Nov 04, 2020


Stream Resolutions Are Quality Maximums, Not Minimums
Dec 19, 2019

From the "It's Obvious When I Say It, But..." department: I recently figured out to put something into words that has been bothering me for a while: We tend to treat stream resolutions as putting a minimum guarantee of quality on a stream. Thus, a "720P stream" must be lower in quality than a "1080P stream", which must be lower in quality than a "4K stream".

This is backwards. Stream resolution puts a maximum quality on a stream. For a given codec setting, the more bits you allocate to a stream, the better it will look, until eventually it gets to the point where there's no more quality to be had. A 720P stream will reach this point sooner than a 1080P stream, which will in turn reach it much sooner than a 4K stream.

However, prior to that point, what really matters more is the bandwidth of a stream. A "720P stream" pushing a megabyte/second will be higher in quality than a "4K stream" pushing 800kilobytes/second. It's completely possible to have a higher quality "lower resolution" stream.

You can see this in DVDs. The early ones were poorly encoded, and often had fewer bits since double-layer DVDs weren't widely-available and cheap yet. The later ones are much nicer, and with the double-layer, have a lot of bits. The result is a DVD stream that is pretty much maxed out, despite its lower resolution. Blu-rays have a larger nominal resolution, a superior codec, and the ability to throw about 5 times as many bits at a video stream... yet for all that, they aren't necessarily that much better. If I get up close to a Blu-ray stream on my TV, it clearly has a ways to go before it hits "maximum quality" for 1080P. It's certainly better, just not by as much as you'd think, because modern DVDs are already fairly high quality. Contrary to popular opinion, if you are a cinephile, there is still a place for distributing media to people in their homes, where you can casually allocate 40GB to a single movie for a quality experience.

Marketing takes advantage of this widespread misunderstanding. I tend to look askance at anyone claiming a "4K stream". Few companies are willing to pay to serve such streams properly, and even in 2019, few home Internet connections are strong enough to reliably stream what it would take to truly max out a 4K stream. I've seen many "4K streams" that are more accurately described as "fairly decent 1080P streams, finally".

Dec 20, 2017

While writing comment on another site, I accidentally came up with what I think is a pretty good definition of "gimmick", since the internet tends to throw the term around with wild abandon.

A storyteller that likes getting paid should do things that make the audience want to come back for more. A gimmick is when you do something that win in the short term, but is ultimately burning your audience as they tire of it.

The linked article talks about one of JJ Abram's go-to gimmicks. It's a good one that has carried him quite far, but it's ultimately a gimmick as people figure out that the answer to the questions that his stories pose is "There is no answer, and in fact, whatever you think it is, it's not that."

That latter clause in particular is not only gimmicky, but kinda a jerk move. When watching an ongoing series, the Internet as a whole will propose every sensible possibility, every crazy possibility, every wish-fullfillment possibility, and every out-right stupid possibility. If what is truly going to happen isn't in the set of things the Internet is guessing, you'd better have a really good reason, or otherwise, that is a strong signal that you have screwed up and written a dumb story, if nobody at all could guess what was coming next. You don't want 100% of the audience to be able to guess, but you also don't want to be writing stories where 0% of the audience guessed.

Motion controls for games are often referred to as "gimmicks", but using this metric we can distinguish some differences. Motion controls that are replacements for button presses are gimmicks. Nifty at first, but eventually the game instinctive notices the lower precision and higher latency of the motion control, and begins to hate it. Motion controls that use the continuous, physical nature of motion controls to do something that requires it is not a gimmick. I find even years later, using them to aim, or steer cars in Mario Kart, is still a superior control method, sometimes even the best commonly-available method.

The best test for a gimmick is time. If you want to go back to it a couple of years later, it's probably not a gimmick. If the fad rises, burns across the landscape, and then fades with hardly a trace (found footage movies, for instance), it's a gimmick.

Aging in the 21st Century
May 05, 2017

It's abstract to think about how one will someday be old and feeble, but as I was filtering over some spam a moment ago, it occurred to me that someday, my children will have to take away my email because I won't be able to properly process Mr. Al-Amin Dagash's email titled REQUEST FOR A LEGITIMATE BUSINESS PARTNERSHIP.

Now that's a sobering thought.

Feb 01, 2016

Around about 1998, I was talking to my electronic music teacher and ethused about the day that would come when we could put, say, everything Mozart ever did on a single cube, holding my fingers up in the air separated by about an inch. "You know, not everything Mozart did was great." "No, I get it, I just mean him as someone who put out a lot of stuff. Everything the Beatles ever did would work, too."

Silly me. I thought it would take a cube.

For $3, you can get the Big Mozart Box and for another $1, the complete Mozart symphonies. This clocks in at approximately 2.6GB of reasonable quality MP3s. (Not the bestest possible, but certainly pretty good.) It's not everything he did, I don't think, so let's call it 4GB total. That's a mere 1/32nd of a 128GB SD card, which is very much an areal storage device and not a cubic one.

In other news, if you've been inclined to buff your classical music collection, it turns out to be really cheap to just buy the MP3s, even if you've already got Amazon prime.

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