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Quality is in the eye of the beholder

by Bob Auger

I’ve just taken delivery of my new hand-held 3G, GPS, WLAN with USB personal organiser thingy. Very impressive; if only the battery lasted a full day. The thing that really caught my attention was the camera. Five million pixels, each one lovingly crafted to deliver DVD Quality Video. Now that is quite an achievement.

There was a time when nothing but broadcast quality would be good enough for the average copywriter. Broadcast Quality TVs in the living room, displaying Broadcast Quality pictures from your Broadcast Quality VHS machine. It had a certain logic to it – the programmes are ‘broadcast’ – and it squeezed past the folk who look after advertising standards in the same way that Heineken could claim to be the best lager in the world – probably.

Then came DVD. Now at first there was some debate about the quality that DVD could offer. “Would it be as good as LaserDisc?” everyone asked (well, the few people that actually had LaserDisc asked.)

Content owners did their best to prove that it was pretty much the same quality by supplying the masters on the 1” NTSC videotapes that they had been using for VHS duplication. Helped by the introduction of DVD players that defaulted to composite video rather than RGB or YUV (to match the cables that were not wired for these strange options), DVD still managed, surprisingly, to look better than VHS.

A brave few authoring houses knew that the pictures could look a lot better and they started to ask for better masters – on D1 or D5 maybe? It was rather like asking for salt and pepper in a three star French restaurant. “These ARE the masters you fools! They look fine on VHS, now go away and don’t try to spend my budget for me.”

Fortunately, there were visionaries close to the major studios, people like Jerry Pearce, who were able to source high quality transfers on D5 video tape and suddenly the world woke up to what DVD Quality Video really meant. Some of those early DVDs, up-scaled for display on an HD-Ready screen, still look fantastic. So I was quite impressed that the cell phone in my pocket would be able to produce similar results…

They call it the ‘mean time to disillusionment’ – that moment when the expectations you have for your expensive new techno toy shatter into broken dreams. In the case of my mobile phone, this period could be measured in fractions of a second. DVD quality it is not. To be fair, 640x480 video at 3Mbps is pretty impressive for a mobile phone but why devalue the whole concept of quality by proclaiming something to be what it is obviously not?

DVD Quality, at its best, still gives HD on packaged media a run for its money on any normal sized screen and it beats broadcast HD almost anytime. We should take pride in the format and do our best to maintain the highest standards in the face of falling budgets.

Consumers are confused enough by the HD format debate, they should not be misled by advertising claims that have little basis in reality. One day we might be able to shoot ‘HD Quality video’ on a mobile phone – probably.
Now how do I get this Blu-ray disc into the slot on the side of my phone..?

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