Updated:  01/01/2016

Part II







The World Moves to DTV

By 2014, the majority of countries in the world had switched from analog to digital broadcasting.

Digital TV has numerous advantages. For one thing, it uses a more efficient transmission technology allowing for improved picture and sound quality.

In addition, digital signals provide more programming options through the use of multiple digital subchannels (channels of information within the basic broadcast signal).

Compared to analog signals, digital broadcast signals react differently to interference.

Common problems with over-the-air analog television include ghosting of images (seeing multiple faint images at the same time; note photo), noise or "snow" because of a weak signal, etc.

Changes in analog signal reception result from factors such as a poor or misdirected antenna and changing weather conditions.

But even under these conditions an analog signal may still be viewable and you may still hear the sound.

Digital television transmissions are more demanding. The nature of digital TV results in a perfect picture initially, until the receiving equipment starts picking up interference or the signal is too weak to decode.

With poor reception some digital receivers will show a  "blocky" video or a garbled picture with significant damage, other receivers may go directly from a perfect picture to no picture at all. This phenomenon is known as the digital cliff effect.

>> The first country to make a complete switch to digital over-the-air (terrestrial) broadcasting was Luxembourg, in 2006.  Shortly thereafter, the Netherlands made the switch.  Finland, Andorra, Sweden and Switzerland followed in 2007.

In June 2009, major broadcast stations in the United States switched to DTV.  We say "major" because some lower power TV stations were allowed to stay with the NTSC analog standard for a period of time.

Some countries don't plan a complete analog-to-digital transition until around 2020.

>>As shown in the illustration below there are four basic international standards for digital broadcasting..

You will note that the United States and Canada use the ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) standard.

World Digital Standards

Even though the differences between the four systems gets quite technical and is beyond the scope of this discussion, the fact that these incompatibilities exist is important to keep in mind with dealing in international programming.*

>>One of the major differences between analog and digital TV is the number of horizontal scanning lines that make up the picture. The greater number of lines the more picture detail is possible. The table below summarizes these.


SDTV (Analog)
HDTV (Digital)
Total Lines 525 1125
Active Lines 480-486 (maximum visible on the screen) 1080 (maximum visible on the screen)
Sound Two channels (stereo) 5.1 channels (surround sound)
Max Resolution 720 X 486 1920 X 1080

As you can see, the ATSC standard is capable of 16:9 images up to 1920 by 1080 pixels in size and resolution. This is more than six times the display resolution of the analog standard.

In addition, many different image sizes and line standards can be supported. These include:

  •  Standard definition -- 480i (interlaced) that are compatible with existing NTSC sets

  •  Enhanced definition -- 480p, (progressive), about the same quality as current DVDs

  •  High-definition -- 720p

  •  High-definition -- 1080i (the highest definition currently being broadcast)

  •  High-definition -- 1080p (Blu-ray equipment and a few cable operators)

We'll illustrate the difference in clarity between SDTV and HDTV in Part Two of this module, and we'll explain surround sound and 5.1 audio in Module 42.

 It was thought that the move to digital TV and the "sudden" loss of all major NTSC television stations in the U.S. would be met with widespread viewer consternation.

In fact, TV stations braced themselves for an avalanche of unhappy viewers demanding to know what happened to their regular TV stations -- the ones they had been viewing for decades.

This did not happen for four reasons.

First, TV stations had launched a major educational campaign about the switch that had lasted for months, second, most viewers were receiving the stations by cable or by satellite, which were not affected, third, for some time new TV sets had been equipped to handle ATSC signals, and, finally, the government went so far as to issue vouchers to help pay for set-top boxes to enable existing over-the-air NTSC receivers to convert to over-the-air ATSC signals. 

Differences in Detail

Compare the screen enlargements shown here that represent HDTV (on the left) and the standard NTSC systems (on the right).

When projected on a 16 x 9-foot screen and observed from normal viewing distance the picture detail in good (1,080p) HDTV systems appears to equal or better that attained by projected 35mm motion picture film.  

HDTV can be converted to film and projected in a theater without most patrons realizing they're seeing video.

The enlarged illustrations on the left above show the relative pixel detail of SDTV and HDTV. (The illustrations assume a 40-inch TV screen.)

SDTV produces an image with about 200,000 pixel (picture) points. HDTV increases that by a factor of about 10 to two million pixels.

Ultra High-Definition

There are now two additional levels of sharpness beyond HDTV.

In 2013, Ultra high-definition sets and monitors started appearing.

These are divided into two levels: 2K with 2048 pixel lines and 4K with 4096 pixel lines. (Pixel stands for pixel element.)

However, it's been shown that average TV viewers can't discern the difference between them and HDTV at normal TV set viewing distances.

At present both 2K and 4K are beyond the capability of U.S. broadcast systems

It is only when 2K and 4K images are projected on a large screen (as in a theater) that the difference in detail becomes obvious.

In fact, the best video projectors can reproduce detail that is significantly beyond what's possible with the standard 35mm motion picture projectors used in theaters.

As more and more theaters switch to video projection, the use of film is being phased out.

According the National Assn. of Theatre Owners' trade group by 2012 more than 85% of the U.S.'s 4,044 theaters, representing 34,161 screens, had gone digital. We'll have more on digital cinema later in this module.

Comparisons between video and film quality are subject to lively debate.

In terms of sharpness) video has been inferior to film for many years.

Most of the earlier weaknesses of video, such as loss highlight and shadow detail, have been overcome with the newest professional video cameras. 

Even so, many producers (and many actors) prefer the slightly softer look of film.

Converting Wide-Screen Formats

Production facilities make the conversion of 16:9 HDTV/DTV images to the standard 4:3 aspect ratio in the same way they convert wide-screen films to SDTV. (We'll cover in-set conversion approaches later.)

Three approaches are used:

First, is when the conversion involves cutting off the sides of 16:9 image to a narrower 4:3 size. We refer to this as an edge crop or 4:3 center cut.

If we shoot the original HDTV/DTV (or wide-screen film) with the narrower 4:3 cutoff area in mind, losing the information at the sides of the picture should not be an issue. (This is the area on each side of the red box in the photo below, which, as noted, is referred to as a center-cut of the full 16:9 raster.)  

We refer to the procedure of keeping essential subject matter out of the cutoff areas as shoot-and-protect.

Second, the entire production can go through a process called pan-and-scan.

 In this case a technician reviews every scene and programs a computer-controlled imaging device to electronically pan the 4:3 window back and forth over the larger, wide-screen format. The red arrows in this illustration suggest this panning movement.

In the above picture, cutting off the sides would not be an issue; but what if you had the two parrots talking (??) to each other from the far sides of the screen?

Finally, if the full HDTV/DTV frame contains important visual information (as in the case of written material extending to the edges of the screen), panning-and-scanning will not work.

In this case, a letterbox approach can be used, as shown here.

But you can see the problem. The result is blank areas at the top and bottom of the frame. Often, we reserve the letterbox approach for the opening titles and closing credits of a production, and pan-and-scan is used for the remainder.

Since some directors feel that pan-and-scan introduces pans that are artificial and not motivated by the action (nor the composition they originally intended). They may try to insist their work be displayed using letterbox conversion.

Originally, producers feared that audiences would object to the black areas at the top and bottom of the letterbox frame. (More than one person who rented a film in the letterbox format brought it back to the video store complaining that something was wrong with the tape.) Today, however, viewers accept this format.

  There is another way of handling the 16:9 to 4:3 aspect ratio difference -- especially for titles and credits. You've probably seen the opening or closing of a film on television horizontally "squeezed" in. We refer to this optical technique as anamorphic conversion.

The effect is especially noticeable when people are part of the scene -- people who, as a result, suddenly become rather thin. (Not that all actors would complain!)

Compare the two images above. Note how the bird in the squeezed 4:3 ratio on the right seems to be thinner than the bird on the left.

Another way of visualizing the major SDTV-to-HDTV and HDTV-to-SDTV conversion approaches is illustrated - here.

SDTV to HDTV In-Set Conversion Approaches  

HDTV receivers can also (roughly speaking) convert SDTV (4:3) and HDTV (16:9) aspect ratios. Manufacturers build three options into many HDTV receivers:

  • Zoom - Proportionally expands SDTV horizontally and vertically to fill the 16:9 screen. This eliminates the unused blank areas we would normally see at the edges of the picture, but it also crops off some of the SDTV picture in the process.
  • Stretch - Expands SDTV horizontally to fill the 16:9 screen. This makes objects a bit wider than they would normally be.
  • Combined zoom/stretch - A hybrid of the zoom and stretch modes that minimizes the cropping effect of the zoom mode and the image distortion of the stretch mode.

Clearly, all these approaches leave something to be desired, so today savvy producers originate productions in the 16:9 wide-screen format using the "shoot-and-protect" approach we've discussed.

Digital Cinema Development

In November 2000, moviegoers saw the film Bounce in both film and high-definition video.

Satellite facilities distributed the video version to digitally equipped theaters, which used high-definition video projectors. The difference between the film and video versions was difficult for audiences to discern.

Since 2000, there have been major improvements in the video projection process. By 2007, the images from the best video projectors were sharper than those of 35mm film projectors.

Film crews shot Star Wars: Attack of the Clones -- which more than 90 theaters around the world projected in its digital form -- entirely on 24p video (which we covered earlier). Whereas film and processing would have cost several million dollars, the cost of videotape for this production was only about $15,000.

" More and more "films" intended for theaters are being shot with high-definition video.

After elements such as special effects, editing, and color correction are completed, a technician can convert the final product to 35mm motion picture film (if needed), or more commonly record the final result on a hard disk for distribution to theaters. "

A major step toward video projection in theaters was taken with the release of the 3-D motion picture, Beowulf. The "film" was also seen as representing a major step forward in digital animation.

Beowulf is based on a famous Old English epic poem about a warrior who fights terrorizing monsters -- designed to be all the more scary in 3-D.

Despite the limited number of theaters equipped with 3-D video projectors and the fact that patrons had to wear special glasses, this film toped the box office when it was released in late 2007.

But another box office record was set in late 2009 and early 2010, by the 3-D "film" Avatar. Many theaters used video projectors for this production.  Despite negative reviews by some influential conservative pundits, it set box office records.

Each year, the motion picture industry spends almost a billion dollars duplicating films and distributing them to theaters around the U.S. and the world. Films have limited life; they collect dirt and scratches and soon must be replaced. Video can cut the billion-dollar figure to a fraction of this amount. yellow dot This file on digital cinema has more information.

Plus, pirating (creating and selling illegal copies) is a constant problem, costing the motion picture industry billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Pirating feature films is far more difficult when they're encrypted and either sent directly to theaters via satellite, or, more commonly, delivered to theaters on a high-capacity disk drive. We discuss the issue of pirating in more detail - here.

>>In addition to cost savings, digital cinema offers production advantages.

We can immediately play back and evaluate a scene we shoot in video -- even while the actors and production personnel are still in position. With film the hours of delay involved in processing and preparing film "rushes" (rough prints for quick screening) make this impossible.

Today, however, most film directors use video assist, or shooting on film and simultaneously viewing and recording scenes on video. This means they can play back and evaluate their work as they go along.

Finally, not only are postproduction costs far less with video, but visual effects are much more easily and inexpensively produced.

>>The chart below indicates the excepted growth of theaters moving to some form of digital "film" projection.

Percentage of U.S. Digital Theaters
blue  (3%))
blue  (85%))

Today, most audiences can't tell the difference between the look of professional film and video projection systems.

>> Traditional "Hollywood thinking" has long opposed production with video equipment for "serious, professional work." 

However, today, the cost savings for video production alone, not to mention video's many production, post-production and distribution advantages, make the move to video for both production and theater presentation inevitable.

The key differences between film and video are – discussed here.

 In addition to showing feature films, theaters with digital projectors can provide patrons with other entertainment, such as live concerts, Broadway shows, sporting events and productions aimed at special audiences.

Digital theaters can operate with fewer employees, representing a considerable cost savings over time. Offsetting this savings, however, is the initial investment for digital projectors and the associated computer -- an estimated $60,000 to $120,000 per theater screen.

Are 3-D TV Productions

Finally Going to Catch On?

Over the years, three-dimensional (3-D) movies and TV programs have often tried, but failed, to catch on with the general public. That seemed to be changing in 2012, when many TV sets were equipped to display 3-D images.

However, by 2014 it was apparent that there was not wide acceptance with the general public and the largest TV set manufacturer, stopped making 3-D sets.

Theaters had somewhat better luck.

New technology such as high-definition digital video projectors, Blu-ray discs, 3-D cable networks and the award-winning films such as the Avatar, which most people saw in 3-D, gave 3-D a major boost in theaters.

In late 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens broke all previous box office records the first weekend after its release with ticket sales in North America exceeding one-half billion dollars. By 2016, motion pictures were being routinely released in 2-D and 3-D versions.

However, to date 3-D television has not had similar success.

- This link will take you to more information on 3-D film and video production.

>> You can find information on film revenues, top grossing films and the future of motion pictures - here.

>>In the next module, we'll begin discussing audio and video equipment, starting with a key part of a video camera: the lens.

*More in-depth technical explanations of the various television systems can be found in articles at Wikipedia.

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