The Metropolitan Opera has expanded the distribution of its HDTV
live-opera productions to nearly 500 digital cinemas and venues in the U.S.
That's an increase of about 50 theaters for the effort's fourth
season, which begins on Oct. 10 with Puccini's Tosca.
Worldwide, more than 900 theaters in 42 countries will
receive The Met: Live in HD
Earlier this year, the productions won an Emmy and Peabody
Award and last week The Met: Live in HD was
awarded the International Broadcasting Convention's highest award, the International
Honor of Excellence.
"The IBC award recognized
not just what the Met is doing now for HD-cinema transmissions, but the whole
history of the Metropolitan Opera's work with media," noted Mark Schubin,
engineer in charge for the New York-based opera company. "January of 2010 will
mark the 100th anniversary of the Met's first radio broadcast in 1910.
"We've been doing location recording since 1901 and we have
been doing television since 1940," said Schubin. "The first Met transmission to
cinemas was actually in 1952, when we went to 31 cinemas in 27 U.S.
cities live" via closed circuit.
The creation of a live HD feed with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
sound has required a wide array of technical innovations, particularly in the
area of subtitling, robotic cameras and camera-motion systems, frame-rate
conversion, lip synching and surround sound, Schubin noted.
The main vendor for The
Met: Live In HD is All Mobile Video, which provides remote production and
The operas are produced with as many as 16 Sony HD cameras
and are generally equipped with a wide array of Fujinon lenses.
Screen Subtitling Systems in the U.K.
developed an innovative subtitling system that allows the operas to be
delivered worldwide in multiple languages. FOR-A, which provides FRC-7000
HD frame-rate converters for
delivery to markets outside the U.S.,
worked closely with the Met to overcome difficult challenges for frame rate
conversion with subtitles, Schubin added.
More than 100 technicians may be involved in the work on the
production, including 16 camera operators, three video operators, two tape
operators and a 10-member audio team, Schubin said.
All Mobile Video transmits the production from the Met and
some of the transmission to theaters in North America. Arqiva
provides a trans-Atlantic fiber link to the U.K.
and is the main transmission provider in Europe.
The Met has also worked with Atlantic Cine Equipment in the
development of "some new technologies for camera moving platforms" and robotic
cameras, Schubin noted.
For example, Atlantic Cine has developed a camera that runs
along a small track just below the stage. "It provides a wonderful shoot
looking up that works particularly well in the cinema because that is the kind
of view the audience has in a theater," said Schubin.
Over the years, the production team has learned to pay
particular attention to camera angles. Typically, most of the Met operas are
shot looking straight onto the action or looking up, because those shots work
best in the theater, Schubin said.
"Most of the other companies that have been producing operas
have cameras located in balconies or somewhere else looking down," he noted.
"For television, that doesn't matter, but in the cinema, it is very
uncomfortable for an audience that is looking up at a screen to be watching
shots looking down on the performance."
The performances are currently shot in 1080i, in part
because the TV technicians are not allowed to add lights or do anything else
that would detract from the way the audience sees the live performance.
"I would love to go to 1080p, but only at a higher frame
rate," Schubin said. "If you are shooting at 1080p at 60 frames per second,
those cameras are not as sensitive as a 1080i camera. We need to work out some
of the sensitivity issues."
The technical team has taken similar care in the way it
revamps The Met: Live in HD
productions for telecast on PBS, said Schubin.
"Some of the things that work great for the big screen might
not work so well for the small screen," Schubin notes, forcing the Met to re-edit
the production with more closeups or other material that would work better for
The Surround sound also has to be redone.
"In a theater, every speaker you see is the Surround sound
speaker and the main speakers are behind the screen," Schubin says. "But in the
typical home setup, the Surround sound speakers are behind you. We have to do a
very different mix."