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Contrasting Video Formats in TV

by Jeremy Butler

If you’ve priced a high-definition television set, then you know that HD is considerably more expensive than SD. What’s true for us consumers is also true for the producers and transmitters of television: HD is not cheap. But it’s not just economics that lead the directors and DPs of television to choose low- and standard-definition formats. Like super-8 film, lowdefinition video is sometimes used in HD narrative programs to denote “home movie” or “surveillance” style. In one episode of CSI shot on film (before the series converted to video), a woman points a video camera at the investigators. When she does we cut to what the video camera is sup - posedly recording and we also change from 35mm film, on which this episode originated, to video—allowing us to compare/contrast the two formats. In the video shot, not only is the resolution reduced, but the colors shift and the contrast is higher. And, similar to this use of low-definition video, the SD video formats used in television news and reality TV programs are sometimes used in fiction programs to signify “news” or “reality TV” style—much as the Blair Witch Project filmmakers used Hi8 and 16mm film. Moreover, SD video is sometimes incorporated into parodies of TV programs that are conventionally shot in that format. Reno 911 (2003–09), for example, pokes fun at Cops and, like that reality program, it’s shot in SD video. The incorporation of low- and standarddefinition video into television material is not limited to parodies, however. These formats appear when directors want images that look rough and raw. Commercials and music videos, for example, sometimes incorporate such degraded imagery. 


Contrasting Image Formats in "CSI"

A CSI episodes uses both film and low-resolution video.

from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2001)
Creator: CBS
Distributor: CBS
Posted by Jeremy Butler