One of the best ways to gauge how serious television broadcasters are about implementing HD programming is by talking to some of the major post-production facilities. After all, there are plenty of producers shooting in HD, but still sending the final cut to the networks in NTSC-making it seem as though HD is always on the verge of taking off, but never quite getting enough lift. How many broadcasters out there are willing or just about to be willing to make that final step?
Two major post facilities, American Production Services (APS) and Rhinoceros Post, have long dabbled in HD post-production work for the film community. Both seem to agree that, especially with most of the major networks proposing to broadcast the majority of their primetime programming in HD, television producers will become an increasingly important part of their client base. The question is, when?
American Production Services is a Los Angeles-based post house that owns three Sony HDCAM linear editing systems. It primarily does HD work for filmmakers, but according to Marianne Nassour, the company's senior vice president and general manager, it anticipates a rapidly expanding client base among producers of episodic television programming. "The last three years," said Nassour, "the movement for episodic [programming in HD] has been really slow-but ABC, FOX, and Warner Bros. are just starting to come into this format."
Nassour thinks HD is finally getting a leg up with the broadcasters because of the major strides manufacturers have made in HD product offerings in the last year. "Sony came out with a new camera [the F900] last August, the 24p camera, a film-formatted camera that looks very good. More of the DPs are starting to accept this format versus the 1080i, which was more of a video format," she noted. She also says that many broadcasters are beginning to discover HD can be more cost-effective than shooting in film. "If you shoot in HD, then downconvert to Beta SP, and finish either an HD master and then deliver in NTSC, its cost-effective, because of the film cost. A forty minute HD tape is equivalent to approximately 5,000 feet of film."
Nassour's colleague, Conrad Denke, who is chief executive officer of APS, agrees. He said that Sydney Lumet, who produced the A&E series 100 Centre Street in high definition, saved about $700, 000 per episode by shooting in HD. Another area of cost-saving is in the price of high definition editing systems themselves. "The price of high definition post is really coming down dramatically because of the introduction of these nonlinear high definition editing systems, like the Sony XPRI, Avid DS, CineWave, and Final Cut Pro HD," noted Denke.
Denke and his colleagues are actively seeking to gain a foothold in the primetime television market, as they believe it is the hottest growth area. Said Denke, "We're working with a lot of companies to try and get them to come to our place for series work because we have such a long history of experience in high definition."
There's another reason, at least according to Denke, why it's so important for a post house to be HD-ready in the near future. "I see that, if you're not in high definition post, you will not be in business in the next three, four years," he said. "The reason for that is, the [market for] low end [post production] is basically gone. You can go out and buy Final Cut Pro for $1,000 and if you're shooting in DV, you can input it into your own computer, edit the entire program, and output it, all by yourself, for very little money. The middle end is almost gone for the same reason. So the only thing left for post-production facilities is the high end."
David Binstock, CEO of Rhinoceros Post, a facility based in New York City, has a slightly different view about when the market for HD will take off: "Unfortunately, we're not seeing as great a demand as we expected. I think partially because of the economy, although I have noticed that the stores are pushing HDTVs tremendously." Still, his company recently invested in an Avid Digital Studio DS-HD high definition editing system, to compliment its Sony HD linear edit system and telecine suite. Binstock says he anticipates a demand for HD post-production on episodic shows. "I think as the price of TVs go down and technology comes a little further forward, we're going to see more and more in-home sets, which in turn, will create more of a demand for product," he said.
Both Binstock and Nassaur noted that another reason broadcasters should look into finishing in HD was for preservation purposes. "If you produce a 24p master, it's more like a universal master. You can downconvert to NTSC, you can convert very simply from 24p to 25p, which is the European standard [frame rate for], PAL. So there are many reasons to finish in HD," said Binstock.
At least one broadcaster would agree. Bob Seidel, vice president of engineering and advanced technology at CBS, calls it "preserving the future asset value." He noted that networks spend millions of dollars per episode on a primetime show, whether it is SD or HD, and only make a profit on syndication and reruns. For him, it just makes better sense to master the programming in HD: "If you're a producer, and you're spending an average of $1.2 to 1.3 million dollars [per episode] and you usually shoot 22, sometimes 26 episodes, that's a lot of money. So what we're saying is preserve the future asset value by transferring it to high definition in the first place."
It still remains to be seen if this will be "the year" of HD television. Plenty of networks are pledging to produce in the medium, but the post facilities mentioned above said the demand for it has not quite hit home. Nevertheless, there is a feeling of optimism that television producers looking to finish in HD will soon coming knocking on the post house door. It's just a matter of time.