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Old February 17th, 2004, 11:24 PM   #1
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Networks and color correction for broadcast

OK, "for broadcast" isn't my background and I'm trying to get the hang of all this as a relatively new entrant in the video arena (having left film based production and launching out on my own with DV), but that confession aside, can someone please explain to me why there are such radical differences in color saturation on network TV? I watch TV in the evening unable to enjoy anything anymore to a certain degree (assuming there's anything TO enjoy on average), as I tend to be analyzing everything with an eye to learning from what I'm watching. And I've noticed that, on the same TV and channel, one show will look "normal" in color, one show will look washed out, and one will look positively red/orange, entirely over saturated. I bring this up cuz, as someone attempting to get better at bringing home quality images, and attempting to fine tune what I can do in post to correct what I screwed up in the field, I'm kind of at a loss as to what is considered "standard" these days. (Maybe I should say, at a loss as to what the editors color correcting these shows were thinking.)

If I pop a DV or VHS in, and watch on the same TV, there seems to be much better consistency in the images I enjoy. And I don't feel the urge to tweak the color on my Mitsubishi between viewings. But watching network television, if I were of the mind (I resist the temptation) I'd be fine tuning all over the place between shows. So what are they doing right on those those VHS/DV layoffs that the shows for broadcast are screwing up? Aren't they all working with/by the same standards in theory? And what are those "standards" that make the VHS/DVD's I watch so much more appealing to the eye? Does it come down to the price of the toys at their disposal, the quality of the talent, lower standands and tighter time frames within which they are working? All of the above?
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Old February 18th, 2004, 12:29 AM   #2
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Funny you should make such a remark, Marcia, because I've been pondering the same topic.

Not only are the chroma values all over the map on many of my cable channels, but so are the luminance values. Indeed, several channels appear to be coming to me with very overblown signals, as the bright areas are completely blown-out.

I suspect that the answer, at least in my case, lies in the cable carrier rather than the source. I don't know how many of the "broadcast" standards applies to these folks. Most people are probably just happy to get any signal at all from these outfits.

So I, too, await a knowledgeable response.
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Old February 18th, 2004, 12:53 AM   #3
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Distribution method accounts for many of the variables you will encounter in viewing differences. True broadcast (pictures and sound thrown through the air between transmitters and receivers) has very strict standards. However, even they have become lax over the years due to budget cuts, and the advent of low power UHF stations etc. The FCC just isn't what it used to be.

Cable broadcasters have a much more forgiving policy on their distribution end. Satellite transmissions are another matter because of possible interference to other satellites, etc.

DVD and VHS are distribution methods but can vary greatly as to quality. You can expect releases from major studios to have very high quality control standards. They are basically the same standards as they apply to broadcast. Video must be between certain standards as measured on a waveform monitor and vectorscope. In high-end productions, scopes are used throughout the entire process, from acquisition to distribution.

When I was in broadcast much of the ENG work we did was checked on a waveform/vectorscope in the field. Today, most local ENG doesn't bother, it can be fixed in post, if necessary. One of the marvels of digital and NLE's with color correctors.

As to the differences in shows, I suspect it has to do with how it was originally acquired. Shows produced with film have a uniquely different look from shows produced with digi-beta etc. Low end DV has it's own unique look as does live video, such as the local evening news. All legal, but all with their own distinctive look and feel.
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Old February 19th, 2004, 01:15 PM   #4
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Hmm, what you guys mention makes sense regarding cable, but the worst chroma mess I saw the other night was when my husband was watching NCIS, which is CBS. Totally overblown color. Don't know if it's a film or video based show, but man, it was awful. And it wasn't stylistic color use, like you see on CSI for ex. Just red/orange faces and such. Maybe it's just the production schedule they're working with, putting them up against deadlines that don't leave much room for fine tuning. Dunno.
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Old February 19th, 2004, 02:48 PM   #5
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How do you receive that show, via cable or an antennae attached to your TV? If via cable I would call your cable provider. There can be interference or other technical issues that can cause problems like that on just one channel. If via antennae, it is possible it could be the local station, or a problem with the orientation of your antennae etc. If the chroma issue started with that show and ended with that show, then more than likely the local station was having issues with the feed. Did the color clear up during the local commercials? If so, it may have been an issue with the feed from the network. There are many possible causes for chroma issues as you describe. But the real trouble is no one will admit it was there equipment. The cable company will blame the local provider, they'll blame the network, etc.
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Old February 19th, 2004, 02:56 PM   #6
 
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Rant warning...
Much the way McDonalds adds sugar to all of their procucts, from the buns to the burger meat, I wonder how much of the "ambiance" of a particular show is intentionally over-saturated/undersaturated by the broadcast station. Marketting people know their intended audience quite well, so, it wouldn't surprise me if the color balance/saturation wasn't tailored for the expected audience. If you doubt me, consider the general lighting applied, for effect, to various shows from CSI to Marry a Millionaire. Television is, indeed, a vast wasteland spewing marketting messages to the hapless many that tune in each nite.
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Old February 21st, 2004, 01:22 AM   #7
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Jeff, the worst was that one show. Commercials around it varied, but many were "spot on" (as they used to say when I lived in the UK). Interesting food for thought that you all have provided, though. In the case of NCIS, it must've been the network feed that night. But you've made me curious. Will have to pop in and watch a bit next week to compare. With my editing hat on I kept thinking it was something done in post, and I was trying to learn how to not replicate what they'd done. But you've reminded me that there are a lot of things completely beyond our control. (sigh)

Thanks for the feedback.
Marcia

P.S. Bill, colorists claim there are preferences in how audiences like things, varying from coast to coast (tastes running "cooler" in color in the East than the West). So while in the end some of it may indeed be stylistic (I personally like what they stylistically do on CSI, which you mention... for the what they intend for the show to be, it works, IMO), I'm sure some of what we see is calculated as you suggest, to secure a larger audience share. OTOH, that doesn't necessarily negate the value of their choices, if they have research to support the preferences of their target audience. It is show BUSINESS after all. It makes sense to tailor to said audience the coloring that they prefer, whether or not it matches my aesthetics. In this case, however, I'm quite certain what I saw which triggered this post wasn't intentional.
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