Why should we talk about this, particularly in relation to content distribution? Isn’t most of the art performed within production and creative services?
I would argue that as much creativity, craft and artistic design goes into preserving and re-creating the intention of the original theatrical story across the plethora of devices and transmission paths as was used in the original post-production process. At the end of the day the goal of the content creator is to provoke a set of responses within the human brain, excited by stimulus to the eyes and ears. (Currently our movies have made little use of smell, taste and touch.. maybe that is next after 3-D becomes old hat??)
The field of Human Perception Design has recognized that the eye/ear/brain interface is rather easily fooled. If this was not the case, then all modern compression schemes would fail to provide an equivalent experience to the observer in relation to original uncompressed material. While it is not technically feasible to match the viewing experience of the theatre with that of an iPod, it is possible to simulate enough of the original experience to not have the consumption of content in this form stand in the way of the storytelling.
In many ways, the theatrical viewing experience is more tolerant of errors, and is certainly less difficult to produce to, than mobile devices or internet connected televisions at low bandwidths. Theatrical viewing is a closed system, with very high bandwidth, no distractions (such as light or other noise), and an immersive screen size (field of vision fully occupied). Even an HD tv in the home must deal with external unbalanced light sources, imperfect acoustical environment, issues with dynamic range of both video and audio and other parameters that can reduce the effectiveness of the storytelling process. This makes any imperfections more noticeable, since the issues mentioned already have typically removed all the “buffer” between following the story and having the viewing experience interrupted by distractions (such as noticeable artifacts in the picture or sound).
Even though it is far less likely to happen in the theatre, a momentary visual artifact (say blockiness in the picture, or a one-frame freeze) will not usually break the concentration of the viewer, as they are immersed in the dark room / big screen / loud sound chamber – there is so much “presence” of the story surrounding one that this ‘mass of experience’ carries one through these momentary distractions. The same level of error in a mobile or home viewing device will often interrupt the viewing experience – i.e. the distraction is noticed to the point where, even for a moment, the viewer’s concentration breaks from the story to the error.
When one adds in all the issues that present to the Media Services process (low bandwidth, restricted color gamut of both codecs and delivery devices, visual errors due to compression artifacts, etc.) it is easy to see that extraordinary measures must be often brought to bear during the content delivery activity in order to preserve the story.
Typical challenges that affect content in this context are: conversions from interlaced to progressive; frame rate conversions; resolution changes; codec changes; bit rate constraints; video and audio dynamic range compression; aspect ratio reformatting; audio channel downmixing; etc. There is often more than one way to resolve the issue and other design parameters must be factored such as cost, time efficiency, facility capacity, etc.
Technology should to the greatest part be invisible and just support the storytelling process. Just as a white pole stuck in a dune at White Sands park is almost invisible at noon if it were not for the shadow thrown, the shadow of technology should be all that is visible – just enough to outline and focus the viewer on the story.