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Kinetic artwork like the Central Park Gates Project developed by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude needs more than just a static still picture to communicate its power. At left is an embedded Windows Media Player video of the Gates installation. I think it works best on a PC running Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. If it looks a bit scrambled on your browser, click on the link below the image to launch the video snapshot in an external media player. And please let me know in the comments here if it didn’t work for you.
The latest Sony digital camera, the $500 Cyber-shot DSC-M1, has a radical new look: a swiveling 2-1/2" LCD screen that does away with the archaic squinty viewfinder. Except for professional photographers who were trained to press cameras to their foreheads, most of us set up our shots at arm’s length on digital LCD displays. But the DSC-M1 provides a different sort of breakthrough, a video snapshot capability called Hybrid Recording. When you press the shutter to capture a still image, the camera records video 5 seconds before and 3 seconds after your shot. You get an 8 second video (320×240 QVGA format) surrounding your up to 5.1 megapixel keeper image. (The DSC-M1 can also record regular 640×480 MPEG-4 video with stereo sound.) For a rough demo of the video snapshot feature, see this CNET review (right after the 5 second commercial).
In the digital age, we don’t print as many pictures on paper as we used to, viewing most of our images on some kind of video screen. As long as we’re looking at our snapshots electronically, why shouldn’t they be video snapshots?
Basking in one of the world’s most recognizable brands, the marketers at Jeep have extended the product line beyond SUVs into an array of lifestyle products that capture the four wheel drive magic. One of the ideas in the hall at CES that apparently never made it to prime time is a beer cooler with a TV and boom box built in. Getting all that audio visual gear into an insulated box leaves precious room for the important part, the beer. But I guess nowadays getting away from it all doesn’t include getting away from TV.
Targeted Media Partners, a Media Summit exhibitor, showcased its Interactive Taxi system now in use in Chicago and Boston. The rear seat set-up includes a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver, wireless modems and a touch screen LCD to provide TV and interactivity for taxi riders. It’s a closed system reminiscent of 1980s multimedia projects, proprietary and built from scratch for a captive audience. (Even the company’s annoying Flash and Shockwave web site is an homage to the early days of homespun interactivity.)
Interactive Taxi plays videos in a window next to an interactive menu of Vindigo-like city guide data. The bandwidth of the wireless link is too narrow to play live TV, so video clips are downloaded in the background to be played in programmed sequence. It’s far from perfect. The program reel runs continuously, timed for each city’s average cab ride; viewers can’t re-start or even replay a clip from the reel. The ugly interface cries out for an art director who can draw 3D buttons. The content doesn’t synch to the cab’s GPS-derived location, so ads can’t bark a bar around the corner. (Maybe that’s good for boosting taxi fares.) The system can communicate with the live Internet, but only through the proprietary interface. Sadly, there’s no browser allowed, so you only see content that has a revenue relationship with the system builders, sort of a pay-for-play Web.
The taxicab environment is a tough one for a computer and touch screen. I’m sure there were a lot of tradeoffs made to keep the costs down and the components robust and autonomic. While deep and rich interactive guide data and ads are interesting for tech-savvy users, they’ve never seemed enough to carry a multimedia project. The good old-fashioned TV commercials will no doubt appeal to the majority or riders and will be the easiest thing for media buyers to understand, budget and produce.
The McGraw Hill Media Summit opened with a keynote conversation with Mel Karmazin, Broadcasting Hall of Famer and former CEO of Viacom, CBS and Infinity Broadcasting. Now CEO of Sirius Satellite Radio, Karmazin noted that most of the media business was low-growth nowadays, and he outlined the great growth prospects for his 120 channel nationwide digital satellite radio and its two income streams of subscriptions and advertising. With its focus on car radio, it’s a business that profits from long commutes and congested traffic. Some 200 million cars are now on the road — 16 million new cars are added each year — and Sirius expects big numbers.
Aside from first-to-market XM Satellite radio, a competitor may be Apple’s iPod. If you have all of the songs you love in your pocket, you don’t need to listen to any new tunes on the radio, and Karmazin described automotive interfaces like BMW’s iPod link that are now part of the vehicle media center.
Sirius is also expanding into TV. Karmazin said that the company would eventually offer three or four channels of television, mainly children’s programming, for rear seat entertainment systems in cars. It’s unclear whether Sirius would produce the channels in-house or license existing content, competing head-on with full-load car satellite packages like the KVH/DirecTV system we covered at CES. Smart companies keep pushing the envelope in automotive entertainment.
This week the McGraw-Hill Media Summit draws some of television’s biggest business-side stars and over 900 pre-registered delegates for two days of roundtable strutting about the transformation of media and entertainment in the Digital Age. (A special day-long intensive workshop run by maximum security experts describes how intellectual property and "precious rights" could be locked up in perpetuity by severe digital rights management padlocks, so copyright holders needn’t worry.) Lawyers, accountants and investors rubbed pinstripes with media company VPs and directors. One tech-centric observer exclaimed, "This is a much better dressed crowd than the advanced technology people."
Producer Victor Harwood, founder and director of Digital Hollywood, crams five or six brand name experts per panel into two tracks of general sessions analyzing how film studios, record labels, TV networks, and advertising agencies are getting in and out of bed with consumer electronics companies, computer manufacturers, Internet pioneers and phone companies as they build new media alternatives. Tabletop exhibits in the jam-packed lobby showcase conference sponsors like Standard & Poor’s, Price Waterhouse and Business Week as well as very young and clueless companies attracted by the bright lights. We’ll cover highlights of the show here over the next week.
I went to a Giants football game at Meadowlands Stadium this season, a guest at a luxury sky box on the 50 yard line. Outside on the field. a live football game was happening in real time; inside, in the dark windowless lobby of the sky box tier, dozens of fans were plopped in front of big screen TVs watching the network coverage of the game. For these viewers, the regular reality on the field couldn’t compete with the enhanced reality on television with its expert commentators, up-close camera work, instant replays and virtual field markers.
Introduced by ESPN in 1998, the Emmy-award winning 1st & Ten yellow first down marker from SportVision is a standard part of televised football games. It’s companions, a blue line-of-scrimmage marker and a red safe kick marker, are more recent introductions. The virtual lines seem to be painted or chalked onto the turf, behind players and underfoot, and they move as the game proceeds. (An excellent description of the technology and the process appears in HowStuffWorks including a link to a Stanford lecture by developer Stan Honey.)
Augmented reality — adding data to video — is very popular with sports viewers hungry for real time information. SportVision also draws graphics and stats onto fields and rinks, follows race cars around the track with live spec balloons, and replaces field-side painted advertising billboards with digital virtual signs sold separately for broadcast.
We’ve always known that what we see on television is not real, but for generations trained in video game environments the latest augmented developments provide a world that’s better than real.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ("chick-sent-me-high-yee") and media studies professor Robert Kubey reported on people’s reaction to television in a 2002 article in Scientific American, Television Addiction is No Mere Metaphor (SciAm subscription required although it’s posted elsewhere). Asking the question, "What is it about TV that has such a hold on us?" they note:
In part, the attraction seems to spring from our biological "orienting response" …. It is part of our evolutionary heritage, a built-in sensitivity to movement and potential predatory threats. Typical orienting reactions include dilation of the blood vessels to the brain, slowing of the heart, and constriction of blood vessels to major muscle groups. Alpha waves are blocked for a few seconds …. The brain focuses its attention on gathering more information while the rest of the body quiets.
Couch potato-ism is in our DNA. We’re hypnotized by the colors and the movement, not necessarily the programming. The "formal" features of television — quick edits, pans, zooms, transitions, unexpected audio — activate the orienting response, whether we’re watching Playhouse 90 or When Animals Attack.
Most research focuses on watching TV in a living room; most was done in the days of the single screen. As video pervades everyday life, our orienting response may get triggered during mobile phone calls, elevators rides, ATM withdrawals and drives down the digitally-signed highway. If TV is addictive, some people are going to want to control it, restrict it, even ban it all together.
Program note: We’re preparing a briefing on anti-TV culture for a March edition of the Pervasive.TV Report newsletter. Sign up today.