May 1, 2002

20/20 HD Vision

Offering end-to-end high-def: (L-R) Randall Dark, Jayme Wing and Steve Weiner.
STUDIO CITY, CA - While HD can be a risky and expensive proposition, it's becoming increasingly commonplace for post houses to invest in HD equipment, and expand their services to include digital cinema and HDTV mastering.

But in 1993, when HD pioneer Randall Dark opened HDVision in Dallas the risk was considered extraordinary. The government's ATSC mandate - and revolutionary developments like Sony's HDCAM and CineAlta products which made HD acquisition portable with near film quality - were still years away.

Nevertheless, Dark made a name for himself by producing hundreds of hours of breath-taking HD programs, offering the first HDTV mobile unit and contributing HD equipment and expertise to landmark HDTV events such as a 1997 Baltimore Orioles game, one of the first live HDTV telecasts.

Today, Dark is again pushing the envelope of the HD arena. After closing HDVision in Dallas and New York, he's just opened a new Southern California facility - HD Vision Studios - that will serve as a one-stop-shop for anyone producing feature films, independent films, television shows, or any project where HD video is the medium of choice.

"There's definitely a groundswell for HD production," says Dark. "Movie studios are eyeing digital cinema as a way to cut film distribution costs, new HDTV cable and satellite services have entered the market; and film festivals are increasingly showcasing HD films. As the transition intensifies, any post facility that doesn't have HD capability under its belts will lose market share to those that do.

"Because HD is a cost effective alternative to film that can deliver images with the same look and emotional impact of film, producers feel compelled to evaluate the technology and cost structure of HD," he continues. "When they shoot 24p HD instead of 35mm film, the cost difference can be dramatic, with savings as much as 50 percent - on film stock, lab processing, telecine transfer, film prints, among other expenses."


Whether the images will ultimately be displayed on a TV or movie screen, HD Vision Studios' digital cinema suite is unique in that it is a "hybrid" (linear HD editorial and telecine) environment where everything - editorial, color correction, and mastering - can be done all from the same stage. Images can be projected onto a 20-foot screen or on two 24p multiformat, multi-standard HDTV monitors.

"The advantage to having a choice of displays is that the editor, colorist and client can readily compare the images to ensure that the colors, clarity and editorial transitions are going to work well in both the digital cinema and home theater markets," says CEO Steve Wiener. Prior to joining HD Vision Studios, Wiener was founder of LA-based High Technology Video, which has six telecine suites, and a successful colorist in his own right.

"In the next few months, we intend to install a top-of-the-line HD telecine/film scanner with 24p HD, 1080/60i and data output capability. Transfers will be made onto a centralized disk array system, and from there, all manipulation of the image will occur - including mastering, editorial, color correction, restoration, audio layback, sweetening and downconversion." Whether DPs and cinematographers employ the color correction tools now available in Panasonic and Sony HD camcorders, Wiener says it's imperative for all HD features and programs to be color corrected scene by scene as part of the final mastering process.


In another unprecedented move, HD Vision Studios has also opened an HD broadcast center, capable of televising live signals via satellite or fiber optic networks anywhere, including digital cinemas. While many digital cinema market analysts are envisioning an alternative revenue source for cinemas that feature live entertainment and sports events, HDVision Studios is positioning its HD broadcast center as a soundstage dedicated to hosting such live events.

"Providing alternative programming gives cinema operators a new source of revenue beyond movies that could make their transition from film to digital projection much more financially attractive," says Dark.

The new facility fuses new HD equipment with legacy HD formats, such as Sony's HDD-1000 tape, Sony's Uni-Hi format and 1035-line HD equipment, all of which were prevalent in the late 1980s.

Since the manufacturers no longer support this legacy HD equipment, Dark has acquired an ample supply of replacement parts to keep these irreplaceable machines in service for many years. Coupled with his vast HD library, including thousands of hours shot on 1035-interlaced HD, HD Vision Studios has a distinct advantage in the marketplace since no newcomer would ever invest in this older, and increasingly rare, equipment.

Building a new facility also enabled Dark to install the latest HD equipment, such as the Panasonic 3700 multiformat HD deck. The facility also features the Snell & Wilcox HD1024 switcher with dual-channel DVE and color correction, Chyron Duet HD character generator and a Graham-Patten D/ESAM 8000 digital audio console, including surround sound mixing capability, and the QuVis QuBit digital motion image recorder.

Editor/VP Jayme Wing, who brings two decades of professional editorial experience, says, "We can demystify HD by offering insight into how different production options, such as frame rates, audio, lighting, can impact post, so they can choose the best tools and approaches for their projects."

As partners in this new venture, Wiener, Wing and Dark share the view that the future is bright for the HD market and that this cost-effective, user-friendly technology will open the door to new creative energy in the entertainment industry.