This one keeps coming around again and again and it’s not well understood by many.
When the standards for SDI and connecting devices via SDI were originally set down everyone was using interlace. The only real exception was people producing movies and films in 24p. In the 1990’s there became a need to transfer film scans to digital tape and to connect monitors to film scanners. The led to the adoption of a method of splitting a progressive frame into two halves by splitting out the odd and the even numbered lines and then passing these two halves of the progressive frame within a conventional interlaced signal.
In effect the odd numbered lines from the progressive frame were sent in what would be the upper field of an interlace stream and then the even numbered lines in what would be the lower field. So in effect the progressive frame gets split into two fields, a just like an interlaced video stream, but as the original source is progressive there is no time difference (temporal difference) between when the odd and even are were captured, so despite the split, what is passed down the SDI cable is still a progressive frame. This is PsF (Progressive Segmented Frame).
This system has the added benefit that even if the monitor at the end of the SDI chain is interlace only, it will still display the progressive material more or less correctly.
But here’s the catch. Because the progressive frame, split into odd and even lines and then stuffed into an interlace signal looks so much like an interlace signal, many devices attached to the PsF source cannot distinguish PsF from real interlace. So, more often than not the recorder/monitor/edit system will report that what it is receiving is interlace, even if it is progressive PsF. In most cases this doesn’t cause any problems as what’s contained within the stream does not have any temporal difference between the odd and even lines. The only time it can cause problems is when you apply slow motion effects, scaling effects or standards conversion processes to the footage as fields/lines from adjacent frames may get interleaved in the wrong order. Cases of this kind of thing are however quite rare and unusual.
Some external recorders offer you the option to force them to mark any files recorded as PsF instead of interlace. If you are sure that what you are sending to the recorder is progressive, then this is a good idea. However you do need to be careful because what will screw you up is marking real interlace footage as PsF by mistake. If you do this the interlaced frames will be treated as progressive. If there is any motion in the frame then the two true interlace fields will contain objects in different positions, they will have temporal differences. Combine those two temporally different fields together into a progressive frame and you will see an artefact that looks like a comb has been run through the frame horizontally, it’s not pretty and it can be hard to fix.
So, if you are shooting progressive and your external recorder or other device say’s it’s seeing interlace from your HDSDI, don’t panic. This is quite normal and you can continue to record with it.
If you are importing footage that is indicated as being interlace, but you know it’s progressive PsF into most edit packages you can normally select the clips and “interpret footage” or similar to change the clip header files to progressive instead of interlace and again all will be fine.
UPDATE: Since first writing this the use of a true 24/25/30p progressive output has become far more common. PsF still remains a perfectly valid ITU/SMPTE standard for Progressive, but not every monitor supports it. Early implementations of 24/25/30p over SDI were often created using non standard methods and as a result there are many cameras, monitors and recorders that support a 24/25/30p input or output, but may not be compatible with devices from other manufacturers. The situation is improving now, but issues remain due to the multitude of different standards and non standard devices. If you are having compatibility issues sometimes going up to 50p/60p will resolve it as the standards for 50/60p are much better defined. Or perhaps you may need to use a device such as a Decimator between the output and input to convert or standardise the signal.