COMPUTERS IN TELEVISION

The advent of computers has had a tremendous effect on the television and the video industry. Smaller, faster personal computers and computer chips have reduced camera sizes, revolutionized editing, and brought the process of video production to the desktop.

Cameras have benefited from the increased computer power and decreased chip size. Computer chips, called charged coupled devices (CCDs), have replaced tubes as image processing devices in video cameras. Because CCDs are small and provide good resolution, high quality cameras have gotten smaller, more portable, and provide a good picture in low light situations. Other types of computer chips are also used to control some studio cameras. These cameras have an internal memory which automatically retains the correct camera settings ensuring accurate synchronization between camera and the camera control unit and allow easy registration and alignment. Other cameras even have remote control capabilities that allow the camera operator to pre-load shots during rehearsal and then recall them at the appropriate moment with the touch of a button.

Computers have also enhanced other production equipment. Still-stores and frame stores, devices that capture one frame of video and store it in memory for future use, rely on computers. Still-stores and frame stores are often used to generate the graphics that accompany news anchors as they introduce news stories. Digital video effects, such as rotating images, morphing (when one image turns into another) and image stretching, previously sent out to specialty shops, can now be done on the premises, for less money, with a computer.

Computer-generated imaging is also on the rise and is used widely in a variety of applications such as computer graphics, titles, paint systems, and three dimensional animation. Technology is such that many computer-generated images are difficult to distinguish from camera-generated ones. Computer-generated images often look "real" or are integrated so well in post-production that they look like they are a part of the camera-generated images. This is an area that is likely to continue to increase in sophistication.

Computerization has also allowed more automation. At NBC network studio, satellite feeds to affiliates and master control of programming is largely in the hands of a computer. Other television stations around the country also use computers to keep track of their air traffic and master control.

Perhaps the biggest change in the television production process has come in post-production. The change began when computers were found to be useful in controlling videotape recorders using timecode. By adding a character generator and a switcher and using a computer-generated edit decision list, a new on-line editing process was born. Timecode and the computer provided an accuracy not achieved before.

Non-linear editing has progressed beyond computer-controlled VTRs. Non-linear editing is performed with a personal computer outfitted with hardware and software that enable it to digitize the video and audio and store them on computer disk. Non-linear editing is often referred to as "random access editing" because it provides the editor with random access to the source material stored on a computer disk. Therefore, it is not necessary to wait for the source tape to fast forward or rewind to a desired scene. One of the biggest advantages to non-linear editing is that if the timing of an edit is unacceptable, it can be changed easily. Unlike linear editing, segments can be tightened or extended without revising subsequent edit points. Segments can also be effortlessly added, deleted, and moved around within the program. At present, non-linear editing is most often used for off-line editing because a high quality digital to analog converter is needed to convert the finished product to a broadcast quality product. Generally, an edit decision list is generated and on-line editing is done in a computer controlled editing suite. However, companies such as AVID are developing high quality on-line non-linear editing systems.

In general, the introduction of computers to the television and video industry has demystified the industry and made it possible for individuals to produce video at a relatively affordable price. "Desktop video" has become a viable production process especially for independent and corporate producers. Small, portable, high quality cameras and desktop editing systems can cost as little as $10,000 total. Macintosh based systems such as Adobe Premiere and Avid Media Suite Pro provide special effects, transitions, filters and a means for digitizing video. Similar systems exist for other platforms. Of particular note is the Video Toaster, which is on Commodore's Amiga platform and was specifically designed to interface with video systems. This system is capable of performing many functions of traditional video production and does not have the problems with conversion to analog that other systems have. However, because the Commodore is not a popular platform the market for the Toaster is not very large and its future is unclear. What is clear is that the future of desktop video is bright. Television and video is no longer confined to the broadcast industry. It can be expected that video on the computer, in educational applications, games, and other applications, will become more commonplace. As interactive television and the much promised information super highway develop, television, television equipment and television production will continue to change.

-Patti Constantakis-Valdez

FURTHER READING

Borell, Jerry. "The Future of Television and Computers; In 1991 Computers and Video Are Combining to Create New Media." Macworld (San Francisco, California), February 1991.

Churbuck, David C. "Desktop Television." Forbes (New York), 7 December 1992.

Noll, M.A. Television Technology: Fundamentals and Future Prospects. Norwood, Massachusetts: Artech House, 1988.

Ohanian, T. A. Digital Non-linear Editing. Stoneham Massachusetts: Focal Press, 1992.

Smith, C. C. Mastering Television Technology: A Cure for the Common Video. Richardson, Texas: Newman-Smith, 1990.

Verna, T. Global Television: How to Create Effective Television for the Future. Stoneham, Massachusetts: Focal Press, 1993.

Wells, M. Desktop Video. White Plains, New York: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1990.

Wurtzel, A. and J.Rosenbaum. Television Production. Fifth ed. New York: McGraw Hill, Inc, 1995.

 

See also Television Technology