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New Home Cinema: Foundations

New Home Cinema: Foundations

The evolution of home movies from a 20th century closed system (screened within the home) into a 21st century mass medium (with worldwide distribution) has required the confluence of several advances in technology. These technologies are for the most part the same as those that have helped make videoblogging possible:

1. Image Capture (Creation)

The most significant technology shift in consumer motion picture recording has been the change in consumer recording formats from analog (editing and distribution bound by original media, lossy duplication methods) to digital (easier conversion to alternate modes of editing and distribution, lossless duplication). Of note here also is the accompanying reduction in size and weight of cameras made possible by the evolution in formats.

2. PC Editing (Creation/Manipulation)

As digital video codecs improved, so too did processor and hard drive speeds in consumer-level desktop computers. FireWire (and USB2.0) added the final link, by making peripheral throughput fast enough to transfer digitally a DV signal into the computer for manipulation and editing. Before long, free nonlinear digital video editing software (iMovie, Movie Maker) became standard issue on all consumer PCs.

3. Broadband adoption (Distribution)

DSL and cable internet access also reached critical mass in the US among households with PCs and digital video cameras, making it easier to upload and view video online. Advancements in video codecs have also aided this evolution, by making file sizes smaller and audio/video quality better.

4. File hosting (Distribution)

In 2005, nonprofit (Ourmedia/Internet Archive) and commercial (Blip.tv, Google Video, YouTube) services began to offer free hosting and bandwidth for user-contributed video. Moreover, they offered file uploads via a web browser, further lowering the knowledge requirements of consumers wishing to post their videos online.

5. Publishing (Distribution)

Several of the hosting services were designed to support custom websites, such as those made possible with the use of free blogging tools (Blogger, WordPress, Feedburner). Building upon the infrastructure developed by bloggers and podcasters, video creators were able to utilize RSS2.0’s enclosure capabilities to distribute their work to audiences directly, for offline viewing on a computer or portable viewing device. Others (YouTube, Google) were offered as online destination sites, at which media makers could share video with their family and friends without having to design a personalized online presence. Within the publicly browsable, searchable, taggable destination site, these personal, previously private videos are available to be discovered by strangers with extra time on their hands.

In my interviews with 21st century home moviemakers I intend to ask about each of these areas, and which have been the key contributing factors to the creation and publishing of their work. While I may do a quick summary of the specific tools they use, I’ll also ask them to reflect on the future of these technologies: what they’d like to see, what they expect to see.

New Home Cinema

Home cinema” has in the past two decades been a consumer sales term used to make “home theater” sound more upscale. It uses the term “cinema” as defined (archaically, or perhaps merely in Britain) as a theater at which one would go to see a movie (as distinct from a theater at which one would view a live dramatic or dance production).

Whether due to my late 20th Century suburban California upbringing or my bachelor’s degree in Film, I tend towards the use of “cinema” as more broadly the art of motion pictures, or a subset therein. E.g. “Classic Hollywood Cinema”, “Italian Neorealist Cinema”, “New German Cinema“.

For me, then, “Home Cinema” is a broad term encompassing the full breadth of consumer “home movie” making, starting (according to Kodak) in 1923 with the release of the 16mm “Cine Kodak” Camera and the Kodascope Projector. In the 1930s, 8mm film cameras and projectors were introduced, lowering prices, and quadrupling the number of minutes per reel. Super8 followed in the 1960s, further democratizing the process of home movie making–a simple cartridge made film loading easier, and allowed for automatic ASA settings within the camera. Battery powered cameras eliminated the tiresome hand-cranking of older formats, and made light metering, zooms, and ultimately sound recording possible.

Still, the cartridges only lasted a mere 3 1/3 minutes, and editing remained for the most part in-camera. (It was possible to splice film with tape and/or cement, but since the film stock was reversal, a bad cut was irreversible.)

With the advent of “portable” video cameras (the camera was portable, but carrying the tape deck on your shoulder–murder) came the new term, “home video”. What was most revolutionary about this new format was the ability to take long, uninterrupted takes on a single two-hour tape. This further broadened the appeal of home movie making, and diminished the appeal of home movie viewing (say what you will about the blurry jitters of Super8, its length forced users to exercise discretion in their shot length, and even the most boring films were over after just a few minutes).

Editing remained a practice of the persistent, but those who invested in editing solutions, or even those who hooked two VCRs together were rewarded by the ability to edit without damaging your original source tape, and to dub a secondary audio track underneath the live sound.

Adobe Premiere helped bring home video editing to the personal computer in a limited fashion, but the shot heard ’round the world in the home digital video revolution was Apple’s decision to ship iMovie and a FireWire port with its consumer desktops and notebooks (iMac and iBook). Sony, Canon, and others had already been selling MiniDV cameras with IEEE1394 (FireWire) out ports, but Apple made the connection useful to the standard consumer–offering sophisticated digital effects, transitions, and titling without any degradation in video or audio quality. Yet with the addition of iDVD and the synchronization of the two applications in the suite called iLife, the final audience remained trapped within the living room.

Fast forward to 2005, and RSS2.0-with-enclosures–the choice of podcasters for syndication and distribution–has been adopted (along with modern blogging tools) by a small band of videomakers as a way to publish their short videos via the internet to a distributed audience. Among these pioneer videobloggers and video podcasters are parents, who use this confluence of technologies to convert the home movies of yesterday into a new digital mass medium.

This is what I call the New Home Cinema of the 21st century.

As a videoblogging parent myself, I am interested in exploring this wave of media: its aesthetics, its meaning, its economics, even issues of ethics and safety. What motivates its creators? How is this affecting children’s development, and the emotional life of the family? How does it reflect or respond to the larger culture of “reality” television programming? How does it differ or how is it the same as home movies in the past? Is this just a repackaged “America’s Funniest Home Videos”?

I hope to engage in dialogue with mediamakers working in the New Home Cinema. I’ll begin with the world of “videoblogging”, after which I hope to explore video destination sites such as Video Google and YouTube. I’ll primarily focus on videos featuring children, but will probably sidestep into pet videos and domestic-themed videos (gardening, cooking, etc.).

I expect that I will draw the line before I get to performative videos (e.g. amateur narratives, comedic sketches, lip synching) or audience-address videos (e.g. personal diaries), but the borders are often blurred and overlapping. These are of course also only possible with consumer access to the technology and tools, and as such could be included under this rubric, but I am most interested in the depiction/portrayal/simulacrum of domestic realities of home and family, so that will be where I direct my focus.

We’ll see where my exploration takes me from there.