[Frameworks] The Digital Video Exhibition Problem: And An Offer To Address It

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Dec 04 2010 - 09:28:22 PST

Based on a number of conversations on and off list, Iíve come to the conclusion that our community is facing a systemic problem in distributing and screening work (whatever its origination) in the new digital forms. I also think I happen to have the ability to offer a solution.

The Good News:
Digital video technology now offers the possibility of creating very high quality copies of moving image work at low cost, and the ability to play these copies on low cost hardware.

The Bad News:
This is creating what the kids would call a Ďcluster#$%*í. There are no widely accepted standards, too many options. Too few makers, and staff at festivals, schools, galleries etc. really understand how the new technologies work. So they fumble with the tools and make needless mistakes. The parties wind up making unreasonable demands of one another: e.g. the exhibitor expects the maker to submit work in format X (say HDCAM), which will cost the maker an unreasonable amount for a dub, OR the maker expects an exhibitor to be able to screen the work in format X (maybe the HDCAM she was forced to make by the last exhibitor), which the exhibitor doesnít have and would cost thousands to acquire. Almost everybody (except for Bart Weiss) is way behind the technology curve, dealing in specs that are not only costly, but all-but-obsolete (HDCAM, Digibeta). Attempts to resolve these technical issues on a case-by-case basis produce massive wastes of time and mental energy.

So what happens is that: A) too often showings default to the lowest common denominator, the plain old SD-DVD. The result being playback in a mediocre quality that is still subject to problems if the makers donít know to avoid the many sub-standard blank discs on the market, or donít know how to use their compression, authoring and burning software without running into the little hidden traps. Or B) stuff simply doesn't get shown at all.

How to Fix It:
It has to start with the exhibitors. They can do this individually, but it would be better if as many as possible banded together for the sake of efficiency and standard setting. They would obtain the services of a savvy consultant, who would A) help them set up their playback facilities to accompany a reasonable range of cost effective, high quality digital formats, B) help them create clear and precise guidelines for makers on what formats are acceptable, what specs need to be met etc., C) create clear tutorials for makers on how to produce copies of their work in the appropriate forms, using common tools (like Final Cut Studio) and/or tools that are free or very cheap (MPEG Streamclip, Quicktime ProÖ)

Who Could Set This Up:
Well, me, for one. For a teacher/maker/scholar I have a lot of geeky tech knowledge, and Iíve dealt with all these issues successfully in terms of running screenings at my old school, and sending out HD shorts to various festivals that have been in various states of confusion about this (again props to Bart for having the Dallas Videofest on the tipÖ). That is, I've actually done the stuff I'd be proposing, so I know it works. I also happen got be in a position where I can take the time to do this, since Iím out of teaching due to health problems that prevent me from keeping up with the regular grind, but wouldnít preclude working on something like this.

What Would It Cost:
Alas, Iím not in a position to do this pro bono, but I wouldnít be looking to make big bucks, just get my expenses covered basically. What that would amount to would depend on how much someone would want me to do, and would be cheaper if indeed several exhibitors pooled their efforts, since a certain amount of the work (creating tutorials; putting info on the web) would be redundant. You would need a small budget for some new equipment, probably just a few hundred dollars (the whole point being good results can now be ached on the cheap if you know how). An exhibitor might want to upgrade their video projector or sound system, which would not be cheap, but would be optional. I would, of course, stand behind anything I would do, and provide follow-up to address any kinks that might arise.

How Long Would The Solution Survive Before It Becomes Obsolete:
Well, I donít have a crystal ball, but I figure the basic HDTV spec is good for at least 10 years, and once effective and inexpensive means are established for working with those parameters, the arrival of some new gadget wonít upset the fundamental apple-cart. The most important thing, IMHO, is to end the chaos NOW, but I do think an effective system will not only do that, but stay functional for quite awhile.

Why Am I Putting Myself Forward:
Basically, I find the situation frustrating and annoying even from a distance; I am confident I have the ability to make things better; it would give me personal satisfaction to solve problems for a community I care about; it would give me something to do and get me out of the house; Iím in a position to do this for less than any sort of ĎAV professionalí would charge (and Iíd do a much better job); I not aware of anyone else making any effort to address the issueÖ These factors would make up for the fact that the work involved isnít necessarily fun, and can be quite frustrating. Which is why Iím not willing to do it absolutely for free. But my intent here is anything but mercenaryÖ

In Conclusion:
Please pass this msg. along to anyone you think might be interested. Anyone with an interest, or with questions, please contact me off-list at (address suppressed)
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