Cinematographers Spar wWith Feds

The American Society of Cinematographers is gearing up to fight the Federal Communications Commission over proposed standards for advanced television.

The FCC is expected to decide next year on standards for aspect ratio, display technology and frame rate.

Members of the ASC charge that they, as well as other Hollywood creatives, have been shut out of the advanced TV decision-making process under way in Washington; they fully expect to bring aboard the Directors Guild and Writers Guild, and to draw support from studio executive ranks as well.

The cinematographers endorse a 2:1 aspect ratio and progressive (non-interlaced) scanning, which means that the entire TV screen is refreshed from top to bottom. The interlaced standard, also backed by the Society of Motion Picture and TV Engineers, involves refreshing first the screen’s odd-numbered lines, then its even-numbered. Highest-quality computer monitors use progressive scanning. The ASC also advocates a flexible frame rate, which would allow the same master to be exhibited in a number of formats, including CD-ROM, on the World Wide Web or on standard television. Apple Computer, which the ASC consulted, supports the cinematographers’ recommendations.

The FCC, however, has been heavily lobbied by TV set manufacturers including Sony, Zenith, Thomson, Philips and Matsushita. Those companies and others, as well as SMPTE, are supporting the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, also known as 16:9.

Widescreen Panavision (or Cinemascope) is shot with a 2.35:1 ratio. Recent features using that format include “Forrest Gump.” Many other films are shot in 1.85:1, while the standard TV screen is 1.33:1. The 1.78:1 ratio was based on patents granted to Japanese broadcaster NHK in the early 1970s. It is considered unacceptable by the ASC, as well as several major studio execs, who say it is a compromise standard that “damages all aspect ratios equally,” according to one Hollywood source.

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