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Panasonic HD Camera Helps American Idol Transition to HD

(March 10, 2005)

For its fourth season, FOXs American Idol, the nations most watched television program, has new contestants and a new video format, 720P high definition. American Idol is capturing all its feature electronic news packages in high definition, and the plum assignment has gone to Panasonic VariCam HD Cinema cameras.

At the same time American Idol Productions (Los Angeles, CA) became interested in improving its production quality, FOX, now committed to a full slate of HD productions, encouraged Idol to acquire in 720P, the network's preferred HD format. Since August 2004, the production has rented three to five VariCam camera packages.
 
Now in season four, Idol continues to rely heavily on contestants' back stories and stage jitters, as well as actual performances, to engage its multiple millions of viewers. In previous seasons, Idol shot this footage in standard definition.

This season, Panasonic Varicam cameras have been following judges, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson & Paula Abdul and host, Ryan Seacrest, around the United States in search of an American Idol, a pop star above all the rest. With help from the viewers, the judges will decide from thousands of participants who will walk away with a record deal--and fame--at the end of the long competition. The top-rated series has been reaching up to 33.5 million viewers an episode in its fourth season. The VariCams are being used for the large-scale auditions (recording more than 300 contestants per site), outside the audition room during the next round of competition and to shoot hometown packages as contenders begin to emerge.
 
According to Idol producer Simon Lythgoe, "The VariCams were fantastic out of the box, well-suited for our supremely demanding brand of pressure-cooker reality TV.  Not only are we now shooting 16:9 with built-in surround sound, we are seeing pictures that look like beautiful oil paintings. And the superior fidelity of the 5.1 audio makes it sound like youre at a live concert.


"Our five reality shooters love the cameras, and found the transition from Beta SP very smooth. They typically are using the cameras up to 18 hours a day, almost always in impromptu situations (in contestants' homes and workplaces, for instance), and have found them easy-to-use and versatile. The only noticeable difference for them has been the need for more light when shooting HD."
 
Lythgoe said the operators shoot straight 16:9, 720P 59.94 (FOX Television's HD Standard). This season, the production has chosen to add off-speed effects in post, not yet utilizing VariCam's variable-frame rate capabilities. Editing is done at Idol's longtime post house, Chainsaw (Santa Monica, CA), where the off-line is done on the Avid Media Composer and the on-line done with the Avid DS.
 
Idol ENG camera operator Kary D'Alessandro has become a veteran VariCam shooter since picking up the camera last summer. "It was very easy to upgrade from Beta SP," she said. "Since the start, I've just loved the way the pictures look. When I first started shooting with the VariCam, I couldn't wait to see what the images would look like, and consistently, the untreated picture as played back on the little Panasonic HD monitor (the BT-LH900 9) has been clearly remarkable."
 
Lythgoe added, "This season, Idol looks to me like a feature film with surround sound, for which we credit the VariCam.  All our ENG footage looks just as good as the studio work, and matches perfectly into the show. The adjustments we've made for HD--whether in terms of low-light shooting, building a bigger, better set for 16:9 and so on?justify the results. Beautiful pictures make a beautiful show. We're very, very happy with the cameras--and they'll be back for season five."

Eight-time Emmy-nominated AMERICAN IDOL is created and executive-produced by Simon Fuller, 19 Television; and executive-produced by Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Chief Operating Officer, Production, FremantleMedia North America Inc.; Nigel Lythgoe, President, 19 Television; and Ken Warwick of FremantleMedia.

Panasonics AJ-HDC27 VariCam replicates many of the key features of film-based image acquisition, including 24-frame progressive scan images, time lapse recording, and a wide range of variable frame rates (4-fps to 60-fps in single-frame increments) for ?overcranked and ?undercranked off-speed in-camera effects. The
AJ-HDC27 VariCam also features CineGamma software that permits Panasonics HD Cinema camera systems to more closely match the latitude of film stocks.

About Panasonic Broadcast 

Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems Co. is a leading supplier of broadcast, professional video and resentation products and systems.  Panasonic Broadcast is a unit company of Panasonic Corporation of North America. The company is the North American headquarters of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (NYSE: MC) of Japan, and the hub of its U.S. marketing, sales, service and R&D operations  For more information on Panasonic Broadcast products, access the companys web site at www.panasonic.com/broadcast.

 

 

 


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Related Keywords:American Idol, Panasonic VariCam, VariCam HD

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