Skip to main content

PBS Doc Intercuts High-End HD with HDV

Coverage of Van Cliburn piano competition demonstrates HDV's versatility


On Oct. 4, when "In The Heart Of Music: The Twelfth Van Cliburn International Piano Compe-tition" airs nationally on PBS, home viewers with HDTV sets and access to a high definition signal will be able to see the first use of Sony's new three-CCD professional HDV cameras as part of a major multicam HD production. The 90-minute documentary will include 1080i material recorded on HDCAM tape with Sony HDW-700A camcorders and Thomson LDK 6000 mk II WorldCam cameras. But it will be intercut freely with shots from Sony's HVR-Z1U HDV cameras recorded though their DXP Digital Extended Processor onto Sony's new 6mm DigitalMaster tape.


"In the Heart of Music" follows four contestants out of the 147 pianists invited to perform screening recitals as they advance through the preliminary rounds that culminated in the finals of the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held June 1-5 in Bass Hall in Fort Worth, Texas.

Since those performances were projected live in standard definition to overflow audiences in nearby theaters, shown on local Texas cable access channels and streamed in real time over the Internet, it's no violation to reveal the winners were Alexander Kobrin, first place, and Joyce Yang, second. Each will receive $20,000 checks, have been contracted for hundreds of concerts worldwide over the next three years and--fortunately for the PBS documentary--both were members of the original four contestants tracked by the production.

The requirement of recording many hundreds of hours of musical performances in high definition prompted the Van Cliburn Foundation's European co-production partner, Bel Air Media of Paris, France, to specify in 2004 that they would use HDV for the behind-the-scenes segments leading up to the competition as well as for the three camera ISO recordings in HD of the grueling preliminary rounds. To make things even more complex, the standard definition multicam versions of each performance made with the downconverted outputs from the HDV cameras would have to be switched live so they could be quickly burned to the DVDs that were sold by the competition at the end of each day.

And yet Sony planned to start delivering the HVR-Z1U only two months before the competition was to begin. However, Andy Sommer, director of "In the Heart of Music," already had considerable experience with its consumer forerunner, the HDR-FX1, having used it to tape many of the screening recitals that preceded the main competition, and believed in the HDV recording format's potential. So coordinating producer Molly McBride contacted Bob Zahn, president of Broadcast Video Rentals in New York, to be the HDV technical manager for the project.

"The mandate was for the production to be in 1080i which Sony's HVR-Z1U can record," Zahn said, "but those cameras do not come with the necessary external genlock and timecode inputs or remote camera control and video paint capabilities normally required in a multicam system. So we had to break some new ground."

McBride, who also served as line producer, contracted Manny Gutierrez of Good Knight Productions, Inc. to create the robotic camera heads by modifying Jimmy Jib Triangle rigs made by Stanton Video Services to add zoom and focus controls for the HVR-Z1U within the confined space of a concert hall.

To coordinate the cameras, Zahn arranged for digital slates in front of each of the three HVR-Z1Us being used in the multicam configuration, and ran their component SD video outputs through DPS 470 frame synchronizers. These compensated for the lack of external genlock that would normally time the cameras' outputs to the Grass Valley 110 switcher being used for the live standard definition line cut that would be burned to the daily DVDs. Needing to frame in widescreen, Zahn chose the letterbox output of the cameras to more closely match the separate HDV 1080i recordings that were going onto the Sony DigitalMaster tapes. To ensure that the audio/visual sync of the downconverted SD signal matched the HD recordings, he inserted a TC Electronics audio delay device between the live audio and the DVD recorder. Finally, Zahn incorporated an Evertz 3600D timecode generator to give the sound recordist, Tom Lazarus from Classic Sound, a sync reference for his Digidesign ICON integrated audio console system.


Taping the preliminary rounds of the quadrennial Van Cliburn competition was augmented by HDW-700A HDCAM cameras on loan from Dallas PBS station KERA-TV, but for the final round, Belgium-based TV production services company, Alfacam, provided more than seven tons of HD equipment including Thomson LDK 6000 Worldcam cameras. Just as with the Sony HDV cameras, the LDK 6000s' standard definition output was used for on-location presentations and DVD burning. But like the HDW-700As, the Thomson 6000s' HD signal was recorded to HDCAM tape.

The high definition tapes were sent to the Sylicone edit facility in Paris where the HDV material was fed into a Final Cut Pro 5 workstation, edited in its native format, and output to HDCAM tape. This was combined with other standard definition and film-originated material into the final master for the "In the Heart of Music" broadcast using a Discreet Smoke HD NLE. Altogether, Sylicone's post-production supervisor Marie Pierre Guilleminot, technical director Jean Delduc, and editor Toby Trotter had over three terabytes of documentary and performance material to work with.

Director Sommer was impressed with the look of the Sony HDV camera's recordings. "I believe it is important to use the right camera for every situation," he said. "The HVR-Z1U actually has better low light sensitivity than many of the older HD cameras. It also features an image stabilizer and auto focus features that the bigger cameras lack."

But the crucial question was whether HDV could be intercut successfully with the other HD recordings. "Obviously for tight, detailed close-ups, the HDCAM provides higher resolution," Sommer said. "But for 80 percent of our shooting situations we found HDV was a perfectly acceptable alternative especially for the background sequences of the documentary. For example, there is a scene in which two people are walking in a garden for which we taped the master shots with HDCAM and also shot the reverse angles in HDV with both cameras fitted with half fog filters. After cutting these medium shots together and color correcting them on Sylicone's Discreet Lustre system, I could not tell the difference between the two formats."

Richard Rodzinski, president of the Van Cliburn Foundation, was executive producer of "In the Heart of Music." The project was co-produced by Franois Duplat and Xavier Dubois of Bel Air Media, Joe Bellotti of KERA-TV, the Van Cliburn Foundation and ARTE, (Association Relative ˆ la Télévision Européenne). "In the Heart of Music" will also be seen throughout Europe on the Euro1080 satellite service and the French cable network Mezzo, on NHK in Japan, and released first on standard definition DVD and, ultimately, high definition disks when they become available.