The Digital Journalist
The High Definition Revolution is Upon Us
May 2005

Television is now undergoing the greatest change since color. High Definition is now poised for the major breakthrough that will lead to a $600 billion market.

The implications of this revolution will affect us all, especially those who are now working in visual journalism. At the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in Las Vegas last month, people were walking around the halls, watching real-time television on cell phone-type instruments. The quality of the pictures and audio from these tiny gadgets was staggering.

Verizon has invested $23 billion in the past few years laying fiber optic cable that will carry HD signals to homes across the nation. This is more than all of the five major cable companies have spent to lay "the pipes."

A year ago, JVC introduced the first consumer High Definition camera for under $5,000. The New York Times raved about it, but the reality was that the images were of poor quality, and could not be edited into a professional product. At this year's NAB, Sony and Panasonic showed professional camcorders that had all the quality of the highest-priced professional Electronic News Gathering (ENG) cameras. And JVC, the upstart that started it all, proudly showed its own 720p ENG camera that will be in stores in July for less than $6,000.

Both Apple and Avid introduced HD editing systems with all the bells and whistles of a broadcast or film studio edit suite for $1,600.

At The Digital Journalist, we have been committed from our first issue to promoting video journalism that will allow today's still photojournalists to expand their story-telling abilities.

In the past seven years, we have seen cameras come, from the first High 8s, to today's digital camcorders. With each passing year, the quality has gotten better, allowing these visual journalists to actually create shows for such outlets as ABC's "Nightline."

Some of these journalists, such as David Turnley, have even gone on to produce full-length theatrical productions.

However, there has always been one ugly fly in the ointment. No matter how proficient the camera operator, at the end of the day, compared to the industry-standard Betacams, there was always a quality gap. If the producer wanted to sell a project to someone like Discovery channels, it would be a dead end. This is because markets such as Discovery sell internationally, and products would have to go through a major compression to the higher standards of PAL. The little DV tapes just did not have the right stuff.

Now with High Definition, that gap has been virtually closed. Not only does HD produce the same quality as DigiBeta, but it can even provide better images than film.

Tiffen has been surprised to see sales of its "Steadicam" support systems suddenly eclipse the sales of its bags and filters. Yet, these $3,000 systems are being bought by thousands of "Moms and Pops" who want Junior to become a filmmaker. HD requires steady pictures, and is very unforgiving of camera movement or shake.

And in fact, you will see the emergence of many new filmmakers, who never could have afforded to shoot or edit big-screen productions.

Just over the horizon changes are coming in the distribution of theatrical features. Up until now, that involved transporting cans of film around the world, and required the financial resources of major studios. However, eventually all theatrical products will be beamed down from satellites. Individual filmmakers, who shoot their features on HD, will be able to find groups of virtual distributors, who can book and show their films in theatres.

Even the phone companies will be getting into the mix, offering streaming television in HD to cell phone-like devices.

The Internet will become even more ubiquitous, showing streaming HD video. Commerce solutions that will pay the filmmakers for their work will arrive.

For the visual journalist, the first, rocky, part of the trip is completed. Now it is time to turn onto the HD Highway.