Monthly Archives: March 2012

Does film belong on the (very) small screen?


Today, our world is constantly drawing nearer to Ashton’s fabled “internet of things.” Every few months, it seems, there is a new way of connecting our lives to the internet and, thus, to the world of film. Apps for services like Netflix and Amazon’s Video on Demand bring the cinema to these personal devices, like smartphones, tablets (like the iPad), or even Laptops, which –although having been around for quite some time—seem to be gaining in popularity is a method of media consumption. However, this might not necessarily be good news.

In our first Film Studies class this week, the professor led her instructions on screening the required films with the statement that watching them on anything smaller than a television screen in the Library was unacceptable. Though I did not take down a quote, I think it is appropriate to paraphrase that she said she would “have a conniption” if she caught us watching or even talking about watching the films on a mobile device. To back this up, she sent us a link to an excerpt from and interview with David Lynch from the special edition copy of his film, Inland Empire which seems to agree with her assessment of the mobile device as a film consumption mechanism:

“Playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think think you’ve experienced it, but you’ll  be cheated. It’s –uh—such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your FUCKING telephone. Get real.”

Though both Mr. Lynch (whom I deeply respect) and my Film Studies Professor (whom I just met, but suspect I will also come to deeply respect) are incredibly vehement in their positions on the issue, I don’t think that the simple and broad conclusion they have come to is necessarily correct. Though it isn’t perfect, I think that a mobile device can still provide an effective presentation of the film.

When I thought of an instance where the effect of a big-screen presentation is vital to the understanding of a scene, the first shot that came to mind was the helicopter shot that occupies much of the opening title sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s famous adaptation of The Shining. On a big screen, this shot has a special kind of power for me: looking down and following one little car as it travels up a curving mountain road and curving with the road has two effects on me: it first reminds me how small and insignificant I am, but secondly – and almost more importantly – feeling the frame move along swiftly, as if being dragged by the car gives you this feeling of lack of control, of instability, as if you are being pulled by an invisible spiritual string towards the vehicle. This sense that you are actually moving is what makes these shots great, and you risk losing it entirely if you watch the film on a phone or tablet.

However, this is not an issue of screen size as much as it is a combination of screen size and distance from the screen. In my own personal tests, I found that this sense of motion was preserved on a variety of devices from a variety of distances, as long as the film’s frame occupied the vast majority of my vision. On my laptop, which has a 15.6” screen, I was able to sit up to about 18 inches away from the screen and still feel the motion. On my 10.1” Motorola Xoom tablet, I had to be much closer: about 12 inches away. Finally, on my smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy Nexus with a 4.65” screen, I found that I had to be the incredibly close (and possibly eye-damaging) distance of 4 inches from the screen. Though this sounds crazy, it does show that the effect of motion is preservable on these smaller devices.

Another argument made is that, because the films are so much larger on the big screen, you might miss something interesting or important in a shot. This is once again largely covered by moving closer to the screen, however there is another issue that plays into this: resolution. If the screen does not have high enough resolution, then there is no possible way to see all the details that one might see on the big screen. Luckily, most devices today have incredibly high resolutions. The third generation (most recent) iPad, for example, has an incredibly sharp display at 2048×1535 pixels. This screen is more than capable of handling 1080p video, which has a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, and even the lowest end phones and tablets have screen resolutions of 1024×768 or higher, something that, while not adhering to any specifications for HD video, is perfectly capable of playing back DVD-quality video, which only has a resolution of 720×480 pixels.

The last argument that people make against film on a small device is something that I just can’t possibly refute. I agree wholeheartedly that many films, especially comedies, are community experiences. When you’re watching a comedy alone, it’s just not as funny. Jokes may strike you as amusing, but your own personal guards keep you from laughing or enjoying them. In a group, the mob psychology seems to kick in. Personal inhibitions are lifted and everyone laughs at the jokes that he or she finds funny.  The movie is transformed from just a picture on the screen to a bona fide social event. There is no way to replicate this personal interaction, and there never will be.

All these things said, filmmakers will still have to adapt to the use of mobile devices as film consumption tools. Here, Kubrick’s The Shining is an interesting example again. I found it odd that The Shining would be presented in the film cell’s (and television’s) raw aspect ratio 4:3, so I did a little research. As it turns out, there is indeed a story to it. Knowing that the film would find its way to home video and that the studio would “pan and scan” the film to make it fit onto a television set (thus compromising his notoriously meticulous directorial decisions), Kubrick decided not to film it with an anamorphic lens, as he would have otherwise. Instead, he filmed directly onto the 35mm film stock, giving him a 4:3 aspect ratio, which he cropped for theaters to get the widescreen look he wanted. With every shot he made, he considered how it would look both on the big screen and at home. This mirrors what filmmakers need to do today. There is now a huge range of different screen sizes that may be used to watch a film. Sometimes, directors and cinematographers will need to compromise to ensure that the important things can be seen on any device. It’s not the ideal solution, but – like it or not – mobile devices are here to stay.

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Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a Laptop–Day 1


It’s been about 24 hours since Microsoft released (and I installed) Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Since I didn’t have any classes today, I took the opportunity to do some more looking around the build. Here’s the result of that exploration

A Note on Dual-Booting

I highly recommend my set-up, which eschews the easiest method in favor of finding the ISO on Microsoft’s download page – it’s surprisingly hidden—, booting from that, and putting a fresh install of Windows 8 onto a separate partition. Though you’ll lose the advantage of immediately having all your old applications and settings transferred over, I think this is better for two much more important reasons: first, you may not be able to use many of your old apps on Windows 8, and second, it’s just not quite ready for use as your primary computer OS.

For the first time in Microsoft’s history, the boot selection screen when you dual-boot actually looks nice, so you don’t even have to worry about that. It’s definitely the better option.

Logging In

To me, the biggest feature in Windows 8 isn’t any of the fancy-schmancy new UI; it’s the integration with the cloud that makes Windows 8 so interesting. When you first sign in, you do so with a Windows Live ID much like Windows Phone; your password is thus your Windows Live Password. However, that’s not really the consequence that I like so much: the consequence I like so much is the fact that you then can access files from Skydrive (Microsoft’s Dropbox-like cloud storage service) and they’ll be saved and up to date on any computer you go to. I wasn’t able to test this, but I’m guessing that your Start screen, wallpaper, and Windows 8 settings will also follow you from Windows 8 PC to Windows 8 PC.

The process of Logging in itself is very reminiscent of Windows Phone. Like Windows Phone, you unlock the device by dragging a picture upwards to uncover the login prompt. Here are some photos of it in action:

Here, the picture hasn’t been dragged out of the way at all:

Here, the picture has been dragged up about a third of the way to reveal part of the login screen:

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to save screenshots from the login screen (probably a good thing really), so I had to take these with my phone, but I think you get the idea.

The Start Screen and The Windows Desktop

I don’t have any pictures of this, so you’ll just have to take my word that it’s there. It’s REALLY there. I don’t know if it’s because I’m just not used to it and know that the Windows Desktop is right there waiting for me underneath it, or because I just don’t like it, but I constantly found myself constantly wanting to peel away this new shell and go back to the old Windows experience.

As you probably already know, there is a button on the start screen to do exactly that; press it and you’re whisked away to the land of familiarity:

Notice something’s missing? That’s right; there’s no Start button on the Windows desktop anymore. There’s also no start menu; if you want to launch an application, you have three cumbersome options. You can:

  1. Use the Windows Key + R keyboard shortcut to open up the Run window then type in the path or command to open a give application.
  2. Use Windows Explorer (through the Recycle Bin or the separate Windows Explorer icon on the Start Screen) to navigate to the .exe file and then double-click it.
  3. Go back to the Start Screen by hitting the Windows Key or clicking on the far left side of the taskbar (yes, even though there’s no button there anymore, it still launches the Start Screen), right click to bring up the Start Screen’s menu, choose “View All Apps,” find it on the list, then click on it once to launch it back inside the Windows Desktop, which you should be automatically sent back to.

Not exactly intuitive. Well, at least my favorite bulk installation tool, Ninite, still works on Windows 8:

Also, I’d just like to say that it’s stupid that this is the only way to run Microsoft Office. Why not make a Metro version of it? How can people take your product seriously if you don’t seem to be drinking your own kool-aid?

 

Touch Gestures and their Mouse-based Equivalents

I think this could be a really great tablet OS. Everything’s really quick to respond and the touch gestures are awesome. However, when Microsoft designed their “touch first” UI, they seemed to also put the mouse and keyboard last. The ways you bring up menus and work with the OS are nearly impossible to find without any help (it took me hours to figure out multi-tasking and almost as long to find the way to bring up the application-specific menu). So, for your pleasure, I have created a table to help you out.

Purpose Touch Gesture Mouse Gesture
Multi-tasking Swipe from the left side of the screen. Hover mouse in the upper left corner of the screen.
Bring up “Charms” menu (for settings and a shortcut to the Start Screen) Swipe from the right side of the screen. Hover mouse in the bottom right corner of the screen.
Bring up Application-based menu for more commands. Swipe from the bottom of the screen. Right click anywhere while inside a Metro application.

They aren’t intuitive, but once you figure them out, they seem to work well enough. In fact, their response time was quick enough I soon found myself zipping around the UI surprisingly quickly.

Multitasking and the Windows App Store

After some work, I figured out how to do the side-by-side multitasking trick that Microsoft always shows in their videos. The trick is to drag the application preview from the upper right down into the workspace like you’re doing normal multitasking, then hold it over either the left or right quarters of the screen. If it’s compatible, the app will make a black silhouette appear in that region. Just drop it and you have two things going on at once.

Here’s a shot of the result (it also includes the Windows App Store, so you get an idea of what that looks like):

 

Internet Explorer 10 (Metro Version)

The Metro version of Internet Explorer 10 included with Windows 8 looks really nice. It may not have a lot of features, but it seems fast enough and has a very elegant way of handling multiple tabs.

Here it is asking me if it should remember a password:

And here it is displaying Twitter. You’ll notice that all the chrome disappears when you’re displaying a page without the Application-specific menu open.

That’s about all for now, but I’ll update you as I find more about Windows 8 to love or to hate.