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HDV Infiltrates Regular Television Production

They said it couldn't be done, but now that the long GOP recording format called HDV has found its way into the hands of real-world editors and production folk, it is starting to prove that a lot of the early skeptics were wrong.

Long GOP, or "group of pictures" is, of course, a clever way of squeezing a high-definition image onto a mini DV cassette tape, but the very complexity of that cleverness at one time seemed a barrier to editing and effects manipulation. Yet as we discussed in last month's column, the representatives of most of the major edit software manufacturers were able to claim the ability to edit HDV. This month, we are going to gather some real-world experiences of early adopters who have successfully wrestled with the challenge of posting HDV.

Robert Schaeffler is editing a pilot at House Blend Entertainment in Burbank, Calif., called "Ride America" that is making extensive use of several Sony HVR-Z1U camcorders that record in the 1080i version of HDV.

Reflecting the modern Harley-Davidson motorcycle culture of middle class enthusiasts rather than the black-jacketed rebels of yore, "Ride America" is intended as an hour-long episodic series hopefully destined for the fall season on either Spike or The Travel Channel.

Schaeffler is cutting the show with Final Cut Pro 5 on a PowerMac dual 2.5 GHz G5 platform running OS 10.4 (that's "Tiger" to Mac fans), feeding hours of source material from a Sony HVR-M10U HDV deck into 3.5 TB of Xserve RAID storage. During an elaborate sequence about the Laughlin River Run in Nevada, the "Ride America" crew had four HDV cameras covering the annual gathering of up to 100,000 bikers.

This column makes a policy of not knocking mainstream technology unjustly, but it was noteworthy that Schaeffler is mixing this HDV material with footage shot using a specific HD camera costing six figures, and said, "To be honest, I'll never use [that camera] on a television show again. If you had told me this three months ago, I'd have said you were crazy. But now that I have personally compared its images with HDV. Financially it is just not worth it."

Even on as complex a production as "Ride America," Schaeffler has found editing HDV a breeze.

"We have a highly tricked-out system to work on," he said, "and even using the 1080i/60 rate for improved graphics, it's as easy as cutting DV."


David Niles, president of Colossalvision, a complete HDTV facility in New York, was the first editor to post a high-definition production for commercial use (a spot for Metal Five motor oil additive) when he acquired an HDVS 1125/60 analog system from Sony way back in 1984, so it is not surprising he took an early look at HDV.

"We use it basically for second unit photography," Niles said. "We shot with a 1080i camera, a VariCam and an early HDV model and found that under the proper lighting conditions, it is possible to intercut between them. Subjectively, after color correction, it is hard to tell the difference between a full broadcast-quality HD camera and the smaller format."

There is a down side, however, Niles reflects with wry wit.

"I own 15 $100,000 cameras, so I am not all that happy that now I have a $4,000 camera that can sometimes compete with them. It all goes back to what you are shooting. If I'm at a rock concert getting a low-angle shot of the kick drum, HDV is fine. I might want the bigger cameras for the glamour close-up of the lead singer, though."

Originally, Niles would run his HDV through an A/D converter and use a Pinnacle CineWave board to capture it as uncompressed HD for editing.

"Recently, we have been editing some native HDV sequences in Final Cut Pro, but since most of our product ends up in either broadcast or very large screens, we need 10-bit uncompressed quality for the high-end effects," Niles said. "So although the 25 Mbps of HDV is sufficient for acquisition, the artifacts from elaborate blurs and dissolves gained while editing on an HDV timeline can sometimes be too much. But we are doing a roadshow for Federated Department stores right now and about 25 percent of it will be shot and edited in native HDV."


Broadway Video, a full service film/TV production and design facility in the Big Apple, has found its broadcast clients are increasingly calling for HDV post capabilities.

"What we've seen a lot of producers get excited about HDV is simply that the price-point for the equipment is so much lower," said Claire Shanley, director of technology for Broadway Video, "which we're glad to say leaves more of their budget for post."

Handling HDV has presented few challenges because Broadway Video upconverts it into Avid Nitris systems to finish projects with a conventional workflow. And the folks there expect the format to grow in popularity.

"Just as miniDV has become commonplace for SD being used for 40 to 50 percent of our broadcast productions, we expect HDV will become a de facto standard for high def in the future," said Mark Yates, president of the Video Services Group for Broadway Video. "Although we don't see ourselves installing a dedicated HDV edit bay in the near future, in as big a post house as this, it's just becoming one more tool in our media set."

Helping spread the word about the potential of HDV post has been Mannie Frances, managing director of Sundance Media Group in Stockton, Utah, whose training arm, VASST (Video, Audio, Software, Support and Training) conducted a five-city "HDV Solutions" tour for Sony last June showing how HDV can be edited with Sony Vegas 6 software. In fact VASST makes a plug-in for Vegas called GearShift that, among other features, lets computers with slower processors increase their editing performance by cutting with DV proxies once HDV's .m2t (the suffix for MPEG-2 Transport Stream) files have been captured.

"We demonstrated editing HDV live before hundreds of professionals during the tour," Frances said. "People were impressed with what we could do with HDV editing today, but the missing link is, there is no convenient delivery vehicle for the format. However, we think it will have great value for archiving, and ultimately get applied to broadcast and streaming projects through the new H.264 codec as MPEG-4."

Currently, the DVD Studio Pro module of the Apple Final Cut Studio suite of software has the H.264 codec as part of QuickTime 7, which will allow you to burn a DVD from HDV material. But then you can only play it back on a PowerMac G5. Standalone DVD players for this high-def material are expected from several companies soon.

The next big step in the HDV saga will be the release of the JVC GY-HD100U camcorder that is promised to happen this month. The GY-HD100U will bring 24p recording into the HDV game, along with interchangeable lenses and the option of recording to a removable hard disk.

As soon as people get as much experience with this new area of digital cinematography as they have already gained with the Sony 1080i approach, we'll try and bring you the results.