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Issue: May 1, 2004

NAB REPORT: AFFORDABLE HD POST

By: By Bob Pank


Avid's new DNxHD codec allows users to post in HD with existing SD storage and bandwidth infrastructures.
LAS VEGAS - As in previous years, HD was the talk of NAB. This time, however, it was not deja vu. The enthusiasm was backed up by the all-important consumer take up of HD sets in the US - now at 17 percent and due to rise to 35 in two years. Conclusion: HD has reached lift-off. Right on time, post has achieved maturity - meaning users can look beyond the original narrow range of more costly top-of-the-range equipment to a wide choice of capability, performance and price.

Sony divides HD into three quality and price levels. At the top there are the cine-based needs of a full RGB workflow serviced by the HDCAM-SR format recorders. Mid-range is the HDCAM/YUV component equipment and, sparked-off by JVC's JY-HD10U camera, the lower end is defined by the newly established HDV format, now supported by Sony and many other manufacturers. The latest Vegas 5 NLE software from Sony includes realtime scalable production for SD, HD and HDV.

As ever, there is also a choice of how to acquire an editing system. Those well versed in computer skills can pick the necessary hardware and software to build what they want. Here breakthroughs in price and performance by Blackmagic Design with their DeckLink range offer full 10-bit HD-SDI input/output at under $2,000 across both Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows platforms. The new DeckLink HD Pro offers the 4:4:4/RGB 12-bit "Dual-Link" support needed for top-level HD applications at under $2,500. The same company also offers a gateway to affordable HD monitoring with its HDLink interfacing Dual Link HD-SDI to DVI-D to highly cost-effective high/HD-resolution computer monitors, such as the Apple Cinema Display for under $1,300. A range of converters is also available from Doremi Labs.

All at once, HD versions of popular editing software now abound, including Adobe Premiere Pro V.1.5 and Apple Final Cut Pro HD. Apple's big announcement was the adding of a DVCPRO HD codec into FCP, allowing native DVCPRO HD imports over FireWire and realtime working. But there were more items to catch the attention.

The combination of edit software, an input/output card and a Windows or Apple computer platform can make a low-priced uncompressed HD editing system for around $10,000 or less. However anything other than cuts will require rendering - and expect around 10 times or more slower than realtime to get the full resolution results on, say a single 3GHz processor. If you can't wait or you are planning client-attended sessions, one solution is to use video compression. Here CineForm's software-based compression codec is widely used. It offers three performance levels for accelerated HD (Connect HD), realtime HDV (Aspect HD) and full 10-bit 1920/30P also at realtime (Prospect HD). There is a claim of "visually perfect" performance out to nine generations, and results projected onto cine screens have been applauded.

For those not wanting to go the self-assembly route, Boxx Technologies is one of several companies offering complete editing systems. Once again there are three HD offerings reflecting performance requirements based on combinations of Boxx's system technology, CineForm and Premiere. HDV [pro] boasts four realtime streams, effects, color adjustments and more, and begins at around $3,200. HD [pro] RT includes the CineForm Prospect and Premiere Pro to give realtime multistream 1080i (and other formats) HD and a fast workflow that should have great appeal for broadcasters. HD [pro] offers full uncompressed performance but requires rendering. This and the "RT" system are priced around $20K.


Boxx's HD [pro] RT uses Premiere Pro at its core.
If you want both quality and speed, Leitch's VelocityHD includes the hardware to make it happen. Offering two realtime HD streams of uncompressed video this system can include Velocity editing software and the new Altitude PCI hardware assist package. This is available as 2D effects for dissolves, wipes and 2D DVE, or full 3D effects adding warp, all in realtime - all on top of HD-SDI in/out. Although the software and Altitude hardware are available separately, Leitch also offers whole turnkey systems at around $35-50K, which can include Eyeon's Digital Fusion DFX-Plus with a host of effects. Although at the top end of "affordable" systems, they have done a thorough job and include highly-practical features such as a computer output for direct connection to those cheaper-but-good high-resolution computer screens - and that's besides the HD-SDI support. Also, HDV and HD can be run together on the same timeline.

Perhaps the biggest affordable-HD story belongs to Avid. Their approach has been designed to HD-enfranchise a huge number of users potentially at little or even no cost. Key is the development of Avid DNxHD - an 8- or 10-bit HD codec enabling HD post with the same storage bandwidth and capacity requirements as SD files. So Xpress Pro, NewsCutter XP, Media Composer Adrenaline, NewsCutter Adrenaline FX and Avid DS Nitris systems will include DNxHD and can even collaborate via a Unity server. The source code for DNxHD will be licensed for free to any user who wants to compile it on any platform. DNxHD operates in a 4:2:2 color space in three user-selectable bandwidth configurations.

This NAB has seen a step-change in the availability of affordable HD on a broad front and more manufacturers, including Matrox, will join the HD scene soon.