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#3074617 12/16/20 06:26 PM
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They always say people vote with their dollars...

When it comes to video, consumers are buying huge screens, upgrading to UHD or 4K, ditching DVDs because they're not good enough, and going for Blu-Ray or hi-res streaming.

Meanwhile, they're listening to data-compressed music on laptops and phones, and buying sketchy sound bars (or maybe a cheap surround system) for their video setups.

Is there something wrong with this picture? Or has the consumer audio industry simply failed to market audio? Come to think of it...is there even a consumer audio industry any more?

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My instinctive response would be the context of consumption. The average consumer listens to music during their commute, a necessity to get through the gauntlet of a 40-hour (or more) work week. Convenience, portability, ease of use are all paramount. The TV, on the other hand, is the sacred oasis of relaxation and brain avoidance. Luxury is the aim. Should the consumer audio industry have done a better job of positioning themselves as essential to that experience? Probably.

Then again, Manley reposted a picture on Instagram yesterday of some dude who had just added a Massive Passive to his hi-fi listening setup. But he's assuredly far from the norm.


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Whether it's objectively true or not, there's an experiential truth that advances in video display tech continue to result in a "better experience (personally, the tech improvements there stopped being meaningful to my viewing experience a decade ago).

Consumer audio has had nowhere to go but down in the last X years. Can you improve upon audio in a meaningful way? Has tech advanced such that I can hear music "better" than I could have 20, 30, or 40 years ago? I can still put a record or high quality digital recording through a great amp and speakers positioned appropriately. I don't think you can improve much on that, so in order to "innovate" designers had to focus on other things; portability, affordability, etc. And, it turns out that those are much more important to the market at large than achieving the highest fidelity audio.

Or, to put it another way, maybe consumer audio has moved backwards from UHD to 720p because 720p is cheaper, easier, is still completely satisfying in most applications, and doesn't require large or expensive equipment to use.

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Come to think of it...is there even a consumer audio industry any more?

There is an industry, but it is smaller than it has been at any time in your lifetime. It has lost a retail footprint.

Ironically, Best Buy was born from a failing chain of middle market audio stores in MPLS. Best Buy had a second grudging interest in the audio business when they purchased and fuddled with Magnolia Audio.

Boomers grew up around Lafayettes and Heathkits and Radio Shacks. They bought their own components from smaller or larger chains (e.g. Pacific - owned by CBS when they owned Fender and Steinway and Discount Records stores).

In retrospect, one could argue that cassette decks and CD players did not need the same level of voodoo salesmanship that earlier components required.

Turntables and cartridges and setups were replaced by commodity pieces of imported electronics in uniform black (kuro).

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I guess people try to replicate the sound they hear in the movie theaters. That's why getting surround sounds speakers for the home became a thing.

I'm sure some of you can articulate this more clearly than me, but when I'm in the theatre blasting that DolbyXtreme or whatever they call it sound, I hear a lot of excessive lows and ear-fatiguing highs. Doesn't seem to me like the ideal system for listening, to say, a fine recording of Stravinsky by the London Symphony Orchestra.

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Originally Posted by BluMunk
Consumer audio has had nowhere to go but down in the last X years. Can you improve upon audio in a meaningful way? Has tech advanced such that I can hear music "better" than I could have 20, 30, or 40 years ago? I can still put a record or high quality digital recording through a great amp and speakers positioned appropriately. I don't think you can improve much on that, so in order to "innovate" designers had to focus on other things; portability, affordability, etc. And, it turns out that those are much more important to the market at large than achieving the highest fidelity audio.

There have been so many advances in speaker quality, automatic room tuning, and such. I don't think you can improve on SACD (which of course died) in a meaningful way, but I think it's entirely possible that many consumers have never experienced what really good speakers or headphones sound like, let alone an immersive surround system.

But I don't necessarily think that the main appeal of music is the fidelity of same, it's about the lyrics and any emotional responses the music creates. Those can come through even with pretty crappy systems.

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Video is reaching a limit - at least seems to me it has to be. Resolution is getting unreal - and with 65" screens getting to be the new normal, rooms aren't getting bigger! Although almost no one pays attention to it, there is a health issue - recommended distances from screens increase as screen size increases.

With 4K, you can get so much intense detail, and if you have a screen that fills 60% of your field of vision, I'm not sure there's much real benefit to going bigger from a screen that meets these criteria. Bragging rights, sure. And if you have a barn-sized living room, sure.

Maybe when TVs and computer screens start to max out size-wise, the next thing to market will be sound quality.

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For all the interesting talk above, we've always said "I'm going to SEE this band (insert name of colorful and meaningful artist).
Or, "Did you SEE that band?"

Etc.

I don't hear people saying, "I'm going to go listen to Kuru Prionz and The Scrapies."

Not sure if relevant, just sayin'...


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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
For all the interesting talk above, we've always said "I'm going to SEE this band (insert name of colorful and meaningful artist).
Or, "Did you SEE that band?"

Etc.

I don't hear people saying, "I'm going to go listen to Kuru Prionz and The Scrapies."

Not sure if relevant, just sayin'...

Yeah, there's an evolutionary preference for sight over hearing - but it's often metaphorical as in "I see what you're saying, but" or "if people could only see how wrong they are.." and so on. I only go to "see" bands that I first like the way they sound. Not the other way 'round. Still, sight is king of the senses in many ways.

But here's a thing, at least as far as I'm concerned - take the sound track out of any scary movie and, for me, it's just not scary any longer - at least 90% of the time.

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Not a fan of replicating the "theater experience". For starters, the audio is WAY too dynamic. I had to strain to hear the dialogue while everything else was too loud. At home, I play DVD through the home stereo but with the bass cut way down and a compressor in the chain to tame the dynamics.

I own a 40inch flatscreen TV; it was acquired from my parents' house after they had to be placed in long term care. That's probably the largest I will ever own. DVDs look just fine on them. I bought 600+ DVDs over the years before BR and I'd be a damn fool to replace them all with BR or other format just to relive the "theater experience".

I admit to liking the convenience and portability of mp3s. None of them were downloaded, they were all from my CD collection. However I *CAN* hear the artifacts from an inferior mp3 encoder (which is why I don't download) so from the start I encoded all my mp3s using RazorLame encoder, and after the conversion you're hard pressed to hear differences.

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I'm not sure of the market, but the industry still exists. My latest receiver, an Onkyo (Pioneer) can decode 5.1, 5.2, 7.1, 7.2, and even has some option to splat some of the stereo image up to the ceiling per Dolby specs. Pairing it with a 65" TV pretty much makes every evening Movie Night, even if we're just watching a netflix-ed TV show.

The bad news (anecdotally) is twofold: (1) my receiver started shutting down from overheating until I bought a boxer fan to put on top of it; and (2) my impression is that there are very few high-quality consumer speaker systems being sold. One of these days my 25 year old Polk speakers will fail, and I don't know how I will replace them.


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Originally Posted by Tom Williams
I'm not sure of the market, but the industry still exists. My latest receiver, an Onkyo (Pioneer) can decode 5.1, 5.2, 7.1, 7.2, and even has some option to splat some of the stereo image up to the ceiling per Dolby specs. Pairing it with a 65" TV pretty much makes every evening Movie Night, even if we're just watching a netflix-ed TV show.

The bad news (anecdotally) is twofold: (1) my receiver started shutting down from overheating until I bought a boxer fan to put on top of it; and (2) my impression is that there are very few high-quality consumer speaker systems being sold. One of these days my 25 year old Polk speakers will fail, and I don't know how I will replace them.

Just about the only thing that wears out on speakers is foam surrounds. Those rot and die. They can be reconed but the first time you hear them making unexpected and ugly sounds, turn off the sound. If the lack of support misaligns the voice coil then it's a more expensive proposition. You can pop the grilles off every once in a while and take a look. Foam shows it's age pretty easily, you'll see if they are deteriorating. If they are starting to go, get them reconed. FAR less expensive to remove the drivers, pack them well and ship without the cabinets (goes without saying but...).

The rubber surrounds usually last MUCH longer, which is why they are common in studio monitors. If your Polks have those they should be fine for a while yet.


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Yes, at the consumer level, the retail speaker options are generally overpriced and awful quality.

BUT - as most of you know, the market for home studios has resulted in a flood of very good quality studio monitors at great price points.

I set up a couple of Mackie studio monitors for our TV setup - works great, and even these 6" woofers pump out enough bass for our TV purposes. Cheap and sounds great.

Never have felt the need for a sub for TV purposes - many others feel otherwise. But even then, if I just had to have big TV bass, the 8" Mackies go down to 37hz or thereabouts. Even Sauron's elf-bashing mace I don't think produces much content below that.

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Video technology will keep growing until we all have a jack in our necks and bionic add-on 4-D retinas. Audio technology became more of a sidebar in part because its takes a lot more meat-CPU to process Ligeti or Steve Tibbetts than almost any form of video. Its immediate and flashy, so it'll win the monkey vote for its visual excitement every time. You have to be taught how to listen to more meaty music a bit if you're going to fully embrace it.

I'm perfectly happy with lo-res video because I'm there for story far more than bleeding edge crispness. Many of my ancient cassettes are still contenders. While I certainly love A+ WAV files & even things that reach beyond my antique ears' range, I don't mind a little graininess. I still enjoy many 8-bit things and besides, I'm a little grainy myself.


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Don't go putting that sh8t on everything.
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Video will top out in the next 5-7 years. Audio flatlined a long time ago because tech exceeded the parameters of our sensory mechanism. Video will get there when 8k resolution can run at 90-120fps. Beaming it directly into our eyes, or using VR goggles will all get there. At this point, it will be possible to provide resolution indistinguishable from what our eyes do. Audio will go immersive, and personal.

Lots of work is going on regarding coding into binaural formats for in-ear and headphone delivery. Companies are starting to offer the ability to work with custom HRTF (head-related transfer functions). Basically you get measured and then the software can conform sound to the way your body actually absorbs and reflects sound, the shape of your pinnae, etc. The computer can then calculate what it needs to send to generate a true 3D sound field. Match this up with the right video goggles, and reality replacement beckons. This will all be technically possible in the next 5-10 years at consumer prices. Avid, Nuendo and others are all laying the foundations. Reports are coming out about Atmos mix rooms in peoples home studios. Now this is for film - pandemic accelerated. But I believe much of the delivery will be to binaural formats intended for headphone/IEM applications. The professionals will work on speakers, the consumers on personal devices - just like it is now. Video games, already leading the movie industry by a massive amount will pull away completely because they are the only ones with decades of experience in rendering open worlds in real time. They can add immersive, narrative content faster than Hollywood can learn how to render and scale virtual worlds. These new immersive formats will dominate. Film/TV/etc will continue, just like radio. But they will not be dominant - the immersive thing will be better and preferred for the children born 10 years from now - put 25 years on this tech, and it will be pervasive.

When resolution needs are met, video will change from being about resolution to being about low light shooting, and other places where the envelope is not fully explored - just like audio. For people who want to make things, it will be wonderful. For those whose primary interest is the evolution of the gear? They will get bored and wander off, just like happened in photography. The cost for exceptional gear will come down to where most people in the middle class can afford gear capable of truly high end results. More downward pressure on prices. The pros will continue to get better results because of their experience and time investment, just like audio. (This is already largely true in video world, but it will get even worse once needing a $35k camera (that used to be $150k) becomes a $7k camera). Ultimately, video will be about lights and the investment one makes in lenses. The recording box will be largely unimportant - like AD converters today. Mics and speakers? still super important. Lenses and lights are that for video.

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Dunno guys - in a society where so many people are leery of even established, bread and butter science, and where the public has shown so little interest in high fidelity, even in VR as available, I'm a bit sceptical about all the predictions of "direct to the brain" sorts of media delivery predictions.

I suppose it seems inevitable, as there is something of an arc where artificial gizmos are introduced into the human body to take over this and that function - people will accept that to fix some health problem, but I'm not sure they'll go for implants and direct brain stimulus and all those rather sci-fi ideas simply for communications and entertainment, etc. The "natural" impulse is very, very strong and perennial.

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Originally Posted by Nathanael_I
The cost for exceptional gear will come down to where most people in the middle class can afford gear capable of truly high end results. More downward pressure on prices. The pros will continue to get better results because of their experience and time investment, just like audio. (This is already largely true in video world, but it will get even worse once needing a $35k camera (that used to be $150k) becomes a $7k camera). Ultimately, video will be about lights and the investment one makes in lenses. The recording box will be largely unimportant - like AD converters today. Mics and speakers? still super important. Lenses and lights are that for video.

Excellent, excellent point and a totally fitting analogy. I remain shocked at the videos I can make with Vegas software, a computer, and public domain images compared to when I used to work with Panasonic videotape decks and switchers. On my most recent project, I wanted to include me playing guitar in the video, and you're right - it was all about the lighting, because the iPhone movie camera itself wasn't bad. But I did a TON of processing to cover up for the sketchy lighting. Nonetheless, it actually looked pretty cool...that black and white image in the thumbnail below is soooooooo much better than the raw footage.


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Originally Posted by Nowarezman
Dunno guys - in a society where so many people are leery of even established, bread and butter science, and where the public has shown so little interest in high fidelity, even in VR as available, I'm a bit sceptical about all the predictions of "direct to the brain" sorts of media delivery predictions.

I suppose it seems inevitable, as there is something of an arc where artificial gizmos are introduced into the human body to take over this and that function - people will accept that to fix some health problem, but I'm not sure they'll go for implants and direct brain stimulus and all those rather sci-fi ideas simply for communications and entertainment, etc. The "natural" impulse is very, very strong and perennial.

nat

No one needs a direct implant to the brain. If the VR headset covers your eyes and ears to the point where your brain can't tell, there's no reason for an invasive implant. The brain lives in the dark anyway, it only gets electrical signals from the rest of the body. So there's no reason to skip the senses, if they are being fed replacement data anyway. I think lots of people will try a headset and be ok once there's no nausea concerns (ie, the frame rate gets high enough and there is zero tearing).

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Craig, yes, the iPhone camera is quite acceptable. It's real downfall is low light. But give it enough light to saturate its tiny photon wells, and the footage is quite usable. I find that the iPhone is great as a "B-camera" - particularly if I want an overhead shot or something that is hard to do with a DSLR on a tripod all rigged out. I have a little clamp that adapts it to 1/4-20 thread, and then I use a ball joint from the Triad-Orbit system at the end of a boom arm, and I can put the camera in just about any arbitrary place.

I definitely have more invested in lights than cameras, and now that I have a green screen, I want even more lights... Even more than lenses, light is the limiting factor. Whatever you can light well... looks good. Once you start caring about have the background look good too, then all of a sudden, you need lights to soften shadows and otherwise manipulate the dynamic range so that it is small enough to fit entirely within the camera's capabilities.... I don't know about other studios, but there's a lot of things in mine that cast harsh, hard shadows that really aren't photogenic. Reflectors, small lights hidden behind furniture, etc turn it into a wonderful set. But great video is lit video most of the time....

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Originally Posted by Nathanael_I
Craig, yes, the iPhone camera is quite acceptable. It's real downfall is low light.

My understanding is there are better cameras for low light conditions, but that the latest Apple models have improved in that respect. I found this article comparing smart phone low-light capabilities interesting...my iPhone 7 is getting a bit long in the tooth, and I wondered if you'd used any of the phones mentioned in the article.

Quote
I definitely have more invested in lights than cameras, and now that I have a green screen, I want even more lights... Even more than lenses, light is the limiting factor.

I want to get a green screen, and wasn't aware that would need more lights but it makes sense...it's because the green needs to be uniform, right? I shot the video above against a wall and was able to treat it like a pseudo green screen in the sense that I could drop the color out with the Vegas chroma key plug-in.

But I can see that if I want to take this any further, I need to set up a proper video space and invest in real lighting...

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The real issue with video lighting is that it is fairly affordable to get enough light using direct sources, even with LED lighting. Direct sources are not visually ideal for most of us, softer lighting is far more flattering and easier to work with for good looking results.

To get more even lighting requires other strategies. One can add specific lights to take care of specific issues.
That does add to the cost and complexity of setting up for a shoot.

Or one can obtain far more powerful lighting and use diffusers to blow a big, fluffy light into the space that softens the shadows by lowering the overall contrast. Then you can add fewer specific lights to taste.

The only way to do that "inexpensively" is to use hot lights. Much can be done with 2 or 3 of those yellow and black work lights that go on sale at Lowe's and Harbor Freight all the time.
2 sheets of white 4x8 foam core taped together on the long side and set on end in V shape makes an excellent reflector/diffusor at low cost.

The problem is heat, hot lights are HOT!!!! In addition, the color balance of the hot lamps is quite different than that of LED lighting, mixing the two could be fraught with peril. Ideally, you would use a Macbeth Color Checker chart to find a correct color balance and use only on or the other type of lighting.

My friend Brittany Collins gets good results by using the sliding glass door on the end of her room as a soft light source. She puts a single LED ring lght closer to cast some soft light on her face. The color balance overall is not "correct" but it is close enough to not be disturbing.
Also an iPhone video camera, not sure which iPhone she has. The results are above average for what I have typically seen - not "studio quality" by any means but studio quality will not come cheap.

FWIW, I took 4 semesters of photography in college, lab assisted in both wet/film labs and Photoshop labs for a few years and was mentored by a professional wedding photographer. Poor choice of "career path" but the knowledge does come in handy fairly often.

In a way, video/photography is sort of like audio recording only you are using lighting/reflection instead of microphones/placement. It is trial and error until you find what works for you and your space.
I've got shooting product and lighting to show defects (used gear, an important aspect for success) DOWN. I can just put things up and go.

It would take considerable work and investment to get a good looking video setup going here. One of these days, maybe...


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Just to add while I am thinking of it.

Be aware that unless you can get at least 5-6 feet away from a green screen (more is better), you will have "green edges" on your face, hands, guitar, etc.

Colored walls in the room can and will create color casts as well.

So. Much. Fun!!!!!!


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In addition to Kuru's thoughts, if you are wanting to do green screen and play in front of it, 8' x 8' will be the smallest size that will work - I recommend the PXB system (go to Filmtools - they carry it). 5' x 7' is narrow - standing still with hands near your body. The ~$120 5x7 green screens are very flimsy. Work fine. Just VERY flimsy. Green screen takes space if you want more than talking heads and to get enough away from it that you don't get a lot of spill. If you want to replace the floor, then you have to use seamless backdrop that spills on to the floor, and light your floor! It all has to be lit. The more evenly it is lit, the easier it is to key it out in Premiere or whatever you use. Mastering the keyer will take experimentation, but the Ultrakeyer in Premiere does have spill suppression tools and is quite sophisticated.

Once you have a clean key, you are just getting started. Given that the goal is probably to put yourself on some other background, then the camera angle and lighting in that shot need to roughly work for the lighting that you put on yourself, otherwise it doesn't really work. Of course, if you are doing some computer generated or pattern based background, then it doesn't matter at all.

Video is a deep well - just like audio. Doing it "at all" is very inexpensive - grab a phone and start. Doing it well is more. Doing it to professional standards is a very different thing.

Big soft light, up close is what makes people look great. Direct light on people is rarely flattering unless you want very high-contrast looks. To get this, it's not just the lights.... it's also the stands needed to safety position big modifiers. I have a 5' Broncolor Octa-box - the modifier was a few hundred dollars. The light was expensive, and is color temperature variable (I use an iPhone colorimeter to match the color to room lights as needed). The 12' geared Manfrotto boom arm was almost $1000, and the junior stand it mounts to is also heavy, expensive and has multiple sandbags on it. But I can safely float that light overhead anywhere in my studio, at any angle and adjust it all from the ground. The result in the frame? Full professional excellence. But not cheap, not small, not light, etc. The result in the footage isn't the softbox, or the light, or the boom, or the stand.... Its all of it. Its a system purchase. Being able to put the light overhead (say like the sun...) makes very natural light that can't be done on straight stands. Like most production things - production value costs time, money and inconvenience. When I am shooting myself talking for my day job, I've got three lights on me, background lit, etc. Everything in the frame is managed... (I am a public-facing spokesperson for the company I work for, among other things, and deliver fully professional video within our brand guidelines).

I've looked to buy lighting used where I can - pro quality, good color rendition lights, and high output are not cheap. The KinoFlo fluorescent stuff is all available at good prices - it is cool light, very high quality, and available used for 30% of new cost as the industry shifts to LED. These were my first "real" lights, and what a difference. It is fairly inexpensive to light a single talking head on a backdrop - YouTube is full of demonstrations of 60W LED lights and flimsy soft boxes. Lighting a drum set in a studio? or two people in an environment that makes up the background? Its a lot more work and MUCH more light is needed. Modern DSLRs with great sensors have made it so that lower power LED's can work, but if you try to light a room, and have "good" shadows, you will quickly learn that it takes a LOT of photons.

The Apurture 300x is a place to start for a "big" or "main" light if you want to fill a big softbox and get exposure down to ISO 200/400 range.... Its smaller siblings are also quite useful - and can be adapted with speedings to all the major brands of modifiers. 160W LED monolights will fill big modifiers (like my 5' octabox or a 4' x 6' rectangle) and give ISO 400-ISO 800 up close - back them off to do a group, and you'll be wishing for more photons... There's a reason pro video producers use JokerBug, BronColor or other HMI lights that put out 400-800W... (these cost $8-10k, but can be rented in most major cities for $70-100 a day). So if you are looking to do a shoot for a particular project vs. use it all the time, rental is a great option. You can get spectacular light and then give it back for a fraction of what it costs to buy.

The main thing? Video is a slippery slope. Just like audio production.... The camera is only the tip of the iceberg... The amount under the water line in all the supporting stuff is MUCH larger. The camera body ends up being a small part of the total system cost for a given quality level. As YouTube has matured, most of the major channels are shooting pretty good looking footage, and they are running rigs not dissimilar to local wedding and event videographers and have better than entry level lights.

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^^^ Nathaniel has infinitely more experience in video than I ever will and he's sharing a reality that is simply out of my reach.

That said, I knew that I'd left out quite a few things before and so - regarding color in particular I will share some lessons I've learned.

The first thing is that producing video (after it's in the can) will require a color neutral space and a calibrated monitor. Rest assured that once you have color correct, EVERYBODY else (myself included) will pop the final product up on an uncalibrated screen - it will almost never look like how you saw it.

Next up, long ago one of my instructors said "what color of white is it?" and while I sort of got what he was saying - a few years later I was working in a film based photo lab as a custom printer - Type R (transparencies to positive prints). One of our professional customers brought in a couple of rolls (6x6 cm) of models dressed as cheerleaders and holding pom-poms (the product).
The backdrop was white. The cheerleader outfits were white with colored trim. Shooting on transparency film with a white backdrop and perfect exposures so there was some density in the white.
Despite so much white and very soft lighting, the edges of the white outfits were distinct everywhere on the brightly lit white background - flawless. I printed the proofs, stared at them in disbelief and wrote a note on the package before I took it up front for pickup - "Please have Kelly ask for me when he picks up." When I spoke to him, he said that he'd measured the color of the white outfits with a Minolta color meter and seeing that they were just a bit cyan, he chose one of his 4 or 5 "white" backdrops that was ever so slightly yellow. That tiny detail made a big difference. I've never used it but I've never forgotten it either.

Splitting the tiniest hair and then splitting the split!!!! Yikes!!!!!!

Last but not least, all males who are working with color should take tests for color blindness. About 16% of us have some form of color blindness. Female humans have much more accurate color vision overall, with a very, very low percentage of any form of color blindness.
I learned quickly that I could check to see if the color of my prints was accurate by simply asking any available female for an opinion on the color. They might have used a different term but they always saw everything.

Once for fun, I made 2 test strips - supposed to be black and white - with 1 point of magenta added in Photoshop to one of the strips. That is on a scale of 256 levels of saturation of each color, so 1 click is not much at all. I took them in to the accountant, who had amazing color vision - set them in front of her and she instantly pointed at the one with 1 point of magenta and said "That one is pink!!!!"
I honestly could not see any difference between the 2 strips at all. She could.

Women are your best friends for color matching, that simple fact alone saved my butt many times.

Last edited by KuruPrionz; 12/21/20 12:10 AM.

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Originally Posted by David Emm
Video technology will keep growing until we all have a jack in our necks and bionic add-on 4-D retinas.

laugh But what if we have to choose between that and the inevitable upcoming iPenis?

The auditory equivalent of what you describe would seem to be cochlear implants, a technology still in it's infancy but with unlimited possibilities. As someone with a hearing disability I have been following that for some time (seeing the the excellent "The Sound of Metal" re- focused me on that).

RE hearing disabilities, and the way most seem to prioritize sight over sound, it always seemed odd to me that I am pickier about audio quality than my normal- hearing musician friends. I can't stand the typical FB live feed, for example. Maybe I've always been that way- as a normal- hearing kid, I couldn't stand to be in the room for long when American Bandstand came on TV. The grainy audio coming from a mono speaker was depressing. Plus I was always PO'd because cartoons were over. smile


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