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Interview with Ron Tarasoff: TBS in HD to launch in September

TBS in HD will launch Sept. 1 with a combination of network original HD series, upconverted sitcoms and the MLB Division Series Playoffs and National League Championship Series in HD.

Following the lead of TNT in HD, the new network, along with Cartoon Network in HD, adds significantly to the amount of HD programming available, but with this latest expansion of HD programming comes additional technical challenges that must be answered.

This week, HD Technology Update speaks with Ron Tarasoff, VP of broadcast technology and engineering, to learn how the addition of TBS in HD will impact workflow, quality control and audio.

HD Technology Update: To what degree will TBS in HD impact your workflow and where is that workflow most greatly felt?

Ron Tarasoff: I think as far as the workflow is concerned, one of the areas that will be impacted is the actual master control, because now master control will be watching both an HD output and an SD output.

That would be one change. The other change would be to take a look at what content we get in. Sometimes, the HD content is slightly different than the SD content. You’d say, “Why would that be?”

Well, one of the lessons that we learned with TNT is that when you get a movie remastered, if it’s an SD Cinemascope movie, there may be a scene where all the people who are talking to each other sit on the screen at the same time, but in SD, because you can’t look from one to the other, you have to cut from person to person as they are talking.

Just because of that little editing, the SD version is slightly different in length than the HD. So, if you add a number of those edits together over the length a movie, you’ll find that generally, the SD version of the movie is actually a little bit longer than the HD version. It sounds strange, but that’s what we’ve found.

As we schedule the two different versions, we just have to be aware that there may be some differences in the lengths of the different programs.

Other than that, the workflow is pretty much the same. We will do an additional QC of the HD version and the SD version.

HD Technology Update: Could you elaborate on how HD has impacted the QC process, particularly commercials, because this is a new and emerging aspect of HD content?

Ron Tarasoff: As we get commercial content in that is either HD or SD, among the things we have to look for is how the audio is handled. You now have the possibility of 5.1 surround sound in HD, whereas you really didn’t see that much with SD commercials.

As far as video quality control is concerned, there are oscilloscopes that handle both HD and SD. You can see how the picture looks in a scope, and that’s pretty straightforward. In many ways, it's similar for HD and SD.

HD doesn’t change the process all that much, other than you are looking for a little bit more in your HD signal. You’re concerned not only with LT, RT audio but also surround sound.

HD Technology Update: What plans are in place to handle archiving HD material and what plans are in place to deal with any infrastructure changes that might be necessary?

Ron Tarasoff: Actually, few changes were really required. We archive all material that airs anyway. Right now, content moves around our facility as a file.

Everything is ingested; everything is file-based; it airs from servers. Every time a piece of content, a movie for example, airs, if it hasn’t been archived, then just the fact that it airs correctly is considered a QC step and we scavenge that file back from the playout server and store it on robotic data tape. We use the Sun StorageTek robot.

Currently, we are ingesting and archiving right around 1200 titles per month, long form — half-hour or movie-length content. Every time a piece of content airs correctly, it gets scavenged back and archived. The next time it airs — whenever that is — it doesn’t have to be reingested.

We are already doing that for TNT in HD. Adding TBS and Cartoon in HD will be done exactly the same way — not any different process.

HD Technology Update: I would imagine that the film masters are a natural as an HD source, not just resolution but in terms of aspect ratio. Is that correct?

Ron Tarasoff: In most cases, Cinemascope was that wider field, and so most of the original film versions of movies do exist in a wider version. Some of the older films didn’t. Most of the color movies were produced in a wider aspect ratio. When those movies are to be aired in HD, you have to get them remastered to tape in the HD format.

The distribution company can go back to the original film, order an HD version of it and actually strike a new master for you. It’s not cheap. They probably have a lot of copies of 4:3 versions. In many cases if you want 16:9, you can order it.

HD Technology Update: Is that what TBS in HD will do?

Ron Tarasoff: Yes, but we don’t do it in every single case. If we are going to air something one time only at 3 a.m., we may not go through the expense of ordering a new master if that’s the only time it’s going to air. But if we have something that’s going to air in prime space time or some other prominent time frame, we frequently get new masters.

So, the day you launch, everything you air is not in HD. As everyday goes by, more and more becomes true native HD. That’s exactly what happened in TNT.

HD Technology Update: What was the biggest technical surprise you encountered with TBS in HD?

Ron Tarasoff: Since we’ve already done TNT, we think we already know the surprises. For TNT, the biggest surprise was audio, the difficulty in handling audio.

We knew audio was going to be hard. We know handling surround sound was going to be difficult. We just didn’t realize how difficult. It’s really complicated when it comes to live events, making sure to bring back a sporting event with surround sound intact as well as standard stereo audio from the same site — that’s tricky. It just requires a lot more care.

HD Technology Update: How so?

Ron Tarasoff: For example: Let’s say you’re at a baseball game, and you are feeding back both stereo sound and 5.1 surround sound. The Dolby 5.1 surround sound requires a lot of processing, so Dolby sound arrives slightly delayed from the video. So, if you just were to air it, lip sync would be wrong and the audio would be delayed from the video.

Normal stereo sound, however, comes back from a remote ahead of video because the video is processed more. So, here you have an example of video coming in with the stereo sound advanced and the surround sound delayed. Just matching that all back up so everything goes through the facility correctly is a little bit of a trick. We didn’t realize how much that would happen or how tricky it would be. Now, it’s routine. We handle it as part of the normal process, but that was a surprise.

HD Technology Update: Many different production trucks must be used to produce games. Do the adjustments required to accommodate the processing delay vary depending on the truck?

Ron Tarasoff: They do. In fact, every single feed is different. It used to take us a certain length of time to get set up for a live feed coming in from a remote. It now takes four times as long if there is HD content just to do that initial setup. That’s just the initial setup. What was once taking 15 minutes is now taking closer to an hour.

HD Technology Update: Is that specifically related to audio or other aspects of setup as well?

Ron Tarasoff: There are other things as well because now we not only bring back an HD feed, we will also bring back an SD feed. In the truck, there will actually be a difference between the SD feed and the HD feed during some sporting events.

One of the things we noticed is that it is desirable to shoot a much wider picture with HD. If you do a real tight close-up and a lot of swish pans in HD, it actually bothers some people. They start feeling a bit nauseous, and so the technical director will double punch sometimes depending upon what the content is. The TD may take a wider shot for the HD feed and a tighter shot for the SD feed. As a result, we will actually have two separate feeds coming back.

Not only do we have two separate video feeds — HD and SD — but we also have two different audio signals associated with that HD. So, lining up lip sync is real tricky. Back at the receiving site, we always end up making it correct so that anything can be interswitched with anything else.

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