I have a problem with safe screen, the safe area for titles and action. Almost all post-production applications use this version:

default-screen

All titles and subtitles, it says, should be inside the inner guides, the safe title area. Otherwise, the programme will not pass Quality Control and be refused. As for the outer guide, the safe action area, anything outside the guide will not be visible during broadcast, as it’s covered by the frame of the television screen.

All this was true at the time of SD broadcasting in a 4/3 format with tube televisions (CRT). It is no longer true for HD broadcasting in a 16/9 format on LCD flat screens.

This is what broadcasters in Europe like the BBC and ARTE actually require:

The safe action area is larger – LCD televisions hide very little of the screen edges – and the safe title area has expanded vertically but not horizontally. This asymetry is due to the fact that, with broadcasting now in 16/9 format, the picture only occupies the central part of CRT televisions (4/3 format). So vertically, everything is visible. But horizontally, there’s still a risk that part of a title will be cropped by the frame of a badly adjusted CRT television. So the broadcasters have kept the old horizontal limits.

true-screen

In itself, none of this is a problem. The only thing that counts is to deliver programmes that respect the broadcasters’ technical requirements. You just need to change the parameters of safe screen in your software. But that, precisely, is where the problems begin.

Of all the applications used every day to compose titles for thousands of hours of programmes – Avid, Adobe Premiere, FCP, Photoshop, AfterEffects, DaVinci Resolve, etc – the only one, as far as I know, that lets you reproduce the configuration required by broadcasters is Adobe Premiere. The settings for Premiere are in File > Project Settings, and the correct parameters are:

settings-premiere

That said, in practice there’s a simple workaround. The only important point for Quality Control is that the titles stay inside the safe title area. If you superpose the default safe screen and the safe screen required by broadcasters (shown here in purple), this is what you get:

The horizontal limits for titles are the same, and the new vertical limits are the same as the old safe action limits. So you can use the default safe action guides at the top and bottom as the limits for safe title.

Another solution is to overlay the correct guides using a graphics file. You can download the file here.

mixed-screen

Is all this really so important? After all, if you use the default safe title area, your titles will pass Quality Control with no problem at all. But graphically, the real safe title area looks a lot better with a 16/9 format. There are fewer problems with peoples’ names touching their chins and subtitles floating in the middle of the screen.

One last word. Technical standards are changing all the time. According to the latest recommendations by technical organisations in the USA (SMPTE) and in Europe (EBU), the asymetry of the safe title area is no longer necessary (tough luck for those who swear by their CRT). DaVinci Resolve already uses this format:

resolve-safe-screen

However, the broadcasters haven’t adopted it yet, and DaVinci Resolve doesn’t let you to change the parameters … So, despite the fact that the software is ahead of its time, in practice it’s useless for finishing titles (in Europe, at least).

Useful links : technical standards

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