Law & Order picture quality - Page 2 - AVS Forum
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Old 05-27-2008, 01:40 PM
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But just playing devil's advocate shouldn't it be on the content distributors to develop better transmission and distribution means rather than on the content producers. If for example I was making an Amy Winehouse album and wanted a gritty, scratchy vinyl sound, I as a producer should be free to do that even if the record company uses a jack-leg mastering company at least I started with a product that met my needs and aesthetic. it's like making a line of clothing and then complaining that retailers place them on some hidden back rack under bad lighting. Not much as the manufacturer you can do about that other than make your entire clothing line bright and flashy to catch people's attention.

Even if L&O is skimping on the budget, a grainy 16mm master is still gonna look pretty damn good. It's highly exceptional to get deliverables from a production company that are unacceptable quality (it happens occasionally, more commonly though I find it happening with audio quality not picture quality and if it is PQ i'll find sometimes there isnt a proper attention to detail concerning video levels from the post house). If you're going to bother to go through all the trouble and expense of shooting on film, using a color timing lab/DI, telecine, etc, you might as well put a good product out there. I've found most of the time the HD downconvert of the aircheck usually ends up being delivered to the network looking pretty pristine. If Law & Order is deliberately just putting crap on the air (which given the resumes of the people who produce that show I doubt) then they are the exception. There are some episodics out there that are lower budget and noticeably skimp (a la the shows on CW MYtV) but this is much less common on the big network shows that have million dollar budgets. Given the amount of effort that goes into the post process, if they were that concerned the could just say 'screw the look and texture' and shoot the show in bland 720p 24p HD like "Rescue Me" or some of the CW shows.
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Old 05-27-2008, 02:58 PM
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Originally Posted by eddy_winds View Post

PQ looks like a bad feed, not a dirty cop show

lol

The early seasons of L&O had a similar look and I believe the same cameraman, so it's going back to its roots for artistic style and presentation. If the grain is intentional or just a decision to use cheaper film stock it doesn't really matter. This last season reminded me more of the days of Logan and Briscoe, which is when L&O was the best.
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Old 05-27-2008, 05:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ABCTV99 View Post

But just playing devil's advocate shouldn't it be on the content distributors to develop better transmission and distribution means rather than on the content producers. If for example I was making an Amy Winehouse album and wanted a gritty, scratchy vinyl sound, I as a producer should be free to do that even if the record company uses a jack-leg mastering company at least I started with a product that met my needs and aesthetic. it's like making a line of clothing and then complaining that retailers place them on some hidden back rack under bad lighting. Not much as the manufacturer you can do about that other than make your entire clothing line bright and flashy to catch people's attention.

Even if L&O is skimping on the budget, a grainy 16mm master is still gonna look pretty damn good. It's highly exceptional to get deliverables from a production company that are unacceptable quality (it happens occasionally, more commonly though I find it happening with audio quality not picture quality and if it is PQ i'll find sometimes there isnt a proper attention to detail concerning video levels from the post house). If you're going to bother to go through all the trouble and expense of shooting on film, using a color timing lab/DI, telecine, etc, you might as well put a good product out there. I've found most of the time the HD downconvert of the aircheck usually ends up being delivered to the network looking pretty pristine. If Law & Order is deliberately just putting crap on the air (which given the resumes of the people who produce that show I doubt) then they are the exception. There are some episodics out there that are lower budget and noticeably skimp (a la the shows on CW MYtV) but this is much less common on the big network shows that have million dollar budgets. Given the amount of effort that goes into the post process, if they were that concerned the could just say 'screw the look and texture' and shoot the show in bland 720p 24p HD like "Rescue Me" or some of the CW shows.

Unfortunately, the content distributors have nothing to do with developing and defining better distribution and compression methods. The broadcast formats were defined by the US Congressional Subcommitee on Digital Television. The NAB and the Hollywood and the Satellite networks and the Cable TV folks all got to make inputs.

Which is why we have the same 6Mhz channel bandwidth that used to hold one analog channel under NTSC, and now we have crammed the following into it in the ATSC specification (because anybody who crossed a Congressional palm with silver got his way) :

1) One HD channel with 1080i60 or 720p60 content.
2) Up to four SD subchannels with 480i content.
3) Alternate language audio tracks.
4) Multichannel audio.
5) Text Data broadcasts.

All this stuff is input as digital data and then compressed with a lossy compression scheme called MPEG2. If the main HD feed has a high bitrate due to poor compression due to film grain or shakeycam, then the maximum channel bandwidth is exceeded, and the ATSC digital encoder introduces "compression artifacts" which include macroblocking (visible pixel blocks of 4x4 or 16x16 pixels all one color and clustered about moving objects).

If the local broadcaster refrains from the maximum number of subchannels or other permissible services, the only artifacts the home viewer sees will be those introduced by the network encoder - since the nature of digital broadcasting is the home video signal would be a perfect copy of the network signal. If the local broadcaster inserts additional data streams, further degradation can occur in the local broadcast.

We are probably stuck with ATSC and it's limitations for 5+ decades. The prior NTSC system was defined in the late 1930's and lasted perhaps 75 years. Unfortunately the market forces do not determine the ATSC specification, the US Congress and the FCC do so - or already did so in the late 1980's.

Given the fact that the system has limitations, and that these limitations will exist for the life of the ATSC standard, then IMHO the Cinematographer/Photographer needs to monitor the output of the digital ATSC encoder, not the film dailies. Video degradation should not be present from episode to episode or season to season in the main ATSC distribution medium, or IMHO a lack of skill is being demonstrated.

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Old 05-27-2008, 05:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ABCTV99 View Post

Even if L&O is skimping on the budget, a grainy 16mm master is still gonna look pretty damn good. It's highly exceptional to get deliverables from a production company that are unacceptable quality (it happens occasionally, more commonly though I find it happening with audio quality not picture quality and if it is PQ i'll find sometimes there isnt a proper attention to detail concerning video levels from the post house).

The episodes are certainly "acceptable" but that doesn't mean they look good. I mean if they spend a day shooting an indoor scene and the light meter says they're two stops under but they shoot it anyway, what do they do when they find out later that it was a grainy mess? Most on-location scenes on L&O only last a minute or two so I don't think it would make sense for them to go back and reshoot it. It's not going to hurt the episode.

Alias regularly had scenes way way underexposed that looked terrible but they went in anyway right next to the scenes that looked perfect.


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Old 05-27-2008, 06:51 PM
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Agreed, though IMO this amounts either to incompetence on the part of the cinematographer/timer or a blatant disregard for quality on the part of the producers. Understandably time is money, but part of the challenge of the breakneck speed of episodic television is to get it right the first time, this is why directors get paid $37,000 an episode, because you are doing in 5 days what a motion picture company would do in 3 or 4 weeks.

I'm not saying the producers shouldn't be cognizant of what their product will look like on the air, on the contrary as a director myself I'm very concerned when a product I produce doesn't make it home the way it was intended, but I personally would rather not be paralyzed artistically by the limitations of the delivery medium. It's one thing if L&O is deliberately produced to look like a snow storm, visually pretty or not I can accept that, its a whole another thing if its driven by an acceptance of poor production quality. Somehow I cannot see this being a case for a show that's been on the air 18 years.

And while the content distributors may not be able to affect the FCC transmission standards, what I'm concerned with is why there has not been more of a push technologically to adopt more robust compression schemes like Wavelet, or MPEG4 or some other intra-frame codec that would be more forgiving of the detail in the image. The technology might not yet be there, but I'm concerned that other than the new D* bird I'm not seeing any real drive to change this anytime soon.This is what I mean by the distributors should be doing more when it comes to HD transmission, because I often feel like given their infrastructure constraints they have adopted a 'good enough is fine with us' attitude. If someone would like to enlighten me of otherwise please do so.
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Old 05-27-2008, 10:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary McCoy View Post

But I'm not one for accepting any excuses when it comes to compression issues. There is plenty of opportunity to view an ATSC digital master file after encoding. If compression artifacts exist in the primary distribution (the ATSC network broadcast) and the problem persists from episode to episode and from season to season, then the Producer/Director/Cinematographer/Photographer are deliberately tolerating shoddy video quality.

What ATSC digital master file? Broadcast networks don't work that way. Shows are delivered (at least currently) on D5 or HDCAM SR. Broadcast artifacts are created downstream.
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Old 05-28-2008, 10:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ABCTV99 View Post

Agreed, though IMO this amounts either to incompetence on the part of the cinematographer/timer or a blatant disregard for quality on the part of the producers. Understandably time is money, but part of the challenge of the breakneck speed of episodic television is to get it right the first time, this is why directors get paid $37,000 an episode, because you are doing in 5 days what a motion picture company would do in 3 or 4 weeks.

But if the footage is usable, isn't that getting it "right" the first time? Or at least close enough? I stopped complaining about a short grainy scene or two in an episode after reading the hell they go through to keep production going as fast as possible. They don't get rewards for good lighting and proper exposure. They get yelled at for being a day behind schedule.

Quote:


It's one thing if L&O is deliberately produced to look like a snow storm, visually pretty or not I can accept that, its a whole another thing if its driven by an acceptance of poor production quality. Somehow I cannot see this being a case for a show that's been on the air 18 years.

Well, I've read stories that may explain this. They generally go like this. You have lots of talented people producing a great looking show. The budget gets cut because making the show should be less expensive over time. Everyone has to work faster. The talented people don't get a chance to be talented and get yelled at for "wasting time". Over time they either get replaced with cheaper less talented people or they just give up and shoot carelessly because their bosses are happy as long as they get something that's good enough on time.

I think Alias was an example of this. Back when Alias was ABC's only new show that was anything close to a hit, the show looked great. After ABC had some real hits in subsequent seasons and Alias wasn't making the money it was, the number of grainy scenes increased to where almost every dark scene had a blizzard of grain in it.

When Heroes became a surprise hit, it got a larger budget and looks great. If NBC starts getting more hits, how long will that new budget last?

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Old 05-31-2008, 12:23 PM
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I don't care about the grain, but I wish they would pay the electric bill and get the lights turned on.
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Old 06-01-2008, 07:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Dark Rain View Post

They're only cut off if their tv doesn't have an ATSC tuner and only get their signals from OTA.

That was my point - many people who watch this show are NTSC OTA only, so how much could they really care?
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Old 07-18-2008, 02:18 PM
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NBC released its 2008-09 lineup, and Law & Order is included in the January - May schedule, indicating the show will be back for a 19th season
the longest-running primetime drama currently on American television 'Law & Order's flagship show will shoot the 19th season on Panavision's Genesis HD Camera.

The movies "Superman Returns", "Click", "Apocalypto" were shot with it.
TV Episodic shot with it: ABC's "Night Stalker"

camera specs:
same width as a Super 35mm film frame., 1.78:1 (16:9) aspect ratio, a single 12.4-megapixel RGB filtered CCD.
The Panavision Genesis can record in a custom Panalog color space, which is a log color space that it is also 4:4:4 . Typically it is recorded on the HDCAM-SR tape format as log data or can just be 4:2:2 HD video recording.


Yes in 2007 for the 18th season the show went from shooting Super35mm to Super16mm film.
The 500ISO grain was intensified and sharpness was reduced.

Going from Super16mm film telecined & finished on HDCAM-SR will be a big change to an all-digital image creation & post production.
The Producer saves these line items:
LINE 2004 RAW STOCK....0
LINE 3040 CAMERA LOADER....0
LINE 3122 CAMERA EXPENDABLES....0
LINE 5036 PROCESSING.....0
LINE 5039 TELECINE PREP....0
LINE 5044 TELECINE....0


We will see NO grain & much better sharpness (with 35mm lenses again) come the first episode of Season 19 of the original 'Law & Order'.
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Old 07-18-2008, 02:40 PM
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Guess the costs of shooting and editing with the Genesis digital camera format have come down enough for "L&O" (only the mothership?) to make the switch. Dick Wolf will have to spend some coin to upgrade the editing facilities but he'll also save time and money by scrapping the expensive film processing and transfer process. Compared with the abortion that was the grainy image from last season this is the best possible news we HD fanatics could have hoped for.
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Old 07-18-2008, 04:40 PM
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Wow that is a very dramatic shift in stylism for this show. Genesis is still not that inexpensive to shoot on and that's a dramatic difference in image quality. I've found Genesis to look very plasticy (Superman especially), which is a whole lot different than L&O's grain-o-rama.
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Old 07-19-2008, 12:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LATVTV View Post

We will see NO grain & much better sharpness (with 35mm lenses again) come the first episode of Season 19 of the original 'Law & Order'.

Though presumably there is nothing to stop producers deciding to add a "film grain" effect in post production if it is an inherent and important part of the "Law and Order" look? Not saying they will, just that they could?

Certainly at least one show shot in HD video in the UK (using the Thomson Viper) has decided to do that to more closely match their previous Super 16 look.
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Old 07-19-2008, 06:40 PM
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Certainly at least one show shot in HD video in the UK (using the Thomson Viper) has decided to do that to more closely match their previous Super 16 look.

Please give title for the show you mentioned and the imdb.com url.
Is the show currently airing in HD or only in widescreen SD?
Can Joe Six-Pack (or the English equivalent) tell the difference if only on widescreen SD ?


Surely Law & Order will keep a handheld camera look. Grain is an interesting comment. We'll have to see as at the moment I believe they are slated for January 2009 return to NBC programming, and not in Autumn 2008.
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Old 07-19-2008, 09:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ABCTV99 View Post

Wow that is a very dramatic shift in stylism for this show. Genesis is still not that inexpensive to shoot on and that's a dramatic difference in image quality. I've found Genesis to look very plasticy (Superman especially), which is a whole lot different than L&O's grain-o-rama.

They can crank the gain up on a Genesis if they want grain/noise. They must be getting a great deal from Panavision if they're using it to replace the Arri-16 they've been shooting 16mm with.

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Old 07-20-2008, 04:05 PM
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Took me a while to remember where I saw this quote.

"Since then, Mr. Wolf's production company, Wolf Films Inc., has received a note from the network informing him the shows are too "gritty," according to two people who work at the production company. NBC says the note referred to the picture quality of one episode, not the content."
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Old 07-21-2008, 06:36 AM
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^^^ You mean to tell me that someone at NBC actually watches their own shows? I'm shocked!
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Old 07-22-2008, 07:20 AM
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Originally Posted by scowl View Post

They can crank the gain up on a Genesis if they want grain/noise. They must be getting a great deal from Panavision if they're using it to replace the Arri-16 they've been shooting 16mm with.

Yea...like free...I understand that the previous HD heavy hitters may soon have some serious competition from products like RED and are trying to maintain their dominance in the HD 24P market but Genesis has previously been a very expensive (and cumbersome) camera especially on a show with as much location hand-held work as L&O. I'm curious if they use the HDCAM-SR recorder or the Panavision SSR or tether it to some sort of hard drive to maintain quality.
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Old 07-22-2008, 01:00 PM
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Once hoped that digital camera use would enhance the effective resolution for shows, bypassing a telecine stage. But it seems deliberate camera filtering, for a desired 'look', usually defeats any potential gain. There might have been an exception with the recent Andromeda Strain two-parter. Notice they mostly used Arri D-20 ~3k cameras, with a D.I. at that format, which could have enhanced the delivered 1080/24p effective resolution-wise. Only caught it in SD upconverted to 1080i by my setup, but some shots with outdoor vistas seemed unusually crisp. But then the earlier CIA mini-series, "The Company," also shot with the D-20, was deliberately filtered to give images a historical 'look'. Only rarely tune in L&O, but don't expect any PQ improvements--yes, crisper images IMO--with the Genesis. -- John
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Old 07-22-2008, 03:03 PM
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Originally Posted by John Mason View Post

Once hoped that digital camera use would enhance the effective resolution for shows, bypassing a telecine stage. But it seems deliberate camera filtering, for a desired 'look', usually defeats any potential gain.

That's as old as the 70's. Kodak was making great progress then releasing new film stocks every year with ever increasing resolution and sharpness. Film makers fought this by using increasing amounts of camera diffusion, soft light, fog filters and in some cases actual fog and smoke blown into the set to make sure the result was that nice soft image they got from the old stocks!

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Old 07-22-2008, 03:03 PM
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What ATSC digital master file? Broadcast networks don't work that way. Shows are delivered (at least currently) on D5 or HDCAM SR. Broadcast artifacts are created downstream.

I think he was referring to the sat uplink, which I think hovers around the 30-40 mbps rate to the local, which then in turn (re) encodes it down to below 18 for broadcast.

The point was that since the ATSC specification limits the max bitrate to < ~19, the producers/directors have an obligation to at least LOOK at the final product as it will be presented to the public! It seems they are currently living in fantasy land where they themselves, and maybe a few dozen other people on the plants, get to watch the masters and pat themselves on the back for a job well done as they see it, yet it looks hideous to the general public.

It seems neither NBC nor PBS executives/producers/directors/post technicians even watch what is being broadcast.
PBS for sure is the worst offender with multiple parasitic subchannels, followed by Fox, CW, then ABC, and finally CBS, whic seems to do the best job of the lot.

Personally, there should be mandatory standards for the local affiliates specifying things like no subchannels, minimum bitrate, etc...
This way there would be some consistency across the country and many shows would look much better when broadcast at 18mbps than the same at 7mbps for a 1080 resolution. Bitrate keeps dropping, and pretty soon well be back in the analog days of snowy images, but this time it will be because there are 9 HD subchannels, with each one running at 2 mbps!

Grain should not be so pronounced to be a visual distraction from the storyline. Grian lovers be damned! Miami Vice was absolutely painfull to watch due to the very un-natural grain.
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Old 07-22-2008, 03:58 PM
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I think he was referring to the sat uplink, which I think hovers around the 30-40 mbps rate to the local, which then in turn (re) encodes it down to below 18 for broadcast.

Network satellite feeds are real time encodes, not from files. One can't see that ahead of time. They can be somewhat emulated by other ATSC bitrate encoders but that won't show what may happen if sat muxing is used to alter the bitrate. NBC appears to have the lowest fronthaul bitrates.
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Old 07-22-2008, 08:18 PM
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The point was that since the ATSC specification limits the max bitrate to < ~19, the producers/directors have an obligation to at least LOOK at the final product as it will be presented to the public!

Not always. When Victor Hammer was interviewed for a Kodak ad about shooting 16:9 on their 16mm stock for the show he said, "The show is not currently broadcast in high definition..."

This was completely wrong. I guess he assumed that since the UPN station in L.A. wasn't HD, it wasn't HD anywhere in the country. In an interview in a magazine some time after that he still said it wasn't broadcast in HD but was available "in widescreen on some cable systems". I read it a dozen times and it still didn't make sense. The guy behind the camera simply had no idea that he was shooting a show broadcast in high definition! Incredible but true!

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Old 07-23-2008, 07:12 AM
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Please give title for the show you mentioned and the imdb.com url.
Is the show currently airing in HD or only in widescreen SD?
Can Joe Six-Pack (or the English equivalent) tell the difference if only on widescreen SD ?

The show I was talking about is "The Last of the Summer Wine". It has been on-air since the 70s (may actually be the longest running sitcom in the world)

It has been shot in more ways than almost any other show I can think of.

In the 70s/early 80s it was shot in the traditional BBC drama/sitcom style (cf Monty Python, Doctor Who and most costume drama, along with Only Fools and Horses etc.) of studio tubed video cameras (EMIs and/or Links I would imagine) with 16mm film on location. This continued until the 80s/90s, when the location material switched from 16mm to location single-camera video (so the show was all video) - around the time Beta SP and CCD cameras became available.

Then in the late 90s it switched to all Super 16 (probably around the time it went 16:9 SD for broadcast - though this may not have been linked) and most recently it switched to HD Video production using the Viper.

The first HD series was very "grainy" - however the most recent ones are less-so.

The show also has a distinctl, brownish, desaturated look (which it also had in its Super 16 era) - which kind of mirrors its cast and content(the show is based elderly characters living in a small town/village in the Yorkshire(?) countryside) It is a very "gentle" show - and has a very low cut-rate style (loads of scenes played out on group shots)

The show airs in HD on BBC HD, and 16:9 SD on BBC One.

It is certainly easy to tell the difference between the HD and SD broadcasts currently (but then BBC One SD is pretty heavily compressed and goes out at less than 5Mbs MPEG2 720x576)

Personally, I'm not a fan of the show - but remember being disappointed at the first HD series being quite so grainy.

(I heard rumblings that the DoP was using exactly the same techniques he used for Super 16 and not altering his style at all - which may have influenced the look?)
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Old 07-23-2008, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by sneals2000 View Post

BBC One SD is pretty heavily compressed and goes out at less than 5Mbs MPEG2 720x576

5Mbs? OTH that's better than SD subchannels in the US which are typically 3 Mbs or less.
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Old 07-24-2008, 02:10 AM
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Originally Posted by sneals2000 View Post

Personally, I'm not a fan of the show - but remember being disappointed at the first HD series being quite so grainy.

As I understand it, the first HD series was shot on the Sony HDW750 and was setup to exactly match the look of the Super16 film they had been using before (so the detail was toned down to match) and these settings were then used to shoot the first few episodes. The DoP and director then decided they didn't like the soft look and wanted the sharp HD look and so reset the sharpness to the camera's default and so the images then looked incredibly edge-enhanced.

The first episode of that season look very nice (and features a cameo by the BBC's HD camera setup genius!) and then it goes horribly wrong. After that they switched to a Viper and HDCamSR.

Mind you, I've heard that the grading instructions are basically 'make it brighter', and 'no brighter still' which make explain the graininess

Steven
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Old 07-24-2008, 04:22 AM
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Originally Posted by TVOD View Post

5Mbs? OTH that's better than SD subchannels in the US which are typically 3 Mbs or less.

Yep - BBC One (in England) probably currently gets the highest bitrate on OTA as it is CBR at around 4.8Mbs (because it is a permanent decode/recode of a 9Mbs distribution feed). It has to be CBR as it is replaced in each regional centre (to allow for local news insertion) - so can't be statmuxed without coding BBC Two, BBC Three/CBBC and the BBC News Channel locally - so instead BBC Two, BBC Three/CBBC and the BBC News Channel are statmuxed together in London, and BBC One is CBR encoded locally (replacing a CBR feed of BBC One London that is also distributed at 4.8Mbs in case of a problem at the regional centre) They run at the relatively high 4.8Mbs CBR to avoid concatenation from the very low 9Mbs distribution feed of BBC One I guess... (And BBC One is also the major BBC TV channel - with the highest ratings and the biggest budget!)

Many other channels in the UK go out at 1.5-5 Mbs statmux (some peak above this occasionally ISTR) - though many services (both 4:3 and 16:9 SD) are now running in "SD Lite" 544x576 rather than 720 or 704x576 SD.

In H264 HD-land on satellite our HD services run at between 20Mbs (some of the Sky HD services are currently just 2 services per DVB-S2 transponder) and 10Mbs (some lower budget HD services on DVB-S) - with most running at around the 15-18Mbs. (Though one Sky Movie channel seems to run particularly low - though this may be benefiting from a new generation of H264 encoder - as it doesn't look terrible)
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Old 07-24-2008, 04:23 AM
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Originally Posted by SteveBagley View Post

As I understand it, the first HD series was shot on the Sony HDW750 and was setup to exactly match the look of the Super16 film they had been using before (so the detail was toned down to match) and these settings were then used to shoot the first few episodes. The DoP and director then decided they didn't like the soft look and wanted the sharp HD look and so reset the sharpness to the camera's default and so the images then looked incredibly edge-enhanced.

The first episode of that season look very nice (and features a cameo by the BBC's HD camera setup genius!) and then it goes horribly wrong. After that they switched to a Viper and HDCamSR.

Mind you, I've heard that the grading instructions are basically 'make it brighter', and 'no brighter still' which make explain the graininess

Steven

Steve - as ever - now you say that I recall the discussions at the time. I'd completely forgotten the first series was shot on Sony HDCam camcorder not Viper.

The episodes I saw in the first season must have been the later ones - as they did look awful.
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Old 01-22-2009, 07:31 AM
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Caught L&O last night. WNBC OTA.
You can tell it is digital capture (on the Panavision Genesis) as you could see individual hairs on the ADA actress.

a step from Super16mm grain of the last season.
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