Many productions have outgrown the space of traditional TV studio facilities, as the trend to facilitate large audiences of 1000 or more means large, 15,000sq-ft stages together with ancillary facilities/locations for behind-the-scenes filming. With growth in scale, there is new technology, and there are several technical factors that are now considered standard.
The refitting of studios with HD infrastructure continues to have the biggest technical impact on the sector. But, a simultaneous demand from broadcasters to produce arena-style, light entertainment “event TV” has opened the door to larger studio spaces and placed greater demands on multi-camera, multi-format productions.
The vast majority of broadcast studios worldwide are now HD ready or live, and the new ones due to come online will have HD from day one. Nonetheless, the transition to HD continues to drive investment, not least because HD images require a matching increase in movement quality and lens motion control.
Camera manufacturers do still have SD models in their catalogs. However, there is no premium for buying HD cameras, so, as studios are re-equipped, they will naturally be at least HD ready. In some markets, there is huge investment in wholesale HD conversion, while in others, it will be a gradual transition as equipment becomes outdated.
Buying HD cameras is just the tip of the iceberg. HD is demanding of all the ancillary products around the camera. Any disturbance to the stability of the camera looks like an earthquake in HD, so users also need to upgrade pedestals, tripods and heads. Deficiencies in lighting are also glaringly obvious in HD, so more care needs to be taken to ensure illumination is powerful, even and focused.
Because of the detail required of the HD picture, studio sets have to be either basic, or relatively easy to maintain or virtual. So, the drive towards virtual sets is driving encoded pan and tilt heads and pedestals, both manual and robotic.
Switching the pedestals and heads to manual mode means more than just allowing experienced camera operators to drive the production. The positional detectors still report the location of each camera, meaning that virtual reality graphics systems can perfectly align computer-generated worlds with live action. So, a studio used for an election night special could, during the day, for example, be doing something as different as a children’s fantasy.
Pinewood Shepperton has used robotic cameras in its presentation studios for years, but it is starting to see robotic heads used more in positions that have limited space or access for operators — particularly in “beauty” positions located high up in the grid.