‘Aqua Kids’ Take High-Def Dip


While kids are known for their ability to embrace new technologies, producers of television programming for the younger set have generally lagged behind the rest of the industry in making the switch to high-def. A few, including the creators of the syndicated show Aqua Kids, are now dipping their toes in the HD waters.

George Stover, the producer and director of photography for Aqua Kids and founder and owner of Adventure Productions, describes the transition to HD production as a relatively painless process. One reason for that is the success the company has had with smaller, less expensive JVC cameras. Stover added that producers of syndicated fare still face some major hurdles in offering stations an HD production.

While Stover is now producing the second season of Aqua Kids entirely in HD, the show continues to be sent to stations in standard-def.

“We are still sending out our digital signal in SD because the stations aren’t ready for it,” he said. “We have 184 stations and a lot of the smaller stations can’t do it. I think it will be two years or more before they are all HD.”

Stover added that the company plans to eventually offer both HD and SD feeds but plan to wait until costs come down and more stations are equipped to receive HD feeds. “An SD feed is about $300 versus $1,000 for HD,” he said.

Still, Stover is glad the company made an early transition to HD, with new HD cameras and editing suites. “When the stations are ready to go HD, the transition will be seamless,” he said.

In fact, the JVC GY HD110 cameras that are used to shoot the above-water scenes for Aqua Kids have proved to be a reliable cost effective solution that has simplified production and supplied high-quality HD images.

“The cameras have been just great,” he said. “We’ve had no issues with them at all even though we shoot in difficult locations. We’re out in the ocean or in the Everglades with water up to our waists and we’ve never had a problem which is pretty remarkable.”

Stover noted that a key reason for the purchase of the JVC cameras was the lens and image quality. “They have a real interchangeable lens, which a lot of them don’t, and it produces great images,” he said.

He also cited the cameras light weight, ease of use and low cost as major advantages. The JVC cameras cost about $6,000, much less than the $60,000 he’d spent in the past on Sony Betacams.

“Don’t think that just because a camera costs $50,000 or $60,000 it is a better product,” Stover said. “You don’t need that. The JVC performs as well as a full size HD cam.”

To illustrate the point, Stover said they used the JVC camera for a piece for Discovery Channel. “Discovery doesn’t want anything shot in mini DV HD,” Stover said. “But we just didn’t tell them. We imported it as DVCPRO HD, edited it and spit it out. They just loved the quality. That tells you something about the quality that is coming out of it.”

The camera’s light weight also makes it much easier to shoot in their outdoor locations, which has simplified aspects of production. “Since it is so light, it is easy to fly on a jib,” he said.

All the above-water shots for Aqua Kids are done with JVC GY-HD110 cameras on mini DV HD tapes and edited in Final Cut Pro 6. Stover uses a Sony 1ZU for the underwater shots because it requires a smaller housing.

Despite his enthusiasm for the cameras, Stover noted two areas that need improvement. He said the viewfinder “isn’t up to snuff” and “the deck that comes with this system is very much a consumer deck and not a professional deck,” he said. “They really need to step up to the plate and create a better deck, a professional deck.”