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HD or Not HD?
8 May 2012
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Learning Center

It seems sensible. If you can produce in HD, you should produce in HD. But entering the world of high-definition television production presents its own unique challenges.

Some things to consider: First, the availability of source material. Though some auto makers and corporate marketing departments are beginning to make their video materials available in HD formats, most are still limited to standard definition (SD) options. And ifany of your source material is SD, you can forget about making a truly hi-def spot. But what if you shot it all yourself with an HD camera?  You’re still not home free. For example, was the camera shooting in a 720 or 1080 format? Both are considered high-definition formats but resolution variations will make a huge difference to both your spot producer and the broadcast facility. Speaking of TV stations, even though many tout broadcasting their signals in high-definition, they still require ads to conform to a “4 by 3 safe” area. That means, that while they’ll take your HD spot, you have to keep all of your titling in an area that can be viewed by standard definition televisions. That means a lot of lost screen space.

Next, how will you “move” that HD material. In other words, how will you deliver that source material to your producer and ultimately to your stations? Sure, they asked for a QuickTime movie—but an H.264 QuickTime file? An mpeg2, ProRes or ProResHQ? Is it for Avid, Final Cut or Premiere? All are QuickTime files. Confusing, huh? And finally, how will you deliver the finished spot to your TV stations? Many stations are “tapeless” now, especially when it comes to HD material—and delivery of a spot through a third-party digital delivery service (like DG/Fast Channel or Extreme Reach) can cost up to $350 per spot, per station.

Which brings us to cost. Be aware that producing a commercial in any high-definition format is inherently more expensive. HD cameras are pricey, thus the camera owner/operators are pricey. The tape decks, when used, are exponentially more expensive than standard def (a Sony HDCAM SR tape recorder is around $150K!). The post-production process is slower, which translates to time for the producer and time translates to additional cost for you. And until stations become more flexible, delivery of the spot is more expensive.

So, what’s a savvy retail advertiser like you to do? Educate yourself. Often times, the best way to decide whether HD is right for you is to work backwards. That is, find out what format your station uses and how they’ll accept the spots. Some national cable providers will accept direct FTP delivery from the producer, which could save you hundreds. Find out about their format restrictions. Why spend time, effort and money producing a glorious, 1080p epic commercial, if your station is really only interested in a “4 by 3 safe” version. Knowing this in advance will save you in terms of re-edits and failed deliveries.

The television industry is really trying to “find itself” with regard to HD. There are far too many formats, far too many variables, leading to far too many questions for producers and advertisers. It was a hot topic at the recent NAB show, and will continue to be until there is some standardization. In the meantime, if you sell a “visual product” (which most of you do), you should strive to show it in its most positive light and high-definition television commercials will help your product stand out from the crowd. Be smart. Be educated. And, oh yeah, hire a professional commercial production team like Vision Media to help! ;0)

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