The end result of this journey…
A television commercial that the production company produced in very high quality, is heavily compressed for digital delivery (as required by broadcast and cable stations), likely transcoded to conform to stations’ servers, compressed again by the cable company feed, then further distorted when it hits a flat screen TV. Each step degrading the quality of the commercial. Finally the consumer views this degraded commercial against national feed high definition programming that has not been forced to endure so much heavy compression. Not a good, nor fair comparison.
Once the commercial leaves the hands of the production company, this quality degrading process is completely out of the control of clients, advertising agencies, and production companies.
In summary, in the current economic climate, most television stations in markets ranked ten or below are not rushing to re-tool their equipment to allow them to accept high definition TV spots. In fact, in Hampton Roads, we contacted all the broadcast stations and Cox Cable and were told they plan on re-tooling to accept high definition TV spots in three to five years, with three years being the average! While the broadcast and television networks tout high definition to the consumer, they actually only deliver high definition when they are feeding from the national network or their local news; any TV spot that is inserted locally will not be broadcast in high definition and in fact will look somewhat worse than the old CRT televisions of just a few years ago. So we, the advertiser, advertising agencies, and production companies, are stuck with the consumer expecting beautiful sound and picture but getting much less from our TV spots.
So what can we do?
First, educate yourself on the process and understand that when you see your spot on a flat screen TV and it doesn’t look nearly as good as the spots that come down the national high definition feed, that it’s not your advertising agency’s fault nor the production company’s. It is the result of television stations’ incomplete transition to digital television. Television stations did go digital for broadcasting programs, but they haven’t finished the transition; now they must re-tool their equipment to allow them to accept high definition TV spots.
Second, in the production process, choose a quality advertising agency that you know will choose a quality video production vendor who will shoot the video at the highest quality possible given the budget. And be aware that there are many quality levels of HD; if someone says your spot will be shot in HD make sure it is shot in the highest quality HD. HDV is not high definition quality. If the source video is high quality, then it will better withstand the multiple compression processes it will have to endure on its way to the consumer’s flat screen television. Your spot will still not look like true HD, but it will look as good as you can get at this time, given the compression requirements.
Third, complain often and loudly to the local television stations and cable companies. They will only move faster on replacing their equipment to accept local high definition TV spots when it hits them in the pocketbook with unsatisfied advertisers. Once broadcast stations re-tool to accept spots produced in HD will the HD spots you are paying to produce finally look like the HD quality you and your clients deserve to see on the screen.Bob Smith, President
5245 Cleveland St., Suite 210
Va. Beach, VA 23462
If you want to learn more you will have to dig deep, mainly in professional video production forums. Google will bring up much more information. Below are some good links:
- Very good overview for agencies on HD/SD commercials
- FCC Paper on digital transition
- The Creative Cow Forum
- Comcast HD Quality Reduction: Details, Screenshots (AV Science Forum)
- Executive Profile
SD Advertisements Still Dominate (Television Broadcast)
- High definition television (Wikipedia)
- Does Comcast Signal COMPRESSION = DEPRESSION? (DLS Reports/Broadband)
- Hi-Def Forum
- Cable’s crunched signals irritate HD die-hards (USA Today)
- Cable TV under fire for degrading HD quality (MSNBC)
- Walkthrough: “Why is my HDTV ugly compared to my old tube tv?” How to setup the HDTV (AV Science Forum)
- http://forum.ecoustics.com/bbs/messages/34579/118003.html (eCoustics.com)
- Cutting through the confusion (CNet)
- A Discussion On Poor SD On HDTVs (HighDef Forum)