Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


The Display Continuum

So Easy to Forget…January

Happy New Year! Welcome to the second half of the first decade of the 21st century. For me, this new year – 2005 -- has a nice round-number feel to it. It’s also interesting to observe how quickly time does pass. A few days ago, I was reviewing a technical article and the author made a reference to something that happened in the “last century”. It took me a few seconds to realize he was referring to the 1900’s and not the 1800’s. I guess the saying that “time sure flies when you’re having fun” is getting to be ever more applicable.

It seems that the start of a new year and the passing of the previous one has become a traditional time to look back and also to look ahead. Reviewing and preserving memories of past events can have great educational value for all of us as well as for the generations yet to follow.
The coming of the “Digital Age” has brought both blessings and challenges in this regard. Much has been written about how the “Information Age” is all about “bits” versus the old fashioned “Industrial Age” having been about “atoms”. Yet when it comes to storing our memories, the only way that we know how to do it is to use “atoms”. Information with no storage medium can only float around in the “ether” while moving at the speed of light. So without atoms, we would have to invent a new form of instantaneous travel so we could get ahead of the information coming at us by the conventional speed of light propagation. It would be like looking at a far off galaxy where the light originated many years ago. Somehow this doesn’t seem like an immediately practical approach to how we should manage information storage and retrieval.

Unfortunately, many of us are behaving as if we actually had something like this science fiction fantasy already in place. We are using our desktop and laptop computers to keep our most important archival information with no back up other than perhaps a CD or a memory card. The good side of this is that digital information can be copied and recopied presumably forever with no loss or degradation of the data. That is an obvious benefit over analog media such as paper or film. However, the scary part is that the media itself can suffer catastrophic failures such as when a hard drive “crashes”. The other scary part is that over the last few decades we have continued to introduce new storage technologies while abandoning the old ones. Thus, it has required the periodic transferring of data to whatever storage technology is currently in vogue. Not everyone has been diligent in doing this and as a result there are many floppy disks out there that can no longer be read. I know, since I recently tossed out several dozen. Were these memories especially important? Perhaps not, but they are nevertheless gone.

The recent rapid growth of digital photography is one area where I think we should be especially concerned. Last week I read an article in a Seattle newspaper that a number of photo labs in the Seattle area are going out of business. The requests for film processing and printing are declining and the decreasing volume no longer makes it possible for these businesses to keep their doors open. Digital photography now constitutes a majority of the images being captured. In this newspaper article, one photo-lab owner is quoted as saying that he thinks the photo labs have not done an adequate job of explaining to people that they can produce results that are superior to what can be done on a home printer. But I think there is a far more significant opportunity that so far no one has addressed.

The one advantage film has always had is that the images are in a format that can be instantly viewed and no special technologies are, or will be, needed to retrieve them. The other advantage is a very high information content per unit volume of storage space with one letter-size page containing more than a Gigapixel’s worth of image data. And while film will show a slow degradation over time, with reasonable care, the newer films will retain over 90% of their image quality for periods approaching 100 years.

Therefore, I have a great new product opportunity to propose. Frankly, I don’t understand why one of the two large film companies – Kodak or Fuji – has not already taken advantage of this potentially great way to sustain and perhaps even grow their existing film business. What I would like to have is a little box that sits by my computer and has a large roll of film in it – perhaps several hundred images worth. For my purposes, I would like to have the highest resolution so I would propose a format larger than 35-mm. Perhaps the 2 _-inch format would be optimum. Then, whenever I download or create an image that I like well enough to archive, I can simply click on “print-to-film” and it is captured for posterity. After the roll is full, I can take or send it to a lab to have it developed and an index-sheet printed that has all the images for me to view. Of course, the reciprocal product to this would be a scanner that will allow me to put the images back onto my computer should I need to do that. If not, I always have them to view and print with non-digital media.

Won’t it be sad if in 20 or 30 years, our next generation tries to look back on what we did during the first decade of the 21st century and has almost nothing to see? Something like this already happened once before in the early days of color negative film. Professional photographers call it the “lost decade”. Fortunately, people were still also using black and white films and positive transparency films that did not fade like the early color negative films.

It is unfortunate that the growth of digital image capture is being viewed by most as competing technology that will “replace” film. Most of the prognostications that we read are about how quickly film will disappear. Perhaps that viewpoint has also colored the business acumen of those who have made their livelihood developing and manufacturing film and film-based products. Looked at from the viewpoint of image creation, there is no question that the conversion to digital for most image capture applications is happening. But I believe that this viewpoint is too narrow. There may yet be great opportunities for film-based products that are the result of the digital age. With some creativity and careful analysis of what is needed the threat can perhaps become the opportunity.
If you would like to comment on this topic or others you may reach me directly from this web site, by e-mail at Email, by phone at 425-898-9117, or by fax at 425-898-1727.

I wish you the very best in the coming year. Welcome to 2005.