Monday, June 25, 2001

Finding the art in HDTV

by Karen Anderson Prikios

When HDTV first hit the stage, there was talk of $400,000 cameras and $300,000 tape decks--enough to make program producers say, "Nice but too expensive."

Now the cost of HDTV production gear has fallen to the $70,000 level, and there's talk out of Hollywood that the producers of prime time pilots are shooting them in HDTV because it's cheaper than shooting in film.

What a difference five years can make. HD productions are beginning to become attractive. More important, consumers waiting for an attractive mix of price and programming before purchasing an HDTV set may find that the increase in HD productions (and, in turn, HD broadcasts) provides the necessary impetus to invest big bucks in a big set.


The key driver to HD production, however, will be cost savings.

"Forget artistic integrity and being a storyteller with film or HD," says Randall Paris Dark, president of HD Vision, an HD production facility based in Irving, Texas. "For me, it's always been about follow the dollar. And if you do an apples-to-apples comparison of shooting with 24p HD vs. film, no one can dispute that it's much cheaper to use HD than 35mm."

Dark says it's less expensive for a number of reasons, including film-stock processing and transferring. "You can get actors to work at rate, you can get people to donate things, but the hard dollar is in the stock," he says. "When you look at shooting HD, 40 minutes is $76, and, in our world, that's pretty much free."

When it comes to the cost of equipment, it's a simple example of supply and demand, according to Seidel. "We've been doing [HDTV productions] for two-plus years, and, each year, there is a reduction in the cost of doing this," he says. "When you have equipment readily available, the cost per unit goes down. The cost of HD recorders and the HDCAM cameras continue in a downward pricing trend. With competitive pricing, people are choosing to do HD as the norm."

While HDTV still meets resistance from the major networks, primarily because of related costs of HD post-production and the challenge of putting new apples on the cart, there are signs that the technology may be sufficiently mature to be attractive.

"Until now, shooting HD would never be considered because it was expensive and, to be quite honest, the equipment has been user-hostile," says Dark. "And there hadn't been enough bells and whistles on the post side so that color-correcting DVE could be purchased at an affordable price point. But my feeling from talking to people is that everyone is revisiting HD. And because it's no longer dominated by Sony, the price points are dropping dramatically."

excerpt from Broadcasting & Cable