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Why you should use Japanese NTSC with a TriCaster 40 if you use SD cameras

Get proper black levels and improve your overall quality from an analog SD NTSC camera connected to your TriCaster 40

By Allan Tépper | December 05, 2012

Whether or not you enjoy Sushi or other Japanese food (as I do), you are best served by using Japanese NTSC if you use a TriCaster 40 with SD NTSC cameras, even if you live in the Americas. The reasons for this go back to a topic I first covered a decade ago in the palindromic year of 2002, when I published a 3-page print article called Los negros todavía no tienen igualdad in the Latin American magazine Producción & Distribución. It has to do with black video levels and the varied presence or absence of pedestal (setup) in analog PAL, analog NTSC video in the Americas, analog NTSC video in Japan, digital video worldwide, and HD video worldwide. Coincidentally, about a week after I published that article, Adam Wilt published a similar, 1-page article in DV magazine, called We’ve been set up!. Later JVC Professional released an awesome tutorial called Dirty Little Secrets about the same topic, which apparently was inspired by my article. Ahead I’ll review this topic and explain why and how you should go Japanese if you use SD NTSC cameras with a TriCaster 40.

In this article

  • 2002 articles that introduce the issue
  • Why the TriCaster 40 has caused a return of this “retro” issue
  • A very concise summary of the situation
  • 8-bit distribution formats which represent the majority
  • JVC’s Dirty little secrets about black video levels, pedestal, and setup
  • How the waveform monitor works in TriCasters (when present)
  • Why it is better to set your cameras for Japanese NTSC
  • How to send the best, cleanest Japanese NTSC signal to the TriCaster
  • Conclusions

2002 articles mentioned above

For those of you who read Castilian (aka “Spanish”) and are interested in reading my original 2002 article called Los negros todavía no tienen igualdadhere’s a link to a PDF. I don’t currently have access to a copy of Adam Wilt’s 2002 article We’ve been set up!, but if that changes, I’ll add a link later.

Why the TriCaster 40 has caused a return of this “retro” issue

Unlike many other HD video mixers (“switchers”) on the market today, the TriCaster 40 has only analog video inputs (no digital video inputs). Despite that fact, the TriCaster 40 will undoubtedly become extremely popular since it offers so much power for so little, while it greatly simplifies system creation. First, we’ll cover how to assure proper black levels, especially when crossing from the analog to the digital world, from whichever analog SD NTSC cameras you have (or digital ones where you must use the analog output). Later we’ll cover the Japanese NTSC trick you’ll likely end up using to get better quality from your analog SD NTSC camera when used with the TriCaster 40.

A very concise summary of the situation

For historical reasons that go beyond the scope of this article, 7.5 ire (as opposed to zero ire) has traditionally been part of the analog NTSC signal in NTSC-countries in the Americas, but it has never existed in analog NTSC in Japan (sometimes called NTSC-J), in analog PAL in any country, in analog HD of any type in any country, or in digital video (SD or HD) of any type in any country. In any digital 8-bit video códec/format/system, standard black level must always, always, always be at digital level 16 in any country on Planet Earth (regardless of whether an SD analog connection may or may not have 7.5 ire pedestal/setup, depending upon other factors). In any digital 10-bit system, the standard black level must be at digital level 64. In fact, the standard black level on an HD-SDI signal from an HD camera must always be digital level 64, regardless of where the HD camera is sold or delivered anywhere in the world, since the HD-SDI standard is always 10-bit (even though certain HD cameras actually derive the 10-bit signal from an internal 8-bit signal, even in live mode). However, SDI is irrelevant to the TriCaster 40 since it has no SDI connections. Although internal processing in all TriCasters is handled either natively (to match the source material, if ingested digitally as a file or via SDI on higher-end TriCasters) or in floating point space, the two primary distribution/interchange video files created/exported by the TriCaster are 8-bit. So for the purpose of our conversation, our Prime Directive is to make sure that all black levels entering the TriCaster 40’s camera inputs end up at the proper black digital level, which must eventually become level 16 when streaming and/or when recording a digital file in any of two primary distribution/interchange códecs/formats offered by the TriCaster 40, which are currently QuickTime MPEG2 i-frame at 4:2:2, or H.264 at 4:2:0). (The current exception is NewTek’s own SpeedHQ códec/format with alpha channel at up to 4:4:4:4 much higher than 8-bit, primarily for internal use within the TriCaster, although also available for Mac.) Below you’ll see all of the distribution formats which are also 8-bit and therefore must also receive the digital darkest black level at 16 too.

8-bit distribution formats which represent the majority

Although there are many benefits to using 10-bit códecs/formats —or beyond— (especially when advanced grading is to take place) with formats and códecs like Adobe’s open CinemaDNG (used in the Blackmagic Cinema Camera), Apple’s ProRes422 and its variants, Avid’s DNxHD, Canon’s Cinema Raw, Panasonic’s AVC-Intra 100 & AVC-Ultra, and Sony’s S-Log (and monitoring 10-bit in an advanced grading system), we must recognize that the majority of distribution formats are 8-bit, like:

  • All DTV over the air and cable TV formats I’ve ever seen so far, including all creative variants used in Latin America
  • Blu-ray
  • DVD
  • H.264 web and mobile video

For all of the above 8-bit delivery systems/formats, they need to have the same darkest black level at digital level 16, which will match all of the currently available interchange códecs/formats currently offered by the TriCaster, anywhere digital video currently exists on Planet Earth. For best quality, it’s important to assure that the level be correct upon digitization of the analog signal. That’s what I’ll be covering ahead in this article.

JVC’s Dirty little secrets about black video levels, pedestal, and setup

This awesome JVC production (click here to view it on the JVC page) was apparently inspired by my Los negros todavía no tienen igualdad article from 2002. Although it completely excludes the international issues (analog Japanese NTSC, analog PAL, and HD of all types) that Adam and I covered in our respective articles, it does a great job of covering the issues as they were focused in 2002, when most cameras sold were SD, analog video was frequently being digitized and going back to analog videotape, when some semi-professional DV25 cameras were unfortunately being manufactured with a design flaw that often created improper black levels at digital level 32 if the camera operator wasn’t aware and therefore didn’t compensate, and when much over-the-air broadcast in the USA was still analog and still required 7.5 ire. (Because of the confusion and the camera design flaws, some black levels were improperly broadcast at 15 ire, as mentioned in the JVC Dirty little secrets video above.) JVC did an amazing job at compressing so much information in such a short, entertaining video.

By 2009 that situation had changed drastically in the USA, since all but certain LPTV (low power television) stations were required to cease analog transmissions, and the latest info I have indicates that even those who got temporary exceptions will have to cease by September 1, 2015. But even if you work at one of those few stations that still broadcast analog NTSC (or at cable TV station that modulates analog), or are in another country in the Americas that still allows analog NTSC TV broadcasts, this information will still be very useful to you. I’ll be covering your situation too!

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