Will NAB bring a clearer picture of the new format?
HD weighed heavily on the minds of producers and programmers alike attending the "RealScreen Summit," a conference on nonfiction TV production in Washington, D.C., last month. Producers wanted to gauge the interest of programmers at various cable channels in HD production and delivery; surprisingly, many cable execs pronounced plans to beef up their HD libraries to launch HD services in the not-too-distant future when the HD audience reaches critical mass.
John Ford, executive vice president at the National Geographic Channel declared that interest in HD at National Geographic was quite strong.
"It doesn't make sense to commission programs that may not be completed this year, and may have a shelf life of several years or more, in anything other than HD," he said.
Also at Real Screen, Dan Hurst, communications manager with Scripps Networks announced a goal of 300-plus hours of new HD programming by the end of this year.
BUILDING THE LIBRARY
How to pay for all this HD production with a limited or no HD revenue stream was also a topic of discussion among programmers and producers alike.
"The reality is that without a ratings system and advertising revenues to pay for HDTV, there is no viable economic model for delivering HD programming today." said Bill Harris, vice president at A&E/History Channel. "In fact, we could actually hurt our ratings and bottom line with a successful HD channel by peeling viewers away from our standard channels, which do generate income through advertising."
Still, he affirmed the need to stay on the HD path.
"We were the first on cable to produce in HD almost 10 years ago. The audience for HD isn't there yet, but it will be soon enough, so we're building our library so we're ready to go when the time is right," he said.
Many programmers agreed that despite improvements, the additional cost of producing in HD versus SD is 15 to 30 percent, a major impediment to building an HD library and launching an HD service. But some cable execs expressed hopes that this gap could narrow quickly and even disappear if new economical formats, like HDV, are judged "broadcast quality" by programmers--at least for a range of applications.
That verdict may be rendered sooner rather than later, with JVC and Sony showcasing HDV production systems at NAB2005. Both will demonstrate new cameras, accessories, edit decks and desktop editing solutions developed by, and with, their partners.
At this point, Sony leads in the race to bring to market a pro-style HDV camcorder that offers the features and quality that programmers and producers both need and expect. Sony began shipping its HVR-Z1U handycam-style camcorder in February and at press time, "almost all of the cameras have sold out," according to Alec Shapiro, senior vice president of marketing for Sony Broadcast.
The Z1 features three Super-HAD 1/3-inch CCDs with native 16:9 imaging and includes a noninterchangeable Zeiss 12x HD lens with autofocus and built-in image stabilization. It also has a 3.5-inch flip-out LCD monitor for easier focusing. Among its strong suits are 1080i HDV recording of one hour of HDV video on a standard mini-DV/DVCAM cassette, 14-bit digital signal processing and A/D conversion and the ability to record in multiple HDV, DVCAM and DV formats, and downconvert from 1080i to any of the SD formats in-camera.
Both 60i or 50i 1080i formats are supported--and in the 480p mode at 24, 25 and 30 frames per second--and hence can be used as a non-HD 24p camcorder. Moreover, the Z1 uses Sony's CineFrame technology to help achieve the elusive "film look" prized by so many. All recorded formats, including 1080i, can be played back on the Z1 and output to an NLE via iLink and analog I/Os.
For editing, Sony has released its HVR-M10U VTR with a built-in 3.5-inch LCD monitor with composite, YC and HDV/DV iLink I/Os and component output. Besides playing back 1080i, 480p formats, DVCAM and DV 480i--recorded by the HVR-Z1 in NTSC and PAL--it also plays back 720p30, the original HDV format, and can also downconvert 1080i to 480i and 480p formats.
JVC, which started the HDV revolution two years ago with a single CCD HDV camcorder, will introduce a truly professional 3-CCD HD camcorder that uses a new professionalized version of HDV, called "ProHD," which records 720p/60 in the MPEG 2 broadcast codec and can also record 720p/24. JVC is hailing the GY-HD100U as the first affordable camcorder to offer true 24p HD recording, at full HDTV (19.39 Mbps) bandwidth.
"With less data to compress [than at 720/60p], image quality at  24p will be outstanding, as we'll demonstrate at NAB this year," said JVC spokesman, David Walton.
Despite the nearly identical product code, JVC hails the GY-HD100U as an entirely different beast from its prosumer GY-HD10U 1-CCD camcorder.
"From the ground up, this camera was designed for professionals, including the Fujinon 16x HD lens, which can be swapped for a wide-angle HD lens or you can use 1/2-inch lenses with an adapter, focus assist, true 24p HD recording, four audio channels [two at 48 KHz], easily accessed pro functions like skin tone and cine gamma control... the ability to transfer camera settings via smart cards and much more," Walton said.
A companion editing deck, the BR-HD50U, will play and record all the HD and SD formats recorded by the GY-HD100U camcorder, as well as 720p/30 MPEG-2. It also can play back and output 1080i, and feed it and other formats to an NLE, via a full suite of IOs from composite and component to iLink.
Many software designers that already support the HDV codec also are expected to support JVC's ProHD upgrade. While the status of ProHD edit support could not be confirmed for this report, those to watch at NAB2005 include Adobe, Apple, Avid, Canopus, CineForm, Heuris, Lumiere Media, Mediaware, Pinnacle Systems and ULead.
If the performance of the new Sony and JVC HDV production systems exceeds or even meets expectations, they could substantially transform the HD production landscape in much the same way that DV changed the broadcast and production landscape in the past decade, in part by democratizing it. Even if deemed somewhat inferior to HDCAM or DVCPRO100 at this stage, the cameras, in particular, will enable progressive producers to push the envelope by using HD cameras in ways they have not been used to thus far to create content that allows viewers to see things not seen before. The result is a larger wave of HD programming, from news and documentaries to reality TV, music videos and extreme sports, filling the void in the ever-expanding HDTV landscape.
The format has cable executives like Ali Hossaini at Gallery HD (an HD channel on Voom DBS service) awaiting the results with baited breath.
"We plan to loan the new HDV cameras to many kinds of artists to produce experimental projects for our 'Lab TV Channel' and to others in risky situations while producing programs for our 'Equator HD' [channel], where we wouldn't want to jeopardize an $80,000 HD camera," he said.
Will NAB bring a clearer picture of the new format?