Saturday, July 25, 2015

The high's and low's of videos

Everyone knows that a compressed image pixellates when enlarged, and that a compressed video doesn't look that good when seen on a larger screen. There is actually a very simple logic at play here. The reason is actually very simple...

(Image source:

When we shoot one hour of full HD video, the frame size is 1920 X 1080 pixels, and the space occupied on the hard disk after it is transferred is about 50 GB. With SD footage the frame size is 720 X 576 pixels for PAl video (Standard Definition - fast becoming outdated) the captured video on the hard disk is about 12 GB. Of course it all depends on the codec you use for capturing the video.

The HD video is vibrant, crisp, and beautiful looking on your editing screen. If we make a blu-ray disk after the edit, it is almost as good as the original raw format because you can tranfer the edited video almost in its original format. The capacity of the double layer blu-ray disk is about 50 GB. So you can have a 2 hour movie in high resolution, maintaining most of its original richness.

So what happens in other formats?

The capacity of a VCD is 700 MB. Imagine what must be happening to the HD data and hence, its quality when you compress 25 GB to 700 MB! You have reduced the data to less than 3% of the original! Its like eating a sweet with very very less sugar. Besides, the frame size of a VCD video is 352 X 288 which is again less than 1/4th of the original 1920 X 1080. A DVD has a capacity of 4.7 can fit in a 2 hour PAL format movie with the frame size of 720 X 576 pixels. Though the picture quality if a DVD is much better thatn that of a VCD, you are still getting only 1/10th of the data. A little more sugar than the VCD sweet, but still, not the full dose.

What about online videos? Well, with the technology advances, we can view very good quality videos online, but they are still compressed enough to allow for streaming on the Internet. For a mobile phone, they are still compressed and a 3GP format will look horrible if blown up on a larger screen.

It's simple then, isnt it? More compression - less data - smaller file size, and bad picture quality. Do watch out for my upcoming video on resolution.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sherlock Holmes - The Master

We see things, but can we listen to what they say? Can we read what they 'write'? I have copied a rather large text from a Sherlock Holmes' Story - The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan (I mean the books by Arthur Conan Doyle), you have possibly read this before... As always, I am amazed by his powers of deduction and visual analysis..... 

I took the tattered object in my hands and turned it over rather ruefully. It was a very ordinary black hat of the usual round shape, hard and much the worse for wear. The lining had been of red silk, but was a good deal discoloured. There was no maker’s name; but, as Holmes had remarked, the initials “H. B.” were scrawled upon one side. It was pierced in the brim for a hat-securer, but the elastic was missing. For the rest, it was cracked, exceedingly dusty, and spotted in several places, although there seemed to have been some attempt to hide the discoloured patches by smearing them with ink.
“I can see nothing,” said I, handing it back to my friend.

Watson sees nothing. Now see what Sherlock sees and deduces from it.....

“On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences.”
“Then, pray tell me what it is that you can infer from this hat?”
He picked it up and gazed at it in the peculiar introspective fashion which was characteristic of him. “It is perhaps less suggestive than it might have been,” he remarked, “and yet there are a few inferences which are very distinct, and a few others which represent at least a strong balance of probability. That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the face of it, and also that he was fairly well-to-do within the last three years, although he has now fallen upon evil days. He had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a moral retrogression, which, when taken with the decline of his fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink, at work upon him. This may account also for the obvious fact that his wife has ceased to love him. He has, however, retained some degree of self-respect,” he continued, disregarding my remonstrance. “He is a man who leads a sedentary life, goes out little, is out of training entirely, is middle-aged, has grizzled hair which he has had cut within the last few days, and which he anoints with lime-cream. These are the more patent facts which are to be deduced from his hat.”

This is how he deduces it all...

For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon his head. It came right over the forehead and settled upon the bridge of his nose. “It is a question of cubic capacity,” said he; “a man with so large a brain must have something in it.”
“The decline of his fortunes, then?”
“This hat is three years old. These flat brims curled at the edge came in then. It is a hat of the very best quality. Look at the band of ribbed silk and the excellent lining. If this man could afford to buy so expensive a hat three years ago, and has had no hat since, then he has assuredly gone down in the world.”
“Well, that is clear enough, certainly. But how about the foresight and the moral retrogression?”
Sherlock Holmes laughed. “Here is the foresight,” said he putting his finger upon the little disc and loop of the hat-securer. “They are never sold upon hats. If this man ordered one, it is a sign of a certain amount of foresight, since he went out of his way to take this precaution against the wind. But since we see that he has broken the elastic and has not troubled to replace it, it is obvious that he has less foresight now than formerly, which is a distinct proof of a weakening nature. On the other hand, he has endeavoured to conceal some of these stains upon the felt by daubing them with ink, which is a sign that he has not entirely lost his self-respect.”
“Your reasoning is certainly plausible.”
“The further points, that he is middle-aged, that his hair is grizzled, that it has been recently cut, and that he uses lime-cream, are all to be gathered from a close examination of the lower part of the lining. The lens discloses a large number of hair-ends, clean cut by the scissors of the barber. They all appear to be adhesive, and there is a distinct odour of lime-cream. This dust, you will observe, is not the gritty, grey dust of the street but the fluffy brown dust of the house, showing that it has been hung up indoors most of the time, while the marks of moisture upon the inside are proof positive that the wearer perspired very freely, and could therefore, hardly be in the best of training.”
“But his wife—you said that she had ceased to love him.”
“This hat has not been brushed for weeks. When I see you, my dear Watson, with a week’s accumulation of dust upon your hat, and when your wife allows you to go out in such a state, I shall fear that you also have been unfortunate enough to lose your wife’s affection.”
“You have an answer to everything. But how on earth do you deduce that the gas is not laid on in his house?”
“One tallow stain, or even two, might come by chance; but when I see no less than five, I think that there can be little doubt that the individual must be brought into frequent contact with burning tallow—walks upstairs at night probably with his hat in one hand and a guttering candle in the other. Anyhow, he never got tallow-stains from a gas-jet. Are you satisfied?”
“Well, it is very ingenious,” said I, laughing; “but since, as you said just now, there has been no crime committed, and no harm done save the loss of a goose, all this seems to be rather a waste of energy.”

Needless to say, when the owner of the hat arrives, everything Sherlock deduces is true. Visual Analysis at its best. It is better that I don't say anything more... the Master has spoken.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Speaking Visuals

All visuals have a message. Some are created by us, some, by nature. The beholder/receiver of the message analyses the message, makes meaning out of it; the visual generates responses at several levels. There are several factors that have an effect on our perception of a visual.

According to Norman, there are three levels of design: visceral, behavior, and reflective.
  • At the visceral level, which is based on instinct, physical features like look, feel, and sound dominate. When we perceive something as “pretty”, that judgment comes directly from the visceral level. 
  • Behavior design concerns the use, or ease of use where appearance may not be significant. In most behavior design functionality gets the top priority. 
  • In a reflective design message, culture and the meaning of a product gets priority. 
However, today, consumers are more critical, prone to analyse a visual at the visceral and behavior level, so the designing is done to evoke emotion, arouse past experiences, create a great user experience to enable future recall of that design. An ideal design would first stimulate a consumer at the visceral level and later, at the reflective level. This means the design should not simply evoke emotions based on appearances alone, but give personal satisfaction, evoke memories that may arouse their emotions.

That is why, so much importance is given to presentation today, rather than the content. If the presentation is good, you have won half the battle. Just look at the book covers today. Many people pick up a book because the cover is well designed. Why just books, many go and watch a movie because the promo they watch on the TV or on YouTube promises a fantastic movie. I have fallen prey to this too.

What is the role of  the eye in all this? Actually, apart from receiving the light, almost nothing. But more of that in the next post.  Meanwhile, enjoy these pics. I am sure you must have seen many such paintings online. One last question... how many remember the Hastinapur story from Mahabharat?





Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Visuals speak. A thousand words, or even more.

Visuals speak. A thousand words, or even more.

But are we able to hear what they say? And do we really understand what they say? Rhetoric is the art of persuading the audience, with written or verbal arguments, or using any other means of communication. These other means of communication are non-verbal - using expressions, gestures, mannerisms, and images or visuals, and are sometimes more effective than verbal, textual, written communication. A gesture, a raised eyebrow, a wink, or a closed fist could be more effective than a lot of words.

In a previous post in this blog, I have written about how we form an opinion about an object or a person in a single glance. In that single glance, we perceive, recognize and also form an opinion. How fast is this process? Experiments have proven that it could be as fast as a fraction of a second. But otherwise, there is also a longer process, that of the cortical pathway in the brain, which recalls and matches images, and the meanings they convey from resident memory in the cortex. Though not directly related, it could be the sleeper effect that affects the way we treat the visual, and behave accordingly. The sleeper effect postulates that when exposed to a persuasive message, over time, we tend to forget the source, but start believing that the message was true.

The brain stores the visual which is seen just for a fraction of a second, and is recalled subconsciously. Advertisers have been using this technique to persuade us to buy a product, sometimes even when we don't need to. This is done by using subliminal advertising, sometimes subtle, and sometimes blatantly in-the-face. This technique was first described in 1957, and though it turned out to be a hoax at that time, it is in use very regularly in advertising.

I was channel surfing in the evening, and came across an Akshay Kumar film - Holiday - a soldier is never off duty. While trying to decipher a coded message from a paper he finds on a terrorist, he first uses an Apple Macbook Pro laptop - the Apple logo is shown clearly, and then uses Google Maps for Mobile (on his Mac Pro - not on his mobile!) to identify the locations on the map of Mumbai. Even AajTak and Times now is shown clearly. Ok, you could say that it is coincidental, that he does uses all this. But remember, when you spend crores when making a movie, every shot is PLANNED. Let's discuss this phenomenon in the next update.

I am sure you must have noticed such advertising several times in Hindi movies. Can you name a few?

Check out :

40.23 mins Apple and Google
1.05.52 AaajTak
1.07 Times Now

Friday, July 10, 2015

Radio - The Coolest One!

Radio - The Coolest One!

I am one of those people, who have actually seen a television set coming into their homes for the first time, a digital immigrant. I remember how excited we were when it was delivered. A black-and-white television, which we immediately fell in love with. But we did not have programmes for 24 hours; instead, we just had a few hours of TV in the beginning.

I remember, the time when we used to see a cricket match on TV. The cameramen were so untrained, that if a batsman hit a sixer, by the time the camera located the ball, it would be already in the crowd. We used to feel extremely bored by the commentary. We were used to a fast paced radio commentary, which gave continuous description of whatever went on on the field. It was full of so many words. On the other hand, on the TV, the commentator would just say, "Oh! What a shot!" and shut up, leaving the viewer to see the rest for themselves. We used to find that extremely boring! So we used to turn the TV volume down, place our beloved transistor on top the the TV, and watch the match with the commentary from the radio.

When we speak, many times, it is not our words that communicate, but the tone of our voice, the inflection in it, the volume, and the overall expression in the voice are more important. That is why, radio is an effective medium, because it helps us conjure images in our mind. I remember, we used to get a kit with Rasna (an instant fruit drink powder). The kit consisted of a cardboard depicting the cricket ground, and small card figurines of every player in both the teams. The commentary used to describe the placement of the fielders in detail, and we used to arrange the players' figurines accordingly. It was fun to watch the cricket match listening to the commentary that way. The radio commentary used to be thrilling, and I can vouch for anyone my age, that we used to live the excitement of the cricket match, with the radio in full volume, the sound of the crowd, and the commentators yelling over the noise!

Before the television came into our lives, our electronic media comprised of the radio, and at the most, a calculator, or the prized electronic watch. Despite the radio losing a little bit of its sheen now, it is still an important, and a powerful medium. It is powerful because it has a very wide reach, but it is also powerful because it helps in visual communication. Not that's a little far fetched, isn't it? Well, not really. When we listen to the radio, because we do not have the privilege of ay images, we conjure them from our memory. So when we listen to a moving song, a dialogue, a speech, or a narration, while we listen to it, our mind keeps searching for the relevant images. Radio involves us more than the television, because it forces us to think and fill the gaps created by the absence of images. That is why, Marshall McLuhan called the radio a 'cooler' medium over television, because it is much more engaging.

(Image source:

So don't write off radio just yet! You don't have to hold a radio in your hand to listen to it. You don't have to leave your chores for it. You don't even have to look at it. And yet, it keeps you engaged with itself. No wonder, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has turned to radio for his Mann Ki Baat!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Beautiful and Ugly - A Matter of Perception?

How does the mind receive and analyse information from a visual? It is a complex process involving the left and right hemispheres of the brain, together synchronising the logical and emotional intelligence, at the same time, involving learning through genetic evolution, and adding to it experiential learning.

I came across a Facebook update which described how some primary school textbooks, the meaning of beautiful and ugly were represented. Check the picture.... (Source: Unknown)

How many readers agree to this? No, don't give me an intelligent, sociologically relevant, politically correct answer. Truth is, we have all learnt the meaning of beautiful and ugly from this, or some other picture, or have been pointed out a beautiful woman and an ugly one during our childhood and in our college days. In the early stages of childhood, from birth to 3 years, the human brain is extremely vulnerable to external influences. A violent childhood, a traumatic experience, or visuals such as these can have profound effect on the way the left and the right hemispheres are wired, and decide how the brain will react to certain circumstances in the future.

So a visual itself communicates something to you, first from its evident characteristics. Add to it your personal influences. To complicate the matter further, you also have to consider your sense of smell and taste, which further influence how you analyse a visual. Rather complicated, isn't it?

Well, it is a matter of perception, cognition, resemblances, recognition and representation. There is also the concept of visual rhetoric, semiotics, and finally, aesthetics. Add to it your cultural influences, and you have utter chaos. But the mind works through all this, finds a way out of cognitive dissonances, and gives you an answer, whatever it might be.

We will keep exploring visual communication in future posts. Till then, here's food for thought... imagine an beautiful flower, which gives out a nasty smell, or cow dung on the road smelling like the best dish you have ever tasted!

Beautiful frog in the picture, isn't it? This is a poison dart frog. Meet the most poisonous frog in the world! One drop of toxin from a poison dart frog will kill you within 3 minutes. Unfortunately, there is no cure. Still find it beautiful? Right?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

An article by Sam Pitroda

I had written about Digital India and also about Sam Pitroda.  Here's an article from Sam Pitroda himself. 

Four critical things that make a Digital India possible today and challenges ahead 
By Sam Pitroda

This government's Digital India campaign is a welcome step in creating an India of the 21st century powered by connectivity, technology and the opportunity that such connectivity offers in terms of access, services and platforms for unleashing India's creative talent. 

However, it is imperative to understand what it means to create a 'Digital India'. Such an effort requires an entire ecosystem of support and an apparatus for implementation that has to be developed and matured over a period of time.

While the face of Digital India may be a website providing e-governance or connectivity between the citizen and the government, the thinking, vision and systems that produce this end product are implemented over several years. 

And the seeds of India's Digital vision were first laid by Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s when his government took the pioneering steps for creating the National Informatics Centre (NIC), the digital arm of the then very much 'manually operated' government. NIC laid the groundwork for computerising government systems by building a national network with data centres in Delhi. In essence, this was the first piece of the vision of a digital India — connectivity.

I would like to outline below the four critical pieces that make a Digital India possible today and which have been implemented over the last several years:

The first part is connectivity. The connectivity provided by NIC was the beginning of an effort to computerise government and digitise India for the 21st century. In the last 25 years, NIC has done a remarkable job of building human capacity, institutional frameworks and programmes for egovernance functionalities. 

Read more at:

Deadlines are deadlines, even if you are Dead!

Working in the media is certainly not for the faint hearted. There are deadlines. If you are dying, your boss would probably tell you to file the report and then die! The deadline remains.

I have been speaking about this in my class, and have been trying to live by it for so many years now. You cannot keep your client waiting, and neither your audiences. My students had painted this line on the door of the classroom, and some students still call it the 'Deadline Room'.

The news starts exactly at the time it is supposed to, a TV serial also starts when it is supposed to. No TV channel can show a screen asking the viewers to wait while a reporter is busy filing a report. A TV serial cannot wait till an edit is done. Its all done in clockwork precision. If you miss a deadline, you can be sure that you have lost your job.

There are several things tied to this. When there is news at nine, millions of viewers and listeners are glued to the television set, or their radio for the news. For a popular serial, people manage their daily chores to sit in front of the television. Considering how fickle the audiences are, a channel simply cannot take the risk of starting their programme late, because within seconds, they could lose their viewers to the remote control and to other channels.

The second important thing is the other audience, the advertisers. Revenue generation in media depends heavily on advertisements. Every second lost showing a blank screen, means the loss of a lot of revenue. That is why, every second on the television screen is planned. The only exception probably is Doordarshan and AIR, which actually show a screen saying 'The next programme in a short time' or there is simply nothing playing on the radio. Just in case you don't believe me, ask anyone in the media.

But you know, there is a certain thrill living by this philosophy. Just keeping it in mind helps you, and makes you more organised, makes you plan your assignments, your studies, preparing for  your examinations, and your work, so that you don't miss the deadline. It helps you develop a professional approach, and helps you also discipline your life generally. That does not mean you are not supposed to enjoy life. You can set a deadline for that too!

Conclusion? A deadline is a deadline, even if you are Dead.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Formula for a hit film?

It is naive to think that you can hit upon the perfect research topic at the first go. Research can be a piece of cake, and you can have it, but you may not really be able to eat it! That's exactly why, instead of starting to work on the concept of a formula for a hit film, I decided straightaway to search for research done on the subject. That's why we do literature review anyway. And look what I found....

Instead of paraphrasing any of the texts that I found, I am directly going to copy-paste the relevant sentences and give links at the end of this post - Wikipedia style...

Psychologist Professor James Cutting and his team from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, analyzed 150 high-grossing Hollywood  released from 1935 to 2005 and discovered the shot lengths in the more recent movies followed the same mathematical  that describes the human attention span. The pattern was derived by scientists at the University of Texas in Austin in the 1990s who studied the attention spans of subjects performing hundreds of trials. The team then converted the measurements of their attention spans into wave forms using a mathematical technique known as the Fourier transform. They found that the magnitude of the waves increased as their frequency decreased, a pattern known as pink noise, or 1/f fluctuation, which means that attention spans of the same lengths recurred at regular intervals. The same pattern has been found by Benoit Mandelbrot (the chaos theorist) in the annual flood levels of the Nile, and has been seen by others in air turbulence, and also in music.(1)
Forget zombies. The data crunchers are invading Hollywood. The same kind of numbers analysis that has reshaped areas like politics and online marketing is increasingly being used by the entertainment industry. Netflix tells customers what to rent based on algorithms that analyze previous selections, Pandora does the same with music, and studios have started using Facebook “likes” and online trailer views to mold advertising and even films.(2)
A group of researchers from Tottori University in Japan, have developed a math equation that can predict if a movie is going to be a success or a flop. The complicated formula takes into account various factors, including advertising, word-of-mouth, and social networks.(3)

Based on factors such as whether key stars are still on board, how long it has been since the last film and how that performed, the researchers say they can calculate what producers can expect to gross relative to a film in the same genre that is not a sequel. "It is the industry of dreams, an industry of illusions, and lots of people go bust. The idea here is to put some more analytical thinking into the process," says Professor Thorsten Hennig-Thurau, of Cass Business School in London.(4)
Common wisdom says that the box-office success of any particular movie is a crapshoot. Now NYU Stern Marketing Professor Sam K. Hui and colleagues have devised a formula to take some of the guesswork out of movie-making. In their paper, “Green-lighting Movie Scripts: Revenue Forecasting and Risk Management,” Hui and his co-authors studied 200 scripts over six years, examining features including genre, contents, semantics, and the use of specific words, then related their findings to box office revenues and production budgets.(5)
Google unveils formula to accurately predict box-office takings - a month before the film is released (6)
Scholars think they've found the key to predicting how much money a movie will make its opening weekend in North America, up to a month in advance of its release. And no, it's not social media buzz – those metrics are so five minutes ago. Rather, it's the activity surrounding the movie's Wikipedia entry.
Do my students spot a research topic here? Do enjoy reading these articles. You will find more on the Internet. Just Google it. 
More tomorrow .........