Is it Broadcast Quality?
by Clark Brown
Consumer camcorders have long been used by news media to record events like China’s Tenniman Square, the Gulf War, “hidden camera” exposes, etc. Even though these segments were aired on braodcast television, that does not necessarily make them “broadcast quality” as defined by the FCC.
One of the things we do is news gathering for ABC, CBS and NBC local affiliates as independent news gatherers. I have captured footage (that has aired) on BetacamSP, Hi8, and DV (using the PC7 and VX1000.) One piece shot on the VX1000 was satellite fed to New York for Fox. They liked the quality. Visually the VX1000, with its 3 chip, 4:1:1 color sampling looks great. But when we put it on a waveform and vectorscope, we can see that it is not up to “broadcast spec”. If I look at two adequately lit video segments – one shot with BetacamSP and one with VX1000, they both look great. 90% of the population would never tell the difference. The differences are subtle, but they are there. Qualitatively, both are superb. Quantitatively, they are different. I have shot news video with the VX1000 and when my story is aired next to a story shot on a BetacamSP, I can see the difference.
However, my personal experience is that consumer 4:1:1 DV is outstanding. I completed a medical video shot entirely with the Sony PC7 – a one chip camcorder. The finished project was superb. But I could control the lighting for every shot and this made all the difference in the world. Had I shot with with the Sony DSR200 – Sony’s 4:2:2 digital camcorder, it would measure out to “broadcast spec” – quantitatively.
4:1:1 has 50% less chrominance bandwidth than 4:2:2. This reduced bandwidth increases noise and decreases chrominance dependent tasks (such as chromakeying). So, based upon 1) measured differences, and 2) information supplied by Sony and Panasonic industrial reps (at trade shows), my assessment is that 4:1:1 is not “broadcast quality” whereas 4:2:2 is.
The original question (posted on the Videomaker Forum) was: can you achieve “broadcast quality” on a Miro DC30? It’s my contention, based upon what the FCC has defined as “broadcast quality,” the answer is – No. But can you achieve high S-VHS quality video with the Miro DC30? – Yes. Can you do a project with the Miro DC30 and have it played over cable? – Yes. Does that make it broadcast quality? – No. Does that mean it is not acceptable? – No. It may be entirely acceptable, but the discerning eye and test equipment will see the difference.
Outside of one or two techs at a network affiliate, it is difficult to define “broadcast quality.” The FCC specs require expensive test equipment to dtermine if a signal is “broadcast quality.” And with the advent of ever increasing quality in consumer equipment and the increased use of consumer-acquired footage for broadcast, the practical use of the term “broadcast quality” has become different from the FCC defined term “broadcast quality”.
Even manufacturers misuse the term. For example, I bought a distribution amplifier from a company that stated that it would pass through “broadcast quality”. I found that what was “broadcast quality” going in certainly wasn’t “broadcast quality” coming out. It was low end S-VHS quality at best, not “broadcast quality”. When I called the company to complain, they couldn’t give me any “broadcast quality” specs on the equipment and their tech told me that their product wasn’t commercial equipment, but was designed for consumer use. Then why call it “broadcast quality”? – marketing hype.
For what it’s worth, that’s my assessment of “broadcast quality”.