In Which Our Author Enters a New World

Today I finally took the plunge into HD TV. I’ve edited two HD movies, one was shot at 1080p24 and edited offline in SD DV, and currently I’m working on a project that was shot on the HVX-200 at 720p24 which I’m actually editing in HD (With absolutely no trouble! Thanks Hackintosh!)

I’ve had progressive-scan “HD” monitors since I was in high school, but those of course were attached to my computer and until recently they were 4:3 CRT monstrosities that reached a peak of 85 lbs. I finally upgraded to a 20″ widescreen Dell LCD for my trip to Berlin and it’s wonderful. I can watch HD trailers and edit DVCPRO HD movies with it, but there’s not a lot of HD content I can watch on my computer. It takes too long to download and I have to watch it at my desk. Movies and TV are for the living room.

For the past 6 years or so my living room has been graced with a 27″ 4:3 CRT that would never be called flat. I’ve always resisted trading up because frankly HD is not quite there yet. My mantra has been, when I can hold an HD movie in my hand, then I’ll buy an HD TV. Well, technically I could go to Target and hold an HD movie in my hand, but I still would have to spend half a grand on a high definition DVD player that could be obsolete in a few years thanks to an ill-advised format war.

So I cheated. I’m desperate for an HD TV, but I still only have one delivery source: my good friends at Time Warner Cable. Considering how much television I’ve been watching lately, and how many channels are broadcasting in HD now, I decided it was time. The question then was what form my new high resolution television would take.

I measured my 27″ CRT and determined that if I wanted the height to stay the same, a 37″ 16:9 would be about the same. So I started my search for a 37″ widescreen HD TV.

As I always do, I did my homework. My first choice was a 16:9 HD CRT, which is generally the cheapest way to go. There is still no better way to look at video than on a CRT. The blacks are black, the colors are accurate. It’s the way we’ve seen TV since cavemen roamed the Earth. But CRTs don’t get very big. Thanks to the limits of physics, they go to the low 30 inches and stop. Even if they could get bigger, you wouldn’t want it to because it would weigh twice as much as you and break your entertainment unit. Even the 30 inchers break 100 lbs.

So I moved on to LCD. They’re light, I already had an LCD monitor, and LCDs can do 1080p! I knew that 1080p is the future of HD material. Some day everything will be 1080p and I didn’t want to be the sucker with a 720p display. So I went up to B&H and looked at their impressive display of HD televisions.

The first thing I noticed was something I couldn’t notice: a difference between a 37″ 1366 x 768 LCD and a 37″ 1920×1080 LCD. Up close I could almost convince myself there was a difference, but from my 6 foot viewing distance I couldn’t see any difference whatsoever.

Something was up here! Was it possible that resolution is not actually the most important determination of quality for me? It turns out there are a lot of things I care about more. It turns out black level and refresh are way more important. And the LCDs I saw at B&H couldn’t cut it. Obviously they’re turned up a bit to provide enough brightness to compete with the lovely fluorescent lighting in the store, but I noticed a TV hiding up by the ceiling that didn’t have any trouble with black levels or refresh rates (which home calibration of the LCDs wouldn’t fix).

Panasonic 60U

But it was a plasma! At a lowly 1024×720 I had originally considered plasma beneath my notice. LCD is the future! But damn was it pretty. And really isn’t that the only important thing? It has to look pretty. And not cost a fortune. It turns out I could get a 37″ version of that Panasonic plasma for $1100. It seemed like a good deal to me.

But then we started having screenings of the movie I was working on at PostWorks. They had a conference room with a large Panasonic plasma mounted on the wall. It looked like my baby, but it didn’t have speakers and it was totally black. We were watching SD 14:1 compressed DV zoomed in to fill the screen, and it looked awesome! So I looked it up and discovered Panasonic’s professional line of plasma “monitors.”

Panasonic 9UK

Not only are they better reviewed, but I wouldn’t be paying for things I wouldn’t use like speakers or integrated HDTV tuner. The thing that held me back at first was the question of HDMI input. The consumer model had two HDMI inputs. The professional didn’t come with any. I could buy an expansion card for some extra cash but that still only gave me one HDMI. But then I thought of something.

What if some day I want to use this thing to screen a rough cut of a movie I’m editing in my home office? I could get an HD-SDI expansion card for the plasma and for my computer, and run SDI cables from the office. Unlike HDMI, SDI cables have no problem traveling over long distances. That was the clincher. Not only did it make me excited thinking about the flexibility, it also made the whole enterprise more tax deductible.

So today I ordered a Panasonic TH-37PH9UK 37″ Professional Plasma Display from B&H for $950 plus a stand and an HDMI expansion card from Amazon. The TV and stand will arrive tomorrow. I’ll pick up an HD DVR from Time Warner and an HDMI cable from the Apple Store (what a price!) and for now I’ll be running my old interlaced DVD with component output. I’m very curious to see how that turns out. I’m not in the mood to buy a new DVD player when I’m just going to get an HD one in the next year or two.

Fay Grim Poster

While we were doing the online edit for Fay Grim, we got word that the sales agent wanted to make a poster for the Toronto Film Festival and it needed to be done like yesterday. Hal and I took half an hour and mocked up something we liked, assuming the people who actually knew how to market films would step in and make a bunch of changes, like adding international superstar Jeff Goldblum’s face to the thing.

Fay Grim Poster

Imagine my surprise when 6 months later I see my poster on IMDb, and on the official website. The logos and whatnot have been added, and there’s a bar in the middle that says “Featuring the continuing adventures of Henry Fool” which I love. Other than that, it’s the same thing we threw together in August.

Girl From Monday PosterA similar thing happened with The Girl From Monday. While I was singlehandedly distributing the film in well over 5 theaters across the U.S., I made a poster that I liked quite a bit. Then we licensed home video rights to Netflix, who sublicensed the DVD distribution to Hart Sharp. I assumed they knew better than I did how to make a movie poster, but they decided to re-create my design, but slightly differently. Hal and I ended up giving them a new title treatment which they reduced in order to make the lovely Tatiana Abracos more prominent, which was something I definitely couldn’t argue with. The final DVD is definitely an improvement, although I don’t like the uneven space between the top and bottom of the billing block, but that might just be the bleed at the top.

The Girl Fom Monday DVD

Truth @ 15 fps Reaches the Tipping Point

The fictional video blog “Truth @ 15 Frames Per Second” that I made last year (started a few months before that other, more famous, fictional video blog) hit some sort of tipping point recently. The actual site, with monetized Revver videos, still only gets about 50 visitors a day, but YouTube is out of control. It’s getting a few thousand views a day. Pretty soon the combined views on YouTube will pass 200,000. That’s a lot more people than I could ever hope to reach in a short film program at the best film festival. Of course, most of those views are for the webcam sex episode I made specifically for a web audience. And if the YouTube comments are any indication, a large number of those viewers are illiterate, and 15 years old.

But I still think this is great. Among the dozens of useless comments, I’ve been getting some great, insightful emails from people who watch the whole saga from start to finish. I never thought anyone would do that, it’s like sitting down to watch an entire season of a TV show at once. If it’s a British comedy series, you can easily do it in one sitting. I just wish YouTube gave me a taste of the money they’re pulling in. Revver has earned me $14 so far, and that includes revenue from my other shorts.

Artistically, I think it was a good idea to keep 15fps as a limited series. It ended at a logical place, but without explicitly saying whether Penny and Sean broke up. That other, more famous video blog should have ended much earlier. Once the plotty stuff about devil-worshiping cults kicked in I got bored. But the trouble is, it got bad at the peak of its popularity. They couldn’t stop at that point. They would have killed their big ticket to fame and fortune. If I had kept 15 fps going until now I would have run out of ideas because it was a limited concept.

I’m much more interested in limited web series right now. I don’t want to promise too much, but I’m working on something now that I hope will allow me to create several 10-ish episode animated web series, possibly at the pace of one a week. It will be a while before I’ve worked everything out, but if it works it’s really going to rock. Stay tuned.

Macs and PCs, Avid and FCP

Computer software tends to create partisans. You have your Mac people and your PC people. Internet Explorer people and Firefox people. Avid people and Final Cut people. Well I think they’re all crazy. As for the Mac and PC camps, I use them both every day. I have to use Macs because the creative world is swamped with them. I use a PC I built at home because a comparable Mac would be double the price. And now, thanks to Apple’s switch to Intel and some very clever people, my PC is also a Mac. I like them both. They both work just fine for me and I never have trouble doing the things I want to do in either system. The exception that led me to install OS X on my PC is Final Cut Studio, because Apple doesn’t make a Windows version.

FCP and Cinema Tools are two really fantastic programs. Xpress Pro is also great, but these days a freelance editor needs a Final Cut Pro system. And there is a certain flexibility and openness that Avid’s media management doesn’t allow. Obviously that can be a curse if you’re not careful. Avid keeps track of your media for you, which is great but it means everything you do with your media has to be done through Avid. With FCP you can fiddle around with your media in other programs and FCP will re-connect with a minimum of fuss. But really, it’s 6 of one half a dozen of the other. In the end I see no reason to edit in one system over the other. I lean towards Xpress Pro these days because it’s still annoying to have to reboot into OS X just for FCP.

But Cinema Tools and Compressor bring me over to the OS X part of my computer sometimes because they’re by far the best software I’ve seen for QuickTime encoding. Compressor’s batch features are great and really simple to use. And I haven’t found any software aside from Cinema Tools that can change a QuickTime file’s frame rate with one click and no waiting.