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My neighbourhood Rogers Video Store is shutting down. Seems there’s no money in renting DVDs and Blu-ray discs anymore. People are watching streaming video on services like Netflix or (shudder) downloading films on bit torrent sites. This is sad news for those of us in the content creation business. I’m going to get a little geeky here to explain why.
Photo Courtesy of Matt Elliot
In our technical editing world, we work at data rates ranging from 140 megabits per second to 220 megabits per second. Just about all video has some compression applied to it, but the large-brained geniuses have determined that video compressed within these rates is broadcast quality. (They also determined that watching David Hasselhoff in HD causes seizures, but that’s another story.) There are all sorts of compression schemes used, but in a nutshell, the higher the bit rate, the better the quality. Like most production companies, we stress and agonize over anything that reduces our picture quality. Sometimes we have to zoom in on a shot to crop out a boom mic or a light stand. It pains me to do so, because I can see the shot get noticeably softer.
By the time that our shows air on TV, that data rate has been squeezed again. For an HD show, it’s a maximum of about 18 megabits per second when it gets to your screen. Let’s not even talk about standard definition TV, once you’ve watched HD, there’s no going back.
When Blu-ray discs came along, the film buffs and geeks among us rejoiced at the picture quality. Here’s a format that shows you every little whisker and wrinkle on actors. The data rate for Blu-ray discs tops out at 45 megabits per second. Movies look stunning if you have even a mediocre LCD screen capable of 1080 resolution. When I create a Blu-ray disc and play it at home it looks almost as good as it does at work. (Note to Self: convince my wife we need a $6000 broadcast monitor at home.) The 5.1 surround sound on Hollywood movies is also much better than on DVDs or HD cable.
Stepping down from Blu-ray, we have DVDs. They’re only standard definition, 480 lines vs the 1080 lines of HD, but the data rate is around 9 megabits per second. With a DVD player that up-converts to 1080, the results on my mediocre LCD display are not too shabby. (Shabby is a technical term. Look it up.)
Next we get to streaming video. Those goofy cat videos on YouTube are a whopping .3 megabits per second (emphasis on the decimal point). But you don’t need a lot of data to laugh at a cat that jumps on a ceiling fan or a turtle that sings like Justin Bieber. YouTube manages to forgo quality for quantity. Users upload 24 HOURS of content every MINUTE. In one day, that’s 34,560 HOURS of video. What are you doing reading this? We’ve got videos to watch!
And filling in the middle ground are services like Netflix. I will sheepishly admit that I am a subscriber, for $8 a month there’s some interesting content on there. The movie selection isn’t as good as Netflix in the US, but I’m enjoying watching The Tudors I missed the first time around as well as Top Gear. It’s also great if it’s a rainy night and you don’t want to venture out to the video store. But lets talk bits and bytes, Netflix delivers about 5 megabits per second. It’s OK for standard definition shows, but it pauses a lot on my system, routinely 4 to 5 times in a one hour show. It’s definitely not a replacement for Blu-ray or even DVD quality.
Which brings me back to the closing of the Rogers store. I suppose this will be a chance for the small Mom and Pop video stores to fill the niche. It’s fun to flip through all the movies and maybe end up renting something unexpected. I hope Blu-ray doesn’t fade away anytime soon. It’s only been on the market a few years and already industry people are announcing its demise. As the internet gets faster and faster, I’m sure streaming will improve but for now, I’ll take the shiny round thing any day.
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