Why does the Apple rumor mill get so frantic coming up to NAB? It’s not like we don’t all know to delay purchases until after NAB unless you can get a pay back in the months between now and then. So what is it that makes us frantically review rumor sites and set the forums and email groups buzzing when ThinkSecret purported to leak (yet again) from within Apple?
Nobody can confirm or refute the rumors until Sunday April 17th, and in reality the rumors don’t do much more than supposedly “confirm” what can reasonably be inferred from existing public announcements (HDV support in FCP “next version” is an announced feature); known intentions to meet customer desire (heck there was even an obscure reference to Multicam in the FCP 4 manual suggesting it was, at one time, proposed for that version); or reasonable inference (CoreVideo technology in the OS would enhance FCP’s real time). New applications for sure – that’s called progress and until Apple have a full and complete set of professional tools in the Pro Apps product lineup then they’ll keep announcing new tools.
Since I am only guessing and have no knowledge, I won’t be publishing my guesses here or on DV Guys but ask me privately and I’ll make my guesses. Even though I think I’m as good at guessing as the next person I still expect to be surprised and impressed come NAB.
But that’s not the point – lots of opportunity for rumor mongering all over the place. It doesn’t do any good, it doesn’t influence business or buying decisions so why is there this intense speculation about what Apple might be going to announce? And why mostly Apple? Avid haven’t pre-announced their NAB releases. There’s the same level of secrecy going on but not the speculation.
Is this some bizarre desire to be “on the inside”? A sort of technological one-upmanship? It’s not like knowing there’s a new version of Final Cut Pro coming sometime (probably) in the next 2-3 months makes editing any easier today, or eases the pain of any “undocumented features” currently existing.
Until this last year or so I was as keenly interested in listening to, and spreading, any rumors I could find and yet now I find myself strangely disinterested. Curious yes – I’ll go read the rumor and consider whether or not I think it’s reasonable – but I find myself not as interested in spreading the guesses and inference.
I wonder why that is? Is it finally maturity, or is it finally evidence that I am, officially, jaded? 🙂
Update March 1 – there’s just been a purported “leak” of Avid’s NAB announcements. While the leak is almost certainly bogus, this type of malicious leak can be very damaging. The supposed prices are way below what is reasonable for Avid (although if true, would be a real change of direction) and there are other key giveways for the educated reader, that this is not a real release. But now, whatever great announcements Avid had for NAB will be compared with a totally unrealistic, bogus release setting up expectations that were never reachable.
At least that’s my take. If not and Avid do announce $5000 Unity and open interoperability with AJA and Decklink on April 16, then that paragraph will have never happened 😉
From the blatant self promotion department…
Apple just put up a Pro story about the most fun job I worked on last year: A Musical Journey. This was one of the DVD Extras for the 40th Anniversary release of Mary Poppins.
The relevance for the blog is that we were able to recreate, and improve on, the effects done for the movie using standard desktop tools that 40 years ago had been cutting edge technology that lead to an Academy Award for the effects. Most of what I do every day was not possible for any amount of money when Mary Poppins was released.
Where do we end up if we continue down this path? I’ve been looking at game commercials on TV and the rendering is getting more and more realistic. On last night’s news there was a game commercial juxtaposed with some “war area” footage that looked like 10th generation VHS, and the humans in the game looked more realistic. The games are not even close to 100% realistic… yet. But it seems to be only a matter of time before we at least get close. Perhaps the “uncanny valley” effect will kick in. That’s what happens when animated characters get very close to being human, but turn out to be creepy because we become even more aware that they are not. (Think Polar Express and the eyes which couldn’t be motion tracked.).
Let’s assume that technology will overcome that little problem – 40 more years is a long time. Will completely synthetic storytelling replace acted ones? I’m certain it will become an option: what will be the “killer application” that keeps human actors employed?
Immersive storytelling is also likely to be everyday. A recent article talks about a more advanced version of Playstation’s EyeToyï¿½ that puts the player in the game or ToySight that uses your iSight camera as a game controller. The games right now are hardly deep storytelling but that’s only a matter of time. Heck, holographic projection is far enough advanced in the lab now, that a 30 year lab-to-loungroom cycle would put truly immersive storytelling within reach. (No work or breakthrough currently has ‘solid’ holographic project in the mode of Star Trek’s holodeck – these projections would be walk–through.)
I believe that game play will become a much more dominant form of entertainment than it is now, with realistic interactive stories – why watch James Bond when you can be James Bond (bring on the tactile body suit for the love scenes!)? If it’s possible, someone will do it, so what is the killer application that will keep human actors in “the movies” when your interactive “Friends” respond to you and include you in their hijinks? Will it simply be the lay-back inertia factor that will keep at least some entertainment totally passive? Will people want to get up and get involved with their entertainment – even part of the time. (Would this be more like going to the movies than home entertainment now?)
In the meantime, doing stuff on my laptop that couldn’t be done 40 years ago is a head trip.
I’ve just added a comprehensive briefing paper to the Pro Apps Hub on HDV called, as the title of this post suggests, “Is it something or is it nothing?” Bottom line, it’s something all right and it’s going to be the final factor that drives production inexorably to HD.
Here’s the introductory paragraph:
“It’s hard not to be caught up in the HDV hype but is this 19/25 Mbit High Definition format going to take the world by storm, or does the heavy compression make it unworkable? This briefing paper takes a look at:
- the format and how they fit an HD signal on a DV tape,
- how it looks in practice,
- how HDV can be edited,
- distribution HDV, and
- how it is likely to fit into, and change, the production and post-production industries. Particular attention is paid to working with HDV with Apple’s editing applications.”
You can access the briefing paper by downloading the free Pro Apps Hub software and following the link to download. The Pro Apps Hub is the most up to date, no time-wasting news for Apple’s Pro Apps users, daily productivity tips, briefing papers, the only index to the best of what’s free on the Internet – tutorials, articles, resources, forums so you don’t waste time with what isn’t great, and an online catalog. (Did I mention that I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve created with the Pro Apps Hub?)
Check out the HDV article and follow the link at the end of the article back here to comment. This entry will load directly in the Hub.
I’ve been prompted this week to think about 16:9. 16:9 is great but the problem is that clients (oh, them!) buy or rent these lovely big plasma screens and suddenly we have to miraculously convert 4:3 source into 16:9 and make it look good. How do we communicate that you can’t get there from here! How do we communicate to clients that 16:9 display is not a decision made somewhere between commissioning the project and turning up at the trade show? How do we make it clear that, unless the decision to shoot 16:9 for 16:9 display is made at the start of the project, then everything from there on is compromised?
There are three ways to get 4:3 source to “fit” a 16:9 display. Two of them are quality compromises and the third is a compositional compromise. Some choice! First option is to blow the 4:3 source up 133% so the 4:3 fills the full width of the 16:9 but crop at the top and bottom of the image (oh, right, that’s both a quality and a compositional compromise). Choice two is to simply keep the 4:3 at full height and stretch the width out to fill the 16:9 space. That keeps the top and bottom composition correct, but compromises the quality (it’s about 120% width stretch) and makes everything look wide and fat. (Now that’s the way to keep a client – make them look fat! Maybe it is a way to make the point that this is not an appropriate way to get 4:3 to 16:9?). Still, there’s a good chance the client won’t even notice that the image is stretched. Seriously, every sports bar and restaurant takes this approach for their 16:9 displays and typically no-one notices. There is one difference here though… typically a 16:9 set will apply a non-linear stretch so the effect is more exaggerated at the edges than in the center. That’s not an option in NLE or compositing tools right now.
The final way to convert 4:3 to 16:9 is to consider that there’s a 16:9 canvas into which we place a 4:3 element and surround it with “something” relevant. Design elements or additional information. Place the 4:3 element in the center or off to one side to create a more balanced display. Useful for trade show type displays where the information can be useful.
But regardless of how well we work around the problem, ultimately it comes down to an unreasonable client request. How do we handle them? Same way as always… More than a small part of the job of a post production specialist is to educate clients and it seems it has been for a while now. Ever since the world stopped being “BetaSP=Professional.” That’s the problem with a diverse set of choices: it’s no longer a simple message and then suddenly it’s an “educational opportunity” with the specialist as the educator.
So, how do we deal with this educational role? Depends a lot on the client. If you have a long standing relationship with the client who’s happy with your work, then taking the “mmm, this isn’t such a great idea, here are the (unsatisfactory) alternatives” will probably work. If it’s a one-off or new client, then it’s more difficult. Then you have to feel out the client to find out what their level of discomfort is. If they’re budget focused (a very nice euphemism for cheap) then the stretched 4:3 into 16:9 solution is probably going to meet their needs. A client who cares about their public image will either realize that a 16:9 display isn’t the right solution, or allow the time and budget to find a creative solution for the extra real estate not used by the 4:3 image.
The iPod and iPod Shuffle in particular, are the new radio. Radio in the US has become so formulaic and predictable with one company alone owning over 1650 stations. An iPod fills the role that radio used to fill – playing the music I want to listen to. Well, more accurately, playing the “stuff” I want to listen to because not all radio is music. Except an iPod really does play my music and my stuff – not what a program director thinks I want to listen to, but what I really want to listen to. Shuffle mode makes it even more like radio because it is the music I want to listen to but like radio I have no control over the order it’s played. iPod, the new radio.
There’s another phenomenon that has rapidly grown under the radar: Podcasting. Podcasters create an audio show which, with the help of software is automatically delivered to your iTunes and subsequently to your iPod if you synchronize. As the developers of iPodderX say on their site “Fresh content, automatically” – what could be a better description of radio? Fresh content, of the type you want to listen to, automatically. With radio you tuned in: with podcasting it’s delivered to your iPod without any more effort than tuning in a radio. Podcasting really got started in the second half of 2004. We’ve been streaming our long running DV Guys show since April 2000 but we’ve only been podcasting since October 2004. We are now regularly getting comments “I listen to the show more often because it’s Podcast”.
Podcasting is a rapidly growing phenomenon feeding off the success of the iPod – no doubt a result of the law of unintended consequences.
Where audio leads, video follows. We are already seeing the beginnings of video podcasting. Video podcasting, of some form, to some device is almost certainly going to be a major influencer in the way people consume media. Think about it. The programs you want to watch will be automatically delivered to your media server ready for consuming on your schedule. Should ever Apple do a video iPod that would be a logical place of consumption, but failing that, a Mac Mini as home media server has got to be on the horizon. Already video podcasts are being directed at video-equipped 3GPP cell phones.
Significant uptake of video podcasting could lead to serious changes in content distribution channels as well as open distribution opportunities for new content because video podcasting will “break” the real time delivery barrier. Because podcasts are pulled ‘in the background’ there’s no limit on the bandwidth so good quality standard definition or high definition can readily be delivered (using H.264/AVC) to whatever delivery device you use. Bandwidth remains an issue for the small content creator – become successful and die on a new variation of the “Slashdot effect.”
There are people working on using a Bit Torrent to solve the bandwidth problem for smaller (i.e. not huge mega corporation) content providers.
Whether the programming is the DV Guys podcast or the latest HD mega-movie delivered to my home media server for consumption when I want, to having purchased it from the iMovie online store, the future is going to be different than the past and present with the strangle-hold on distribution broken.
TiVo is seemingly embattled these days, with President Marty Yudkovitz and Chief Executive Mike Ramsay (one of the founders) both stepping down within two weeks. While some have been interpreting this as an indication that TiVo does not have a sunny future, it led me to wonder why TiVo has not been the success it should be. Part of the problem is, I suspect, that most people still don’t see the advantage of a TiVo/PVR over a VHS deck, particularly given the price difference, but more seriously I think it’s that, even among those who have a of some sort the problem of “good enough” strikes again.
“Good enough,” no doubt yet another riff on Pareto is the relevant principle here. I’d express it that, once quality/convenience has reached a certain level, the majority (80%?) won’t seek any further improvement – it’s good enough. So, for the TiVo case, any PVR provides the advantages of a PVR: random access, easy menu selection, skipping commercials etc. That TiVo has additional ‘intelligence’ to pick programming that you might like, and has recently added convenience and sharing features, isn’t compelling enough over the bundled PVR that might come from a cable or satellite company and be bundled into the cable/satellite box. (The convenience factor of a single box solution has to rank in there as well.)
In this discussion TiVo is the “Betamax” of the PVR world: generally superior technology, somewhat better signal quality and the source of innovation and development in home video recording, but the cheaper, longer recording (in the NTSC world) VHS won out because although technically inferior, it was “good enough” for most people. So despite the quality advantage of Betamax, the “good enough” cheaper format won out.
Then there’s DV which is clearly “good enough” for standard definition. Before we had DV25 (with all its known deficiencies) there was a clear way that “professionals” could distinguish themselves from the “amateurs” in production – by the format (and cost) of their equipment. DV, which is higher luminance resolution than BetaSP and only marginally worse chroma resolution, took over the majority of the production space, even with all its known deficiencies. Why? Because to most people’s eyes they could not see the difference between DV and other SD formats. Those of us in the trade see the difference clearly, but it’s not a big-enough difference to drive the finance/management types to spend the larger amounts on shooting and editing better formats. DV25 is good enough, and has serious cost benefits that it very quickly took over the production sphere for most purposes. The best available figures suggest that 90-95% of Final Cut Pro users are working with DV25 and not DVCPRO 50 or Digital Betacam. DV has 80% of the benefit for 20% of the cost and that’s a hard equation to beat – for most people.
Fortunately there will always be a segment of the market that will pay for quality and Agencies who have to pay for something, so it might as well be quality. (Agency revenue is a percentage of project budget so there is no push for lower budgets in Advertising Agencies handling large accounts.)
Which bring me to HDV – the “new” DV. From those who have seen HDV the reports vary from “totally unsuitable” to “looks great to me.” Like DV there are legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at the format for quality and compression – but the thing is, this is High Definition at a SD price and for that it’s “good enough” HD. “Good enough” and inexpensive will most probably become the dominant production format in the future, with strong growth in late 2005 into 2006. Already Sony’s FX1 and Z1R are selling like hot cakes on a blustery Winter morning.
With the news today that Matrox had announced a dual-link PCI graphics card designed to power dual-link monitors like Apple’s 30″ Cinema Display I was once again prompted to ask why there are no workstation class cards for OS X. The Parhelia card is a good graphics card but not a workstation-class card but even so, the nearest equivalents for OS X do not have the complement of output options that the Parhelia card does. Pity there’s no Mac drivers for it.
But it still begs the wider question of why none of the high end graphics cards, like 3D Labs Wildcat Realizm aren’t available for Mac – with increasing demand from applications like Motion, and in the very near future CoreVideo and CoreImage on OS X 10.4 Tiger, Mac users need the power of these graphics cards to get the most out of the applications.
Of course, ATI, NVIDIA and Apple tend to point fingers at each other, although to the best of my understanding the hold-up is in the drivers and apparently Apple write the drivers for OS X. Perhaps there’s a great push to get these cards into Macs when Tiger ships – we can only hope so at least, but in the absence of hard information I vote that we in the post production industry let Apple know that we want these cards supported so we can have better performance from Avid Adrenaline on OS X, Apple’s Motion, anything CoreVideo coming up (NAB is only 12 weeks away), Boris Blue, Combustion and more.
Until we get support for these tools, there remain good reasons to go with Windows for true power graphics users.