HD Garbage

A variously-ascribed slogan goes, “garbage in = garbage out.” The computer industry is particularly fond of this expression, since it helps remind programmers of the value of writing good code.

Today, however, I am speaking of making video. For most of the history of home video, camcorders recorded movies at the equivalent of a resolution of 640×480 pixels, the same resolution as the ubiquitous color television. In recent years, however, the advent of high-definition (HD) television broadcasting and the high-definition flat-panel televisions sold to utilize it have been accompanied by increasingly sophisticated camcorders. Many of them can record up to 1080p, which is a resolution of 1,920 pixels wide by 1,080 high. At their highest settings, the best of these machines can deliver 25 megabytes of data to their storage medium every second. That is a mind boggling amount of information.

Your camcorder is only as good as your film making skills. If you shoot bad video, no matter how "high-definition," it will be a low-quality product.
Your camcorder is only as good as your film making skills. If you shoot bad video, no matter how “high-definition,” it will be a low-quality product.

How is this an example of “garbage in = garbage out?” Quite simply, most home video is terrible. Unwatchable. And there is so much of it. Exabytes of worthless video is being recorded every day.

When you post videos on the internet, by their very presence you are asking us, or someone like us, to spend time watching them. Here are some things that make videos bad:

  • Videos that are prefaced by “It starts slow” or “the best part is at the four minute mark – it’s worth the wait.” We don’t live in a patient society, particularly when we’re surfing the net. Just post the good part.
  • Videos of air shows accompanied by any hard rock music. It’s a pretty good bet that only a small fraction of your audience will even like the same noisy rock music you do. In fact, if you make an air show video to Kenny’s Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” I’m done with you forever.
  • Music on a YouTube video accompanied by title slide or image of an album cover. If you like the music, recommend it on iTunes or something. If it’s not a video, it’s not a video. The same goes for slide shows.
  • Zooming. The zoom on your camcorder isn’t a toy, and in most hands it’s not a tool either. QUIT ZOOMING! It takes great skill to shoot while zooming and make it good. Most of the time when you zoom while shooting you just make us carsick. Either stop the camera and zoom to the lens length you want, or edit all those zooms out.
  • Four or five or ten or twenty minutes of anything … anything you are doing that can be expressed in 15 seconds. I had a buddy who once hung his camera around his neck and let it record for an entire ski run. Essentially every second of it was the same. Thankfully, he had the good sense not to post it to his web site. If there was a highlight, like a good jump or a wipeout, that’s all we need to see.
  • Video of inanimate objects or abstract objects. Human faces are more important to other people than any objects. If you are, for example, reviewing a bicycle helmet, don’t just point your camera at the helmet and talk. Show us your face. Show us using the product. Show someone riding a bike with the helmet on.
  • Other people’s kids. I know this sounds a little petty and selfish, but it’s honest: you and your family are the only people who want to see film of your children. Even then, they only want to see about 90 seconds, not a whole soccer match or ballet recital.
  • Camera movement. Like zooming, moving the camera while shooting is best done by experts. Panning, dollying, trucking, tilting, tracking and more are all potential ways, if done wrong, to ruin your film. Hold. Still.
Honestly, even people who went to film school create tons of not very good movies. I know there are few things as popular on the internet as posting movies to sharing services like YouTube, but in my mind popularity equals mediocrity. It comes down to audience, I suppose. If you hope to have people watch and enjoy your videos, you might consider making something that we can at least watch. Just because your camera records in HD doesn’t mean you record in high quality.