HD Moves Outdoors

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Gene Brookhart
VP, Operations
The Outdoor Channel

It was a little more than a year ago when The Outdoor Channel began its HD service, delivering beautiful images of snow mobile rides through snow-capped mountains and fishing in the Bahamas. Gene Brookhart, VP of operations for The Outdoor Channel, discussed the move to HD, and to a new production facility, with Ken Kerschbaumer.

Q. How is the new facility working out?

A. Great. About 18 months ago we purchased the building adjacent to our old analog-based plant and built a state-of-the-art broadcast center that handles are standard definition and HD network feeds. It’s based around a Leitch Nexio HD server system with automation provided by Harris and also has our own origination and uplink facility.

Q. What were some of the challenges?

A. Initially it was the cost of storage but that has begun to come down. There was a bit of a premium because we were one of the early adopters of HD but that is starting to change now that others are migrating.

Q. What HD format do you shoot on?

A. We use primarily Sony HDW-730 camcorders and also some Panasonic Varicam equipment. Some of our programs are shot in 720p to give more of a film look while others shoot in 1080i.

Q. Which do you prefer?

A. I like 1080i because of the crispness of the picture. It has more of an HD look.

Q. Are all of your productions shot in HD?

A. Our in-house productions right now are about 75-95% HD while the outside producers who shoot for the SD network are about 80% SD. We’ll also use some HDV equipment when we don’t want to risk losing or damaging an $80,000 HD camera and lens.

Q. For larger networks like ESPN or HBO the move to HD doesn’t seem that extreme given their ability to afford HD equipment. But it’s surprising when a smaller network like The Outdoor Channel makes the move. How did you justify HD?

A. It’s a natural progression of what we’re doing and it gives us more mileage out of our crews and equipment. Anything with lots of colors, like nature, looks amazing. When you go down to the Bahamas and shoot offshore fishing where the water is aqua blue the vibrancy of nature comes through. It really makes all the greens and browns exciting.

Q. Is there a learning curve for producers and photographers?

A. We’ve helped our outside producers by having an in-house HD bootcamp with representatives from Sony showing how to use the cameras and lighting. Producers want to shoot in the format. And as HD becomes more affordable, the tape costs drop, and more and more projects are shot in HDV, when appropriate, the producers will make the move. Once you see HD it just blows you away.

--Interviewed by Ken Kerschbaumer

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