Convergence & Divergence: Blu-ray, HD-DVD, traditional broadcasting and The Resolution Contradiction
COW Library : Adobe After Effects Techniques : Peter Berghammer : Convergence & Divergence: Blu-ray, HD-DVD, traditional broadcasting and The Resolution Contradiction
The emerging contradictions of content creation and consumption are enough to give pause to even the most hardened traditionalists. Market assumptions from just a few months ago are up for grabs: the slow adoption of highdefinition video is being overtaken by the adoption of low-resolution video. The significant contradictions this raises will set the tone for the redefinitions of what it means to create and distribute content, and what it means to consume it. It's definitely true in the short run, and may be true from here on.
Blu-ray? HD-DVD? Neither.
Even after spending billions of dollars researching and developing high-definition distribution channels, their adoption so far has been slower than expected. This is especially true of the much-anticipated Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats. Their debuts lacked excitement, to say the least. Maybe this year will be the year of hi-def DVDs. But wasn't last year supposed to be? Or was it the year before?
Because Sony's PS2 played such a large role in the adoption of SD DVD, many believed that the PS 3 would do the same for Blu-ray - simultaneously establishing the immediate viability of high-definition disks and decisively eclipsing HDDVD.
In fact Blu-ray as a component of Sony's PS3 fell flat. Limited availability didn't help, but neither did a movie-watching experience that was difficult to manage with a game controller, and hardly earth-shaking when experienced.
Holiday sales told the tale. PS3 landed with a thud, along with the hope of a high-definition revolution for both gaming and movies.
What's holding these new formats back? Remembrance of past format wars is certainly a factor among consumers, but other factors are more significant. HDTV adoption requires both a new TV set and re-buying DVD collections. In fact, consumers found that their SD DVDs, in their SD DVD players, look quite "good enough, thank you" on new big screen HDTVs.
The biggest problem for the future of new DVD formats is that optical disks are increasingly the Luddite's choice. Consumers can already get all the HD movies they can watch delivered via cable, satellite, and over the air - an accelerating trend.
Also accelerating is the ability to store this content on hard drives connected to televisions. The irony is that I used to back-up my hard drives to optical disks, and now my hard drives are more reliable for long-term storage.
Big Success with Small Formats
Traditional assumptions about the migration of SD content toward HD are being shaken by the rapid rise of small-format distribution media including iPods and mobile phones. Even more important has been the rise of sites such as You-Tube. Video has been available online from the web's earliest days. What made it explode now, and not sooner? User-generated content.
As I write this in late February, traditional media outlets (including Cartoon Network's Adult Swim) are responsible for only 5 of YouTube's top 100 videos. The trend doesn't appear to be changing: there are only five broadcast-generated clips on its all-time top 100 list as well.
The rest of the top 100 videos (and beyond) are coming from You-Tube's own visitors. The YouTube phenomenon is being driven by one thing, and one thing only: user-generated content, connecting to consumers who can, and do, create this kind of content for themselves.
It's a revolution of both creation and consumption. Millions of people watching. Millions of people creating.
Here's the dilemma raised by The Resolution Contradiction in a nutshell: while the appeal of consuming it is undeniable, the creation and distribution of high-definition, large-format video is unattainable for most consumers. Most of them can't even watch it.
On the other hand, the lowresolution, small-scale video of You- Tube provides an intimacy, immediacy and inspiration ("I can do this too!") that exists because of its low resolution.
In other words, what frustrates us as media producers interested in using YouTube as a distribution channel - "my video looks terrible" - is one of YouTube's core attractions for consumers of video.
iPods and mobile phones are the small-format video devices getting the most attention right now, and they obviously have a huge upside. They're nowhere near the top of their adoption rate. However, look again at the growth of web video: steadily upward but exploding once YouTube's user-generated content came along.
As exciting as the high-resolution, small-format video is on iPods and phones, the YouTube explosion suggests that they're not going to come close to reaching their potential as distribution platforms without user-generated content.
The one and only small-form video content that massive numbers of people - internet-sized numbers of people - want to watch simply isn't available to them on these new devices. Until it is, they'll watch the small-format content they want to watch, where they're already watching it.
It will likely be available by the time you read this, bur from here Apple TV looks exciting. It's Airport for video, and it stands to reshape shortrange wireless distribution for video every bit as much as Airport did for computer networking.
Apple TV gets even more interesting as it becomes the entertainment hub that computers haven't, and won't become, as much because they're in the wrong room as anything else.
The problem is what happens next. As exciting as interactive TV Apple TV looks in a demo, as compelling as the visions for its future appear, the real question is whether interactive TV has what it takes to really change the way we watch television. More important, the question is whether interactive TV can reverse the declining viewership of mainstream media.
How much do people want to interact with what they're already not watching?
Networking the video we're already watching is a great place for Apple TV to start. So is iTunes video distributed via Apple TV. But Apple TV may well have its biggest impact by bringing the global network of online, user-created video into the living room.
Here's another possibility. Today, iMovie can upload video to a single web page or blog. It's usergenerated content, but it's only half of the YouTube revolution. For the rest, uploaded iMovies needs to go someplace where millions of people can watch them, and where millions of people can share their own iMovies.
Perhaps iTunes? Accessible through iPhones and through future web-enabled iPods?
Two highly divergent forms of content have emerged along yet another line. The first is traditional studio-generated content which is highly restricted outside the home. The second is user-generated content that by nature is non-home based, highly unrestricted and ultimately portable. We're seeing a break between styles of content, types of viewers, and different approaches of rights.
This, on some level, points to an age in which viewers will decide between at least those two radically different entertainment delivery mechanisms.
We can also expect that traditional media will seek to make inroads into the non-traditional audience by offering things like small-sized content in support of their full-sized content. In addition to full episodes online, several networks are already also offering free, web-exclusive content. This includes deleted scenes and podcast commentaries that would traditionally be included on DVDs - and are in fact included on the DVDs as they're issued.
They're also adding lowresolution video to even highdefinition broadcasts as autoracing, where the shaky, grainy video from cameras mounted in and around cars, in the pits, and so on, add a sense of intimacy and immediacy that, again is provided by its relatively "poor" quality.
A New Golden Age
We're in the midst of redefining content creation, distribution and consumption - none of which means that Hollywood and Burbank are going away. As relatively slow as HD adoption is going, a small handful of mainstream TV's hits in SD combine to dwarf the audience for online video. The lessons we learn from online video don't call for Hollywood to disappear. Rather, they point to a multifaceted market within which traditional media providers must adapt in order to prosper.
For professional content creators, that means that the future is wide open. There are no standard methods for reaching a new audience in a new way. There are no standard tools yet, either. The ones we're already using today are just now adding features that we need for the next generation of content creation. That means the future is wide open for developers too.
The beauty of this tumult, much to the chagrin of industry analysts, is that the world is open to anyone with imagination and insight. Even taking lessons from what we see in front of us today will contribute to our ability to prosper in the coming golden age of content delivery.
Peter Berghammer is an expert on content security and related areas, and he has written for numerous publications over the years, including CMP's MediaLine. He has also been a speaker at various technology conferences, such as the Storage Visions Conference 2007 held during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. We are delighted to have Peter as a part of the Creative COW Magazine editorial team as we have known him for years and he and his wife, Susan, are some of the nicest people in this industry.
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