HD implementation is strategic, not tactical

In the whirlwind of change facing television broadcasters, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that HD implementation requires more than discrete decisions about countless technical details.

Successful HDTV demands a strategic plan to identify how it will make sense from a business point of view as well as a brand builder, according to Glen Sakata, senior director of sales at Harmonic.

High Definition Technology Update turned to Sakata because Harmonic’s MPEG-2 encoder has given him a front row seat at many broadcast facilities making the transition to HDTV.

HDTU: Where does the industry stand in terms of overcoming the technical hurdles of putting HD on the air in a way that won’t bust a local station’s budget?

Glen Sakata: “Technology has advanced to the point of being less of an obstacle for any station to deliver HD to their audience. Doing so ranges from simple pass through of an MPEG-2 stream to adding HD routing and switching and production equipment to a facility.

The practical issue of overlaying HD over what was SD is no longer a science project. It’s less a technical question but based more on the station, group and/or network goals.

Some stations implement HD production and services but never seem to have a clear business model that they are trying to fulfill. That’s tactical.

The problem is strategic. An HD strategy has to come from the business side of the house.

HDTU: Do you believe new formats like HDV will play a role as stations look for affordable means to acquire HD footage in the field?

GS: Technology implementations that save production or acquisition costs while providing quality pictures and audio will go a long way in creating that ubiquitous HD viewing model. One caution about HDV, the average viewer is savvier about what is acceptable. There’s a polarization that wasn’t there three years ago. Many of our DBS and cable service provider customers read the AV forums and it is surprising how critical the diehard HD fans can and will be.

HDTU: What suggestions do you have for establishing a station workflow that feeds the need to simulcast SD and HD programming, especially given 4:3 versus 16:9 aspect ratios?

GS: In most cases, the viewing public is still learning how to properly use their new HDTV sets. For example, the plasma TV manufacturers suggest running “stretch” mode for SD to prevent burn-in. But the pictures are scary at best. What we have learned over the past six years is that maintaining aspect uniformity while taking advantage of the full-screen is critical.

Changing the aspect ratio, stretch or zoom in 14:9 in most every case creates an unpleasant experience for consumers. Our DBS customers have described how critical their customers have become about nuances in image and audio quality.

So it depends on the perceived quality and brand presence the station, group and/or network is trying to build during a point in time when the consumer, having made a substantial household investment, is much more appreciative and critical.

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