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Don’t scrimp on HD quality, urges expert

9 February 2006

Training veteran Janet West has warned that HD must live up to its quality promise if consumers are not to be disappointed when mainstream services launch this year, writes Richard Dean.

Speaking at an ‘HD Pit Stop’ event organised by leading London HD facility house Metro Broadcast in collaboration with Sony Broadcast & Professional, West said that European broadcasters are increasingly gravitating towards the 1080-line interlace scan (1080i) standard in preference to the 720-line progressive scan format (720p) used by some broadcasters in the US to save bandwidth.

While a publicity campaign is urging consumers to equip with TV sets carrying the ‘HD Ready’ logo introduced by the European Information & Communications Technology Industry Association (EICTA) last year, sets need only to resolve 720 lines to qualify. Acknowledging that progressive scan is good at handling fast motion, West demonstrated how 720p offers only a modest improvement in resolution.

Ignorance is worryingly high among retail sales staff, says West. "I sometimes play the ‘dumb blonde’ in shops to explore their knowledge of different standards, and have been amazed by some of the responses, which have included the assertion that ‘it’s digital so it can do anything’," West told her mainly production-based audience at the HD viewing theatre in Sony’s Golden Square HQ.

Offering a basic grounding in frame rates, scanning methods and aspect ratio conversion, West outlined the wide range of formats available for HD production, from the £3.5k HDV tape and £14.2k XDCAM HD optical disc camcorder (which Sony confirmed for April launch), to the £27k HDCAM or top-end £75k HDCAM SR tape/server acquisition systems.

However she cautioned that some broadcasters are restricting the percentage of HDV material, with Discovery for instance accepting no more than 10 per cent per hour in a bid to maintain high production values.

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