Douglas Crockford

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May 2006

8K

A year or two ago I saw a demonstration of an 8K projection system. 8K has of over 16 times as many pixels as 1080p, which is double the current HDTV standards of 1080i and 720p.

The 8K display was the closest I have ever seen a video system look like real.

But is real what we want? Previously, the best projection system was Doug Trumbull's Showscan (60 fps film). He did some great stuff with it, but it didn't go anywhere.

The real look significantly increases the cost of production. In very few cases does it help us to tell the story better. The real look increases defects. Our stars are not perfect people, and as resolution gets better, they get worse. I don't know why we have an expectation that our stars be perfect, but we seem to.

The question of what is real and why we should want it is a perplexing one. When I am perplexed, I turn to the Velveteen Rabbit.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

An Unacceptably High Rate of Return

When people buy stuff, and they can't figure out how to make it work, they bring it back. It is estimated that half of all returned consumer electronics devices have no defects.

Excellent product design is hard. Managing a feature checklist is easy. It is sometimes imagined that each feature added to a product increases its value to the consumer. This is not true. Features which are never used, or that add weight or complexity or pages to the manual or questions to the FAQ have negative value. These negative features don't have much impact on the sale, but they have a huge impact on the return.

It isn't enough to make people want to buy it. They also have to want to keep it.

The Perform Act

2006-04-25 California's Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced The Perform Act, a bill that gives Federal Protection to The Recording Industry, an industry that no longer has any reason to exist. It came into being to exploit the technological innovations of the player piano roll and the phonograph. Those technologies are no longer relevant, and the newest digital technologies eliminate the niches that the record companies used to thrive in. In a free market world, they would have been extinct by now, but they have been tenaciously clinging to some antiquated laws to assure their survival.

And now they are looking to new, unnecessary laws. This present bill gives The Recording Industry leverage over Satellite Radio. The Record Companies want a bigger piece of Satellite's action. One of the results of this bill is that the price that consumers will pay for satellite radio service will go up.

The bill also allows the FCC to impose so-called Broadcast Flag rules. These rules will increase the cost of consumer electronics products. It will make them more difficult to use. It will cause them to fail to do certain useful and reasonable things.

The Perform Act is anti-consumer. Feinstein claims that it is not, that it is balanced somehow. She is either misinformed or lying. I am not sure which. In either case, I think it is crazy to be sponsoring anti-consumer legislation. Sure, that Recording Industry money is sweet, but you have to figure that at some point The Voters will get wind of this.

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code is pretty much like Dogma except that it doesn't have Jay and Silent Bob, and God does not appear as George Carlin or Alanis Morissette. The two films are also similar in that they are very good when they are being smart, and not so good when they are not.

But this is what bothered me the most about The Da Vinci Code: In the reel in which Tom Hanks reveals that the secret five letter word that unlocks the cryptex is APPLE, there was a large bright dot flitting around the left half of the screen. It was present for a long time. It was very noticeable, and very annoying. It didn't look like any form of film damage that I have ever seen. Is this was a new form of MPAA's CRAP Code?

Network DVR

The Supreme Court found in Betamax, and reaffirmed in Grokster, that We the People's Fair Use Rights allow us to timeshift our TV shows. The timeshift device of choice today is the DVR (digital video recorder), of which TiVo is presently the best example. It allows us to conveniently watch programs at times of our own choosing; we are freed from having to watch at the scheduled, appointed time.

One of Cable's biggest advantages over Satellite is the ability to offer programming On Demand. Cable has lots of available bandwidth, and a return path from the home to the headend, so that a viewer can request a program and then immediately be watching it. This can be done for pay, or for free, or by subscription.

The principle difference between DVR and On Demand is where the disk drive is located. With the DVR, the disk drive is in your home. With On Demand, the disk drive is out in the network somewhere, possibly at the headend. The Cable Operator can afford to have much greater storage capacity, which offers the viewer more choices. The Cable Operator can also manage the storage,which can be a convenience. On the other hand, Cable's policies have not always been in the viewer's interest historically, so the DVR offers the viewer better control.

But from the viewer's POV, DVR and On Demand look the same and do the same, allowing us to view what we want when we want. Just as the Supreme Court intended. Or did it?

The Studios are suing Cablevision to stop it from testing a new On Demand service. Cablevision has been calling the service a Network DVR, hoping to protect itself under the Betamax decision. The Studios see it as a redistribution service, so it constitutes a willful copyright infringement.

The viewer cannot see the difference. The Studios think they can, although the programs under consideration were already made available for the viewer to see for free. Whose POV will prevail here, the viewer's or the Studios'? Is Fair Use defined by the Use, or by the technology and business relationships that enable it?

This is going to be an important case. The future of networked media may depend on it. I expect that ultimately the Supreme Court will have to clarify its intentions.