TV format? What TV format?

The television industry doesn’t seem to have understood the nature of Moore’s law. Simply stated it means that the effort of the entire history of computing will be doubled over the next year and a half.

A friend of mine just tested the latest Mac Pro desktop machine. It’s an amazing performer and playing with a timed test in Doom, he found that you could run the game at maximum settings at maximum resolution and get more frames per second than the previous generation could get on more pedestrian settings.

Which is nice if you are a gamer. But here is the eye-opener: For motion on a screen the size of a television human eyes loose the individual frames that make up the video image at around 12 frames per second and the image becomes more fluid at around 25 frames per second. This is why film and tv frame rates operate at around this frame rate, it’s the lowest number of frames needed to produce a temporally coherent image.

But what about the high end? Studies have shown that above 60 frames per second we can’t really tell the difference between different frame rates. At 75 frames a second though, tests with film have shown, the image somehow locks in synch with the brain and a much clearer, deeper image is perceived.

Video images have several dimensions of fidelity or clarity: the amount of pixels on the screen, the color depth and contrast of these pixels and how often they change – the frame rate or temporal resolution.

High definition television is sold under two sizes and two varieties: 720 or 1080 pixels/lines of vertical resolution and interlaced (where the tv screen only updates every other line of pixels at a time to save processing and data rates) or progressive (which is like film, the whole screen is replaced at once).

The frame rate of high definition is currently 24, 25 with 60 frames per second in development.

Pushing an image of 1080 lines worth of image completely refreshed 60 times a second requires a tremendous amount of storage, transmission and processing power.

But only with the equipment we have today. And many types of video won’t benefit from such a huge and smooth image.

So here is the question: Why can’t the industry make this much more flexible? Why can’t video cameras record at a screen size and frame rate that the manufacturer can build and sell and that the consumer prefers? Pocket cameras have these options as well, but why not all kinds of video cameras, including professional models?

And as a related question, why can’t display manufacturers build as powerful or cheap displays as they want, and consumers can choose what they feel is right?

Sure, some norms will develop, then change. But in a digital world, why assume standards have to be dictated to a whole range of users, why not keep it as loose as the development of games?

Maybe something like a QuickTime wrapper for broadcast? Your equipment chooses from available signals and shows you the best it possibly can?

There are many translations and re-codings in a digital network anyway, it’s time to loose the idea of ‘broadcast’ entirely and work on developing smarter interoperabilities for an increasing number of capture and display devices. NTSC is dead, the same image on your mobile phone or 3,000p at 75fps on your plasma is the future. And then that future is obsolete by the time you are done watching the movie, it’s time for the wholly liquid image.

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