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Rocky Mountain Hi-Def

Music fans get their MTV in high definition

VAIL, COLORADO: MTV celebrates its 25th anniversary this year in style as the channel goes high-def with the Jan. 16 launch of MHD.

Housed at its newest studio headquarters here in the scenic Rocky Mountains, MHD will feature original music and HDTV acquisitions, plus content from sister video channels MTV, VH1 and CMT.

"The vast majority of our music videos will be in the 16:9 aspect ratio," said Morgan Hertzan, MTV Networks' director of business development, adding that it would be letterboxed for 4:3 delivery.

Music video content provided by record labels will be presented in the 2-channel stereo format in which they were produced. Original MHD productions, long-form programming from the conglomerate's library, and music videos submitted by labels in HDTV will be presented in 5.1 surround sound.

At press time, only Verizon had agreed to carry MHD on its FiOS TV fiber-optic based service, however a spokesperson from Comcast indicated that the nation's largest cable operator is in negotiations to carry the channel.


Production will come from a 600-square-foot conference room turned state-of-the-art studio, perched 10,350 feet above sea level at the Eagle's Nest ski resort.

According to Tony Dunaif, MTV Networks senior vice president of business development, the location "showcases the programming in the most visually compelling way." It also creates unique production challenges due to altitude, weather and lighting conditions.

MHD will use three Sony HVR-Z1U HDV camcorders. In addition to being switchable (HDV and DVCAM images at 60i, 50i, 30, 25 or 24 fps in SD or HD), the camcorder is small, lightweight at 4.25 pounds, durable and has a commendable running time using a large battery.

To protect the equipment and operators outdoors, MHD ordered Polar Bear cases for the camcorders and Run Bags for tapes, batteries, cables and mics from Por-taBrace, a Ver-mont-based outfitter.

"You take little hand warmers, put them in the battery pack next to the tape deck and keep that stuff from freezing," Hertzan said. He came across the items when he was a supervising a Montana-based ice-climbing episode for mtvU.

Topography was also a consideration in equipment purchases and set design, as everything was sized to fit the Sno Cat tractors that--when available--haul it up the mountain. The set was designed by MTV Networks' Terry Gipson and built by Backstage Productions in Passaic, N.J.

Quickly changing conditions and snow glare makes lighting tricky indoors as well as outdoors, thanks to two picture windows, which, due to a southern exposure, stream sunlight directly into the studio.

"Getting a handle on the sunlight is the first order of business," said lighting designer/director Bill Brennan, a specialist in alpine lighting.

He estimated that 30 percent of the back part of the set was window. According to his calculations, sunlight streamed in at anywhere between 140 and 2,500 foot-candles. This needed to be controlled to stay within the contrast ratio of the TV cameras.

Brennan tempered color and luminance quirks by applying three layers of Rosco Laboratories' Acrylic Panels (4-by-8-foot light control filters) inside the windows, modifying color temperature. "I decided to use plexiglass because it was optically clear," he said.

Once the sunlight factor was taken care of, Brennan dealt with the less than optimal dimensions of the former conference room, which placed cameras very close to the talent. He did this by using Kino Flo's 4-by-4 bank system.

"It's a very shallow set and a lot easier to control," he said. "There's a nice texture to it, so it helps when you're in really close proximity to the talent."

Brennan also used about 18 Arri Fresnel-lensed tungsten lights of different wattages (from 300 to 1,000 watts) and fixture gels for color correction and diffusion. Electricians were brought in to install a central distribution panel according to Brennan's specifications.


MTV wanted the studio to have a modern, ski lodge feel without the problems a real fireplace would create. Hertzan in- structed the crew to acquire film footage of blazing logs, edit it together, upconvert the footage to HD, and load it into a Mitsubishi HD monitor placed inside the hearth. Mitsubishi Electric has signed on as a major sponsor of MHD.

"One of the challenges was getting the fire to sit correctly on the screen in the hearth," so that the result wouldn't look like video, Hertzan said.

MHD's software list also includes a number of Apple products, including Final Cut Pro.