Computing Columnist: Frames per second
Can't wait for Peter Jackson's prequel to his Lord of the Rings epic, The Hobbit? Me either. I read The Hobbit in high school and never quite developed the love affair with the rest of the cycle that I did with that singular novel.
Admitting to loving Tolkien is a bit of a geeky tell. I've pointed out in this column before that some of the terms used especially in the early days of computing were derived from Tolkien's famous books.
Well with this outing, Peter Jackson has given geeks even more to love. As PC Computing explains, "He (Jackson) has employed an array of high-resolution RED Epic cameras recording video at 5,120-by-2,700-pixel resolution, and at 48 fps (known in the industry, along with 60 fps, as High Frame Rate)."
To understand a little better what that means to us, as viewers, here's a quick primer: 29.97 (or basically, 30) frames per second is the U.S. standard for acquiring broadcast TV. With the advent of High Resolution or High Definition recording and broadcasting, many producers took to shooting in 24 FPS in order to achieve a more film-like look - given that film is typically shot at 24 FPS. American television is then displayed at roughly 60 frames per second, but interlaced. That is, the television signal makes one pass on the even scan line field, then returns and make a second pass on the odd scan line field - so in effect it really is only broadcasting at 30 FPS, just doubled , with scan lines linterleaved like shuffling a deck of cards, and then scanned on every other line at a time.
Television viewers, and critics, have usually agreed that TV has a colder, more immediate look - which oddly, in a way, renders it more "fake" looking than the softer, hazier, more dreamy quality of film. This is why most TV fictional programming was acquired and edited on film, then sent through a process called a film chain that allowed it to be broadcast electronically. Compare your favorite TV series from ten years ago to a news broadcast if you want to understand the difference in quality, immediacy, and realism imparted by the two technologies.
Consequently, with his move to a higher frames per second rate, Jackson risks moving his product toward what some viewers perceive as a much more lifelike, hence colder, less storylike look.
The reasons Jackson cites for going in this direction is that these are action films, and as HD sports broadcasting has proven, viewers are able to follow the movement on the field with a lot less blurring thanks to the higher definition. And, of course, 3D has made many more demands on the original footage, much of which is now being acquired in the less expensive, more predictable digital format, rather than film.
Now I have two really good reasons to go see The Hobbit, and I can't wait till it opens at a theater near me! (Oh, by the way, you may or may not see it in a 48FPS capable theater, there are only 450 of them out of the 4000 theaters where it opens this Christmas, so be sure to check the listings!)