For news, 16:9 SD is an important step on the path to HD

At IBC2005 in Amsterdam, Sony announced that it would introduce a new acquisition and production solution that combines the IT, file-based workflow advantages of the XDCAM and the image resolution of high-definition television.

Concurrently, final preparations for a 36-page special “News Technology Summit” supplement that will appear in the October issues of Broadcast Engineering and Broadcasting & Cable were underway.

It seemed like a perfect opportunity for High Definition Technology Update to talk with Bob Ott, Sony Vice President, Optical and Network Products Marketing, about HD news acquisition, the newly announced Sony XDCAM-HD and how HDV-format cameras may fit into the news formula in the field.

HD Technology Update: For the foreseeable future, local stations will be serving a mixed audience — some with new HDTVs and the rest with conventional NTSC sets that may stay in service for a decade or more thanks to digital-to-analog set-top boxes. How does that affect news operations seeking to serve both sets of viewers?

Bob Ott: More and more stations are doing HD production, and they are looking at what the other tools are in HD — 24p and 16:9 — and can I shoot in 16:9 and make it appear on a 4:3?

With all that we are doing, No. 1 in our minds is legacy protection as much as possible. The interfaces we develop are predicated by what we have established.

HDTU: Beyond the differences in aspect ratio, what are the biggest hurdles to local production of HD news?

BO: In the news environments today, the limitations are not hardware, acquisition, tape decks and optical decks. One of the biggest restrictions in transition is their infrastructure and the ENG truck.

The key is there will be a need, and there will be a way some day of transmitting live HD ENG back to the facility.

Depending on the size of the station and the budget, the biggest decision made as an owner was digital transmission. It’s not complete but a major part is done in major and secondary markets. Are those stations ready to go to HD news?

HDTU: Sony just announced XDCAM HD at IBC2005. Is that the missing piece needed to tip the scales in favor of HD news acquisition?

BO: HDCAM is used for news by NHK right now. With XDCAM HD we announced a camcorder at IBC. It’s tilted toward the production and post areas but will find its way to HD news. It’s not fully packed with overwhelming features for news. However the product will be available and will make it quite easy to do HD news.

HDTU: So what strategy should stations employ as they see HD news acquisition, production and playout on the horizon and still need to serve their NTSC audience?

BO: The key is that if you shoot something in 16:9 today, even if you don’t have HD news, your archive is very important to your news operation. Three years from now it will be in 16:9.

You want to shoot in 16:9. Shoot in SD and upconvert 16:9 for my digital channel and letterbox for 4:3 on my analog channel.

A good example is Jay Leno. Since April they’ve been in HD. The HD channel is gorgeous and for analog they shoot with 4:3 safety. For Conan O’Brien, they decided to do 16:9 letterbox for their 4:3 signal.

Our contention is a lot of stations will start shooting in 16:9, and we have a plethora of SD equipment that shoots 16:9 and converts to HD.

For example DVCAM, the DSR570, start shooting in 16:9. Tell photographers to use safety markers for the 4:3 audience and upconvert it. The same holds true for SX and HD.

When I’m asked about HD news, I ask “Are you shooting 16:9 now?”

HDTU: Is HDV a viable acquisition format for news? I know KRON in San Francisco and WKRN-TV in Nashville are putting video journalists on the street with the Sony HVR-Z1U.

BO: The HVR-Z1U allows you to shoot in HD and archive in HD, yet download in HD or letterbox 4:3 safety. So the beginnings of that are happening.

I am not saying HDV will be the ultimate HD news acquisition format. But with the emergence of DSR-PD150 more and more videographers and news photographers are taking along DV with their Betacam camcorders. Sometimes they use it as B-roll and back up. The same thing will emerge with various HDV cameras as being an ancillary to the main camera.

Tell us what you think!

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