by R.A. Stringer csc

Movie theaters have been projecting widescreen images since "The Robe" was
released in CinemaScope in 1953. Now widescreen television is fast becoming a reality. All over the world, various standards are being set for interim and subsequent widescreen systems. For producers, it is essential to consider shooting for widescreen TV today to insure viability of their programming for the future. Here are some examples of advancing television technology in North America:

1. Even now, "improved definition" widescreen television sets, initially designed for viewing wide format movies, are available for home use.

2. True High Definition TV 16:9 format television sets could be available to consumers as early as 1995. Already, HDTV projection systems are in limited use.

3. Interim widescreen systems using present NTSC standards are being developed to soften the transition to HDTV.

What are the regular and wide screen frame aspect ratios?
Present TV screen - 1.33 (4:3)
16mm academy - 1.37
35mm academy - 1.38
Super 16mm - 1.67
Future HDTV standard - 1.77 (16:9)
Standard theatrical wide screen - 1.85
65mm academy - 2.29
Anamorphic (CinemaScope) - 2.36

Present day consumer marketing:
Thomson Electronics, JVC, Philips, and Panasonic are introducing 16:9 widescreen televisions with complex and diversified features to allow consumers to experience theater-style TV in their homes. These new models, costing over five thousand dollars, simply scan more horizontal information from side to side but still use 525 lines of vertical information. They use digital circuitry to blow up the picture until it fills the screen vertically and thereby eliminate the black bars on letterboxed theatrical movies. The blow up is enhanced by integral line doublers combined with converters which upgrade interlaced line scanning to progressive scanning. Laser disc players give the best image for this magnified viewing mode. There is another feature which stretches the image over the widescreen, as with anamorphic film projection, which is very effective if combined with a video source incorporating a squeezed image. 16:9 home video camcorders, using digital squeezing or letterboxing, have been available for a while.

These advanced sets have many other options - dual tuners, picture in picture, picture outside picture, or split-screen with two 1.33 pictures on each side. The Dolby audio system allows for external speakers to create surround sound. These sets are also "HDTV ready" with inputs for future tuners, but they will never deliver true HDTV quality.

These TVs, even though they are expensive options now, illustrate the leading edge of consumer and manufacturer interest in wide format systems. As written in the May 93 issue of Video Magazine: "Thomson's marketing research revealed that consumers consider the wide screen a much more noticeable improvement than the higher resolution of HDTV".

High Definition TV:
HDTV is a technology that offers twice the vertical and twice the horizontal resolution of present systems, uses a 16:9 picture format, and delivers state of the art digital sound reproduction. It is also planned to be compatible with computer technology and offer interactive viewer participation and pay-TV applications. In May 1993, the major competitors in the FCC HDTV standards race joined forces to settle on a single North American system and hope to have it prepared by mid-1994. As written in Video Magazine, August 93: "This unity of purpose has never before existed in the long, quarter-century slog to devise an advanced TV signal that everyone can watch, listen to, use, and enjoy". This alliance helps avoid conflict on manufacturing licensing, legal inter-bickering challenges, as well as the choice of the actual system itself. The alliance wants to begin High Definition TV transmissions in time for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

There was concern that broadcast transmission problems would slow domestic HDTV development. But satellite and digital compression technology are overcoming these signal problems. Broadcasters who agree to transmit HDTV within five years from start-up, will be assigned a second channel to send out HDTV signals, while maintaining their existing channel. HDTV is presently broadcast in Japan using analog signals , but it looks like it will be upgraded to digital sometime in the future.

Interim 16:9 widescreen systems:
When HDTV standards are finally approved by the FCC and become available to consumers, a big factor influencing HDTV development will be the expense of new production and broadcast equipment. As it exists now, HDTV costs are five times more than existing NTSC equipment. Only the big networks will be able to afford a rapid switch to HDTV.

A realistic option to help with the transition to HDTV will be widescreen products that tie into present standards. That's where "advanced definition" 525 line digital component widescreen, similar to the consumer TV technology mentioned earlier, and switchable (4:3 or 16:9) video cameras will become a viable production alternative over the next 10 years while HDTV comes on line. Producers will be able to package widescreen shows in a more economical 525 line component format, and by using converter technology, broadcast that format over the new HDTV channels. Sony's research claims there is little perceptible difference between the 525 line component format and HDTV for sets under 40 inches. This widescreen format can be edited using present component systems (the images will be squeezed), although use of digital editing equipment helps maintain the resolution of the wide image. In Europe, "PAL Plus" is a similar widescreen system which incorporates present PAL standards into European HDTV development.

The bottom line, especially for cynics who believe consumer acceptance of HDTV is years away, is that these interim options will help make widescreen television a reality much sooner than expected. It's obvious that 525 line 16:9 televisions will compete with more expensive HDTV sets for a while.

525 line component widescreen test productions are underway now. When it comes to corporate videos, or on any presentations where your screening facility is controlled, such widescreen product is a extremely workable, affordable option.

Television projection systems:
Widescreen TV works best with a large image. Wide format projection systems, both HDTV and improved definition NTSC, are available now. Because of their new technology and small market, projectors dedicated to HDTV can cost as much as $100,000. But Sony manufactures a versatile projector in the $18,000 price range which adapts to any format, including 525 line widescreen, HDTV, and computer data. The large image from this unit is quite impressive, but one limitation is screen brightness. Back projected, one-piece units provide improved brightness but the screen is smaller. These systems will have an effect on many audience environments, from corporate screenings to laser disc Expo presentations.

Widescreen video cameras:
Initially, a HDTV camera will be an expensive item for smaller TV stations and independent producers. So this is why manufacturers like BTS and Sony are working on 525 line widescreen cameras which have the flexibility to shoot in either 4:3 or 16:9. BTS has already sold 45 "PAL Plus" cameras in Europe and will have cameras available in North America by June 94. Sony is introducing a 16:9 CCD (switchable to 4:3) with its BVP 90 cameras and upgrades would be available for present BVP 90s. The CCD block has a wide format chip which utilizes the same lens image area as present cameras. The 4:3 image is simply selected from the center area (75%) of the 16:9 chip. This means when you switch to 4:3, the image is significantly smaller than existing cameras, but Sony claims the increased quality of the BVP 90 helps overcome this limitation. Another problem is when you switch to the smaller 4:3 image, lenses effectively become more telephoto and to offset that you would have to add an optical adapter. Upgrades to 16:9 CCDs will not be available on Betacam cameras made before the BVP 90, but an interesting alternative is to use an anamorphic lens which squeezes the image onto the 4:3 chip. Basically, the squeezed image becomes compatible with the 525 line widescreen system. Angenieux has these lenses available, but they are twice the cost of a normal lens and are heavier, however they might be an good option for rental companies. These lenses would allow rental houses to offer 16:9 product with their present camera inventory. The disadvantage when you choose to shoot 16:9 video is that you're locked into that format, or suffer a quality loss if you want a 4:3 image later on. Widescreen video cameras involve some compromise - there is no perfect solution. But if you insist on shooting videotape, 525 line component widescreen cameras will be much more realistic than HDTV cameras for several years.

What role with motion picture film play in this new technology?

Existing film cameras have the ability to shoot widescreen footage which can be scanned to any video format, either for present standards or the future. Film has an excellent contrast range and is still very popular for many television applications today. At present, film is more expensive than tape, but the price difference will be influenced by new video equipment costs. Even for producers and networks who presently shoot on videotape, originating on film might be a realistic option while they wait for industry standards to stabilize or if they're looking for an alternative to widescreen video camera systems.

When you take your widescreen film negative into post-production, you can choose the video format to suit the distribution demands or the latest technology. You can scan center 1.33 for conventional release, or a widescreen letter box format, or re-release later in any upcoming systems, including HDTV. There are scanners available now to transfer film to NTSC 525 line widescreen and even a few machines that can transfer to a preliminary HDTV format.

How should producers shoot film for future widescreen television use?
There are several film options for widescreen. Some of the common examples are: Standard 35mm 1.85 which uses 57% of the full 35mm aperture (because it is a rectangle in a square frame), Super 35mm 1.85 which utilizes the sound track area for more space and uses 67% of full aperture, or Super 16mm which also uses the sound track area and is about 21% larger than regular 16mm. With film, especially 35mm, you can actually choose your ground glass aspect ratio as you please. You simply shoot priority framing for 1.33 (TV safe) but protect (keep image clear of lights, etc.) for 1.67, 1.85, or 1.77. This is similar to the framing compromise on 35mm features (1.85 versus TV cutoff).

Super 16mm was originally designed for blow up to 35mm theatrical release (Company Of Strangers). There is a quality loss with the blow up, but when scanned to widescreen TV, Super 16mm quality will hold up well (as with the present 35/16 video transfer quality comparison).

The NFB, National Geographic, Disney, and Warner Bros. are a few examples of producers presently shooting on film and protecting for the widescreen format. "Destiny Ridge", produced by Atlantis and Great North was shot in Super 16. "Kung Fu" was shot on Super 35mm and transferred to tape at Magnetic North in Toronto. Both these shows are being released in 1.33 for now.

Will shooting widescreen cost more?
When the last significant television evolution - color - was introduced, producers had to deal with substantial increased costs. Certainly 16:9 video cameras will add additional costs, no matter what system you use. But Super 16mm or 35mm widescreen production costs are virtually the same as present TV productions originating on film. Factors like set design and lighting will be slightly effected. Scanner systems can handle 35mm widescreen and are now available for Super 16mm, even with pan and scan features. Transfer rates at Medallion-PFA in Toronto are the same as regular 16mm. The cost of Super 16 (stock and process) is approximately 70% less than 35mm. With Super 16mm you also have a built in theatrical release blow up potential at hand.

This is an exciting time in television history. New products and concepts catering to widescreen television will be introduced at NAB in late March. Widescreen television will not only broaden the horizons for producers and broadcasters, but it will change the shape of television on millions of TV screens around the world.

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