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Digital technology makes mark on video production

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by Paul Schreiber

SBJ Contributing Writer

Taking the familiar electronic images and sounds we see and hear and making them better is what digital technology is all about, said Greg McKinney, owner of Digital Media Dynamics.

Since the National Television Standards Committee wrote guidelines for television transmission in the United States in 1941, the technology involved in producing and broadcasting motion pictures and audio has been gradually improving. Up until recently, color television represented the biggest change in standard, or analog, audio-visual transmission.

However, in the last several years, advances in digital technology have constituted a leap forward for the industry in terms of production, editing and broadcasting of images and sound.

Applying digital technology to solve individuals' or business clients' needs is part of McKinney's job at Digital Media Dynamics. "I do video production and video editing," McKinney said, specializing in "compressing video for multimedia or Web use."

Compression means just what it says. Using a digital format instead of analog allows more information to be stored in less space. "For the same amount of bandwidth, you can stuff a lot more information into a digital signal than an analog signal," according to Robert X. Cringely's PBS Web site: "Digital TV: A Cringely Crash Course."

This is possible because of the way information is stored in the digital medium as opposed to the analog system.

Analog is "recorded in a wave as opposed to having bits of information assigned 0s and 1s like a computer," said Rick Gilmore, vice president of Repeat Performance Video Productions.

Digital's binary storage method reveals its affinity with computers. This connection is also apparent in the product the viewer sees and hears. The end result of a digital video shoot is a non-interlaced tape, McKinney said. "The old 1950s technology, NTSC, is actually interlaced," he said. "It draws every other line, like even lines and then odd lines, at different times. Back then they didn't have the technology to draw every line like on a computer screen. That's why (the picture is) fuzzier on a TV than it is on a computer."

Digital technology produces significantly sharper resolution and a crisper picture as well as enhanced sound, McKinney said.

Anyone who has listened to music on a compact disc and compared it to a cassette or a vinyl record album is aware of the enhanced quality inherent in digital technology.

This qualitative increase is equally apparent in digital video, and even extends to copies made from the original, McKinney said.

Specially designed products have been developed for digital video compression. Using software like Apple's QuickTime 3.0, McKinney compresses and manipulates video to client specifications. He uses Macintosh equipment, but said the end result is always, "cross-platform. That's real important. Whatever I do can be run on PCs or Macs or Unix or whatever platform you're on."

Given the hypothetical situation of working with a Realtor interested in showing a property online, McKinney suggested doing a "virtual reality QuickTime movie."

Using a digital video camcorder and a tripod, he would photograph the property interior.

"You take a video of the whole room one frame at a time," he said. Later he "stitches these all together" into an interactive tour. The person viewing it on the Web can use the mouse to enter different rooms and focus on different areas.

McKinney added that while the video element is attractive for some computer users, particularly those with fast, high-power computers with lots of memory, it is important to consider the "average guy" using the Web when adding video to a site.

"Always give them an option of seeing something more simple, too, so they can take in the site without having to wait too long," McKinney

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