Old technology lives! 4:3 forever!

Syllabi are like time capsules. Looking at my course outline from my first post production workshop in 1995 it’s not so amazing what’s no longer covered (3/4″ videotape, CMX editors, Dolby noise reduction). But it is amazing what survives. Who thought we’d still be dealing with EDLs in the age of metadata?

Great article in the New York Times exploring why old technologies such as mainframe computers hang on for years after pundits ponder their demise. Just like the old IBM Selectric typewriter we kept around for tape labeling. What the PC couldn’t do, P2 might, because if there are no tapes to label…

What are the common traits of survivor technologies? First, it seems, there is a core technology requirement: there must be some enduring advantage in the old technology that is not entirely supplanted by the new.

The venerable 4:3 aspect ratio isn’t so much a technology as a form factor. How many have predicted its demise? When we discussed the challenges of moving to 16:9 acquisition in the mid-1990s, we never thought we’d still be dealing with the issue almost a decade and a half later. But there it is in my fall 2008 syllabus.

Of course in 1995 we didn’t consider the iPhone, the ATM screen, and the airplane seat back as presentation media. As Austin Powers would say, “Convergence, baby.” 4:3 provides a better text display screen. It fits better on a variety of mobile phone form factors. And it’s simply more flexible for displaying text and images in combination.

Clearly I’ll be talking about video aspect ratios well into the next decade. And this nearly decade-old spoof on the 4:3 adaptation of Lawrence of Arabia will still be funny.

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