Is there a place for HDV in low budget live video?

HDV is the new buzz in video circles – it seems to offer the impossible; High Definition video at the price (and datarate) of Standard Definition. Great for low budget video production, but what about VLOBLIVE gigs? Should you care? How can you make use of all those extra pixels?
Read on to consider some of the issues raised by this new video format…

Unless you have been doing live video in a monastery somewhere in rural France for the last year, you SHOULD be aware that there’s a new kid on the digital video camera format block – HDV.It’s a high definition format (1920×1080 or 1280×720) but using the same bandwidth (25Mbps) and tape format as DV. Improvements in codec performance mean you can get higher resolution on the same tape format as good old DV.

Anyway, the point of this post is to look at what this means for VLOBLIVE gigs.
Should you rush out and replace all your gear immediately? (yeah, like THAT’s going to happen)

Probably not, but the lure of higher resolution is very compelling, so let’s look at what COULD be possible with HDV in a vloblive context (i.e. no money and lots of ingenuity).

First question to address is why would you bother with higher resolution at a live video gig?

Well, IF your content (or cameras) are HD and IF you can mix HD and IF your projectors are HD THEN there’s no question HD is going to look stunning on a big screen, compared to your average SD live video setup. It would look sharper, cleaner, less jaggy, more ‘real’ etc. etc. Go and look at a proper HD video in a TV store somewhere, then imagine that ten times bigger and you get the idea.

So, let’s assume for the rest of this post that you are hooked on more pixels. How are you going to make it
happen for next to no money?

Let’s look at what it means for different aspects of live video production. Remember that you will only get HD on the screen if all the parts of the chain – Camera/VTR, mixer, projector – can all handle HD.

IMAG Cameras

There’s a whole rash of
new HDV cameras available, all the way from the basic Sony HC3 through to the high-end pro cameras from JVC, Canon and Panasonic. These are really nice for low budget video production, but what about for live use?

Good points:

  • It’s 16:9 format all the way, so if you are running a 16:9 system you are all set.
  • Most of these cameras have component outputs, or even SDI outputs which means better quality (but you need something to plug it into – see later)
  • The quality of the analog outputs could well be better than DV cameras
  • If you also use your cameras for video production, then an HDV cam will be more future-proof.
  • Some of the latest pro HDV cameras like the Cannon HL1 and the JVC KY-200 have genlock in and SDI out and even remote control via firewire which make them ideal for IMAG cameras.

Bad points:

  • Less sensitivity. You better be sure you have enough light to use some of these cameras (especially the low end HDV ones).
  • They are more expensive, so if you aren’t using the HD bit then it’s a bit of a waste.
  • Because they are new, they are harder to get secondhand at a good price.

Playback

If you are producing video inserts in HDV then it would be great to play them in at HD resolution. You can play back off your camcorder, but that’s a bit of a waste of a good camera at a live event, so it would be better to either have an HDV deck (Sony and JVC make reasonably portable ones) or be able to play back HDV clips on your Mac or PC.
Quicktime on a fast mac will play back HDV in Keynote, especially if you set it to only play one field.
You could burn a DVD of HDV video in DVD Studio pro, but about the only thing it will play back on is a fast Mac.

Even if you can’t play back HD resolution video at your live gig, it may still be worth filming in HDV, as, apart from anything else it allows you some lattitude in re-framing shots in post, as you can ‘zoom in’ and still have plenty pixels left to transcode to an SD resolution.

Graphics

Graphics is the place your audience are MOST likely to notice the difference moving from
SD to HD.
720×576 pixels (SD) is pretty low res for graphics these days, and the higher resolution will allow more detail, and result in fewer jaggy edges etc.

Most fast PCs or Macs are capable of creating and displaying graphics at HD resolution. The lastest version of
keynote from apple even includes some HD resolution templates to make it easy for you.

Clearly a high spec graphics card will help with this.

Mixing

So you have some HDV cams, some HDV clips to play, some HD graphics, but now how do you mix them all together?

Well, if you have lots of money you can buy a very nice V440-HD SD/HD mixer – this will let you mix SD cams, HD cams, etc , but at approx $12,000 it’s pretty pricey.

So, current ‘cheapskate’ options:

  • The new Tricaster Pro from Newtek can at least output at Higher resolution though it’s not clear yet whether its component inputs can take HD video – probably not, or they would have mentioned it.

  • Another option is to do normal SD mixing and then input it into a PC or Mac to scale it up to HD with your song SW or other SW. Of course your video inputs wouldn’t be HD, but at least your graphics could be.

ProjectionAll this only makes sense if you can actually beam more pixels onto your screen at the end of the process.
Of course, even most ‘office’ projectors are ‘greater than SD’ resolution today – most run at XGA or similar – 1024×768 is better than 720×576 (PAL) for graphics etc. This is why a lot of people run their projection systems as native VGA and scale up their video to fit.
If you can play back progressive scan 720p (1280×720) HD video directly on your PC or Mac, you wil get some improvement in perceived resolution even at XGA, but of course the higher resolution the projector the more you will notice the difference.
You REALLY need a native 16:9 projector – if you start letterboxing HDV video onto a 4:3 screen you are losing
most of the advantage you gained in going to HDV in the first place.

You also want to go digital if you can – DVI or HDMI inputs will preserve all those tasty pixels in pristine digital
format right to the end.
Of course the down
side is that long DVI or HDMI cables are still VERY expensive, but there are solutions becoming available for longer cabling options.

The good news is that HD projectors are being pushed down in price by the rush in consumer HD TV broadcasting, so an ‘HD ready’ projector with native 16:9 format and decent brightness should become a lot more affordable over the next few years.

Cabling

One final note on a mundane, but important topic: You can’t cable an HD system using composite or s-video cabling any more.

The main options are either component (YPrPb) on analogue, or DVI or HDMI digital cabling, which, as
mentioned above is VERY expensive for long runs.

If you’re wondering how to source long component analogue cabling from, then don’t ignore your existing long VGA cables – with a BNC breakout adapter these can be adapted to send component video and chances are you have some already or can source them cheaply.

OK, that’s the state of the HDV nation for live video right now.

There’s no avoiding the challenges here – it’s not for the faint of heart.
My suggestions for the moment is as follows:

  • If you are buying a camcorder today to do double duty for IMAG and video production, but an HDV one, but watch out for minimum illumination issues.
  • If you are producing video for live playback, go ahead and produce in HDV for futureproofing, but downscale to SD for playback.
  • If you are ONLY doing playback at a gig, then you have a good chance of doing ‘better than SD’ resolution playback.
  • If you are buying a new PC for live events, make sure it can handle HDV or HD H.264 playback.
  • If you are buying a new projector, DEFINITELY buy a native 16:9 one, and consider pushing the budget to buy an ‘HD ready’ one. 
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