Tip #491: What is Broadcast Safe?

… for Apple Final Cut Pro X

Tip #491: What is Broadcast Safe?

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

The Broadcast Safe effect clamps levels to keep them legal.

The left side shows the source image. The right side shows the results of applying Broadcast Safe.

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“Broadcast Safe” refers to luma and chroma levels that are within long-established bounds required for broadcast, cable and digital cinema. The problem is that most digital cameras – both still and video – record levels in excess of these amounts.

Many of us create and post video for the web, which can easily handle any images recorded by a digital camera today. Web video does not require Broadcast Safe.

However, older distribution formats are limited in what they can transmit or distribute. For example, in this screen shot, the white levels in the left image exceed 100%, which is an illegal value for broadcast. As well, the black levels are below 0%, which is also an illegal level.

We have two options to correct this:

  • Color Board/Color Wheel settings
  • Broadcast Safe effect

Adjusting levels using the Color Inspector allows us to retain highlight and shadow detail. But, these filters also require us to adjust every clip to be sure it is safe for broadcast.

A faster way to work is to apply the Color > Broadcast Safe effect. This “clamps” white levels exactly at 100% and black levels exactly at 0%. The Broadcast Safe effect is very fast, but the limitation is that we lose all highlight/shadow detail in the clamped areas.

For some shots, such as at night with a distance street light, this is not a problem. For other shots, say the bride’s dress in the sunlight, clamping will lose all details in the highlights, which will turn the bride’s dress into mush.

There’s no perfect answer. When you care about texture in the clamped areas, use the Color Inspector. When you don’t care about the texture, use Broadcast Safe.


For Rec. 709 footage, the default settings should be fine.

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