glad when it does.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Mark Suszko
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 2:44:33 pm

Todd, I bet the reason the small station converted and the big wone hasn't is that the small one had amuch smaller investment in still-operable gear. I would guess they jumped direct from creaky s-vhs and some betacam tape playback into HD gear, without intervening technology steps.

You see something like this in third-world countries where they leap directly to cell phones and don't bother trying to lay conventioanl long distance phone cables anymore.


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Mark Suszko
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 2:34:45 pm

Chris, my brother, I give you a hearty A-MEN. I feel your pain.

It all comes down to money. It always does. Stations don't want to spend any, until the spending guarantees a huge return. So we're stuck with a lot of SD being uprezzed at the transmitter to technically become HD, and stations hanging on to SD infrastructure as long as it can be somehow made to produce... since it is already paid for.

The other problem I see that drives this painful situation is that there are no more "common" standards, too many different formats and flavors means nobody can afford all the decks and associated gear to handle stuff in the traditional mechanical manner. What I feel is happening is that for cost reasons, everything is going the direction of FTP for distribution and delivery and we will see fully IT-based plants, where you will never see a deck or tape of any sort, and very few disks either. It will happen because it is cheaper and more efficient to do it that way. There are already services like DG Fastchannel for doing this kind of thing, the next big growth spurt will be a burgeoning of these services and some kind of coalescing into an eventual 'standard' dictated by market pressures and not SMPTE.


Meanwhile, back in the edit suite, we're facing a recurring problem that happens whenever technologies make a jump. When the new technology is first brought in, it is not fully utilized in the "best" way, but people try to fit the old paradigm into the new media framework. Easiest example of this would be when motion pictures were invented, they just placed a single fixed-lens camera in the third row of a theater and did the play in front of it. Only later did the moveaeble camera and editing make a real change in how the plays were recorded and how the story was told... and cinema became a unique artform.

We are now jamming SD material into widescreen frames and having to shoot and edit to 'protect' the center frame as a nod to backwards compatibility. This makes for horrible compromises in aesthetics that make the product equally bad for either frame size. Nobody is able to say with certainty when we'll be allowed to stop "needing" to do that, and that means a danger of it becoming a "habit" for people who are not constantly re-evaluating what they do and why.

When will we be free of that? To some extent I think it depends on when people using 3:4 screens drop below a certain threshold number in market surveys. We are shooting and editing in HD and then throwing away much of the expense and effort as we bump it down to SD for final delivery. This won't be forever, but nobody can say for sure just how long this transitional period may last. If you want to start a pool, put me down for 12 more years of this "half-life". Might take that long for the rest of the old SD gear in the stations to finally die beyond hope of economical repair, and THAT is what will force them to finally upgrade.

I know a bunch of guys here will say its always worth it to shoot everything in HD now. They give various reasons like future-proofing it against the time when everything is truly HD end-to-end. Well, I only partially agree. Again, it comes down to a cost/benefit issue, in that some material we produce is never going to need to last long enough to outwait the full end to end progression to HD everywhere. And some of it is for an audience that is perfectly happy with 3:4 they've grown up with. Some things we shoot as lot of, like a stand-up lecturer with slides, don't really gain anything from the extra screen realestate unless you design from the beginning with that in mind. More to the point, maybe, their own in-house viewing infrastructure is likewise bound by old gear and unlikely to convert unless under the duress of replacing dead gear that's just not made anymore.

So we wait it out. And grit our teeth in the meanwhile.


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Todd Terry
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 2:39:26 pm

Just an addendum... and a pet peeve....

How many times have you been to a public place (doctor's office, restaurant, bar) where there is a 16:9 set displaying a 4:3 picture all stretched out? I see that all the time and it drives me nuts.

Just last weekend we went to a sports bar/restaurant that had about 10 different monitors around the room all showing different things. Eight of them had the aspect ratio wrong. Grrrr.

Full conversion can't come too soon for me.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Tim Wilson
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 3:20:26 pm

[Todd Terry] "How many times have you been to a public place (doctor's office, restaurant, bar) where there is a 16:9 set displaying a 4:3 picture all stretched out? I see that all the time and it drives me nuts."

As the AV nerd for both sides of the family, as far as the term can possibly be extended, I set up a lot of TVs. Without exception, every time I set up them up to protect 4:3 pictures, people FREAK OUT.

Here's the thing - nearly all of them get that it's stretched SD. They don't for a minute think that it's really HD, and would rather the picture be distorted than not. I think there's a combination of "I bought all these pixels and don't want to waste any of 'em" and the discovery that things are more fun to watch on wide screens.

(I think there are physio-anthropological reasons for this, but that's another story. I'm also aware that many people outside my sphere influence have no idea that they're not getting HD.)

Here's the thing I'm a little embarrassed about: I've gotten kind of fond of stretching 4:3. I watch so little of it that I don't feel particularly strongly about the sanctity of the frames.

And seriously, anything playing on a TV in a public place deserves to be disrespected. If stretching is the most that can be done without actually tearing the thing from the wall, well, then so be it.


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Todd Terry
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 3:52:22 pm

I think "organizing" or at least planning ahead for HD (at least on the network/national level) seems to be getting a little better.

About a year ago, the majority of commercials airing on networks during HD programming were still SD spots. Now, the vast majority of them are HD. It's kinda fun to toggle back and forth between a station's SD and HD signals to see how each particular advertiser handled the difference. With some, the 16:9 HD version is centerpunched for the SD version. With some, the SD version is letterboxed. I've even seen some HD spots that were pillerboxed so you still saw only a 4:3 image, but in HD. In those cases the HD and SD versions looked identical both cropping and ratio-wise... the only difference was the line count.

It's the same for network programming... sometimes an HD show is letterboxed for the SD version. Other times the SD version is a centerpunch.

What's funny is to see a SD commercial airing on an HD channel, but where the original SD production was letterboxed. In those cases, when it appears on HD it is both letterboxed and pillarboxed... so you get the spot small in the center of the screen with black around all sides. You used to see this a lot... now, not so much. I think people are finally catching on.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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David Roth Weiss
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 5:14:18 pm

[Tim Wilson] "Here's the thing I'm a little embarrassed about: I've gotten kind of fond of stretching 4:3. I watch so little of it that I don't feel particularly strongly about the sanctity of the frames. "

Tim,

A friend of mine has a new Samsung that operates at 240hz. I'm not quite sure why, but SD scaled or stretched on that TV is better than HD on most other TVs.

HD, especially movies, look so good that I don't like it. It's actually too crisp, kind of like we all found out years ago when there was a brief trend toward shooting film at 30fps for telecine. Remember, how it looked like video, not film???

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, Indie Film & Documentary, and Film History & Appreciations forums.


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Jeremy Doyle
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 6:35:17 pm

[Todd Terry] "How many times have you been to a public place (doctor's office, restaurant, bar) where there is a 16:9 set displaying a 4:3 picture all stretched out? I see that all the time and it drives me nuts."

And what about the TNT, TBS, USA, etc... HD channels where the network takes the old SD shows and stetchs them. I actually have to turn from my HD channel back to my SD channel to get it to look right. I'm with you. This is a big pet peeve.

On the other hand is my father-in-law "why would I want to waste the space on my tv". He'll even change the settings on my TV when he's in town!

OK, I digress. But I could rant about this for hours and probably have been known to do so.



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Mark Suszko
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 8:03:45 pm

The keychain secret TV remote was made for folks like us, to kill the offending TV :-)

I still have a 3:4 SD tv set at home. My local Comcast plays widescreen network shows like NBC's "The Office" in letterbox, then as a commercial comes up, (and it is 99 percent the same commercials as are running on their network feed) Comcast suddenly drops back to SD 4:3 full screen of that commercial, then jumps back to feeding the letterbox. The switching takes several frames so is very disturbing visually. What's going on, I guess, is that not all their internal infrastructure is HD and the commercial servers are a mix of HD and SD, and the automation or live board op in master control that's supposed to make the change-ups seamless... well, isn't. Like I said, they don't fix it until it is a pile of molten components on the floor; as long as it is paid for and works, they will keep using the old gear.


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Tim Wilson
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 11, 2009 at 8:29:29 pm

[Mark Suszko] "The keychain secret TV remote was made for folks like us, to kill the offending TV :-)"

I don't travel much anymore, but I sure wish they'd had this at the time: TV-B-Gone.




There was a scandal of sorts when it was introduced at last year's CES, when those scamps at Gizmodo ran around turning off displays in the middle of vendor demos. As a civilian, I think this is pretty hilarious, but I can absolutely relate to how thoroughly people flipped their lids when it happened...leading the offender to banned for life from the show. Let that be a warning to some of you ruffians.



Tim Wilson
Creative Cow Magazine!

My Blog: "Is this thing on? Oh it's on!"

Don't forget to rate your favorite posts!


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Rich Rubasch
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 12, 2009 at 1:18:19 am

Ok, back to the original post. Chris said clients are asking for HD for commercial projects. Do you mean acquisition? If so, shooting in HD offers a lot of advantages. Mostly better cameras, assuming you aren't shooting HDV.

We shoot almost exclusively in HD but deliver mostly to DVD web and SD broadcast. Our local CBS affiliate can accept HD spots. ESPN and Big Ten Network both require center cut HD. My guess is that since they have both HD and SD channels they simply take the one spot and downcovert with crop for the SD feed.

Although FCP is pretty terrible scaling down HD in an SD timeline, HD does offer us some flexibility in framing when put into an SD comp.

And although we have gone digital, there are a ton of SD 4:3 sets out there with digital converter boxes. And will be for some time.

We are a DG Fastchannel dealer and think file delivery of spots is surely better than Beta cam tapes to each station. Used to be 5 Beta dubs, now it's a single encode uploaded to their FTP and delivered anywhere in the country with no shipping necessary. But HD is not very affordable right now, but they are working on the necessary workflow.

Rich Rubasch
Tilt Media Inc.




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Todd Terry
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 12, 2009 at 6:19:25 am

[Rich Rubasch] "FCP is pretty terrible scaling down HD in an SD timeline"

Premiere, on the other hand (CS3 and CS4) does an easy and absolute flawless job of scaling down HD to SD. Just throw an HD clip on an SD timeline and use motion effects to reduce its size down to either a letterboxed or centerpunched version... or even somewhere in between, if you want. The results are really perfect.

The only trick is if you are going from 24fps 1080p to NTSC (60i), which is what we are usually doing. There's a certain order that you have to do things in to get the 3:2 pulldown exactly right (do it wrong and you get a funky 4:1, or full progressive, or inverted field order... depending on where the misstep is). It took me quite a bit of experimentation, but once I figured out the right combo it's a breeze. Basically you just take your 23.976 fps HD clip and throw it on a 23.976 SD timeline (not on a 60i timeline or a full 24fps timeline). Scale it down with motion, then export as a 29.976 fps avi or mov or whatever (just change the framerate export settings at the step where you render the file)... and voilĂ , you have a perfect-looking scaled down SD 60i NTSC file with correct 3:2 pulldown and frame/field order.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Chris Blair
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 12, 2009 at 4:09:56 pm

We deliver digitally to probably 75% of the stations we send spots. Most stations in our area will accept digital delivery directly on their own FTP. But, many of them then transcode the spot onto their playout servers, and often they get it wrong, flipping fields and screwing up colorspace.

There are a couple stations that accept digital files but they've screwed up our spots so many times we resorted back to delivering beta dubs.

On the HD issue, I certainly realize shooting in HD has advantages in quality, but if a client asks you to shoot in HD and that quality advantage is completely negated by the fact that no one will see it in HD, then I think it's my responsibility to advise the client they really don't need to spend the extra money to use higher-end cameras and edit in HD since nobody will actually see that quality as an end result. Of course there are probably those that don't charge more for shooting in HD these days, but I believe you should, considering the post-production issues you face with HD to SD conversion, the increase in storage space needed if you're editing at high HD data rates etc.

Of course this brings up a related issue. If everything else is equal, lighting, DP skill, etc., will an SD project shot with a high-end SD camera look better when it's shot in HD using a comparable level camera (meaning broadcast camera to broacast camera)?? Uh oh, I've probably opened another can or worms.



Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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Tim Wilson
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 12, 2009 at 4:32:15 pm

[Chris Blair] "...shooting in HD has advantages in quality, but if a client asks you to shoot in HD and that quality advantage is completely negated by the fact that no one will see it in HD..."

But I think they will notice.

You don't shoot consumer-grade MPEG just because your work is going to SD DVD. Your web video might play at 512 KB, but you shoot a much higher data rate. I delivered on 3/4, and before the turn of the century, a lot of VHS for client review copies. But I didn't shoot in those formats. And even the most chowderheaded of my clients immediately noticed when I upgraded my equipment.

The web video thing is interesting all by itself. It used to be synonymous with tiny, low-quality movies. We've found that the web is increasingly the HD platform of choice. We stream up to 900 px wide now, for both tutorials and hosted video (reels, shorts, etc.) and it looks pretty darn good. So even if you can't deliver HD to air, you can absolutely deliver it on the web!

If you have SD equipment and it's making you money, carry on. But your clients will definitely notice when you switch to HD.

The additional interesting thing is that, especially with ProRes and DNxHD, you have free, built-in solutions to deliver pristine HD in SD bandwidth and storage.

And if you've used your camera long enough to pay for it, you may well find that your new HD camera costs a lot less than your SD camera did. I could get a really nice Varicam or XDCAM HD for what I paid to shoot DigiBeta, and have enough left over for a nice little vacation.

So HD can cost less, and give your spouse something to smile about. Look! I bought a new camera and got a romantic getaway free!





Tim Wilson
Creative Cow Magazine!

My Blog: "Is this thing on? Oh it's on!"

Don't forget to rate your favorite posts!


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Rafael Amador
Re: When HD really isn't HD
on Sep 13, 2009 at 4:28:21 pm

I deliver in SD but I shoot in HD because to get the same picture quality that I get with my 6K SONY EX-1 I would need a much more expensive SD camera.
Another reason is the archiving. As Arnie said sooner than later everybody will be HD and the SD archive will have less use.
Cheers,
rafael
PS: Is funny what Todd points about how so many people watch the 4x3 programs distorted in the 16x9 screens. That's true but people don't do it in an unconscious way, is just that most people find really unpleasant pillar-boxed picture.


http://www.nagavideo.com


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