To most, the 2006 mid-term elections last week are notable because of the Democrat sweep of the Congress.
A little less known but significant fact about the 2006 election is that it’s the second national election Voom HD Networks’ HDNews has covered. That gives the all-HD network a unique perspective and basis of comparison to judge the progress of HD technology used for newsgathering.
HD Technology Update spoke with HDNews director of operations Milan Krainchich to glean some insight into covering a national election in HD and how this year’s experience compared to 2004.
HD Technology Update: This year’s election was the second national election you covered in HD since launching operation in 2003. How do you compare the two in terms of HD production, acquisition and presentation?
Milan Krainchich: I think the availability of HD facilities, whether it's an HD uplink, HD fiber, or just the awareness of the requirements for HD has grown immensely, and it’s become easier to put together election coverage in high definition.
That is the striking difference. Two years ago facilities and services were harder to arrange and even making the request for HD facilities was somewhat unexpected to vendors. HDNews was among the first to cover the election fully in HD with live shots from key locations around the country. This uniqueness and its special requirements also ended up helping to open a few doors. Now, it's become easier. There are more resources available — whether the need is for an SNG truck or field equipment — and the industry is better-prepared to meet the requests.
HDTU: Did you contract out for HD SNG services, or do you have your own trucks?
MK: For the election coverage, we have various partners, and we contracted out trucks that we placed with our crew. HDNews also used fiber as part of the backhaul when and where it was more suitable.
HDTU: It must have been a challenge for you to cover a national election in HD, even though there are more HD resources in place than in 2004.
MK: What we have known since the first election we covered in HD is that we need to work that much harder on all the details. Nothing can be taken for granted. We can’t rely on pool situations. In many cases, the existing infrastructure will not support HD. Even the cable runs from the cameras can require fiber, and the list goes on.
We have to do our homework carefully and a lot more contingency planning in order to put together the election night coverage. If something were to go wrong, there may be standard definition alternatives or backups that news operations can turn to. HDNews needs to develop and have different contingency plans and capability.
HDTU: What does the 16:9 aspect ratio of HD bring to the presentation of news and election graphics?
MK: The obvious benefit is screen space. For instance, HDNews uses the additional screen space to better arrange graphics and double box effects. The higher resolution enables the graphic to have more detail and finesse.
The layout can be more creative, easier to read and contain more information when you don't have to cram graphical elements around the 4:3 space. There is more opportunity to include animations, icons and vibrant colors and still keep the graphics legible.
HDTU: In your case, because HDNews doesn’t have an SD audience, you don’t have to make any compromises for the 4:3 aspect ratio.
MK: In our case, that is absolutely true. We only have an HD signal and don’t need to be concerned about the 4:3 format. We don’t need to compromise on the visuals, the photography, the graphics, the studio shots or multichannel effects. That is why HDNews has been unique in the area of news coverage since its inception.
HDTU: How many HD feeds were you taking in for election coverage?
MK: There were a total of eight live shot locations last night.
HDTU: It seems that viewers with HDTVs gravitate to HD programs when faced with a choice between SD and HD. Do you think that held true for your coverage of the election?
MK: I think yes. The unique ability of a viewer to enjoy the superb picture quality of HDNews for an event such as the election coverage creates a great deal of enthusiasm and interest. However, beyond the technology and stunning picture quality, there must be a compelling story to present to the viewer. And that is what HDNews did on election night.
HDTU: Given today’s changing news landscape where new competitors seem to spring up overnight, is producing television news in HD an important endeavor?
MK: My belief is that news coverage in HD is important, today. This is part of the promise made by the television industry to create a better television experience for the viewer. We may be carrying the same speech, but broadcasting it in HD today and having it in the archives in HD for the future signals the importance of the stories and events HDNews is covering.
HDTU: Do you feel any added responsibility or pressure doing HD election coverage in these early days because of the historical significance your footage may ultimately have?
MK: We think it is important. The HD footage will be a unique part of the record as time passes. We will be able to go back to these still early days of HD newsgathering and have a good story to share with our viewers.
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