All my professional life, I've been combining small pictures to make big ones, or, more accurately, to fake big ones. I got started in the business during the very last throes of multi-image, where we used large numbers of slide projectors to create panoramic images. There was a large variety of hardware available from a large number of powerful manufacturers, most of which seemed designed to make the projection system behave in unpredictable ways.
But, as difficult and finicky as the technology was, creating large images by stitching slides together was a lot more friendly than the way we've been doing it with video for the last 15 years or so. Slides had clean edges, and slide projection lenses had great geometry control.
But soon, we did indeed move from creating pans with slides to creating them with video. How well I remember watching guys like Chris Gillespie spend an entire night edge-matching three Hughes/JVC projectors. Or guys like my brother Troy spending weeks processing media to line up correctly for a two-minute intro. Or myself, spending an entire weekend figuring out why two identical hard drive recorders with identical firmware and identical loads would run at slightly different frame rates, with the manufacturer mostly attempting to deny that it was possible for them to do so.
And yet, the ability to stun an audience with a panorama in high resolution has traditionally made all the effort worthwhile.
But why do we do it? Technically, I mean. Well, the answer is pretty simple. Because the projectors, and the playback systems (be they video devices or computers) simply couldn't handle the resolution or aspect ratios required by themselves. So the industry invented an entire category of equipment to blend and synchronize images. And, like the multi-image equipment of my youth, it's been difficult and finicky to work with, even from the best manufacturers.
But, over the last few weeks, I've looked at a couple of projection systems with 4k resolution, and specs for 8k and 12k machines. And then, just this morning, I looked at a computer running a single video with 9xHD resolution -- glitchlessly and with both CPU time and graphics memory to spare.
So this begs the question: will edge blending become a thing of the past as the power of the projectors and playback devices makes it less necessary? Or will producers start demanding 24k pans with three 8k projectors?
Personally, like with all the previous panoramic technologies, I believe we're going to see a lull in edge blending while the production market absorbs the new capabilities of the playback devices and display systems. Then, we'll quickly see a resurgence to "Gee, what'll happen if we combine four of those?" The display and playback devices will continue to leapfrog with each other, much as they always have.
The important thing to remember is that this market will continue to be driven not by the availability of the playback systems, but by the capability of production systems to produce materials that use them. The worst mistakes I've made in the acquisition of staging equipment was acquiring devices with amazing capabilities that my production clients didn't understand.
Look, I've made a career out of educating my clients, my employees, and even my competitors. But there is a class of product, designed to sell during these "leapfrog" periods in technology, where I'd like to not start from scratch if I'm going to get in and make some money before they become obsolete. And I'll tell you right now: any blending or windowing product you buy today will be obsolete within two years, at least as far as the ability to sell it as cutting edge.
So, at this year's shows, when I look at edge blending or windowing systems, I won't be looking at resolution. And I won't be looking at how easy they are to align. I'll be looking for tight integration with accepted production systems. I want plugins for Final Cut Pro HD that I can give to clients to work with. I want template documents for Illustrator and Photoshop. I want guidelines for production written in language that producers and corporate clients understand. And I want a commitment on the part of the manufacturer that, when it comes to these types of devices, they'll start introducing them to the people that drive content as well as to the people that stage it.
Because, while most of them have done a good enough sales job to put it on my shelves, I want them to start working one step beyond that. I don't want them on my shelves -- I want them on my shows.