By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
This evening, I was watching a couple of movies on my friends’ system. They have a Blu-ray hooked up to a high-definition 3-D television. As I watched the first movie, a Blu-ray disc, I realized that something looked off. The second movie, on a DVD, didn’t look quite as off, but seemed to be off as well. Then I realized why.
Several years ago, my forensic video analyst explained the problem with modern technology. His degree is actually in film, so he is trained in editing, sound, and, yes, directing. Directors, as it turns out, are very well aware of the limitations of the technology of the time. This really should not be a surprise, but they also plan their cinematography to account for, and take advantage of, these limitations. Modern directors film for theatrical release. The larger screens means that even the sharpest lines will appear a little more fuzzy, and they film for this. As a result, he said, directors do not like modern technology, because it is too sharp.
And this was what I noticed. If you stopped the film at some given point, it would look like the actors are picture cutouts, overlaid onto a background. They didn’t look like part of the same shot. The lines were just too sharp.
Several years ago, Ted Turner began “colorizing” classic films. This never struck me as a particularly big deal, but now I realize the issue. Directors of the time understood that their technology was limited to black and white, and filmed to account for, and take advantage of, the lack of color. The colorized version is probably not true colors, because the sets and costumes would have had colors that would look better when translated to black and white.
Thinking of modern technology, and the limitations thereof, has gotten me thinking of the technology that I’ve seen. The only difference between Blu-Ray and traditional DVD’s is the color of the laser light. The laser tracks the disc, and as it reflects off of the disc picks up vibrations that amount to data which is translated into sound and picture. DVD’s use a red laser, while Blu-Ray uses a blue laser. The wavelength of blue lasers is shorter than red lasers (roughly 50% shorter). As a result, the data can be packed more tightly onto a Blu-Ray disc, providing roughly 50% more data, that could not be read with a red laser. This data means that the vector drawings can be much sharper than traditional DVD’s. When DVD’s were released, there was no need for televisions that could take advantage of this extra data because it did not exist.
This transmittal of information via oscillations is essentially the same concept as previous technology. Magnetic tapes (VCR, Betamax, cassette tapes and eight-track) transmit data through oscillations as well, except instead of light, it is done through fluctuations in the magnetic field on the tape itself.
The concept of transmitting data via oscillations is as old as wax and vinyl recordings. These recordings included grooves, deep enough for a needle to follow. Along these grooves, minor variations shook the needle. This shaking needle transferred to data, presented as variations, to the player. Because this data was transferred via direct contact, it was very crisp, and some audiophiles prefer the vinyl recordings even to this day (in fact, there is currently a resurgence of these albums). Unfortunately, this contact also wore out these recordings far more quickly (some would argue in just two or three playings) than other methods that did not rely on direct contact. Magnetic media lasted longer, but these tapes would slowly demagnetize, again resulting in loss of integrity. DVD’s and Blu-Ray, utilizing light, should last longer than any prior media, and, as stated earlier in this blog, may be a bit too high definition, at least until directors begin to create films with this level of data in mind.