Video Frame Rate – how a fortunate technological accident is on the verge of being ‘corrected’ (Part 1)


What could this possibly have to do with a music web site? Guest contributor Ray Purchase explains:

Monty Python once did a sketch about the difference between film and video - yes, really they did, and it's here:

The joke was that in 1970s television, scenes in the studio were shot on video, but for outdoor scenes, 16mm film was used mainly because of the portability of the equipment. The juxtaposition of the two media when edited together gave a slightly jarring effect.

Another conscious mention of this difference was made in the 1980s by Jools Holland in Channel 4's The Tube where he showed viewers a scene shot on film and the same scene shot on video, remarking that while film looked smooth and sophisticated, video "looked like an Omo commercial", and he was absolutely right.

The Differences Between Film and Video

So why did film and video look different from each other back then, and what could this possibly have to do with a music web site? Let me explain.

There are two factors at play here: one is the way image shading is captured. In previous decades, video cameras had very limited dynamic range and were unsuited to uncontrolled lighting. Cine film, on the other hand was capable of capturing a wide dynamic range and had the property of compressing the light and dark ends of the brightness range gracefully, allowing detail in both shadows and bright sunlight to be visible within the same image. The difference in quality was plain to see. Modern video, however, using solid state sensors, can capture a wider dynamic range than film, so even cinema films are now shot on video.

The second and more subtle difference between film and video is related to the frame rate. Some historical background: In the very early days of cinema 100 years ago, the frame rate was set to the bare minimum possible to reproduce motion, at something like 16 frames per second. Later, the commercial movie industry settled on 24 fps as the minimum rate that gave smooth motion, and this has been used ever since.

But something very peculiar happened: while 24 fps gave subjectively smooth motion, it wasn't quite 'real'. In fact it produced an eerie effect that imbued the most mundane scene with a strangely 'sophisticated' appearance, and placed an indefinable gauze curtain between the camera and the audience; the movie industry has dined out on the effect ever since. There really was, and is, something magical that the movie industry uses to transform mundanity into something glamorous.

Continued tomorrow: