R & B Communications, Inc.
Cleveland, Ohio
440 946-9511
A High Definition Primer
High definition production has become the standard broadcast signal since we switched
from analog to digital broadcast television. However, HD is often an improperly understood
format, which is why we decided to provide this outline of what it is and how it works. If
you have ever seen a movie or television show in wide screen, then the look of HD is not
unfamiliar to you. The methodology behind it however, may be completely alien.

High Definition Versus Standard Definition
The most outwardly visible difference between the two formats are their aspect ratios, a
term that refers to the mathematical expression of a frame's width divided by its height. So-
called "standard definition" video, (or NTSC video - the proper term for analog television) is
represented by a 4:3 aspect ratio. HD has a 16:9 ratio or wide-screen image. And of
course, when viewed on a quality HD television, high definition has an image that is four
times sharper than a standard definition image due to it's higher resolution. Good quality
high definition images on a large screen can look stunning.

Why It Looks The Way It Looks
The highest resolution or picture quality in HD provides 1920×1080 progressively scanned
images. 1920×1080 refers to the lines of pixels in a frame (NTSC is 720×480 pixels).
Progressive scan means that these lines of pixels are being displayed in an ordered full
frame sequence to make up each frame of video. There are thirty frames that make up one
second of video in either HD or NTSC. 1080P is only used in Blue Ray and is not broadcast.
1080i and 720P are the current HD broadcast standards in the U.S.

Progressive Versus Interlace Scanning
Virtually every new flat panel video display today is progressive. LCD, DLP, LED and plasma
screens for both television and computers are progressively scanned. When television was
first invented however, interlace scanning was necessary because the cathode ray tube or
CRT monitor could not produce a full screen of video thirty times every second. The
phosphors in the CRT would lose their "glow" too quickly and thus create a lagging and
uneven brightness in the picture. The tube could not draw the image from the left to the
right in a progressive mode fast enough to keep the image on the entire screen to produce
a smooth, full motion television signal. The fix at the time was to create two fields of half
the total resolution each. Each field made up one frame of video or, when combined, one
whole picture. Each field had 262.5 lines for NTSC and worked in an odd and even mode.
The cathode ray tube would draw the odd field first, starting at the upper left with lines 1,3,
5, 7 etc, then scan the even lines 2, 4, 6, 8 etc. Persistence of vision helped make this TV
trick work just as it does with film. Two fields for every one frame, 60 fields a second or
restated as 30 frames per second, tricks the eye into smooth motion. With the advent of
better CRT materials and eventually, with the introduction of LCD, DLP, plasma and now
LED technologies, progressively scanned video is now available. The progressive images
are smoother, resolution is greater and all without various artifacts associated with
interlaced images.

720P Versus 1080i
Both high definition 720P and 1080i images have advantages and disadvantages but both
produce very high quality pictures. Some think of 1080i as having higher resolution than
720P, but the reality is that the vertical resolution of a 1080i image is 540 lines per field. By
doubling the fields each second, 540 lines become 1080 lines when combined or interlaced,
hence the "i" in 1080i. The advantage of 1080i is higher perceived resolution. Meanwhile,
720P offers a more efficient broadcast signal. All 720P frame rates are progressively
scanned making for a smaller bandwidth when used in broadcast applications. 1080
however is available in both progressive or interlace, the latter 60i signal is used in
broadcast applications. 1080P is only used in movies recorded on Blue Ray discs. Some
networks are beginning to offer movies broadcast in 1080P as well. Broadcast networks
use both 1080i and 720P for different reasons. NBC, CBS, PBS use 1080i for its high
resolution while ABC, Fox, ESPN use 720p for its signal efficiency. One signal type is not
necessarily better than the other. Both produce very high quality images, just in different

HD Formats Versus Frame Rates
When it comes to HD standards, keep in mind there is no standard. When discussing
network and cable channel television, there are two high definition resolutions that are
currently broadcast, 720P (the P stands for progressive scan) and 1080i (the i stands for
interlace scan). Within those resolutions, there are multiple frame rates.  Even if a network
broadcasts at 1080i, video acquisition can still be made at 1080/24p or 30p. The reason to
shoot with a 24p frame rate is for a more ‘film like’ look. The motion captured is similar to
how a film camera captures images – one full frame at a time, 24 or 30 frames per second.
However, in video, fast pans and quick motion may have a stuttering effect. Motion will not
looks as smooth as captured at 60i (60 interlaced fields or 30 frames per second). This is
true for 720/24P or 1080/24P. 30P is a little smoother but does not look as much like film as
video shot at 24P. Each project type and production style will dictate the field acquisition
format, no matter what the mastering format requirement is.

HD and the Web
More and more, the internet is readying itself for HD content. Video streaming sites like You
Tube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Vimeo and others are starting to broadcast channels
capable of handling the HD codecs (compression/decompression process) needed to play
video in real time without buffering. High definition content with its greater amount of
information, makes it difficult to download and view the larger files that HD creates. Very
quickly, the speed of the Internet will catch up and the compression technology used in
creating files will improve in order to broadcast true HD signals on the web. As of now,
broadcast and cable television are higher quality means of content delivery

A Note of Caution
Recording in high definition does not necessarily mean you will always produce better
quality video images. Now that the HD format is widely available to the public, consumer
cameras are being released with ever lower price tags. However, cheaper cameras do not
always deliver the stunning image you might expect. If you view a high definition broadcast
signal on a good quality television, you will quickly see that there is a big difference in HD
images regarding quality. Lower quality high definition can be as bad as viewing a standard
definition signal. How can that be?

Prosumer Versus Broadcast HD Cameras
Some programs are shot with lower quality “prosumer HD” cameras. A prosumer
("professional consumer" hybrid) camera will not deliver the same quality image that an
expensive broadcast camera will. These prosumer cameras, while more than ideal for
recording personal events and home video use, do not compare in quality and functionality
to professional or broadcast grade equipment. This is a good example of you get what you
pay for.

One of the first compromises in prosumer cameras is their ability to reproduce a true high
definition signal. Most prosumer cameras record less information or a highly compressed HD
signal. Professional cameras record high definition at higher bit rates for the best quality

Many prosumer HD cameras do not have the option to change lenses, something that can
greatly effect the quality of a production. The ability to use different lenses specifically
designed for HD production will provide sharper images with more detail and better
resolution. Broadcast HD lenses usually cost more than an entire prosumer HD camera with
a fixed lens. Such is the quality of their optics.

Something else non-professional HD cameras lack is exposure latitude, meaning they do
not capture and handle contrast as well as their professional counterparts. Correct
exposure and the ability to handle highlights and contrast is essential to reproducing high
quality video images. Color reproduction can also be effected by using a prosumer type
camera. Professional cameras have larger and higher quality image sensors that provide
much more accurate color reproduction. In addition, broadcast cameras have the ability to
modify or adjust the look of the image in a menu function much more readily than a
prosumer camera. These adjustments can fine tune the image to provide stunning, life-like

Before choosing any video format, call us to help determine what might be best suited for
your individual production. We carry a variety of cameras for every budget. For more
information about high definition, visit our
HD vs. SD link.

Qualities of a ‘Film Look’
Many times productions strive for a film look as opposed to the regulae broadcast
news/sports look that video cameras typically produce. Achieving the qualities of a film look
involves several factors.

First is the choice of camera. Today, many manufacturers offer cinematic digital cameras.
These type of cameras differ from ENG (electronic news-gathering) type cameras in several
ways. Digital cinematic cameras usually have a large "full-frame" sensor similar to that of
digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. One large sensor, usually the size of a frame of
35mm film, helps produce a film-like image rather than an ENG video camera's electronic
image. This large sensor along with cinematic type lenses, allows for control over a narrow
depth of field or the amount that is either in or out of focus in a given frame. This effect is
similar to the way an actual film camera controls focus. The digital camera can also be set to
record 24 frames per second which is similar to the way a film camera shoots. By making
adjustments to the camera’s gamma settings and reducing a bit of electronic detail, a digital
camera can easily emulate film today.

Additional methods can be employed to make productions even more "film-like". When
shooting film, there are usually little to no zoom shots. The eye does not zoom and it can
look unnatural. Instead, the camera is physically moved in or out, dollied back and forth, or
craned up and down to provide movement. The use of dollies, jibs, or a Steadicam unit
allow the camera to be moved in predictable ways and enhance a film look.

Other methods of producing a film look include large source key lighting and cinematic
blocking between camera and talent. In post production, the use of cuts as opposed to
dissolves or effected transitions add to the film look. And of course, the wide screen aspect
ratio of high definition enhance the feeling of film. All these factors contribute to help make
the look of film when shot digitally.

Please call us if your production requires a high-end film look. We have the right tools and
talent to get the job done.
Frequently Asked Questions