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Q: We’re thinking of having a new corporate video made, and I was wondering if I should get it produced in HD? Is it horribly expensive and impractical, or can it be done?

Computer Manufacturer

A: High Definition. or HD as it’s commonly called, represents the holy grail in production quality. But there are still many factors influencing a decision to produce a corporate video in HD.

For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with HD quality, a take a trip down to Curry’s, Comet or Dixon’s and see for yourself. The picture quality of the samples on display is breathtaking. It looks real. Scenes have so much depth of field you could almost fall into them. Standard Definition (SD) LCD TVs look like mush compared to the HD televisions.

So what does this mean for the corporate producer, the buyer of corporate video?

Because there are so few HD DVD players around, you’ll find very few of your clients, whether public sector or international group, who’ll will be able to play your beautifully produced breathtaking DVD.

But this shouldn’t stop you playing it in these locations:

> On a huge widescreen television (or video wall) at your exhibition or event stand, where potential major clients will undoubtedly be impressed by the superb image you project. Your production facilities and services will look absolutely splendid. Your scope and capability will be revealed as never before.

> In your boardroom, where visiting clients can hear your HD DVD in 5.1 surround sound, as well as view it in all its high definition glory.

> Potentially through a projector, streamed from a fast PC or laptop. I’ve not personally done this yet, but I do know that all Standard Definition (SD) video loses its colour intensity and sharpness to a marked degree when projected. HD can compensate for this with its much higher quality. So your video will look much better when projected.

To achieve these levels of desirability, there are two cost routes available:

> High cost

> Lower Cost

These depend greatly on what sort of HD system your DVD is produced on. There are a number of HD systems available, each with varying degrees of cost and quality

High Cost HD Route
If you call a television production studio they’ll cheerfully offer to produce your corporate DVD using their high end HD editing system, with footage shot and edited on a high end HD system (more on formats in a minute)

You’ll get a great result, but this approach will cost you significantly more than a regular SD corporate video, so you’ll need deep pockets.

Lower Cost Route
There are a number of low cost HD formats around ranging from the HDV format, to Sony’s new XDCAM HD system that was recently announced at NAB in Las Vegas, and JVC’s low cost prosumer format, and others besides.

It gets bewildering, but they all potentially offer a high quality HD route to corporate video at a much lower cost than a television studio would charge.

But although a video production company’s studio may profess to offer HD you still have to be watchful, as all is not necessarily as it appears.

What’s the quality difference in different HD formats?
Here’s an example:

JVC manufacture a low cost HD camcorder, which is dual format in that it can record regular DVCAM footage which can be edited and subsequently played on every DVD player. Most corporate studios have an editing facility to produce this.

The bonus is that this JVC camcorder can also record HD, (called HDV) for which there are a number of affordable editing systems available, notable Adobe’s Premier Pro editing software combined with Matrox’s RTX2 card, all of which are relatively affordable (and therefore cheaper to you)

Sounds good. But there’s a catch. The resulting HD quality may not even be as good as regular SD.

When a regular digital camcorder records it has to compress the footage to an acceptable data rate, otherwise the files would be huge. This compression factor is vital in determining quality.

Regular DVCAM is compressed down to a data rate of 24 Mbs/second, and gives an entry-level broadcast quality picture as a result. This is the accepted norm in corporate DVD production.

The exact same camcorder when recording HD will have to deal with potentially much bigger files, so it has to compress them a lot more. In some cases, this compression will reduce the data rate to as low as 17 Mbs/second, which is significantly lower quality than the accepted 24 Mbs/second.

In other words the resulting HD DVD quality may end up looking worse, particularly in fast moving shots, or high contrast shots, or very detailed shots where there is a lot of colour information.

However this is only one example. It’s not all like this.

To know for sure how to weave your way through this minefield, you have to use your eyes. Go to the studio and see for yourself. Ask for a side by side HD and SD comparison. This is a reasonable request. You’ll soon see what quality you’re buying if you use this simple test.

What other cost elements are there?
Your video producer will have to send the HD video files to a television studio to produce a HD master, as HD DVD disk burners are not yet available. This will cost extra.

HD DVD players, such as the LG Electronics new GGW-H10N, now cost £800. They’re not cheap, but you’ll need one in order to play your new DVD.

This will playback both Sony’s Blu-Ray and Toshiba’s HD DVD disk formats. Yes, still more formats, this time disk formats. But with a dual-mode player you will have covered your bases.

Expect to pay more for duplication too. For example, HD DVD blanks cost £13 each, compared with regular DVD blank disks at 15p each.

A big HD TV screen for the boardroom might set you back another £2,000 as well.

Tell me in simple technical terms why HD is better
The standard PAL television (SD) specification weighs in at 720×576 pixels – less than the average number of pixels in a standard PC monitor.

The HD specification starts at 1920×1080.

In other words, HD has at least 4 times the pixel information as SD. This is why it looks so good, why detail is breathtaking, why scenes look so realistic. You can also compare an Xbox 360 or PS3 game station with an older game station as another way of perceiving this image quality difference.

Hopefully this quick Q&A gives you some idea of what to expect when producing a corporate video in HD. It costs more, but it doesn’t have to be the fortune that it meant two years ago.

More information on corporate video production is available here

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