The BBC2 history series Timewatchis experimenting with various HD cameras and tape formats on three of its 50-minute films for the next series, due to air in early 2006, and could adopt the high-quality production format on the entire 12-programme strand as early as 2007.
Editor John Farren told Broadcast: "We wanted to explore HD post-production potential because we see it as the future. Things are now moving that way fairly rapidly."
To date, the corporation, which has promised to switch completely to HD production by 2010, has used the format only on one-offs, such as BBC1's Genghis Khan, and on multi-million-pound series such as Planet Earth.
One factor which has prompted Timewatchto become an early adopter of HD is the number of co-productions it does with US broadcasters such as Discovery US and National Geographic - which are refusing to take programmes that aren't shot in HD.
Last autumn Timewatchsigned a two-year deal with Discovery for first-look access to a dozen shows.
"Co-productions are becoming much more important to us, so going HD allows us to get ahead of the curve on that," said Farren.
In the forthcoming strand, producer/director Ian Potts is using a combination of the new Sony Z1E HD minicam and a Panasonic 450 hired from Top-Teks on his film The Mystery of the Headless Roman. "The Panasonic's got fantastic tonal range," said Potts. "It looks like 35mm." Other HD cameras used on the strand include the Sony HDW 750, which the BBC has hired from VMI.
Farren admitted that while using HD is more expensive, increasing production costs by 12%, the corporation was also looking into the possibility of making large savings though the use of in-house graphic design.
Timewatchis switching from graphics created in Adobe After Effects to Shake. "It's cheaper and works better with Final Cut Pro HD editing," explained Timewatch graphic designer Stephen Flynn.
The corporation's factual and learning department is currently trialling the use of Final Cut Pro desktop editing, with programme-making staff carrying out basic editing tasks ( Broadcast, 12.8.05). The move has proved controversial with post-production businesses that work for the department.