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JVC's Dave Walton discusses HD transition with DMN contributor Kevin McAuliffe
With High Definition television becoming more and more a part of our daily lives, consumers are now finding themselves scrambling to find content from their cable or satellite providers. Blu-ray and digital download services such as iTunes are giving people a vast amount of choice when it comes to movies and television shows, but what is happening with broadcasters? It almost seems like they are being left behind when it comes to switching their facilities over to HD to satisfy the growing consumer demand for HD content. Dave Walton, Assistant Vice President, Marketing & Communications for JVC Professional Products Company took the time to talk with DMN about the state of the broadcast industry with regard to the switchover to HD.
DMN: How would you grade the current state of the broadcast industry in regards to their commitment to HD?
Dave Walton: Broadcasters in the United States are fully committed to HD. For some, the transition has come sooner than expected. And with declining ad revenues, thanks to a less-than-robust economy, many would prefer to put off the upgrade. However, in today's fiercely competitive market, that is not a good idea.
DMN: If you had to pick one main reason for broadcasters to begin their upgrade to HD, what would it be?
DW: Producing local content in HD has become a competitive necessity. Consumers are upgrading to HD at a record pace, with a total of 124.2 million HDTV sets forecast to be purchased in 2008. Cable, satellite and broadcasters are promoting their HD content, and the broadcaster who stays in SD loses market share. It's just that simple.
DMN: On the flip side, what do you feel is the main reason holding broadcasters back from upgrading their facilities?
DW: Cost and time to implement. Broadcasters in the U.S. are ready for the digital switchover next February with new transmitters in place. High definition programs are already being broadcast because network feeds are often in HD. But switching over local production, especially news, involves a new production switcher, graphics systems, servers, editors, studio cameras and field cameras. Many of these systems are still SD and are being amortized, so an overnight transition is not fiscally possible. Yet competitive pressures demand a change sooner, not later.
For this reason, many broadcasters are phasing in HD local news production. It's not uncommon for a station to begin by airing HD newscasts from the studio while field footage is captured in 16:9 standard definition, and then upconverted.
DMN: How much of an issue is cost when broadcasters are considering upgrading? Is it the only issue?
DW: Besides the initial cost of upgrading, broadcasters are faced with diminishing capital budgets. Some broadcasters have told us that their budgets for capital equipment have been slashed up to 40% for 2009. And in a competitive environment, they need to put as many or more reporters on the street. Something has got to give.
Many broadcasters are also looking "outside the box" at economical solutions that can get them on the air with HD and still stay within their budget. Implementing robotic cameras in the studio is one way to reduce personnel costs. At JVC, our ProHD slogan is "On Air. On Time. On Budget." We've been able to help by offering studio cameras that cost about one-third of what traditional dedicated studio cameras sell for. Surprisingly, our GY-HD250 cameras' picture quality holds up well when compared with cameras in the $100,000 range.
DMN: For smaller broadcasters, where do you think the best place to start is when switching over their facility to HD (i.e. - For news broadcasters, they might want to upgrade their cameras first?)
DW: When replacing cameras, the most logical place to start is in the studio, but of course it depends on various factors. If you're still using Beta-SP in the field, your maintenance costs might dictate changing those cameras first. But usually, the first cameras that go on the air in HD are in the studio.
Stations that replace their existing dedicated SD studio cameras see an immediate bump in picture quality even with moderately priced HD models. In some cases (WKRC Cincinatti, for example) a station will start by using the GY-HD250's in the standard definition 16:9 mode. When the rest of the facility is ready for HD, they only need to flip a switch on the camera, and that's it.