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What is Hi Def?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 16, 2024
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High definition or hi def broadcasting is becoming more and more popular in the cable, satellite and broadcasting industry due to the public’s demand for hi def content. Hi def brings together greater digital picture clarity, a higher standard of surround sound and wider screens to add a new dimension to the viewing experience. The question is no longer whether the public will embrace this new experience, but rather when it will become available as standard for home viewing.

The earliest example of this technology was produced in Japan in 1964. The Japanese broadcasting company NHK began producing prototypes, and by 1984 had an analog, hi def output that was capable of serious program production. Around the same time in the United States, KCTS, a local television company, was experimenting with the same format. In 1988, CBS produced a television movie in the Hi Vision format.

The problems with the technology in its early stages were that the cameras and equipment used to make the programs were cumbersome and heavy. They required a lot of power and plenty of cable to work. Also, the digital technology used was not as sophisticated as it is now. However, the groundwork had been set in place by these early pioneers, and it would not be long before technological advances would bring the format to the current standard.

In 1997, Sony introduced the first portable hi def camcorder and videotape. Film production and broadcasting companies began to invest in the new equipment. The next step was the introduction of 24P, a signal that is similar to that of film, using twenty-four frames per second. 24P also utilizes the concept of Universal Mastering, the ability to output a variety of video signals that are compatible with all foreign and domestic video standards using the same 24P source.

The film world sat up and took notice. Many films were made using 24P cameras. Director George Lucas is a huge fan of hi def, and Star Wars: Episode II was one of the first films to be shot with hi def cameras. Now that 24P cameras are widely available, they are used in a variety of productions. Cost is still an issue for some broadcasters, but with sales of hi definitely televisions sets growing, the cost is becoming less prohibitive.

Many of the big US broadcasters now use this format. NBC, Fox and ABC broadcast a large percentage of their programs in hi def, and the entire CBS primetime line-up is also broadcast using hi def. It has been a long road since the early days of Hi-Vision to the broadcasting we have today, but with the advent of the digital television, the format looks set to become standard in the not too distant future.

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