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Clearer View For 'View'

The View has received a high-def makeover for its 10th season, coinciding with the debut of moderator Rosie O'Donnell last week. The Emmy Award-winning chatfest airs in the 720-line progressive (720p) high-definition format.

ABC already offers Good Morning America and the bulk of its primetime programming in HD. The network spent the last year upgrading the View control room and studio cameras to support high-def, to the tune of around $9 million. Since last March, the show has been produced in 16:9 widescreen HD and downconverted to 4:3 standard-def for broadcast. “If we do a demonstration segment about a new product, you really see these things, particularly something that has great detail,” says Executive Producer Bill Geddie. “The previous format was so primitive that we didn't linger on close-ups.”

While there were concerns that producing in HD would require a much different approach to makeup and lighting, those proved unfounded. “HD makes the set look great, and it makes the women look great,” Geddie says. “Contrary to popular belief, I think people look better in HD.”

Figuring out how to shoot in widescreen HD while delivering effective 4:3 pictures has been more challenging. “You have to make a decision on how people are really watching the show, since people are generally watching in the old format,” says Geddie. “Sometimes in the studio, you'll look at the monitor and say, 'What a terrible shot.' But most people won't see it that way.”

ABC used the show's hiatus to reconfigure the studio for a new look that not only maximizes high-def's impact but also places emphasis on the audience, one of O'Donnell's suggestions. That required finding new camera angles to play with. Says Geddie, “The show is being shot very differently now.”

The network made the decision to upgrade the studio in January 2005, as part of the normal equipment upgrade cycle, which is about 10 to 12 years for a daytime studio.

The transition required moving The View's production out of the control room, using a combination of a mobile unit and trailers parked outside, a setup the show relied on from August 2005 until March of this year. ABC employed similar logistics when upgrading GMA's control room to high-def last year.

A big difference between GMA and The View, however, is that, while GMA is basically an all-Sony facility, ABC has chosen a mix of vendors for The View. Gear includes a Snell & Wilcox Kahuna production switcher; Ikegami HD cameras (three studio units, three handhelds and three point-of-view cameras mounted in the rafters); Panasonic D5 and DVCPRO HD tape decks; a Clarity virtual monitor wall with Evertz video display processor; a Solid State Logic C140 digital audio console; a Calrec audio console for mixing musical performances; and Avid Adrenaline HD nonlinear video editing and Pro Tools audio editing software.

The program is still relying on standard-definition Chyron graphics, which are upconverted for the HD broadcasts. 4:3 material that is incorporated into the show is also complemented by a View graphic that runs in the side panels. “We still believe in upconverting the graphics, as we don't see any great value in high-def graphics,” says Preston Davis, president of broadcast operations and engineering for ABC. “Particularly with the bulk of audience still watching in 4:3 analog.”

ABC is using the D-5 decks to play out occasional prerecorded segments, an application it had initially considered filling with a production-focused video server. But Davis says HD tape is a better solution. That's seconded by Sony Pictures Television, which is using Sony XDCAM HD optical disk-based “decks” for playout applications during the HD production of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!.

“We keep looking, but we haven't found a [server] that meets our needs,” says Davis. “That is surprising, considering that we are fairly well into the whole HDTV thing.”

One of the unique challenges ABC had in taking The View to HD was making sure the transmission path between the studio and network headquarters four blocks east could handle the higher bit rates of HDTV. ABC replaced the existing coaxial cable with two 1.5-gigabit-per-second fiber paths to bring the live HD feed up into the building, where it is uplinked from C-band dishes on the roof.

For audio, the goal is to produce music segments in full 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound but produce the rest of the show in two-channel stereo sound. While Dolby 5.1 sound is great for sports and movies, Davis says watching people talk on the screen while their voices come from behind or next to a viewer doesn't work for news and talk shows. ABC uses the same technique with GMA.

He explains, “I think having sounds come from the sides or the rear while watching Charlie Gibson is a little distracting.”