Trust the Pictures, Not Necessarily the Engineers

Sony U-Matic VCR.jpg
Sony U-Matic VCR

The image quality of television pictures has constantly changed for the past 75 years. Back in the early 1970s, television engineers told us the U-Matic tape format was not good enough for broadcast. Within a few years the 3/4-inch cassette transformed TV, creating the ENG revolution.

In the early 1980s, Betacam was introduced by Sony as a news-only format.  The engineers told us then we had to keep using those backbreaking portable one-inch field recorders — the ones that closely resembled a large concrete block — if we wanted true broadcast-quality video.

The engineers, of course, were wrong again! Almost overnight, Betacam changed the video world, ushering in the era of the camcorder. Then came standard definition digital video, the 4K iPhone and now 8K. Video quality is always on the move. Today, iPhones are even being used on feature films.

Sony Betacam.jpg
Sony Betacam

These days engineers are still warning us about what will and will not work and they often define “broadcast quality,” whatever that means anymore. As a result of the barrage of conflicting information about a wide range of formats, many video producers are confused and apprehensive about making sure they use an acceptable format for a given project.

With all due respect to the engineers, I suggest the creators and makers of video programming should start thinking for themselves. Look at the pictures and make your own judgements about what’s acceptable for your audience. Video images are now so good, most people won’t even think about the image quality.

The 75 year-plus journey through video history tells us that while the engineering arguments should be considered, it’s the pictures — and the story — that really matter at the end of the day. A great story always trumps video quality. It always has.