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Getting Aboard the HD Bandwagon

HDExpo draws enthusiastic crowds

LOS ANGELES

"Has anybody here seen too much high-definition television?" Mark Cuban asked the standing room only audience at the HDExpo last month. "I describe high def as being clearer than actually going to a ball game. Who needs reality when you have HD?"

Cuban, the outspoken co-founder of HDNet, the first national television network presenting all of its programming in 1080i HD, (and owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks), fired out a wide range of opinions on the current state of HD broadcasting during a one-on-one session with Craig Kilborn, host of CBS's "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn".

"Today there are three challenges for the traditional broadcast networks," Cuban said. "First, will they be able to afford high def programming because the cable and satellite companies have said they won't pay twice for the same content? That means if a network comes up with an HD version of their programming, Time Warner, Charter, etc. isn't going to pay you extra.

"The second 'Catch-22' is that most of their shows were shot and mastered on tape, and that is the equivalent of black and white in a high def world.

"Third, and probably most important, there is a finite amount of bandwidth available on satellites and cable... so there is not enough real estate to be had on the distribution systems. For the last people coming to the party, it's going to be a game of survival."

TV GHETTO

As a result, Cuban predicted that either all programming will eventually be in high definition, or we will see a broadcast "TV ghetto" developing in a manner similar to AM radio's content that will subsist on lower level narrowcasting. Premium services will be distributed only in HD.

"I personally think that over the next three or four years we will start to see ratings skewed toward high definition viewers," Cuban concluded. "When the networks identify that HD was the difference then boom!, we'll see everybody having to go high def."

In the afternoon panel discussion, high-definition visionary Randall Dark, president of HD Vision Studios, said "If you don't work in high definition, you are going to get in bread lines and starve to death. I'm not saying that other formats such as film will go away, but this industry is driven by price points, and this [HD] technology rocks! It's cost effective, user-friendly, and there is nothing that you can visualize that you can't realize in a high definition way."

Panelist Bill Bennett, a cinematographer known as "the car guy" for shooting so many high gloss automotive commercials, said he is still moving easily between film and high definition production.

"High definition is not going to replace film," Bennett said. "It is going to augment film. The reason you should choose these various formats is because you like the way they look."

"HD is not difficult, it's just different," added Kristen Cox, president of 16X9 Productions. "For example, when shooting in film you become accustomed to overexposing a little just to be careful. In high definition it works just the opposite way. If you overexpose and clip the video, you're dead. You're not getting it back. But there is a lot of latitude in the blacks (in a high-definition recording) so you want to underexpose in order to be safe."

HDV HORIZON

Sony's marketing manager for HD acquisition, Yasuhiko Mikami, announced the future of HD may not be just for mega-budgets starring Master Yoda as in George Lucas's "Star Wars: Episode III" currently finishing principle production using Sony's new HDC-F950 CineAlta camera with 4:4:4 RGB signal processing. Without revealing specifics, Mikami said at NAB2004 Sony will demonstrate several products for the new low cost HDV recording technology based on DV technology.

"It's a high resolution MPEG-2 format," Mikami said, "and for the first time we will see how high definition acquisition can become a reality for personal use."

But with over 35 primetime shows now being produced in high definition, will all the different production formats merely create viewer confusion when the majority are still watching 4:3 sets? Not according to Randall Dark's golden eye. "When going down to standard definition, the technology is getting so good it is almost impossible for the average consumer to spot the differences."

That evening, producer, director and best selling author Fran Drescher addressed the effect off-shore production is having on Hollywood's bottom line by presenting a new PSA called "Runaway Production and The Community" produced by The Creative Coalition. Directed by Tony Goldwyn, the five-minute high def filmlet featured representatives from all levels in the film and video crafts reflecting on the economic pressures caused when productions are taken outside of the domestic arena. A 30 second version of the PSA will be broadcast nationwide in the near future.

For the 40 exhibitors who had products on display found the record 1,500 attendees was a bonanza.

"The number of quality contacts per dollar was much higher than any other conference-including NAB-that we've been to in years," said Jay Coley, president of Editware. "I couldn't even attend the panel sessions because of the overflow crowds in the halls."

The theme of this HDExpo was "Race into the Future With Technology", partially because it was held at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Hollywood amidst pavilions filled with classic movie prop cars. The next HD EXPO will be held in November at the Los Angeles Center Studios.