Full SD/HD capability is now the norm rather than the exception when looking for a production system. The watershed has been reached as the industry rapidly moves to HD in anticipation of the February 2009 cut off date. Luckily, today's new generation of graphic systems are ready to offer powerful and scalable performance at an affordable price owing to the move to high-performance open platforms.
These systems rely on the power of the graphics processing unit (GPU), a new name for the graphics chip at the heart of the VGA display board. The performance of these chips constantly improves, driven by the high volume home computer and gaming market. The GPU in a current high-performance computer has twice as many transistors as the CPU, and its performance doubles at least once a year.
Besides the GPU, the adoption of higher speed internal data buses was also critical to the move to HD. The PCI bus standard in most desktops was not fast enough to move full HD RGBA graphics data in real time. The PCI-X standard, on the other hand, is fast enough, and the next-generation PCI Express bus will prove even faster.
The benefits of an open platform are clear. First of all, we lose the need for expensive custom hardware that was typical of the last generation of graphics products. This speeds time to market and lowers the cost to the end users.
The other major benefit is that open platforms are bound to grow in performance at a tremendous rate. The next generation of GPU, CPU, storage technology or data bus will make improvements in system performance at a rate much faster than the television industry has seen in the past.
Sports and live events
The biggest demand for HD viewing comes from the sports fans. Considering that these live events were the predominant spot for traditional graphics systems (with a live operator in a non-scripted program), it's no surprise that this group is already heavily invested in creating HD graphics. HD-ready remote production trucks now include HD graphics equipment.
Over the last few years, the news industry was busy optimizing its workflows with MOS-enabled devices, solid-state cameras, SAN and NAS storage, asset management systems, metadata, and centralized graphics. Now, broadcasters are ready to migrate to HD news production to keep up with the rest of their programming. As broadcasters migrate to HD, much of the interesting news content is going in the opposite direction — to DV, camcorders and mobile phone videos — proving content remains king.
The tickers and bugs that fill up the screen during financial, news and sports programming are usually designed and supported by third-party developers. They are still mostly SD, but because they are based on open APIs, these applications should make the transition to HD relatively easily.
HD CG in offline NLE
Almost all offline work is done on NLEs, and the graphics system is generated by a software plug-in. The open PC platforms used by many NLEs have enabled a fast transition to HD, with many powerful and inexpensive systems available. It is important that the graphics plug-in be resolution-independent so that it can operate over a wide range of HD and SD resolutions, and so it can work with many open image file formats.
HD CG in linear editing and finishing
Initially, titling and credit rolls for HD cinema content was one of the biggest markets for HD graphics systems. Upconversion is usually not an option because of the quality requirements. Electronic characters are crisp and clean compared with cinema rolls transferred from film, and they have no weave and judder. However, they may show interlacing artifacts at certain roll speeds. Also, be careful of the tendency to roll credits much faster in video than in cinema, as it creates an unusual and objectionable artifact in 24p.
Master control and branding
With cable and satellite networks providing more than 100 channels, channel branding is important. It has evolved from a simple stationary logo in the lower right to sophisticated animations — sometimes with sound — running under complex automation control. HD programmers want the same capabilities. High quality and resolution are important, so upconversion is usually not an option. One advantage here, though, is that branding bugs are usually small, much less than full screen. This simplifies the design and lowers the networking storage requirements considerably.
Creating content for HD (16:9 vs. 4:3)
Programmers broadcasting in HD and SD simultaneously would rather not create every graphic twice. The biggest problem here is not the resolution, because most graphics applications are resolution-independent and can scale an image up or down easily. The big problem — whether you are upconverting or working in native HD — is the different aspect ratios.
The most popular solution is to create all the graphics templates in 16:9 with a 4:3 protect. All important information, images and text are kept in a 4:3 area in the center. Backgrounds, lower-third banners and other similar graphic elements can be extended to the end of the 16:9 area. When displaying in 4:3, the graphics system is programmed to crop the side panel area. This matches the technique most commonly used for camera shots that need to be used in both standards.
The graphics market
HD has taken time to evolve, but broadcasters and technology providers are now seeing it as the standard in television. It won't be long before SD is relegated to the realms of history, much like black-and-white television.
Jim Martinolich is vice president of mobile products for Chyron.