HD Today: The Final Hurdle
Posted Jan 27, 2006

What is the final hurdle for HD production of special events? Is it the cameras? Editing tools? authoring tools? Or delivery medium? We'll go through each of these and find out the real hurdle that event video producers must overcome to move to HD this year.

It is often said, "May you live in interesting times." When it comes to HDTV, these are indeed interesting times. This is especially true when it comes to delivery of HDTV content to consumers.

As I write this, during the 2006 CES show, there have been several announcements about the delivery of HDTV playback devices. While it may be old news by the time this column appears in print, it is important to pay attention to the early swells in the ocean to know where the big waves will soon take us. This way we can prepare and be ready to act on them when they reach us.

Blu-ray and HD DVD are on their way to consumers, according to announcements made at CES this week. Prices are reminiscent of any new format, starting on the high side, but we can all expect prices to fall as manufacturing ramps up. In terms of authoring, January 2005 saw iMovie and iDVD adding HDV support. In May 2005, Apple released DVD Studio Pro 4, which has the power to handle HD in authoring and can produce not only an HDTV-ready DVD, but can convert between HD and SD. In 2006, iDVD 6 comes complete with very polished 16:9 templates. All this authoring power is just waiting for a disc designed to carry the widescreen HD content.

You can be certain that other software companies are also incorporating the ability to handle and author HD disks in their applications. Toshiba, a quality manufacturer of PC computers, is one of the core companies bringing HD DVD to market. They are also working on doing it months before Sony and Pioneer ship Blu-ray.

Even Dolby Labs introduced a new specification for these HD video formats. Dolby TrueHD offers 7.1 channels of lossless audio, and a maximum theoretical limit of 14 channels of surround sound. While I sincerely doubt there's much advantage to 14 channels of surround sound, there is definitely an advantage to higher-quality audio recording--which I will discuss in a full review in an upcoming issue.

This year, we will finally see the ready availability of many HDV camcorders in the market. In 2006, manufacturers will offer no fewer than five prosumer HD camcorders: the CMOS-based Sony HC1/A1U, the Sony FX1/Z1U, the Canon XL H1, the JVC GY-HD100, and the Panasonic HVX-200. Though the 200 doesn't actually shoot in HDV and is more positioned as a pro HD camcorder, it falls in the under-$10,000 price range, a far cry from the much more expensive professional HD camcorders. Also, this accounting does not include tiny consumer camcorders that tout HD recording but use flash or other media, as well as MPEG-4 compression.

Retailers are pushing flat-screen systems as if consumers have never seen TV before. Some are SD, but many are Enhanced Definition and true HDTV screens. There are also people installing projectors in their homes for the true home theater experience. Put these two together and you have a rapidly growing market that is looking for higher-resolution content.

The only thing that we haven't heard about are new authoring capabilities that go beyond what was available in the DVD specification. While it would make sense to take the opportunity of a new interactive format to push that limit too, the lack of change bodes well if you have already mastered an authoring tool. It means you won't have to relearn how to author, and the software manufacturers don't have to re-invent their authoring applications. This will greatly speed the changeover from DVD to HDTV.

So we are headed to HDTV content on a disc. We have already been able to shoot it, edit it, and deliver it to TV, cable, and satellite. There are already sites that sell HDTV on D-VHS for those one jump ahead of the curve. But D-VHS lacks the interactivity that DVDs provide. This interactivity is what has kept it from taking off, despite the several-year lead it has in the consumer marketplace.

The competition in our market is strong. This means nothing can be left alone for too long or it will be left behind. Sure, shooting high-end DV has finally become the standard. We have become adept at maximizing our creativity and fluency in DV and DVD. This year, that standard will be surpassed.

The final hurdle for HD is now going to be you. So what are you doing to prepare yourself for the waves that approach? HDV and HDTV require more computing power. They require closer attention to detail, in shooting and editing. They require a wider-frame mindset, and a new method of promotion. They require us to step up our game and do a better job of doing what we did before.