2 Responses to Ephemeral Digital Video Errors: Justice League

  1. Throughout the history of technology, each new device or medium has produced its own unique method of manifesting errors. And as each technology is replaced or improved by new technology, the old errors, so familiar to us, become a thing of the past.

    For example, most people over the age of thirty and living comfortably in a modern advanced society will, upon reflection, realize that it’s been many years since they’ve seen TV “snow” or heard a real record scratch. Why? Because everybody watches cable TV and other closed-system video sources (DVD, DVR, YouTube, etc), and nobody plays vinyl records anymore (except DJs). You’re more likely to see snow on a TV in a movie, or to hear a record scratch as a part of the sound effects in a commercial, than to actually experience these errors for real.

    The distinct sound of the skipping-CD is next on the list of errors whose time is limited — as we move from CDs to digital audio, and as CD player technology gets better, we will soon find the sound of a spinning CD trying to find its way around a fingerprint or scratch, repeating the same half-second sound over and over again, will become a vague memory.

    Now digital video errors are the error of the moment. DVD players, digital cable and satellite TV, broadband/internet video formats, and TiVo/DVR devices all use digital compression to help fit massive amounts of audio and video data into a small storage device (like a hard drive or flash memory) or a narrow transmission channel (like a DSL line or a satellite broadcast).

    I’ve even seen digital errors in the movie theater, as they are now projecting feature films digitally.

    For various reasons, ranging from electrical storms, slow computer performance, scratched disks, and cheap hardware, sometimes these digital videos produce visible errors. And sometimes, I think, these errors can be pretty interesting, even beautiful to look at. The way the image unravels — revealing multiple frames through a seemingly random spray of square punctures, with a gory splatter of solid-colored magenta and green blocks of pure but meaningless data — to me reflects a kind of digital violence, like an accidental dissection of the compression scheme itself. We see the way the compressor compares one frame with the next, the way it subdivides images into large chunks containing dozens of pixels.

    But soon this, too, will be a thing of the past. As storage and bandwidth becomes cheaper and more capacious, the need for excessive and risk-prone compression will diminish. There will be no reason to take a 500 gigabyte feature film and reduce it to 5 gigabytes through frame-by-frame, pixel-by-pixel harsh compression codexes. Instead, compression will be lightweight and focused more on error-prevention — and then, if the glitches are insurmountable, instead of showing a shattered blocky image no image will display at all. The gruesome but beautiful images produced by today’s digital video systems will soon be a distant memory. So I’m gonna try to document a few of them here every so often. Enjoy!

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