Saturday, December 1, 2001

Crisper, Clearer, Cheaper?

The price point and image quality of HD help make a compelling argument for shooting in this format.

by Christine Burnish

HD Vision

STRENGTHS The world has changed dramatically with the events of 9-11. Historically, in times of conflict the entertainment industry has always been important for the pure distraction it gives to people. But the communications business also dispenses information, and I believe HD will lead to greater compassion and understanding through its sense of being there. Why don't we understand each other? Because we don't know, see or feel people and events that are different from us. HD could give us a better understanding of the planet.

In terms of production, right now HD is as user-friendly as it can possibly be, and it's very cost effective. The low cost of HD stock relative to film enabled me to keep recording for over 35 minutes nonstop waiting for a bear to come down a tree and toward its mother when I was shooting Wyoming Wild. Had that been film, it would have cost a fortune for that one moment. If you're doing nature programs, trying to get a CEO to relax or capturing that warm and fuzzy shot of kids you can keep the camera rolling and not have to worry about it. With professional actors you never lose momentum by changing film mags. 24p HD cameras and the economies they offer compared to shooting film will be a boon worldwide to independent imagemakers. The first dollar in and the first dollar out is the hardest for independent imagemakers to get. But with HD, the upfront cost drops dramatically. [HD Vision offers concept to completion HD services as well as camera rentals and an HD stock library at HD Vision.]

WEAKNESSES What used to be the weakest part of the chain -- display devices in theatrical and home environments -- has now become one of HD's strengths. The images are spectacular on the third- or fourth-generation TVs, and you should see HD projected on a 40-foot screen! The price points are down dramatically on home display devices: They're very close to the best standard definition TVs on the market. But there's a lack of understanding of where we are today with this technology. There's misinformation, a lack of information and blatantly wrong information out there. I still get calls asking when will we decide on a broadcast standard, which was done in 1998. We need to sit down and revisit where we are. Although nonlinear HD editing is already available, there still aren't enough HD edit suites for producers to go to.

OPPORTUNITIES There are millions and millions of storytelling opportunities for HD. Every documentary ever done in 4-by-3 NTSC or film looks and feels totally different in HD. Side-by-side, it's a whole different experience, so the opportunities to go out and re-tell these stories is endless. And HD's cost factor means that stories, which have never been told because there was no financing for them, now have the chance to be made.

THREATS When should existing plants jump into the marketplace? It's a difficult time for broadcasters and facilities: redoing their plants, the overhead, amortizing equipment. When will manufacturers switch over completely? When will broadcasters switch for fear of losing market share? When will imagemakers switch for fear of losing clients?

Randall P. Dark

"The biggest tip I can give anybody is go try it! It's an enlightening experience. Even if you don't prefer HD to Super 16 or Digital Betacam, you can talk about it; trying HD gets rid of the fear factor. The community does a disservice with the 'which is better: HD or film?' argument. HD isn't better than film but different. It's a different art form.

"HD gives you multipurpose images. For some clients we're shooting HD and using the HD for HDTV broadcasts or large-screen presentations; for others we are converting the HD to NTSC for broadcast, downconverting to VHS and DVD for mass distribution and producing print images.

"HD is very personal. Producers and directors who have tried it, used it and had success with it, end up using it over and over. People who haven't used it yet have a tendency to dig in their heels and find reasons not to want to try it."

excerpt from Post