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IMAG Revolution

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When I got started in video for large shows, IMAG was a new idea. Although we had the cameras and capabilities, CRT projectors held us back for a while. But when they got brighter (near the end of their lifespan as a staging item) we began to couple them with cameras. The term IMAG hadn't been coined yet - at my first company we referred to the technique as "Video Reinforcement". At this point, most of the time IMAG was as simple as a camera hooked directly to a projector, or alternated with our other sources using simple crash switchers.

But the real explosion in IMAG came with the digital revolution of the 1990's. The introduction of chip cameras and high-brightness projectors made IMAG more practical and better looking. And the availability of smaller, less expensive titlers and SEGs added a lot of pseudo-broadcast look. Anybody remember the Video Toaster? Newtek can be credited with a lot of the boom in IMAG by making the necessary transitions and titling easy, portable and affordable. Even those of us who couldn't stomach the idea of risking a show to an Amiga benefited, because other products quickly came along to compete.

So the 90's gave us the ability to conveniently switch multiple cameras, add titling, and perform basic transition effects.

Now the big question: Why did we stop there?

I see a lot of shows, both my own and other people's. And most of it is a straight-ahead, effects switch between PowerPoint and cameras. Technicians seem to have become satisfied now that we have the availability of dependable, low-cost multisynchronous effects switchers. So we go from a stored opening logo to camera to PowerPoint to camera and back to Powerpoint, and repeat it until the closing logo.

Now, I'm not talking about the annual meeting that has a producer and a real budget. But most of the corporate shows I see really do fit the above description. In fact, one of the biggest things I hear is excitement about moving this same process to high definition.

So what? So the screens get wider, and the picture gets sharper. What are we going to DO with it? In fact, I think a lot of clients have resisted moving their shows to HD simply because, for the average show, we haven't given them a good enough reason. Most of us talk as if HDTV was an end in itself, and believe clients should take it up just because it's available.

So where are the compelling new applications for IMAG? What's on the horizon to create a new use of the medium, or even a new paradigm?
Well, there are a few that I see in the broadcast (or narrowcast) world that could create interesting shows. One of the best is object recognition software like the new interactive television channels use to allow a viewer to select an object in the show and find out more about it. This could allow for a really dynamic show where objects on stage (or off stage) are related to their web page, catalog information, etc. Sure, this software is expensive now - but just look at what has happened to non-linear editing prices and tell me it won't become available soon.

Another interesting idea has been put forth by Microsoft Live Labs at this year's TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference. It's Photosynth, a software system for intelligently tying images and videos together by relating the contents as objects. It could have the capacity for tying the presentations and video together in such a way as to eliminate the constant transitioning between PowerPoint and video, making the whole presentation more interesting and cohesive. For a really great demo of the technology in its very early stages, take a look at www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/129.

This is certainly not the sum of all the video technologies that are certain to hit us in the future. But the real question is: will we do more with them? We need to break out creativity from the large show, and help bring it back to ALL shows. And I think we need to do it for a great reason: if we let these meetings deteriorate to the point where there an endless parade of same-template-everywhere bullet slides, there will be lots of compelling reasons to eventually eliminate a lot of them as time-wasters. In fact, the online meeting sites like WebEx have a LOT to offer for those kinds of meetings. And, as the internet generation takes over, they're having a natural inclination to use them more, because they grew up chatting anyway. But a website can't compete with an exciting, imaginative event.

But have you looked at "Second Life" recently? Maybe, in the long run, they CAN compete.

Let's get busy.



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