Tuesday 17 January 2006

What's your resolution?

No, this isn't about your new year's resolution but something a bit more technical.

It's like this. I went to see a movie in a theatre some days back. Before the main movie there were, as usual, commercials. All, absolutely all the commercials that were played were commercials I'd seen on TV. On closer inspection, I noticed they were identical to their TV counterparts.

Now, I know for a fact that ad agencies that make commercials for TV release them in theatres as well because theatre releases cost vastly less that TV releases. But wait, there's more. The commercials that play in theatres play out as 35 mm movie film in a projector, just like movies do. But they are converted from video to film. They call it 'reverse telecine'.

So here's how it works.

Ad films are shot on 35 mm film. After processing they run the negative in a telecine. Here they grade the shots to give the commercials a definitive look and mood. Often times, a graded commercial looks very different from what was actually filmed.

Anyway, after grading it is edited, then mastered to a Digital Betacam tape for submission to channels. So, what started out as 35 mm film with a resolution of at least 2k - meaning a frame size of at least 2048x1556 pixels - goes through the entire post cycle with a frame size of 720x576. Good enough for Television but coarse for film.

The actual process of telecine converts 2048x1556 pixels to 720x576 pixels. So a full three fourths of the picture resolution is thrown away. Then, for the film version, the very same 720x576 frame from a video cassette, is 'blown-up' to 2048x1556 pixels. This is called 'reverse telecine'.

No wonder ads in theatres look a bit fuzzy like the focus was out of whack or something. But strangely enough, I asked the people who went with me to the movie if they noticed something wrong with the commercials. Even after pointing out obvious lack of sharpness and strange artifacts, they simply couldn't see it.

The next time you go to the movies take a good hard look at the commercials. See if you can see what I'm saying.

What's your resolution?

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