It's now been about a week since I had to suffer through Wolf Blitzer talking to a fuzzy will.i.am hologram during CNN's election coverage. During the very short snippets I caught, several things became very clear:
1) The next gen. hologram techonology employed by CNN looked like someone didn't how how to set up proper anti-aliasing when creating a mask in Photoshop.
2) That CNN thought ANY member of a pop group, much less the Black-Eyed Peas, deserved any airtime during the so-called "most intriguing election of our time" was yet another example of media gone mental.
3) The "team" of tech wizards at CNN that actually thought it ground-breaking and appealing showing a fuzzy 3D hologram of a person that we were watching on a 2D medium need their heads examined by a doctor around the world using the same fuzzy holographic technology.
How different is this from the days we used to make fun of television ads that asked "does your TV look this good?"
Gizmodo.com outlined the laundry list of technology that was necessary to have this groundbreaking effort brought to my screen.
• 35 HD cameras pointed at the subject in a ring
• Different cameras shoot at different angles (like the matrix), to transmit the entire body image
• The cameras are hooked up to the cameras in home base in NY, synchronizing the angles so perspective is right
• The system is set up in trailers outside Obama and McCain HQ
• Not only is it mechanical tracking via camera communication, there's infrared as well
• Correspondents see a 37-inch plasma where the return feed of the combined images are fed back to them. Useful for a misplaced hair or an unseemly boogar
• Twenty "computers" are crunching this data in order to make it usable.
The sad reality of the end result of this endeavor is that the subjects would have looked far better using just ONE HD camera and putting up a split screen. These people have never looked so bad on television. Until they can figure out a way to get the hologram into my rec room, the technology as used on TV is useless.
Yet, all this said, I admire that the network is at least thinking of pushing the envelope. This idea was truly noble in conception if not in execution. After all how many ways can a screen be broken up to accommodate a dozen or more pundits? How many more touchscreens or crazy new-fangled telestrator technologies must we be subjected to so that the sidekick, young "hip" analyst can drag and drop so many objects and statistics around like a green screen weather man with a god complex?
I have, on many occasions, wished for advancements in holographic technology like the kind we were poorly exposed to on CNN. The advancements, however, need to happen at the end-user level before there is any purpose in integrating such technology into broadcasting. Give me a home unit that can do simple stuff like show 3D maps, animation, or simple content that will prove the medium as a useful home entertainment device.
To sum up the pros and cons of cable news and its continuing efforts with next gen technology:
Pro - Wanting to push the envelope is never bad.
Con - 3DTV is the next frontier and after that holographics is really NEXT next gen, let's at least get the order right.
Con - Selling any program, much less election coverage, on a half-assed, poorly-executed concept is beyond lame.
It's not just a CNN problem. Instead, networks need to stop hiding their ineptitude behind fancy graphics and "cutting edge" wishlist technology and providing real reporting, inciteful commentary and content that transcends personality, graphics and glitz. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of home holographic technology on the horizon, but I hate that persistent weak attempts at such advancements may do more to discourage development instead of enhance it.