Factsheet: High Definition - what is it and how can it help your business
Companies are looking at any way they can to make a better impression - be it in a showroom or at an exhibition. High Definition video is now mass market, with HD TVs under £1000 and HD-capable video software available to the masses. So what can you do on a standard PC and what should you go for?
What is HD?
We've all seen the ads on TV for the sexy flat screen TVs. But there is a bewildering array of different screen resolutions, some of which are 'HD compatible' and some of which are not. High Definition is defined as picture formats 1080i and 720p/60 and Dolby AC 3 Surround Sound. In computer screen resolution terms we are talking about 1366 x 720 (or the slightly lesser resolution of 1280) and what some manufacturers are touting as 'full HD' - 1920 x 1080. There is also the matter of interlaced versus progressive. Interlacing is where every other line is drawn first, and then the remaining lines are drawn next, which requires less bandwidth. This is suited to fast moving video such as sport. Progressive draws all lines consecutively, and requires more bandwidth. At present (at least in the UK) nobody is broadcasting in 1080p, with most providers opting for either 1080i or 720p.
Another point worthy of mention is that most HD screens are widescreen (16:9) - this is an important consideration for companies considering the demonstration of software videos, which are often recorded in 4:3 aspect ratio.
How does that relate to my current computer then?
If you have a PC screen or laptop capable of displaying 1280x1024 resolution then it is capable of displaying a 720p video. To be more specific, both the specification of the monitor AND the card need to be able to meet this resolution. Most cards have at least 256MB of RAM nowadays, which is plenty.
What can HD do for my business?
Aside from making standard video really leap out of the screen (as you would expect), HD can really be of benefit if you need to demonstrate software on a large screen - perhaps as a looped video on an LCD at a trade show. Let's say you currently have a corporate video on DVD, and you also wanted to show a software demonstration as part of a looped demo - DVD is limited to 720x576 (or 480 if you're left of the Atlantic), plus it's interlaced. By creating (or recreating) your video in HD you can easily overlay screenshots or video in their native resolution, which will look crisp and clear when played back.
What do I need to create HD content?
Firstly, a HD camcorder such as the Sony HDR HC1E. This beauty will record at full 1920x1080 resolution. Next you will need suitable editing software, such as Adobe Premiere. This will allow you to import your video, edit it, and then recompile it into your preferred output format. At present the war is still raging between Blue-Ray and HD-DVD, so it is best to simply export to WMV and then play the video back using Windows Media Player. For those producing video content it is worth mentioning the High Definition animated backgrounds from Digital Juice. These beautifully rendered files can be coloured to suit your corporate identity and can add a great deal of panache to what would otherwise look like an animated PowerPoint presentation.
Given that HD video has between 4 and 10 times the number of pixels over standard definition video, it stands to reason that you'll need a PC with a bit more grunt if you don't want to spend hours (or possibly days!) compiling your creations. Get as fast a processor and as much RAM as you can afford! Also, HD literally EATS hard drive space, so throw as many hundred gigabytes as you can inside your case!
What do I need to output HD content?
The main issue is generally the resolution of the LCD, however the PC has to have enough processing and video power to decompress the video. For screens, if money is no object opt for the Sony X-Series, available in 40", 46" and 52". Very few screens can come close to the screen's rendering engine, plus they all display at 1920x1080 through HDMI. While most PCs/laptops don't yet have an HDMI output, a DVI to HDMI adapter is available for a few pounds.
What else could I do with HD content?
HD should be used only as a part of your video marketing portfolio. You can add lower-res streaming versions to your website with a link to download the high-def version. You can use many of the free screensavers available to queue up one or more HD videos to play as soon as a PC is not in use - excellent for showroom or show PCs. Using a front end such as the open source Media Portal provides a slick, skinable interface that you can further customise to suit your needs.
You can see some examples of HD content I have create here at jetcam.com.
There is no doubt that adding HD content to your marketing arsenal adds kudos. As of 2006 HD is still in its infancy, but it takes little more effort than standar definition. HD Camcorders are now well below the £1000 mark, and if you already have a recent video editing suite, chances are that there is a patch or update to allow it to import/edit/export HD content. So why not make the move today and dazzle your audience!