HD news production presents challenges, opportunities

Next month, Broadcast Engineering and Broadcasting & Cable magazines will sponsor a News Technology Summit in Dallas.

The program is filled with relevant, timely issues impacting how stations are taking advantage of the latest technologies to improve newsgathering, maximize return on investment, grapple with emerging distribution alternatives like mobile devices and the Web, and manage the transition to high-definition television.

This month, High Definition Technology Update presents a discussion with Ed Casaccia of Thomson Grass Valley for his perspective on the challenges, demands and opportunities HD is placing on news production. His perspective is one of many that will be presented in fuller detail in a special supplement that will appear in both magazines to coincide with the Dallas event.

High Definition Technology Update: What demands does HD for news production and playout place on a news server?

Ed Casaccia: As HD codecs become more and more efficient, the extra capacity required in both storage and transport bandwidth becomes less and less. The Thomson Grass Valley Infinity Series offers a great deal of user-choice in just what bit rate is used for HD, with a "sweet spot" apparent in JPEG2000 at 75Mb/s.

Here's where Moore's Law comes into play. By using IT standard drives and networking the cost of storing "X" hours of material and connecting "Y" number of editors, ingest ports, and playout ports is actually falling even when scaled for HD.

HDTU: For the foreseeable future, stations will be working in a mixed HD/SD environment. What impact does that have on news servers?

EC: For Grass Valley customers the answer is none. Codec agility in both the editor and the server mean that any clip, SD or HD, can be used in any production with upconversion or downconversion peformed on the fly as needed, completely transparently to the users.

HDTU: What role will the HDV format have in high-definition field acquisition — especially at smaller market stations?

EC: This is really the time-honored question of is it "good enough?" The answer to that question is always specific to each customer. However, one generalization is possible. The better the initial encoding, the better the image will be all the way through the production and transmission chain.

We believe that while HDV has certainly generated a lot of interest in its prosumer form and at prosumer prices it will only be acceptable to those operations whose cost structure is constrained to the point that it over-rides the desire to maximize quality.

HDTU: What about full on HD field acquisition? What will be the determining factors deciding whether full-out HDTV ENG cameras and lenses are used as opposed to lower cost alternatives?

EC: The answer regarding HDV above applies here too. The better the image you start with, the better the image you deliver to the home receiver, and the first thing that happens to the image is that it passes through the lens.

We believe true HD quality is necessary in every component and at every step of the production chain. The Infinity Series means that providing HD quality does not required an inflated price tag.

HDTU: How will presenting news in HDTV impact the competition to win over winners and increase market share?

EC: It's fair to say that HD is the biggest change in the television viewing experience since color, but it is actually less dramatic a change than black and white to color. After all, a glance at a screen from any distance is sufficient to tell if the image is in color or black and white, but the real difference between HD and SD only becomes apparent as one gets closer to the screen.

The ability to have more emotional impact by filling more of the field of vision without discerning the line structure of the picture is what HDTV is really all about. So, unlike color, there might not be a big discernable difference in being the first to go HD although it will certainly have marketing value. But there certainly will be an audience penalty paid by stations that adopt high-definition significantly later than their competitors and viewers grow accustomed to the HDTV experience.

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