High Definition has arrived in full force. Most major American networks and distributors (and many in countries around the world) require that projects be shot and delivered in HD. Many production companies, crews and editors are racing to figure out what is the best way to make the change over to HD. Amateur documentarians are facing the realities of up converting or adjusting their budgets.
It is a bold and exciting new world out there… but also confusing. As an established television producer, I often have a hard time sorting through the maze of HD options. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when deciding what type of HD format to shoot on.
- What type of editing intake system will you be using? There are many types of HD record options (HDCam, HDV-HD, XDcam, etc.) and there are decks to go with each. It is important to know how your edit system will acquire the footage. You don’t want to show up to your edit session with tapes that don’t match the tape deck in use. This is a waste of time and money. If you don’t know where you will edit or what type of system you are using, you can consider using a camera that records onto a disk. Later, you can then transfer the footage onto a hard drive or straight into the appropriate editing program. Or, you can choose one type of tape format and rent the appropriate type of deck when the time comes to digitize. This will cost a little more but it happens a lot.
- Super important – what type of footage does your network, client or distributor accept? Some networks won’t accept some formats or minimal footage must come from it. For example, they may allow a given HD project to have up to 15% standard definition footage.
- Will you be required to deliver all of the raw footage and if so, in what format? With many cable projects, producers are must hand over the raw footage… often in duplicate. If the client wants that footage in a certain format like HDCam, it makes sense to go ahead and shoot with that format. If you don’t have to turn over your raw footage, consider how you will archive the footage once your project is complete.
- What are resolution and frame rate requirements. Most of the projects that I work on are shot at 1080i or 720p. Will your final project been show full screen? Do you have to down convert to standard definition and if so, will it be center cut, anamorphic or letter boxed? You’ll want to make sure that the camera being used has the proper settings available and that the tapes and edit system can accommodate your needs.
- Will you buy or rent a camera? This is a big question because a lot of money will be spent either way. It will be helpful to have an idea of what types of HD needs you may have in the future. If you rent a camera, or hire a cameraman with his own gear, ask to see a footage test to get clear understanding of what your footage will look like.
You’ll notice that I have not listed specific types of cameras or tapes. I don’t want to make detailed suggestions when every situation is so different and there are so many options. It is important to talk to as many people as possible about your project until you feel comfortable making choice. Talk to shooters, editors and distributers/networks/clients. Sometimes there may be more than one solution to your HD needs. But armed with the right information, you can make the best decision for your project. Good luck and let me know if you have any other helpful hints.