Why must consumer video suck?

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 19, 2010, 8:35 PM | comments: 0

In early 2006, I was fascinated that HD video was finally in reach for consumers, at least at the TV end of things. That's when I bought my TV, in fact, an LCD from Westinghouse that wasn't 1080p in the sense that it did component 1080p, but it did in that it could accept a computer input at 1920x1080. Looking for HD stuff to watch on it was a little more tricky, beyond the stuff on the Xbox 360 that I bought the same day. Actually, I bought the TV for the Xbox. But whatever, there still wasn't much to watch other than over-the-air for me at that point, which was still awesome.

In early 2008, I was planning to coach again (that didn't happen), so I wanted a small, tapeless camcorder to record games with. I bought a little Panasonic unit that recorded AVCHD. Keep in mind that I already had my pro camera by then (also in early 2006), and it recorded glorious DVCPRO HD at 100 mbits, so while not high end, I understood broadcast quality. The camera didn't have to be that, but it shouldn't suck either.

But I knew the risk going in. AVCHD is basically the H.264 we all know and love, but it records at a tiny 17 mbits. For reference, consumer DV, on tape, recorded standard definition video at 25, so that's a whole lot of compression going on. Now consider on top of that the interlacing of 1080i, the insane gain so you can shoot practically in the dark, and the automatic (and annoying) high shutter rate, and you've got a disaster on your hands. It just falls apart under anything less than ideal. But on the upside, at least it's pretty straight forward to use. Diana shot this stuff of Simon today.

I still have to wonder, why is consumer stuff always so shitty? I remember when I got my first DV camera, it looked like we were getting closer to equal compared to broadcast gear (which I was especially familiar with at the time). Then we went to HD, and it almost got worse instead of better. Look at the new iPhone 4... it makes awful video. The Flip cameras are good enough, but not great. I don't even know what else is out these days.

I suppose good enough was always good enough. I mean, I was the guy who at 16 started tweaking TV settings as a guest in other people's living rooms (occupational hazard). That my mom can't see the difference between HD at my house and SD at hers should tell the story. Heck, I saw something that surveyed HD owners, and the majority thought that just because they had an HD TV, everything on it was therefore HD.

For my creative endeavors, I'm thrilled about the Canon DSLR's. I've only really shot stuff that I felt was pretty once (Cheese Festival), but it was delicious, film-like and enormously clean. I would say that I'm actually pretty comfortable with the idea that I could shoot a technically solid short film with it (if I could figure out the sound).

The consumer curve will get left behind again, if they ever figure out how to start distributing 4k content. The cameras exist today, and they're shooting movies on it. No telling when it'll trickle down to the masses.


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