Tuesday, 29 December 2015

☴ Watchlist: HFR & ASMR

I've noticed an emerging trend amongst progressive filmmakers. Firstly they treat online as their primary global distribution platform (natch) but secondly I am seeing more and more content produced with HFR and ASMR.

HFR has largely been rejected by cinema going audiences, but I believe long-term it will become de-facto standard and 24fps will be regarded by my grandchildren as I regard the quirky looking 18fps footage of a hundred years ago incorrectly played back at 24fps.

Everyone can be a filmmaker using a single device.
It's ironic that as a young filmmaker stuck with 50Hz PAL video, I hated that horrible 'soap opera' look of 50i. I strived for that 'film look' just as some modern filmmakers strive for that 'VHS look'. Madness! I yearned for D1 720x576 but when it was finally affordable it was basically obsolete. I wish I'd discovered Laver's law in my twenties then it may have all made a lot more sense to me.

I remember reading, I forget where - other than in print in the early 90s - that when developing Star Tours the boffins got great reactions from audiences when subjected to HFR (60fps was trialled IIRC) - not interlaced like TV, but progressive, actual frames, like film. It wasn't to be though, probably due to reasons of expense and available bandwidth in existing technology. Wish I could remember what the article was and where I read it!

Reading that, it stuck with me to this day. So HFR came as no surprise to me. I believe more motion data is just as important as UHD and beyond. Kids growing up on console gaming just see a blur when they go to the cinema. In fact, so do I (and I don't even own a console).

Cinema may stick with 24fps (for that extra stop in low-light during acquisition), but it's doubtful if IMAX will. I firmly believe IMAX will supplant contemporary cinema as the 'narrative event experience' because home cinema is more comfortable (and a whole lot cheaper) than going out to the cinema. Audiences are split about 3D at the cinema but frankly that's a big fat red herring that gets rolled out every couple of decades. If you want 3D go see a stage play, they are awesome nowadays.

There's an argument that the dating scene will sustain modern cinema. I call bullshit on that, as Netflix & Chill has been marketed so successfully to the younger generation who have grown up with choice and abundance.

EXT. Star Tours.
No way home cinema will stick with 24fps, it will cater to the console kids who grew up gaming at 60fps and will demand their own normal when voting with their wallets (well, assuming the concept of a wallet survives ...)

HFR, especially at 60fps, solves a lot of problems for the progressive filmmaker.

ASMR hasn't made it into cinemas, mainly because 'true' ASMR required the listener to be wearing headphones. It's unlikely that traditional production technique will ever cater to ASMR. However, again, I believe my grandchildren may be more au fait with it than the general public of today. Whilst it may never be mainstream, I believe its benefits will ripple out just as Hi-Fi has done over the last 40 years or so.

There's no doubt that ASMR is pseudoscience, however I have definitely experienced emotional and 'tingly' responses to sound and ASMR is a good an explanation as any.

Essentially ASMR boils down to two things, of which in my experience only one needs to be present (but both is better).

POV often neglects audio completely.
Firstly, perhaps most importantly, ASMR is positional stereo. This usually means recorded binaurally POV. Not practical for most narratives (great for first-person-shooters that the kids play on their consoles - are you detecting a theme yet?). However, I believe a good stereo sound stage reproduction will suffice (more practical for production of traditional narrative).

Secondly, frequency response. Not necessarily flat, but it needs to be 'clean' rather than 'muddy'. This is because the ear cannot discern the direction of bass frequencies but higher frequencies can be highly positional. Higher frequencies tend to lend more air, and thus feed into those ASMR tingles.

It's totally possible for ASMR to be mono, but it is far more effective in stereo. Stereo allows the ear to pick out positional details due to time differences in the sound wave hitting each ear.

This is why it annoys me that Apple's iPhone cannot record stereo with its three (count 'em!) onboard mics. In every other way, the onboard audio always amazes me except for this glaring omission. Sure, external mics are available (and very decent M/S mics they are too - see video embedded below) but sometimes the onboard mics are all you have - typical during the frugalwave. Onboard stereo mics on an iPhone would no doubt be thought about and positioned correctly in relation to the camera lens (or the corrective/adaptive DSP would be spot on).

So Apple has 800 engineers working on the iPhone's camera that they buy from Sony - so what about the audio-visual?

UPDATE: Yes, I should have mentioned the digital bits that represent latitude and all that good 4:4:4 stuff but I think something akin to Moore's "law" in CCD / CMOS / NEXT TLA will see better and better low-light performance over time - it's going to happen anyway.

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