Archive for the ‘Digital’ Category

Music Industry: Going to war with consumers

November 28, 2007

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

As readers of this blog may know, I’ve been keeping tabs now and then on updates within the music industry, particularly as it relates to digital rights management (DRM) and other related consumer issues. In a recent article, the head of Warner Music, Edgar Bronfman, confirmed the position the music industry has taken with their own customers.

Previous articles on the topic:
Thoughts on DRM
Thoughts on DRM: Part II
Have the record labels become the new dinosaurs?

Tell us something we don’t know Edgar…

Music boss: we were wrong to go to war with consumers
http://www.pcpro.co.uk/macuser/news/138990/music-boss-we-were-wrong-to-go-to-war-with-consumers.html
Wednesday 14th November 2007

“Speaking at the GSMA Mobile Asia Congress in Macau, Edgar Bronfman told mobile operators that they must not make the same mistake that the music industry made.
“We used to fool ourselves,’ he said. “We used to think our content was perfect just exactly as it was. We expected our business would remain blissfully unaffected even as the world of interactivity, constant connection and file sharing was exploding. And of course we were wrong. How were we wrong? By standing still or moving at a glacial pace, we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find and as a result of course, consumers won.””

On the surface, this appears to be an epiphany for Brofman, but in reality, he’s just stating the obvious. He’s stating something that consumers have been telling him for years. He’s stating something that bloggers have been telling him as well. This is not just an issue for Warner music group; this is an issue for the music industry as a whole.

I also take special note of the following statement in particular: “we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find and as a result of course, consumers won.”

The question is, does Bronfman believe in what he is preaching? At this point, I’d say no. Consumers don’t want DRM with their music downloads either. The independent labels have dropped DRM, EFI (one of the big for labels) has dropped DRM. What is Warner waiting for? If Bronfman is in tune (pardon the pun) with consumers as he claims to be, why isn’t he allowing DRM free downloads? Actions speak louder than words. Bronfman’s words sounds like typical marketing speak to me.

“Bronfman suggested that mobile companies have much to learn from Apple, despite being critical of and iTunes in the past.”

Again, Bronfman goes on to talk about Warner’s partnership with Apple and how they are now offering bundled products such as full albums with ringtones, videos, etc. Again, it’s clear that Bronfman is in full marketing mode rather than addressing the real issues. If he can learn so much from Apple as he claims, why isn’t he dropping DRM as Apple has been calling for? It would have been nice if someone at the conference actually challenged him on this topic just to watch him back pedal.

Other bloggers have weighed in on the topic with similar opinions. One comment in particular helps bring the “war with consumers” better into focus.

Edgar Bronfman Rewrites History, Has A Pretend Epiphany
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20071114/151459.shtml

“After all, it was Edgar Bronfman Jr. himself who very actively declared war on consumers who were file trading in the summer of 2000. As the head (at the time) of Universal Music, Bronfman Jr. announced that he was preparing to send “an army of lawyers” after file sharers. That’s not “standing still or moving at a glacial pace.” The “war” wasn’t inadvertent. It was an active decision by Bronfman Jr., which kicked off the entire RIAA war against consumers. “

That sort of distills Bronfman’s role in the music industry over the past years about right. These aren’t exactly the highlights you’d want read at your retirement dinner one day.

Conclusion

It seems to me that if someone were to make a sincere apology / admission of guilt, they would mention the real issues. Bronfman is right when he claims to have “gone to war with consumers”, but it surely wasn’t limited to “standing still or moving at a glacial pace” has he suggests. Bronfman has actively gone to war with consumers. He’s right, customers have won in the sense that they the music industry as a whole is losing money and consumers are getting what they want, albeit illegally in many cases.

I’d like to think this is the first step towards enlightenment for Edgar Bronfman, but I can’t help but doubt it. He half-heartedly acknowledged his mistakes. Not only did he try to spin his mistakes into something much more passive, but he followed up his admission with a bunch of marketing speak. The thing is, nobody really cares. I doubt any significant percentage of people would purchase music or boycott music published by Warner because of anything Bronfman says or does. However, Bronfman does have the power to do the right thing and offer customers the product they want in the form of quality music downloads without DRM restrictions. Apparently, he’s not ready for that yet, but it’s plain to see that this is the inevitable path they must take if they (Warner) are to survive and prosper in the future.

Photography: A look at digital sensor technology.

April 22, 2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007

This article is meant to augment my previous article on photography, “Digital vs. Film and what really matters”. That article was written to discuss the two mediums at a high level and come away with a few generalizations that apply. It is commonly understood that film is a generic term and there are many different grades of quality for film. However, film is a very mature medium and likewise, film technology is relatively stagnant in terms of advances. Differences in existing digital sensor technology is equally significant in terms of image quality, possibly even more so. This article will explore differences in digital sensor technology and discuss how these differences affect image quality.

How do (most) digital sensors work?

In order to appreciate the improvements being made with modern digital sensors, it’s probably necessary to establish a basic understanding of how the average digital sensor works today.

Like film, the purpose of the digital sensor is to collect light focused through a lens. A digital sensor has millions of individual photo receptors (sometimes called photosites) aligned uniformly in rows in columns to collect this focused light. Each of these individual photo receptors represents an individual pixel in the final image. This sensor information is converted from an analog signal into a digital signal, and then it’s stored onto the camera’s storage card, much like a film negative.

A more technical description of this process is as follows. There is a natural phenomenon called the photo electric effect whereby electrons are released when exposed to light. This dates back to Albert Einstein’s 1921 Nobel Prize in physics for his work in this area. Each photo receptor is insulated from one another. When you take a picture, each photo receptor is charged electrically. As light is focused on each photo receptor, some percentages of electrons are released, depending on the amount of light received by that receptor. The voltages are read and amplified through the analog to digital conversion process.

In theory, that sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. For starters, the sensor’s photo receptors can only capture the degrees of luminance, not color information. In order to capture color, most sensors use what’s known as the “Bayer Filter”. Named after Dr. Bruce Bayer of the Eastman Kodak company, the Bayer filter is a mosaic color filter array. Essentially, each pixel has a color filter over it. The first row has a pattern of blue, green, blue, green… followed by the next row which consists of green, red, green, red… etc. This pattern is repeated across each pixel of the digital sensor. [Note: Some manufacturers, like Sony, have used a modified version of this that adds another color like emerald to their filter.] Camera makers often used different demosaicing algorithms to achieve a full color image of varying levels of image quality.

Demoasicing, anti-aliasing, sharpening, oh my!

While the Bayer Filter does allow for full color images, this benefit comes at a price. The same sensor, without the Bayer Filter would yield a better true resolution, but would provide a monochrome image. The demoasicing algorithms use sophisticated interpolation techniques in an attempt to preserve the resolution and provide color, but these algorithms are never perfect. A typical side affect of the Bayer Filter is what’s known as digital aliasing. Visually this typically appears as irregular shaped edges. That is, it may look artificial in some way as compared to a film based image. To overcome this effect, digital camera makers typically use a low pass anti-aliasing filter. This creates the smoother edges, etc. but it also creates a somewhat softer image by default. Most cameras that output to JPEG files (as opposed to Raw) will also apply some level of a sharpening filter to compensate for any softening that occurred during the anti-aliasing filter. Additionally, most cameras have a filter to block the infrared rays as photo sensors are sensitive to this spectrum of light.

If it sounds like digital cameras have to jump through a lot of hoops in order to create a quality image, it’s because they do. This technology wasn’t always up to the standards that it is today. Likewise, early digital cameras had a reputation of having problems with images due to things like digital aliasing, etc. Even though these problems have largely been addressed, this reputation of imperfection has stuck with many of the film purists. However, the quality of results today speaks for itself. That is, the quality of digital images has come a long way over the past 10 years.

New technology at the sensor level

One way to avoid using the Bayer Filter is to have a 3 CCD based system. In this implementation, a prism is used to separate the red, green and blue light onto three separate sensors. The problem with this is that the sensors are very expensive and likewise this is not a practical solution for high megapixel cameras. However, this is a common solution for higher end digital video camcorders as the resolution for video is much lower than still photographs. Likewise, the sensors are smaller and much cheaper to produce.

One of the biggest advances in sensor technology has to be the Foveon X3 sensor. Each pixel has 3 vertically stacked diodes (Red, Green, Blue) to capture the entire color spectrum. They were able to accomplish this by making use of the fact that the physical properties of light have different wavelengths for each color and are likewise able to penetrate silicon at different depths. The benefit of this approach is that this type of sensor does not need a Bayer Filter to produce color. As such, it doesn’t have to deal with any of the demoasicing and anti-aliasing then sharpening filters. The Foveon sensor is currently being used in Sigma cameras. I’m not quite sure why other camera manufacturers haven’t yet jumped on this bandwagon. There could be issues of cost or licensing that I’m not aware of. I’ve read that these sensors don’t perform quite as well in low light conditions, but I have not yet used a camera with this type of sensor first hand to verify this. A word of caution to the buyer though… Sigma advertises a 14MP camera that is actually a 4.7MP camera. Sigma counts each pixel three times as there are 3 photo receptors for each element. To me, that’s an unfair marketing gimmick. I’ve seen comments that suggest their 4.7MP (or 14MP as they call it) camera compares to 10MP cameras from other vendors with a Bayer Filter. Marketing tricks aside, this seems to be the way to go from my perspective – especially as this technology continues to mature. I’d like to see other camera companies explore this option better. Interestingly, just as film and traditional digital sensors produces images with a different “feel”, images with this sensor produce yet another unique “feel” to them.

Another interesting technology comes in the form of Fuji’s Super CCD. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_CCD Fuji’s latest technology, the SR II format, does two things different. First, the photo receptors are shaped like an octagon as opposed to a square. This apparently allows for a more efficient layout of photo receptors on the chip. Additionally, it has two photo receptors per pixel, one large and one small. The idea behind this is to more closely mimic the best characteristics of film while retaining the benefits of digital. The result produces an image with very low noise and very high dynamic range.

http://www.ephotozine.com/article/Fuji-Super-CCD-SR–HR-FAQ-1

Super CCD SR

Q. What are the main benefits of Super CCD SR?
A. Due to an innovative new CCD arrangement, cameras featuring Super CCD SR are able to capture highlight and shadow detail that conventional digital cameras miss. Overall, it will provide a more faithful representation of the actual subject and greater dynamic range. Specific benefits are:
it combats the bleached out effect that often ruins flash photography
it allows you to shoot confidently even in very bright, contrasty conditions
it delivers detail in areas that normally get lost, such as cloud detail outdoors
increased exposure latitude provided by the sensor means that it is more forgiving of incorrect exposure.

Q. How is Super CCD SR different from a normal CCD?
A. Super CCD SR uses a new CCD arrangement, based on the diagonally mapped, octagonal sensor arrangement that Fujifilm pioneered with Third Generation (3G) Super CCD. However, with Super CCD SR, not one, but two photodiodes capture information on the same area of the image (these are arranged in a ‘double honeycomb’ structure).
The sensitive primary photodiode registers the light reflected off the subject at a high sensitivity (similar to a conventional Super CCD photodiode), whilst the secondary photodiode captures highlight information from the same part of the image, recorded at a lower sensitivity.
Because it is set at a lower sensitivity than the primary photodiode (in other words, records a darker image), the secondary photodiode is able to ‘see’ additional detail in bright areas normally beyond the reach of conventional photodiodes. This also frees up the primary photodiode to deliver a better quality rendition of mid to dark tones.
This combination of primary and secondary photodiodes produces an image that is more richly detailed than conventional CCDs, resolving more detail in highlight and dark areas of the image.

Q. Is there a simpler way of explaining the technology?
A. A useful way of explaining this is to compare the technology to an audio speaker. Formerly, audio speakers relied on just one large speaker cone to deliver all of the musical range, meaning that bass and treble notes were obscured. This was overcome by developing a secondary, high sensitivity cone (known as a ‘tweeter’), radically improving the sound quality. The primary and secondary photodiodes in Fujifilm’s new technology effectively mirror the hi-fi speaker. This is why Fujifilm is marketing this as ‘High Fidelity Photography’.

CCD vs CMOS

There are plenty of articles that discuss the technical details behind both CCD and CMOS technology. There are articles written that provide some comparative analysis as well. Most of this is beyond the intended scope of this article. Instead, a brief paragraph discussing the basics should suffice.

Right up front it’s safe to say that neither technology is really superior to the other. They both basically do the same thing, just in a different way. In a CCD, every pixel’s charge is output through a very limited number of channels, depending upon the chip design. This makes CCDs inherently slower than CMOS chips. However, through more complex designs, adequate speeds can be achieved by CCD sensors. CMOS by comparison has the built in circuitry to do this conversion on a pixel by pixel basis. CMOS requires less power. In theory, because CMOS does this conversion on a pixel by pixel basis, uniformity and similarly noise handling is not supposed to be as good as CCDs. Yet, in practice, Canon has demonstrated that their SLR cameras offer lower noise and better uniformity than most CCD implementations.

Size of the sensor is most important.

Just like film, the larger the film format, the more likely you are able to produce higher quality prints. Surely, that’s not the only factor, but it is a factor. For example, you’re not going to find too many professional film photographers using 110 film for a reason. The same is true with digital photography. The number of megapixels a sensor has is only part of the equation. I’ll stop short of saying it isn’t important. The number of megapixels in a digital camera is one of several important factors which determine image quality.

A classic example which illustrates the “Megapixel Myth” was when Sony introduced the F828. This was a 8 MP camera, Sony just crammed more photo receptors onto the same small sensor (8.8 x 6.6 mm). In order to accommodate the larger number of photo receptors, the size of each photo receptor was likewise reduced. This practice results in a lower overall signal to noise ratio. By comparison, Canon’s 6 MP EOS Digital Rebel had a much larger sensor (22.7 x 15.1 mm). Despite having fewer megapixels, the Canon camera produced significantly better results. Both cameras were targeted at the “prosumer” market. Sony has learned from this and future products along the same product line adopted a larger APS-C sized sensor, similar to what Canon’s Rebel was using. So, when it comes to sensors, size does matter!

There are plenty of articles which discuss sensor sizes. This article isn’t meant to be a tutorial on sensor sizes. Instead, I’m raising this issue as a topic that’s worthy of consideration with regards to digital image quality. The link below is one of many articles on the topic:
http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/digital-camera-sensor-size.htm

Another issue to consider with regards to sensor size is the affect it has on focal length. This is particularly an issue with regards to dSLR cameras with lenses that are interchangeable with full frame sensors (equivalent to 35mm film). For example, while some more expensive dSLR cameras use full frame sensors, most use the smaller APS-C sized sensor. This typically results in a multiplier effect on the focal length, usually by 1.5 or 1.6x. In other words, a 200mm lens on a full frame sensor acts like a 300mm lens when moved to a camera with a smaller APS-C sensor. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing, it’s just different. For example, when doing telephoto shooting, many like this multiplier effect. However, when trying to get a good wide angle shot, this multiplier effect can be a burden.

Sensor Sizes

File format is a factor of image quality.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the format an imaged in saved in can affect image quality, especially if there is any post processing applied to that image. Without going into significant detail, there are two items worth mentioning here.

1. The JPEG format is a “lossy” compressed format. That is, in the process of compressing the image, data about that image is lossed in the process. How much data is lossed is determined by the amount of compression applied to the image. If too much compression is used, visual artifacts can be visibly seen.

2. Equally important is the amount of precision that is lossed when working with JPEG images as opposed to images stored in their RAW format. JPEGs typically work with 8bits of precision per pixel whereas RAW images work with 12bits of precision. When applying numerous calculations through applying multiple filters, this can impact quality significantly. RAW images typically have better tonal range than those stored in JPEG format, even when taken from the same camera and lens combination.

Conclusions…

Like any new technology, there are stereotypes regarding problems relating to early implementations of digital photography that still persist today. Hopefully, people who propagate these stereotypes and misconceptions are not just reading issues from outdated periodicals, but instead basing their opinions from their own practical experience. Even then, from this article, it should be self evident that not all digital photography implementations are created equal.

From this article, it should be evident that the Bayer Filter is both the first method of providing color capabilities to a device that inherently is incapable of measuring color and it’s also the source which introduces flaws to the digital image. However, the technology (both hardware and software) used in digital photography is advancing at an incredibly fast rate. When you look at the state of digital photography just ten years ago, the progress that has been made is nothing short of amazing! One can only image the state of digital photography ten years from now.

Thoughts on DRM: Part II

February 22, 2007

Macrovision and Sandisk’s recent open letters to the entertainment industry are an embarrassment to the technology industry and an insult to consumer’s intelligence.

February 22, 2007

Fred Amoroso, CEO & President of Macrovision has responded to Steve Job’s open letter to the music industry. While I respect Macrovision’s desire to protect its business model, I can’t help but view Amoroso’s open letter to “Steve Jobs and the digital entertainment industry” as an embarrassment.

My first article covering my thoughts on DRM was fairly comprehensive in scope in terms of what DRM is, what the major concerns are and who the major players are. I thought most of the drama had played out for the time being until I read Macrovision’s open letter to the entertainment industry.

http://www.macrovision.com/company/news/drm/response_letter.shtml

Macrovision is a company whose sole purpose is to implement various forms of DRM. They’re responsible for making it difficult to copy media on VHS, DVDs and various other formats. As such, it’s actually quite understandable that they’d be very upset if the entertainment industry would begin to dismiss the notion of DRM as a requirement much less the notion that DRM serves any practical purpose. That is, if a company’s livelihood is at stake, one would expect that company to form an intelligent rebuttal. The key word is “intelligent” rebuttal. By “intelligent”, I mean the rebuttal should lay out the reasons in favor of DRM in such a manner that is convincing to both the record companies and consumers alike. While I think they tried to do just that in theory, they failed miserably in practice.

For a funny interpretation of Amoroso’s letter, read the following blog on the subject:

http://daringfireball.net/2007/02/macrovision_translation

Amoroso makes 4 “key” points in his letter. My own translation / rebuttal follows.

DRM is broader than just music –
While your thoughts are seemingly directed solely to the music industry, the fact is that DRM also has a broad impact across many different forms of content and across many media devices. Therefore, the discussion should not be limited to just music. It is critical that as all forms of content move from physical to electronic there is an opportunity for DRM to be an important enabler across all content, including movies, games and software, as well as music.

To me, this seems to indicate Amoroso sort of acknowledges that DRM doesn’t make sense with regards to the music industry. He doesn’t come out and actually acknowledge this, but he’s not challenging the merits of the points made in Job’s letter. Remember, Jobs was only speaking about DRM with regards to the music industry (at least for now). Amoroso seems to be attempting to draw attention away from the music industry specifically. Why would he do this? The only reasonable conclusion I can see is that the music industry is the weakest industry to defend the use of DRM for.

DRM increases not decreases consumer value –
I believe that most piracy occurs because the technology available today has not yet been widely deployed to make DRM-protected legitimate content as easily accessible and convenient as unprotected illegitimate content is to consumers. The solution is to accelerate the deployment of convenient DRM-protected distribution channels—not to abandon them. Without a reasonable, consistent and transparent DRM we will only delay consumers in receiving premium content in the home, in the way they want it. For example, DRM is uniquely suitable for metering usage rights, so that consumers who don’t want to own content, such as a movie, can “rent” it. Similarly, consumers who want to consume content on only a single device can pay less than those who want to use it across all of their entertainment areas – vacation homes, cars, different devices and remotely. Abandoning DRM now will unnecessarily doom all consumers to a “one size fits all” situation that will increase costs for many of them.

DRM increases consumer value? Is this some sort of joke? This is where Amoroso is just insulting our intelligence. Let’s be clear about something. DRM is not an effective means of preventing piracy. Recent tests also indicate that DRM is holding back sales and likewise removing DRM results in a boost in sales. Engadget.com has a recent article that illustrates this point along with other points relating to this topic.

http://www.engadget.com/2007/02/16/drm-the-state-of-disrepair/

With that in mind, Amoroso is trying to make an argument to “accelerate the deployment” of DRM. Unfortunately, the entertainment industry has yet to understand that the only entity benefiting from DRM are companies like Macrovision that manufacture DRM based “solutions”. Congratulations to Macrovision for convincing the entertainment industry to purchase an unnecessary product!

Amoroso points out that DRM is needed for renting content. I agree with that. But, at least with regards to digital music, that’s proven to be a failed concept. Subscription based music has not proven to be a successful business model. Consumers are not embracing it. Instead, Amoroso argues that we’ll be stuck with a “one size fits all” and that costs will increase. Even that isn’t true. You could have DRM for renting and non-DRM for full purchases. The cost of any digital download is controlled by supply and demand, not by DRM vs. non-DRM.

DRM will increase electronic distribution –
Well maintained and reasonably implemented DRM will increase the electronic distribution of content, not decrease it. In this sense, DRM is an important ingredient in the overall success of the emerging digital world and especially cannot be overlooked for content creators and owners in the video industry. Quite simply, if the owners of high-value video entertainment are asked to enter, or stay in a digital world that is free of DRM, without protection for their content, then there will be no reason for them to enter, or to stay if they’ve already entered. The risk will be too great.

No, with regards to music, the amount of “distribution” is constant. DRM is a barrier for consumers to obtain music distribution legally. Instead, most consumers are resorting to illegal channels of distribution. The record labels have been trying to shut down these channels (peer to peer networks) for years without success. The record labels need to compete with piracy by offering a product that consumers want to buy. Consumers want high quality digital audio files to be available without DRM restrictions. Once DRM is removed, there will be an increase in the legal distribution of music files.

DRM needs to be interoperable and open –
I agree with you that there are difficult challenges associated with maintaining the controls of an interoperable DRM system, but it should not stop the industry from pursuing it as a goal. Truly interoperable DRM will hasten the shift to the electronic distribution of content and make it easier for consumers to manage and share content in the home – and it will enable it in an open environment where their content is portable across a number of devices, not held hostage to just one company’s products. DRM supporting open environments will benefit consumer electronics manufacturers by encouraging and enabling them to create ever more innovative and sophisticated devices for consumers that play late running premium content from a number of sources.

Amoroso speaks of “truly interoperable DRM”. This is a fallacy. By definition, there is no such thing, nor can there be. The whole point of DRM is being able to control the use and distribution of content. Even if every vendor used the same form of DRM, the digital content (music files in this case) would still be restricted and likewise not be “truly inoperable”. If the DRM restrictions were too liberal, then the music files could be easily shared. That would obviously defeat the purpose of using DRM in the first place. Likewise, the only way to be “truly interoperable” is to not use DRM. Again, there is no such thing as “truly interoperable DRM” and by definition, there never will be.

Sandisk wants media attention as well…

Sadly, when someone does something original others like to jump on the bandwagon in hopes of getting a little press for themselves. In this case, Eli Harari, CEO of SanDisk, is next in line to embarrass himself.

http://www.sandisk.com/assets/file/openLetter.htm

More analysis of his letter here:
http://www.engadget.com/2007/02/08/sandisk-does-up-its-own-open-letter-drops-the-ball/

Harari talks about how Sandisk is

“creating solutions rather than conflict” and how they are “building an infrastructure to give consumers fair access to digital content while protecting content creators is vital for the long-term health of the music industry, as well as to our business and to our competitors.”

In short, he’s sucking up to the record labels and preaching the nonsense that they want to here. Look, Harari is “playing ball”, isn’t he a good boy? But, what solution is Harari offering?

“Consumers deserve fair use of the digital entertainment they purchase, with the freedom to enjoy content on any device they own. SanDisk’s approach is to let consumers decide how and where they acquire and play back their music.”

Translation: We don’t want to be controversial. We know our customers prefer to steal music, but as long as we’re selling music players, we don’t care.

“Proprietary systems, in short, aren’t acceptable to consumers. In recent months, there has been a rising chorus of complaints in Europe about the anti-competitive nature of closed formats that tie music purchased from one company to that company’s devices, and tie that company’s devices to its music service.”

Translation: We don’t want consumers to use the leading DRM format because we’re not part of it.

“SanDisk is already offering an alternative with its Sansa line of MP3 players, which connect to many major online music stores, including Rhapsody, Napster, URGE, Yahoo! Music, emusic and Best Buy Digital Music Store. Users purchasing songs from those services can also play them on many non-SanDisk devices.”

Yeah, and all of those music stores combined make up less than 20% of the legal download market. Even still, how is this any better? What problem does this solve? Can those same songs be played on the iPod? No. How about the Zune? No. How about Sony’s players? No. Wow that’s some solution you’ve got going there Harari. Any other pearls of wisdom you have to share?

“What’s more, the decision on using digital rights management (DRM) should rest with the music industry, not with device makers.”

Nice way to pass the buck Harari. There is an obvious problem with DRM. Instead of offering a solution, Harari just passes the buck onto the record companies. Apparently, it’s not appropriate for consumers or device makers to have a discussion on this.

“Time and again, we have seen that open choice prevails. The “walled garden” approach may offer a smoother user experience in the short run, but ultimately restricts user choice. Protecting music doesn’t require confining consumers to a single company’s service or devices. It’s time to tear down the walls.”

Really, could Harari be any more vague and “wishy-washy”? Okay let’s see… He says that open choice prevails. Well, both dropping DRM and using a “universal” DRM would allow choice of vendors. By “walled garden”, I can only assume he’s referring to proprietary forms of DRM like Apple, Sony and Microsoft are using. He talks about protecting music, but fails to acknowledge that DRM does not protect music. Then, he says it’s time to tear down the walls. Great, isn’t that what Jobs was saying in his open letter to the music industry? Clearly, the best way to tear down the walls is to remove DRM entirely.

Sometimes a compromise will do…

From a consumer perspective, we want high quality audio files which are DRM free. Maybe a more reasonable solution is to just offer CD quality audio files in a lossless format such as FLAC or Apple’s Lossless format, etc. There are a couple reasons why this would work.

1. These files would be roughly half the size of ripped CD files, contain the same audio quality. Sure, they would take up more space on your hard drive, maybe 5 times as much space as a 128bit MP3 or AAC file. But, when you think about it, compressed music files were popular 10 years ago because hard drive space was so much smaller and network bandwidth was so much less. 10 years ago, a 4GB hard drive was considered big. Now, 500GB drives are big and 750GB drives are available. With more than 100x storage on the average computer today as compared to 10 years ago, file size is not an issue.

2. Internet bandwidth is much higher now than it was 10 years ago. A much higher percentage of users are on broadband. Today, very few people are still using dial up.

3. Perhaps the most significant issue is that transcoding would not be an issue. Transcoding is the process of expanding a compressed file (perhaps when burning to CD), then recompressing that expanded file (from CD back to .mp3, etc.). When this happens, there is a loss of quality. With today’s DRM schemes, you are typically allowed to burn CDs from your downloaded music files. However, the original music files (in .mp3, .aac, .wma, etc. format) are less than CD quality to begin with. When you uncompress, then recompress those files, the quality degrades. However, if your original music file is already of CD quality, there is no loss in quality by compressing it to a lossless format (FLAC, Apple Lossless, etc.) then uncompressing it again. As such, the manual removal of DRM from a CD quality audio file would be a trivial task as it can be done through conventional means (burning to a CD, use of various audio recording programs, etc.). No complicated key decryption programs would be necessary.

4. CD quality downloads negates format interoperability issues. That is, you can create music files in any format from a high quality original.

The reason such a compromise might work is that the record labels would be able to save face by pretending DRM is stopping piracy. Let’s face it, egos are involved here. Most of the major record labels are still vocally in favor of using DRM. DRM protects music from being copied by the casual user, but it’s still hacked by more technical types. Instead, the casual user resorts to piracy via P2P networks. If the casual user were able to remove DRM themselves, they’d probably be willing to purchase the music legally and remove the DRM themselves if they were getting a superior product. Although DRM would still be an unnecessary hurdle for legitimate customers to deal with, it might be a compromise more people would be willing to tolerate. It might also be a compromise the record labels are willing to consider.

Conclusions
Neither Macrovision nor Sandisk has taken a practical look at the state of DRM. Neither company has dared to be controversial and propose a real solution to the problem. Macrovision took this opportunity to do a little self promotion by asking the industry to adapt its form of DRM across vendors. They even go so far as to say they’ll take over Apple’s FairPlay (DRM) and maintain it, etc. Unfortunately, while caught up in some delusional state, they preach about a “truly interoperable DRM” which by its very definition is a contradiction of terms.

Sandisk also wants a universal DRM across vendors in hopes that they will have a more level playing field. I’m not sure why Sandisk doesn’t realize the same thing would be accomplished by removing DRM entirely. Apparently, they are more concerned about appearing politically correct in the eyes of the record companies instead of actually listening to its customer’s demands. I suppose that’s why they’re #2 and Apple is #1 in this market.

Finally, I have to wonder if DRM would be a non-issue entirely if music files were offered with CD quality audio. DRM would be easier to defeat for the customer. Likewise, there would be less incentive to steal via the P2P networks. At the same time, the record labels would be able to save face by not removing DRM and still pretend it works.

Photography: “Digital vs. Film” and what really matters.

January 5, 2007

Film vs Digital
Another view on the great “Digital vs. Film” debate. This article explores the issue from a practical matter and discusses what really matters.

Friday, January 5, 2007

The Digital vs. Film debate has been on-going since the advent of digital photography. Early in the debate, there was a question as to which medium was better. That debate isn’t really the issue anymore. Rather, what I find most amusing are the discussions regarding the 35mm film equivalent to digital in terms of megapixels (MP). I’ve seen wild ranges of values and talks about a general consensus, etc. This article attempts to explore the “megapixel” issue in more detail.

Which is better, film or digital?

I’ll get right to the point and say that all things being equal, digital is clearly better. By “all things being equal”, I mean that film comes in multiple formats (35mm, medium – 4×5, etc.). Likewise, it’s fair to say that digital has not completely eliminated the need for film as there is no real digital equivalent to the high end film formats. However, for the other 99.999% (estimation of course) of the photographer population we’re really only interested in 35mm film. With the quality of today’s digital cameras, there is really no need to continue using 35mm film based equipment. Some older photographers like the look (including the imperfections) of film based prints, but even this can also be simulated with digital filters. Of course, I suppose it’s not fair to just proclaim one medium as being better than another without qualifying the reasons behind the claim. In no particular order, digital is better than film because:

1. The development process: There are so many ways things can go wrong with making prints from film. Digital processing is much more consistent. Only the most skilled photographers can get the maximum benefit of film. In practice, the average photographer does much better with digital.

2. Workflow: To get the best image possible, film has to be digitized any way in order to tweak the color, sharpness, attempt to reduce the noise, etc. In these cases, you’re at the mercy of the quality of your scanner. In terms of convenience, digital is already “digitized”, though those shooting in RAW format will do some development. The convenience of sorting, storing, searching and transferring digital files cannot be matched by film.

3. Much more accurate colors.

4. Better dynamic range through RAW file processing.

5. Far less noise and much more useful ISO range.

6. Film costs money. Digital storage is comparatively cheap.

7. Film degrades over time. Files can be duplicated exactly.

8. Immediate feedback of the quality of the picture taken. This just isn’t possible with film based cameras. Many professional photographers readily admit that learning on a digital camera can save years of trial and error based experimentation with film based cameras.

What is the digital equivalent to 35mm film in megapixels?

This is the more difficult question to answer. The explanation for this difficulty is that there is no quick and easy way to measure this accurately. Worse, most photography “experts” are by no means qualified scientists. Many feel that based on their photography (which is essentially an art form) credentials, they’re able to also provide answers to more scientific questions. People feel the need to quote respected photographers on what is essentially their “opinion” on the matter. As such, for 35mm film, I’ve seen ranges from 5 megapixels up to and even beyond 20 megapixels.

Why such a large range and who is right?

One of the main reasons there is such a large range is because of film itself. That is, not all film is created equal. Film advocates tend to quote numbers from the highest quality, highest priced, highest grain films available. That’s fine, but in reality the average film purchased is probably the cheapest. In theory, the very high grain 35mm films have the equivalent of about 20 megapixels. So, 35mm film = 20 megapixels, right? Film advocates would like to stop there and say yes, but the reality is far different. The film advocates that think 35mm film is equivalent to 20MP apparently aren’t familiar with the Modulation Transfer Function (MTF). In layman’s terms, this refers to the cumulative affect of the lens, lens + film, scanner and sharpening algorithms, etc. In short, the theoretical 20MP quickly gets cut in half to about 10MP. More detail about MTF can be found at the link below:

http://www.normankoren.com/Tutorials/MTF.html

This is where the industry “consensus” comes in. The general consensus is that in terms of resolution only, 35mm film is close to 10MP on digital cameras. That would be fine if resolution where the only factor involved with image quality, but that’s not the case. The four major factors that impact image quality are resolution, noise/grain, dynamic range and color. Digital cameras have several times the signal to noise ratio as compared to film cameras. Even digital cameras are not the same in quality. Digital SLRs have a much higher signal to noise ratio than “point and shoot” digital cameras because of their larger (and more expensive) internal sensors. Likewise, a 6MP digital SLR will produce better quality images than an 8MP point and shoot digital camera.

I’ve read many articles in magazines and read many web based articles on the topic. I’ve come to the conclusion that most photographers are not scientists and likewise don’t really understand the dynamics that come into play when making such comparisons. While I encourage everyone to read as much information as they can on the topic, ultimately you’ll have to come to your own conclusion. There is one web site that I can recommend on this topic. It’s certainly one of the few that have any scientific credibility behind it.

http://www.clarkvision.com/imagedetail/film.vs.digital.summary1.html

Of particular interest, is a graph which shows the range of resolution on the vertical axis and ISO values on the horizontal axis. The quality of film photography quickly drops off across the ISO range. What’s the point of enlarging a photo if it’s going to look like crap? Just because film has potential resolution, doesn’t mean the images will be visually appealing if they are grainy and noisy. I’ll present my own conclusions which are a combination of my own observations and my research on the topic in the conclusion paragraph below.

Film Quality

Also, when researching the topic, I’ve found that most of the articles are old and mostly out of date. That is, film is relatively stagnant in terms of improvements. By comparison, digital imaging technology has been progressing at a very fast pace. For example, the first consumer level digital camera was the Apple Quicktake 100, released in February, 1994. It would be a joke to compare that to film. Clearly film was far superior. For more digital photography history, see the link below.

http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bldigitalcamera.htm

By 2001, 5MP cameras were coming onto the scene that posed a serious challenge to 35mm film capabilities. By 2003, there were heated debates on the topic as digital cameras from several vendors were exceeding 35mm film capabilities. As of this writing, December 2006, nobody with an ounce of credibility can deny that digital photography has long since eclipsed the capabilities of 35mm film based photography. In fact, higher end Canon DSLRs are producing images that match or rival medium format film cameras.

How much is enough?

In the printing business, the rule of thumb for high quality output is that you want to keep your images in the 200 – 300 ppi (pixels per inch) range. Essentially, based on printing technology, nothing above 300ppi can be realized in terms of quality. Anything under 200ppi is where you might start to notice a drop in quality. So, for the best quality images, how much resolution is needed? A 4” x 6” photo at 300ppi would require a 2.16MP image. (300 x 4) + (300 x 6) = 2,160,000 or 2.16MP.

Print Size 300ppi 200ppi
4×6 2.16MP 0.96MP
5×7 3.15MP 1.40MP
8×10 7.20MP 3.20MP

Etc…

So, why would you want more resolution? More resolution allows you crop a portion of your image and still make a reasonable sized print out of it. The resolution chart above also explains why digital photography really took off at the consumer level once affordable digital cameras were available in the 2 – 3 MP range. Most amateur photographers rarely have a need for anything but 4×6 prints.

Conclusions…

Based on my own observations and research into the many factors of image quality, I’ve come to the following conclusion: There is no exact megapixel correlation between 35mm film and megapixels in digital media. Image quality varies based on the quality of the film used; the ISO setting for the picture taken; not just the number of megapixels, but also the size of the digital sensor; the signal to noise ratios, etc. That said, there are a few generalizations that can be made with regard to the 35mm film and digital mediums.

1. With “regular” film, shooting at a standard ISO 200 on a film based point and shoot camera is equivalent to about a 5MP point and shoot digital camera.

2. On one impractical extreme, under the most ideal lighting, ISO 50, best quality film possible, 35mm film can achieve a quality somewhere in the 10+ MP digital equivalent ranges.

3. On the other impractical extreme, at ISO 1600 and with lesser quality film, 35mm film degrades to somewhere between the 2 – 4 MP digital equivalent range.

4. Overall, across a range of settings, a decent quality digital camera in the 6 – 8 MP range will almost always beat 35mm film based cameras in terms of the overall quality of image produced.

Since there are many factors which influence image quality, it’s not hard to understand why there is no one single magic answer as to how many megapixels are equivalent to 35mm film. Likewise, regardless of how many people repeat the same “consensus”, understand there is no single answer. Any source that tries to peg 35mm film into a single, precise megapixel equivalent is simply incorrect.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.