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Tag: screen

Response to Virilio, Open Sky pt. 3

Reality - worst game ever

My final reading response of the semester! This time, we’re finishing off Virilio’s Open Sky with a summary of Part 3! The reason for the silly picture above is Virilio’s more serious prediction that “we are about to lose our statuses as eyewitnesses of tangible reality once and for all, to the benefit for technical substitutes… which will make us of the ‘visually challenged.'” This picture is making fun of the fact that a growing number of people spend a lot of their time playing online games, interacting with other people in virtual worlds and not in the real world. The idea that all of our interactions could take place through a screen someday is not too far off. Virilio already talks about how what we see is obscured by the TV screen and by the windows of the vehicles that get us from place to place, and warns of the dangers of indirect light as opposed to direct optics discussed in the earlier parts. It would seem to me as though we’re trying so hard to recreate reality that we’re disregarding the reality that we already have. Instead of experiencing the world ourselves, we’re sitting inside darkened rooms and staring at the screen, living in virtual worlds and neglecting all that’s outside. Google Street View is an example of the real world becoming a virtual world. You can go almost anywhere in the United States, on almost any major public road and see pictures of what’s outside without actually going there.

Virilio also talks about how some of these images are so lifelike that we get confused and have trouble distinguishing CG images from real life. Think of Apple’s Retina Display technology and the 326 PPI (pixels per inch) that it’s capable of displaying. Virilio talks about lasers beaming the images directly into your optic nerves, but massive PPI displays are in commercial use today, and they’re so detailed that you can’t even tell that there are pixels. With 4K resolution and the increasing power of GPUs to generate images, as well as the power of real image manipulation tools such as Photoshop and After Effects, we’re getting to the point where things can look absolutely lifelike but unless you see them for yourself you’ll never really know if they’re real or not.

Response to Zettl, “The Two-Dimensional Field: Forces within the Screen”

This week in my communications class we’re moving away from still images into the world of video, and what better place to start talking about video than the screen itself. In chapter 7 of Herbert Zettl’s Sight, Sound and Motion: Applied Media, we read about screen space and the field forces that shape our perception of objects.

Up until the early 2000’s, it was common for widescreen screens to be seen only in movie theaters. Television and computer screens were more square than rectangular, the shape being one of 4 feet in width for every 3 feet in height (4:3). With the advent of HDTVs, it was possible to display a lot more detail on consumer quality screens, and thus one could recreate the cinematic experience at home on their TV. Since most motion pictures are recorded in widescreen, or the aspect ratio 16:9, a 4:3 aspect ratio just wouldn’t do on HDTVs. Computer screens and TV screens are now a lot wider than they are long, such as the TV pictured above.

Now, why did we decide on 16:9 in the first place? Why not have 9:16 screens that are much taller than they are wide? Zettl explains that “a horizontal arrangement seems to suggest calmness, tranquility, and rest.” Vertical space, in contrast, seems “more dynamic, powerful, and exciting” than horizontal space. Tall buildings are a lot more powerful of a statement than a long stretch of beach, and people have used this property of our perception for centuries when designing structures.

As Zettl points out, people are very good at detecting when something isn’t horizontally stable. Does that picture of the TV above look weird to you? It looked weird to me when I added it, and the reason is because the left side is slightly higher in the frame than the left side, a fact that I’ve illustrated in the graphic above. It’s only a difference of about 10 pixels, but people are great at noticing these problems. At best, tilting the X axis can make an image appear more dynamic or can be used to enhance the instability of a horror movie, but at worst it can really make us uncomfortable. Diagonal lines are best to be avoided if you want peace and tranquility.

Just try and relax. I dare you.
Just try and relax. I dare you.

Another force at play inside the frame is the magnetic pull of its edges. If something is in the corner or right near the edge of the frame, it looks as though it’s glued there despite the pull of gravity. It can also be used to define a boundary. If a person is standing right at the edge of the frame it can give the illusion that they’re against a wall, which is why in horror movies people in hiding are often shown to be cornered in the edge of a frame. There’s no escape.

Drawing upon our earlier discussions of left and right, positioning is also a big deal on screen. We’re naturally inclined as a culture to pay attention to objects on the right-hand side of the screen as being more important than the left, and so in comedy shows the host is always on the right. In news broadcasts, the trend is usually reversed so that the screen is balanced. The low-energy footage is on the right and the newscaster is on the left, cancelling out our perceptions of left and right in a sense.