With the advent of flat screen televisions and high definition our staff has been excited about being able to produce really great looking television spots. Unfortunately the reality is the quality of a locally inserted television commercial has ironically suffered significant on-air quality degradation, even while TV stations tout “digital” and “high definition”. My company, Earworks Media, produces television commercials. This issue affects us and our clients directly, so we set out to find out why the on-air quality of spots has degraded and to present it in a non-technical way. So regardless of what production company produced your television commercial, here’s the journey of your commercial from start to finish, and what happens to it along the way.
First, some background:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated that all television stations must broadcast a digital signal and currently all stations now broadcast a digital signal, however not all stations broadcast a high definition signal. Digital and high definition are two different things. While the majority of broadcast stations in the country have installed new equipment to broadcast digitally and provide a high definition feed for their programming, only the stations in the top ten markets and a spotty few other markets have completely re-tooled to also accept a commercial produced in high definition.
In markets ranked eleven on down the majority of television stations (including cable) stations have not re-tooled their equipment to accept, nor broadcast, commercials produced in high definition and in fact, will only accept a TV commercial in standard definition format. Standard definition (SD) is the format that was used for television broadcasting before stations went digital and can look very good onscreen on the older CRT television sets. Remember, a station can broadcast a digital signal but still not broadcast a high definition signal.
High definition (HD) video captures more information and so can look much better than standard definition if done correctly and viewed on a flat screen television. However since the majority of broadcast stations have not re-tooled to accept high definition commercials, all production companies must deliver most of their commercials in standard definition, even when you have shot, edited, and paid for high definition! This important point will make more sense as you read more in Part 2.
Note: High definition vs. standard definition is a topic all its own.
A visual representation of the quality difference between HD and SD