Confessions of a Creative Maniac: Unified Theory of Media
CreativeCOW presents Confessions of a Creative Maniac: Unified Theory of Media -- Apple FCPX or Not: The Debate Editorial

It's been years since I attended an NAB show, and thanks to the internet, I don't feel like I've missed much by not pressing the flesh in the sweaty halls of Las Vegas, a city that I never really learned how to like, much less love, regardless of the swath of debauchery and free perks which accompany any amount of time spent in a city designed to appeal to the worst aspects of the psyche. I've always pondered the irrationality of those Vegas all-you-can-eat seafood buffets -- I think it's wise to question how much sense it makes to offer up a bounty of shrimp smack dab in the middle of a desert, it always struck me as more than a little extreme.

And that seems like a good way to broach the mindset I've had looking over the news and new product details that have emerged from NAB -- a show designed for the producers of the world, an exotic title in a time when the consumer world is where most the action seems to be playing out, and where most of the money seems to be flowing. Speaking of cash, in recent years Apple has pulled off some sort of odd pseudo-absence at NAB, and while FCPX has been gaining some ground back lately, Apple continues their Men In Black approach to the pro video sandbox. Some of the braver souls are taking the ride and holding onto their current Mac Pros, wrapping their brains around FCPX, and seeing where Apple takes the storyline, while others are transitioning to Premiere Pro, Avid and some of the other players who have been there all along, surviving on the fringes.

Smarter video pros have discovered the benefits of expanding their platform holdings, there is simply more choice these days when it comes to outfitting an industrial-strength Windows video editing and rendering machine. The lack of video card options for iMacs is but one of the issues facing folks wanting to get the most out of new features in the Adobe CS6 suite coming up in the next couple of months, and we wouldn't be surprised to see even more folks go biplat with Windows as they discover that there's nothing wrong with hosting both platforms in your studio -- especially when it has a meaningful impact on the bottom line.

Apple has been making buckets of cash putting more of their energy towards the success of iOS and the iPhone/iPad juggernaut, and we've all been watching the fact that the Mac Pro line is getting more than a little long in the tooth. We'll see if Apple give us access to more cores soon, but even if they don't, there are plenty of folks who will continue to use Macs and their software investment in that platform, if for nothing else as media production stations, even if media integration and finishing is handed off to bigger Windows-based boxes and render farms.

But then again, we have yet to see what happens to big Windows hardware when Microsoft v8 comes on full bore, some of the grumblings about the tableting of the desktop experience make me wonder what will happen with media production in that future segment -- but I'm sure it'll ultimately work out. We're going to be living in a world where fragmentation and nationalism will continue to exist, as old habits die hard, but duality seems to be a byproduct of the organization of the our brains, the physiology of duality, opposing forces bounded by the glue of momentum. Those who are tasked with the creation of media ultimately put platform loyalty behind servicing the customer, and getting the job done -- as it should be.

Even with all that on the table, I keep coming back to a core issue that seems somewhat forgotten by mainstream voices -- content doesn't somehow magically appear on a data tree, it has to be created, and most often that happens on powerful, standalone computers, even if some stuff starts digital life on a tablet, smartphone or napkin. Those involved with content production are all too aware of the tremendous amount of work going on behind the scenes, to make the final goods appear seamless and flowing on the front end, and we're plugged in to the high-end scene, but it sometimes feels like we've lost sight of whole picture, the true ecosystem in which we all live. Don't get me wrong -- if you read Creative COW, you're already more than aware of the "other" side of the fence, the fact that producers make up such an important part of our ecosystem, creating the "content", the stuff business plans refer to as "intellectual assets" -- what us oldsters still stubbornly call "ideas". High end hardware has been getting smaller, but it isn't going away -- it's just that everything seems to be pushing down from the lofty heights, nothing is exempt from the physical reality of pressure and gravity.

If there's one fact that has emerged from NA, it's that the idea (and reality) that the cost:value ratio is undergoing some serious seismic activity -- Blackmagic pulling down some serious 2.5K magic for around $3K, Mac Smoke for $3.5K, it would seem that the app revolution I talked about a few columns ago is helping propel a real wave of change we're seeing in the industry, driving tool prices on a downward trend, while resolutions and data throughput requirements on the production end all seem to be rising. At the same time, though, the ways that media is viewed/consumed/enjoyed by folks is shattering into so many directions, it's critical to remember that everything is ultimately destined for downsampling, regardless of how pristine it starts, aside from all the massaging, color correcting and finishing work it goes through -- entropy remains a critical key when trying to wrap your brain around trends in video media.

That might account for how things get a little weird when you really start thinking about the delivery end of the media pipeline -- I recently read a handful of articles which seemed to suggest that the trend towards larger television screens will soon morph, that folks would spend more time consuming video on computer screens, tablets, phones and other mobile devices, which I personally find a little hard to believe. That said, one thing I have noticed is that the access to video online has definitely changed my own viewing habits, and YouTube has emerged as a preferred channel for indulging my somewhat odd media tastes (and what am I to do if there's no other way to watch the outstanding British show "Nathan Barley" on, it's not like I can dial it up on my cable box, or even the iTunes store). The absolute quality of the video -- or lack thereof -- is a lot less important to me than the fact that I can watch things at all, instantly accessible, at minimum cost.

The fact that someone like me -- who has held on to the idea that buying a CD of my favorite music is the only way for me to actually want to buy music -- can already appreciate the virtualization of video content, tells me that it's more than just a blip or fad. Have you noticed how many folks are ditching out of their Netflix disc-in-mail game, and are settling for the much more meager streaming option? Has anyone besides me noticed that they're opening DVD cases a whole lot less when watching video content lately? And don't even get me started on the EOL of Apple's DVD Studio Pro. It seems to me that as video becomes more and more accessible and easier to distribute, there will be more demand for stuff that is less polished and produced, convenience will manage to completely overtake quality, and so much of the effort that goes into a finished product will become nothing more than the packaging wrapped around a Christmas toy -- ending up scattered on the floor, destined for the trash bin.

The clients who are willing to pay serious money for slick media, well, enjoy them while you can, because it's more than likely that the democratization of video will end up making the desktop print publishing revolution look manageable by comparison, and if you think I'm being even slightly hysterical in my analysis, go have an honest and open chat with your professional photographer friends, they'll probably have something to tell you about increased access to inexpensive technology. The future looks a lot more like reality television than a made-for-tv movie, and in the end, convenience will indeed triumph over quality. I never claimed to like this equation, but that doesn't make it any less realistic. And I reserve the right to be wrong at all times. For all our sakes, I hope this is one of those instances.

David Biedny is a multimedia artist, author and educator with over 30 years of industry experience. The author of various infamous Photoshop books and innovator in the early New York multimedia industry, Biedny worked on "Terminator 2: Judgement Day", "Memoirs of An Invisible Man", "The Rocketeer" and "Hook" at ILM, has authored hundreds of technical articles, reviews, columns and tutorials for a variety of publications, served as faculty at the School of Visual Arts, San Fransisco State University and NYU, lectured at Stanford University, and was present for much of the behind-the-scenes action during the formative years of the digital revolution. He currently teaches digital media in the design department of the Yale School of Drama.