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High Definition

There are many different standards and formats to choose from when shooting High Definition. The standard you choose depends on the end use of the material and your budget. In Europe there are currently only a few broadcasters transmitting in High Definition, whereas in the USA and Japan High Definition TV is common place and set to replace the existing NTSC system in the not too distant future. Most of the major US networks already transmit a High Definition signal.

So why shoot in a High Definition format? Well it could be that your program is for the US market or it could be that you want to convert you finished programme to film for cinema release just like many of the latest block busters. Another reason could be because you want to show your finished video on a big screen, maybe a large plasma screen at an exhibition or via a video projector at a conference.

When you compare the same image, one shot using a standard definition camera (SD) and one shot using a Hi Def (HD) camera on a large HD screen the SD picture often looks blurred, fuzzy and soft. It's not until you see such a comparison that you realise how poor SD video can look compared to the crystal clear clarity of HD.

Thanks to Sony (and JVC) even the smallest budget programmes can be shot in a High Definition format. The Sony Z1E and Canon XL H1 shoot in 1080i50, that is to say with an image size of 1440x1080 pixels. If you need to shoot Progressive Frames then you can also use the JVC HD100U which shoots at 720p, thats an image size of 1024x720. Progressive frames differ from the interlaced frames normally associated with TV and video. With an interlaced frame the image is shown twice, the first time showing only the even numbered lines, the second with the odd numbered lines, the two images (fields) when combined (interlaced) make up one frame. The interlace (i) system gives smoother action but images don't appear as sharp as you only ever see half the full resolution at any given moment. With a progressive camera the full image (both even and odd lines) are displayed together. This gives a sharper image but there can be some motion judder on fast camera moves or fast action, However this tends to give the image a very filmic look as it is much closer to the way a film image is projected. One thing to consider though is that the Sony is 1080i so it is higher resolution than the JVC, so most of the progressive advantage is lost. It should be remembered that these HDV cameras have limitations. In many ways they are very similar to a good DVCAM handy cam such as Sony's PD170. Used with care they can produce stunning images.

XDCAM HD

This is an amazing disk based professional camera system from Sony. The quality is excellent, so good in fact that it has been approaved for main broadcast HD aquisition by Discovery HD. The cameras are 1080 cameras that can shoot in both progressive and interlace modes. The cameras have a whole host of special functions and modes including time-lapse, slow motion and memory cache record. Frame rates between 4 and 60 fps are available as well as a 10 second memory cache, ideal for filming unpredictable action such as lightning. The cameras record onto a re-usable disk. The disks are no more expensive than professional video tapes and each disk holds 75 minutes of HD footage. As this is a file based system editing is simple and fast. Clips can be transferred from the disks to an edit suite faster than real time, saving time and money. The cameras take special interchangable 1/2 inch HD lenses or via a simple adapter any standard 2/3 inch HD lens. The best bit about XDCAM HD is the cost. The cameras cost no more than comparable SD DVCAM camcorders, the XDCAM HD codec means that data files are small enough to be edited on laptops and computers without the need for expensive raid arrays. The cost of a HD production using XDCAM HD need be no more than for a SD production.

This is another 720p Hi Definition camcorder. However this one can shoot at frame rates between 4 and 60 frames per second so motion judder need not be a problem. It also makes it a useful tool for shooting slow-mo footage. If you are shooting material to be converted to film it can shoot at 24fps making this a very flexible piece of kit. Because it has an industry standard lens mount it can be fitted with a wide range of lenses. You can also use film lenses via an adapter. In use anyone familiar with a broadcast camera will find it easy to get to grips with. One problem common to all the current HD cameras is focus checking. On the small viewfinders fitted to the cameras it can be difficult to see when the image is in focus. Often when viewed on a large HD monitor shots that appear to be in focus in the view finder are in fact slightly out. For this reason it is almost essential to have access to a HD monitor. Also the back focus of the lens should be checked as this is more critical on HD.

Sony HDW900 (also know as Panavision Cinealta)

Sony also produce a range of High Definition cameras and Panavision have a slightly re-worked and re-badged a version of the Sony HDCAM system called Cinealta. The Cinealta system was used by George Lucas to shoot Star Wars Episode II. By shooting on video Lucas was able to save a lot of time and money when it came to adding the films special effects, something that these days is almost always done using video or electronically scanned (digitised) film. The Panavision versions of this camera can be used with standard Panavision film lens along with a whole range of film accesories. These cameras can also shoot at a range of different frame rates including 60i, 50i, 30p, 25p and 24p. The Sony HDCAM players are able to do a limited range of frame rate conversion making this format very flexible for those producing programmes for differing audiences.

High Definition is here to stay. In the US it is happening now. In Europe things are progressing more slowly probably because the PAL Tv system looks pretty good anyway, at least until you've seen a High Definition picture.Sky TV have announced that they will start HD broadcasts in the near future, the BBC are making HD programmes now and plan to start HD broadcasts soon. For more information or a quote for a Hi-Def shoot please give me a call.