Monday, October 2, 1995

HD Vision takes the long view; production house is high on HDTV, and has been.

by Glen Dickson

HD Vision, a production company based in Irving, TX, has been utilizing high definition cameras for its work for almost 10 years. Company president Randall Dark says that when he saw high definition pictures for the first time in 1986, he knew the future of television was headed in that direction. So far, HD Vision has used JVC $62,000 KH-100 high definition camera to cover the 50th anniversary festivities for Pacific Bell, one of its clients.

Production house is high on HDTV, and has been

While the FCC ponders future frequency allocation for HDTV and a new government-funded joint venture seeks to build an experimental HDTV station at the David Sarnoff Research Center, a Texas production company has been working exclusively in high definition for almost a decade.

"When I saw the pictures nine years ago, a light goes on in your head, and you see what the future's going to be," says Randall Dark, president of Irving, Tex.-based HD Vision. "The pictures are absolutely breathtaking, and that's the only thing I wanted to work in."

HD Vision recently used the new JVC KH-100 HDTV camera in its coverage of the United Nations 50th anniversary festivities for client Pacific Bell. PacBell transmitted coverage of the events in both HDTV and SDTV formats from HD Vision's 52-foot HD production truck to broadcasters in Canada, France and Japan.

"Out of the back of my truck, you had the option of going out in pure high definition, whether fiber or satellite, or Muse. I don't have a Muse decoder there, but we use the Alcatel system," says Dark. "At the same time, we can do a line down conversion for NTSC feeds, and we can upconvert roll-in footage from Beta."

Dark bought the KH-100, which JVC is marketing as an affordable entry into HDTV production, last spring. Its $62,000 price certainly puts it in the range of digital 4x3 EFP cameras. Dark says the 3-chip camera's all-up (with lens) weight of roughly 15 pounds makes it feasible for ENG use.

"The first time I got it I did an ENG shoot at the NBA All-Star Fan Jam in Dallas," says Dark. "I put it on using a UPS [uninterruptable power supply] battery system, and zipped around on the floor of the convention center, doing ENG-type ENG as high definition is. It's not quite the same as using a Beta camera."

The main drawback to HDTV cameras for on-the-move use is that they require a VTR a JVC W-VHS unit, in this case--and the power to run it. Dark says that fortunately the KH-100's lens is quite light. The camera also can be used with a wide variety of lenses other than a 40xl HD-specific lens.

Besides the JVC gear, Dark uses Sony HDC-500 cameras for high-end use and also records in the Uni-High format. According to him, the trend in HDTV production gear is making his job easier.

"I started with the old, first-generation [Sony] HDC-100 cameras, which were big and heavy and tube-based, and the big one-inch analog VTRs that were the size of refrigerators," he says. "So in the HD world, the equipment--price-wise and size-wise--has come down dramatically."

HD Vision is one of three high-definition production facilities in the U.S., along with Rebo Studios, run by Barry Rebo in New York, and the Sony HD Center in Culver City, Calif. "The competition right now is very slim," Dark admits. "But I suspect that will change dramatically in the new year."

He is understandably excited about the new joint venture of American companies, subsidized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (BROADCASTING & CABLE, Sept. 25), to build a working HDTV station.

"It's just a matter of time," he says. "I've been talking to a number of TV stations, and no matter what you hear or read or what the computer companies are saying and advocating, the bottom line is we're going to eventually see high-definition broadcasting .... We're going to have a bigger, better picture. Whether it's called advanced television or high definition is irrelevant."

Dark still prefers to call it high-definition "narrowcasting," because of the limited coverage HDTV transmission will have when first introduced. But he sees the new format's appeal spreading rapidly once audiences get a chance to see it.

"The consumer wants bigger, better, sharper, brighter," he says. "If you look at the evolution of film, if you look at the evolution of computers, it's all going in that direction. Why would television go the opposite way?"

Dark thinks that HDTV sports may have the biggest influence on consumers. He points out that the 16x9 aspect ratio perfectly suites the rectangular playing surfaces of football, basketball, hockey and soccer: "To frame a two-shot or a three-shot in high definition gives you so much more than conventional NTSC. A 4x3 frame is very confining. For example, soccer is going to be a huge high-definition product-- you want to see the field, see the play developing, and this aspect ratio is perfectly suited for it."

For now, HD Vision is keeping busy. The company recently completed a series of documentaries for the Japanese network NHK, a longtime client, and shot a Gypsy Kings concert for PBS. Dark is looking forward to the Atlanta Olympics, where he'll be recording the action for undisclosed clients. Although he's done a lot of corporate work in the U.S. for clients including PacBell, Alcatel, Texas Instruments and EMC2, he's still waiting for the widespread exposure of HDTV.

"What I find very entertaining is that the consumer has never seen high definition," Dark says. "It's been written about, talked about and debated, but where has the consumer had the opportunity to even see it? Nowhere."

from Broadcasting & Cable