I just watched the blu ray of the original BBC version of House of Cards, shot on regular 16mm in the 90's. Looks gorgeous! Very solid looking with rich colors.
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UK broadcasters to allow Super 16 for HD
23 replies to this topic
Posted 24 October 2013 - 07:52 AM
What happened to the edit function?
The back story is that in the UK, for about five years, use of 16mm film was effectively banned for new TV productions made for BBC HD channels. Through lobbying this has been overturned.
The sloppy use of overcompression of the video signal was probably a big part of the issue. Hopefully the brand new H.265 compression can be used to improve picture quality and not just to squeeze in more channels.
Edited by Steve Zimmerman, 24 October 2013 - 07:53 AM.
Posted 24 October 2013 - 07:58 AM
I found this kind of odd. The BBC was the organization which built up 16mm as a production format to begin with. And as it became more useful, they dropped it.
Posted 24 October 2013 - 10:55 AM
The decision was effectively made by technical staff at the BBC, who said that the grain of 16mm film, particularly the faster stocks would screw up their compression algorithms. Rather than improve their compressors, they advised the BBC to restrict the use of film to slow stocks or 35mm.
Posted 24 October 2013 - 12:42 PM
I'm the last person usually to make excuses for the piss-poor compression commonly used by broadcasters, but the technical argument here isn't entirely open and shut.
Grain is random picture information that doesn't have anything to do with the subject, and is thus noise. Put that way, it starts to make a bit more sense to say "you can't use your pet format because it's so noisy."
If someone came out with a video format as noisy as film can be, it would be rejected out of hand. The fact that this special consideration is being given to 16mm is something to be happy about.
Posted 24 October 2013 - 03:54 PM
I find most Canon DSLR video to be noiser than 16mm and not in a pleasant way,
Posted 24 October 2013 - 04:23 PM
DSLRs aren't generally allowed for HD origination anyway, but I fear there may be a bit of wishful thinking involved there. Even at sensitivies that are actually achievable on film (let's say ISO 500), almost any DSLR will be quieter. And of course DSLRs often go far faster than that.
Posted 24 October 2013 - 05:50 PM
Why do you want to use fast stock when low stock looks much better. Control your light!
Posted 25 October 2013 - 09:40 PM
I'd want to use fast stock any time I was shooting night exteriors, and often, night interiors. There are many instances when I am not able to 'control my light' and I have to shoot with what is there. Hence the need for fast stock.
Posted 25 October 2013 - 09:46 PM
I agree with the gist of what you're saying, Phil, but it's not as if film suddenly got more grainy over night. The BBC had been originating material on film for years, it was only with the advent of digital broadcasting that compression, and hence grain, became an issue. That being the case I would have hoped that the onus was on the compression technology to work with the established film medium, rather than the other way around. Remember, at the same time as this was happening, other parts of the BBC were happily broadcasting material shot on DV from PD-150s operated by researchers with no ability whatsoever.
Posted 26 October 2013 - 12:42 PM
Hey! Don't blame us engineers! I mean, guys and girls who have worked in broadcasting here, tell me, when, when has an engineer told a producer what to do on non budget, creative aspects of a drama or documentary!? Yeah, like I'm going to turn around to someone like Stephen Poliakof and say, "mate, I'm telling you as an engineer you aint gonna use film from now on".
However, I have a vague memory of being at the IBC conference session in Amsterdam when Andy Quested the beeb's HD guru made the announcement that film was being dropped as an acquisition format. So I am interested in Stuart Bereton's comment and if he can point me to some documents that the beeb may have produced on this ban that would be really useful. Are the contributors on this thread sure some gadget boy or girl (i.e. a non engineer) in an executive position made the decision to axe 16 mm as an acquisition format based on the idea that film wasn't part of the thrusting 21st century image the beeb liked to imagine for itself
Two things about this story that I find odd:
1. Its made me start going over old papers to remind myself of the effects of random noise on DCT based compression chains. The only thing I can think of is that some very grainy shots may have had an effect but that would've been the same for noisy video shots (e.g. night shots during a football match with rain and 9 DB of gain wound into the cameras for long shots) except that noise from a chip based sensor video camera doesn't have a random structure. I am not sure why something like MPG4 AVC would find random noise a problem. Perhaps someone who isn't as rusty as me on the ins and outs of compression e.g. the DCT and thresholds of energy levels wrt noise can fill me in.
2. The big irony is that the BBC continued to show each season of Spooks (MI5 in the US) which was shot entirely on Super 16 for its 10 season run and this so called ban came right its middle. And there is more irony because when the beeb was heavily promoting HD it led its promotional campaign with being able to watch Spooks in HD! So if there as a ban due to 'technical' reasons why wasn't Super 16 production for Spooks shut down and why was the beeb confident of using this film product to lead its launch of HD?
Can anyone here tell me if the BBC transmission systems went to pieces whenever this Super 16 originated program went to air in either SD or HD?
The other thing is that Spooks was produced by Kudos Productions and they either stuck two fingers up at the sections in the BBC who told them they had to stop originating on film or no one told them they had to stop originating on film. Can anyone answer this? Not only that but the entire series of Merlin was shot on Fuji film so what is the real story about this 'ban'?
Posted 26 October 2013 - 12:46 PM
Very good point Stuart. A fair while back us engineers gave this sort of material an engineering technical label. We called it: 'Producer Cam'.
Posted 26 October 2013 - 01:20 PM
That being the case I would have hoped that the onus was on the compression technology to work with the established film medium, rather than the other way around
Well, yes, but when you have the choice of a cheaper, easier technology that doesn't cause the grain problems, costs less, and increasingly offers no real loss in terms of image quality, it's a bit difficult to see the argument. I mean, the compression chain should start using four times the bitrate so we can cling on to this approach?
It'd be like running a nationwide network of coaching inns in case anyone wants to travel by horse.
Posted 26 October 2013 - 01:50 PM
It may not use more bandwidth in terms of bitrate, instead it may just increase the latency.
Posted 26 October 2013 - 02:15 PM
Possibly, more likely they'd need to use a smarter codec. Which they absolutely could do and possibly should.
But it would mean replacing (or supplementing) everyone's TVs. Again.
Posted 26 October 2013 - 02:35 PM
Not necessarily, from my somewhat faulty memory this whole thing was concerned with digital distribution to the transmitter sites across the UK not digital broadcasting itself.
Posted 26 October 2013 - 06:42 PM
Obviously it wasn't an engineer who actually made the decision about Super 16 origination, that's why I said 'effectively'. To the best of my knowledge, the BBC's decision to cease using 16mm film as an origination format was entirely based on the difficulties in compressing film grain at the time. Of course, due to the bizarre way the BBC works, this ban was often not applied to programmes made by third parties, such as Kudos. It was also ignored when the BBC wanted to broadcast 'prestige' 16mm material, such as 'Leaving Las Vegas'. Similarly, they had no problem broadcasting any of the Natural History Unit's vast library of 16mm material.
Posted 26 October 2013 - 07:16 PM
I like to think that the only reason Spooks looked like anything - that is, it looked like an American TV series - is that it was made firmly at arms' length from the BBC.
Posted 09 November 2013 - 01:19 PM
Any time I view a film on Cable (in HD) that was shot in 16mm or Super16 there is no question that they can suffer. Some of the channels on FiOS are robust so it's OK, while others are bit starved and so the image becomes a sea of artifacts.
The Hurt Locker in HD down in NC at my parent's place looked like crap because their cable channels were old fashioned MPEG2 and starved of bandwidth.
Hell, some 35mm films with grainy scenes can suffer. WILD BILL has some scenes shot in grainy 16mm and they looked wretched in HD a few weeks ago. The channel (I think MGM-HD) just didn't have enough bandwidth to handle it.
Posted 10 November 2013 - 01:23 PM
The ban was only for productions for HD transmission and at first the only stuff that HAD to be in HD was stuff that was broadcast on the special HD channel. So Spooks could continue to be made on Super16. Merlin was actually forced to switch to 35mm 3 perf for the last series. I don't think anyone noticed the difference on screen especially however.
Kudos is a part of Shine, and Merlin is also a Shine production. There is the possibility that nobody wanted to "mess with Liz" but I suspect it's more likely that everyone is just all pals on that scene anyway. I also hear there are some great parties in Chipping Norton and who wouldn't want to be invited! (at least back then anyway)