Chroma keying

The process of overlaying one video picture, or part of, over another. The areas of overlay are defined by a specific range of color, or chrominance, on the background video signal that is used to create a key signal for a chroma keyer. For this to work reliably, the chrominance must have sufficient resolution, or bandwidth. PAL or NTSC analog coding systems significantly restrict chroma bandwidth and so are of very limited use for making a chroma key which, for many years, was restricted to using live, RGB camera feeds.

An objective of the ITU-R BT.601 and 709 digital sampling standards was to allow high quality chroma keying in post production. The 4:2:2 sampling system allows far greater bandwidth for chroma than PAL or NTSC and helped chroma keying, and the whole business of layering, to thrive in post production. High signal quality is still important to derive good keys so some high-end operations favor using RGB (4:4:4) for keying – despite the additional storage requirements. Certainly anything but very mild compression tends to result in keying errors appearing – especially at DCT block boundaries.

Chroma keying techniques have continued to advance and use many refinements, to the point where totally convincing composite images can be easily created. You can no longer see the join and it may no longer be possible to distinguish between what is real and what is keyed.

See also: Color space, Digital keying, Photo-real