Villing & Company

What's So Standard About Standard-Definition? Why HD Workflows Must be Embraced Even When Delivering in SD

Standard definition has been the standard for a really long time. Way too long. See back in the olden days, cavemen devised ways of launching electrons through a tube like a shotgun to create an image on a phosphorus screen. The result was a tiny glowing pixel made from the combination of the colors red, green and blue. For those not familiar with pixels, in a simple sense you can imagine them as dots of color that collectively form an image on a screen that can be viewed from a certain distance. The more pixels in a given area, known as pixel density, the better the image and the crisper and more lifelike the video. Modern displays such as the newest generation of iPhone have very high pixel density with pixels so small they are nearly impossible to see. Whereas old CRT television sets have much larger pixels which can be easily discerned from a short distance.

Long story short, due to the cost of materials and components on the hardware end and broadcast signal limitations on the transmitting end, television sets standardized at about the same visual resolution and pretty much didn't change significantly until recently. In modern digital terminology, this resolution works out to be right around 720 pixels by 480 pixels, depending on the region. This was termed standard-definition.

Okay, SD, it's high time for a name change. Standard should imply standardization and standard-definition is no standard for anyone interested in visual quality in our current world. High-definition is the new standard. HD should be renamed as "standard-definition". As far as old SD, we should just start calling it "crappy 90s video", because basically, that's what it is.

As liquid display technology became more affordable in recent years, high-def LCD and plasma displays have all but made extinct the old cumbersome CRT sets. This has coincided with HD production getting less expensive and easier to accomplish. So it should seem obvious that HD is the way to go.

But here's the problem, SD video is still out there ­- both on TV and on the web. Many smaller local stations face financial challenges preventing them from updating to HD broadcast systems. On the web, for many reasons ranging from design constraints to bandwidth limitations, video content that is closest to SD resolution is still the most common.

Some companies have made the mistake of sticking with standard definition workflows because much of their final delivery content is still old SD. This is a huge mistake for a number of reasons. If you want to compete, you have to shoot and edit in HD. Period.

Here is a list of reasons why you've run out of excuses to not adopt an HD workflow:

  • HD Looks Better - Please don't listen to your Grandpa Marv who claims he just doesn't see the difference. Gramps needs to get his eyes checked. Even if the final video is in SD on TV or the web, it's always better to produce content in HD. You may be thinking, wait if you produce HD and deliver on SD, wouldn't that look exactly the same as though you both produced and delivered on SD. No way. Shrinking a high-res image down to SD looks far better than an image shot natively in SD. This is why for years film (much higher resolution than standard TV) has been used to shoot television shows. It just looks better, regardless of the resolution of the final viewing format.
  • You Can Always Down-Res, But You Can Never Up-Res - Let's say five years from now you want to dust off that old client spot that's timeless and still relevant today. Once all TV, local and national, finally is universally broadcast and displayed at HD, you'll have a low-res image on a big beautiful display. And it will show. HD can be encoded down to SD, but you can't go the other way without it looking bad.
  • Adopting Better Tech Better Prepares You For the Next Step - SD was around for a really long time, but the digital revolution has brought on a new constant: that we will keep seeing rapid changes. After HD, ultra-HD may be next. Or 3D. Or both. Who knows what the next standard will be, but one thing is certain. Adapting and adopting quickly is the only way to survive out there and be prepared for the next big step.
  • HD Makes for Better Keys - A key is when you shoot an actor in front of a solid-colored screen (often green or blue) and then digitally replace the background in post-production. HD offers far more resolution and therefore a much crisper and realistic final effect. While it's possible to get a decent key from SD footage, it won't hold a candle to an HD key. For motion graphics and visual effects, a great key is everything.
  • HD is Cheap and Easy - As a creative agency, we'd love to keep this fact a secret and imagine that it's expensive and difficult like the old days of film. But the cat's out of the bag. It's inexpensive and simple. All the more reason to drop a few bucks for your production team to do it right.

Filed Under: media

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