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

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Dec 05 2010 - 09:16:38 PST

There is no 'one' answer: Blu-Ray, data-files, whatever. Exhibitors should offer makers a (limited) range of (reasonable) options. With any method though, much depends on execution. Even with home-made DVD disks, there are potential pitfalls: poor encoding settings, poor media, wrong burn settings, paper labels, incompatible players... So one can encounters X number of problems with DVDs, and concludes that DVDs suck... The truth though is that bad DVDs suck, and good DVDs are fine. But most makers and exhibitors don't know what makes the difference.

One way of looking at this in comparison to 16mm film is that it's almost impossible to make a film without hiring people (negative cutters, lab folks) who iron out all the little variables and pitfalls in the form. You hand them the original materials, and a chunk of money, and you get back a release print you know will play on any functioning 16mm projector. But along the way, there are plenty of opportunities for the lab folks to screw up.

In the digital world, in effect, we are now our own lab. The good news is that the tech is much more accessible than creating photochemical film, and doesn't involve nasty chemicals. The bad news is that a) it still requires a bit more geekiness than a lot of folks are used to, b) it doesn't happen on the maker's end or the exhibitor's end, but BETWEEN the two, requiring more communication and cooperation. So there are a lot more screw-ups.

Neither of those things are going to go away. But when you throw in on top of that the utter lack of standardization, and the broad misunderstandings and shortcomings of fundamental knowledge, you get an utter mess.

People are writing posts on this subject that reveal they don't know the difference between a container and a codec. Now, that happens to be something anyone involved in preparing or screening work in digital formats needs to know. But I completely understand why people don't know it -- a lot of essential stuff is obscure because it doesn't make it out to the consumer realm. I had to do a LOT of digging to educate myself, go down a lot of blind alleys before finding the answer, engage in a lot of trial and error, yadda yadda yadda. (Other posts on this topic have articulated other misconceptions, but I won't go into details...)

Right now, anybody who wants to do this stuff right has to re-invent the wheel and go digging for themselves. There's no central resource for information. I could create one, but (again) I'm not in the position to do it as a charitable contribution (I would be happy to do so if I was). On the other hand, I'm not looking to profit either.

The short version is that, yes, files are the future, but the future is not here yet. For now, exhibitors should have options for files, optical discs and tapes, but all based on accessible and inexpensive gear. And in all these cases, makers need to be given precise and detailed instructions on how to prepare and send work (which all need to be within reasonable means). Again, the devil is in the details, in HOW the technologies get used. At a minimum that needs to be co-ordinated between maker and exhibitor. It would be far better if exhibitors could share standards.

As it stands now, almost every outlet is different. And when the only options are 'send us a DVD or an HDCAM tape' i.e. settle for a lo-rez image or spend a lot of money for a dub you can't use otherwise, we've got problems we just shouldn't have.

For example, anyone with access to Final Cut Studio and a standard DVD burner can create an HD optical disc holding up to 30 minutes of material, and an exhibitor can acquire the gear necessary to play that disc for $75 or less, and the system is absolutely rock solid with beautiful image quality... if you do it right. But you have to know how.
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