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Ready to go Hi-Def?

Content, delivery and displays dictate choices in HD production

CASTAIC, CALIF: High definition is a natural progression for broadcasters and has been adopted by cost-conscious television and film producers as well. Blending these two distinct disciplines is a challenge on both sides of the production spectrum.


Lets face it: HD is really good video and really cheap film. I look at it as "brackish water," a mix of both salt and fresh. Most HD cameras today have the ability to do progressive frame rates as well as the more common interlace, greatly expanding your camera's flexibility to shoot the intended look. Note that your format deliverable does not need to be the same as what you shoot in the field.

Decide what you want the show to look like first as the footage will retain the look of how the images were born: interlace looks like video, progressive looks like film. Once captured that way, a 23.98 psf frame rate, for instance, will still look more like a film-originated frame rate even when delivered on a 1080i HD tape after the edit is done. Most broadcasting is still done this way even with actual film-originated shows; film is shot and transferred to 1080i HD for broadcast.


I often ask production companies, if HD didn't exist, what format would you be shooting? Is it news or sports or some documentary program with real people, a magazine show or an exposé? Or is it a show with actors or an evergreen piece intended to convey more of a veil of fantasy and less reality?

If the answer is "we would shoot it on DigiBeta," I reply "Great! Then let's lean toward interlace as it will have the same look and feel of video in HD."

If the answer is "We would shoot this on film," I still say "Great! Then let's use progressive as it will look like grainless film and convey images that look much more like they were captured in film."

I would also ask the producer shooting on DigiBeta, "if money were no object would you shoot video or film?" If the answer is "we would shoot film if it didn't cost so much more for the same amount of footage," then I would recommend that they shoot 23.98 psf with the HD camera as it will give the same look of film's frame rate of 24 with a shutter of 180 degrees or 1/48th of a second. The cost of the camera and the tape is the same whether you shoot interlace HD or progressive HD, so go for the look of the show first.

Many industrials and local commercials, local or national sports or interview shows, game shows, all shoot interlace which is most appropriate for that type of programming. There is no need to change the way the audience sees those images, except to give them something better than NTSC for their new HDTV set.


There are three distinct words to separate in your vocabulary: video, film and HD.

Video is NTSC interlace 4:3 aspect ratio Beta SP, DigiBeta, MiniDV or any other form of standard-def image capture using 525 lines. Frame rates include 25 frames (PAL) and 30 frames (NTSC).

Film is the celluloid illusion of motion that records distinct frames captured progressively at various frame rates and various aspect ratios, all derived from a full academy aperture of 4:3, but usually 1.85:1, cut from that full academy frame. It runs through a film camera and must be processed and color-corrected and transferred to a video medium or scanned at very high resolution 2K. Film supports multiple frame rates and is easily displayed with a film projector. Images move with light and screen until they are transferred to another medium.

High definition is 1080 x 1920 lines, 16:9 or 1.77:1, can be captured in interlace or progressive images available in multiple frame rates. HD can be color-corrected or left as is and is the future standard by which broadcasters will be required to comply.

Combining the speed and immediacy of video with the beauty and look of color-corrected film is the best use of HD. At its core, it's just really good video, but when its full potential is realized, it can take on an entirely new production and viewing experience.


In my work teaching advanced HD cinematography, I see many different students with tremendous experience and background. It's incredible to see them take the medium and apply it to their type of shooting.

No one does anything at a professional level without tremendous testing and practice. HD should be no different. Don't rely on what you think you know about shooting alone to get you through. Take the time to test the camera's ability to handle over and under exposure. Look at the contrast control and color matrix to dial in what you want the images to look like. Become familiar with black gamma adjustments and see how they can help you control the image.

Once you become more familiar with all that your gear is capable of then you can feel more confident in properly employing the camera to get the job done at a much higher standard. Becoming an engineer is not required, but having a solid working knowledge of your professional instruments is required.

If you are capable of shooting very good video at the broadcast level, the transition will be easy to HD. Good lighting is good lighting and will help any medium look its best. Don't be afraid of the medium or how it will look; test it, test it, test it. Taking a group workshop is highly advised to allow you to concentrate on learning rather than having to get the shot for a client. A good HD cameraman is part camera operator, part engineer, part colorist, part shader.