Distractro enters. He is covered in flashing lights. There is a video game console embedded in his back.
DISTRACTRO: What’s up, man? Have you checked out Gizmodo lately?
D: Nah man. Just trying to write here.
DISTRACTRO: Ew, with that font? Gnarly. You know there are some really great monospaced fonts these days, what was that post with like ten of them? Bet if you googled it…
D: Oh yeah, there was— no! Later, I’ll worry about that later. Okay.
DISTRACTRO: Pretty dark in here. I mean, that’s cool, if you’re cool with that.
D: I can open some blinds. Here-
D opens blinds in the living room, then the kitchen.
Distractro quickly takes D’s place at the computer and begins to tap at the keyboard.
D: No! What are you writing!
META–DISTRACTRO enters. Small FIREWORKS are constantly firing from his body, and his head is spinning around rapidly.
D: Fuck it. YOOOOOOO!!!
D begins to dance, as “Boom Boom Pow” or some equally nightmarish single begins to bang from the speaks.
I wanted very much to like this book. I wanted to agree with everything in it. The general thesis is that the corporation’s influence has been so great that our entire society, our culture, our minds are now corporatized – we think like corporations without realizing there are other ways. The hook is almost irresistible, too: Rushkoff was robbed outside his apartment in Brooklyn, and when he posted about it on a neighbourhood mailing list, people wanted him to shut up about it lest he bring their property values down.
The book has many fascinating sections, especially the parts about the origins of corporations, the origin of branding (with Louis XIV’s minister Colbert, although some internetting has me questioning that passage), post-WWII home ownership and racism, and the bias inherent in central currency, to name a few. Unfortunately, all of these are awash in a sea of stream-of-consciousness ranting that makes it hard to discern the overall point at any given time. Certain ideas that need more room to kick their legs,like the bias of currency, simply drown.
Most disappointingly, Rushkoff reserves only a few pages at the end for suggestions of how to counteract corporatism. There’s only one real idea, about establishing local currencies, but as the problem with central currencies was so poorly argued earlier, it fails to impress. Likewise, it’s hard to tell whether his theory of corporatism is at all sound, since Rushkoff’s ranting distracts him from the legwork required to establish the theory’s subcomponents.
Hard and Soft
The PS3’s hardware is unassailable, both in terms of included features (WiFi, Bluetooth, swappable HD, Blu-Ray), and in terms of build quality, at least compared to the unfortunate Xbox 360.
The OS software is where things get interesting. The overall interface (the Xross Media Bar or XMB – is X pronounced ‘k’ now?) is clean and minimalist, although it scales poorly. That’s evident in the interminable settings tab, and also if you have a lot of games or videos, as it always gives you a flat list – is it incapable of hierarchy?
The PS3 has many capabilities, many of which I fear I will never use. You can see that this thing is an actual computer (which was a promise about the PS2 that was never really true). It’s got a decent web browser and lots of features – heck, it connected to my printer and I’m sure it would print up photos if I let it. I understand the media centre capabilities of this thing are quite decent – format support is fairly broad (although not broad enough for my tastes). Unfortunately, I already have computers that do these things much better. Sorry, PS3.
The Playstation store feels like an actual store and less like a creeping huckster contagion that infects everything – the Xbox 360’s approach.
However, the download / install procedure is a baffling ordeal. On the 360 this just works. The PS3 seems to like to install, moreso than it likes to let you play games. Every time you download something, it needs to install afterwards, but it doesn’t do this itself. It waits until you want the thing, and then tells you it’s “Installing…” My worst experience of this was with Burnout Paradise, a 2 or 3 gig download, then an install, then – outrageously – a sequence of five(!) software updates that had to be downloaded and installed, which completely occupied the PS3 for a good hour. Why the fuck couldn’t those have been applied to the file on the server?
So far, I don’t know too many people with PS3s, so I haven’t tested many of the online services like friends lists and chat and all that – an area of weakness compared to the 360, as I understand. Well, at least you don’t have to pay for it.
I bought a few games, both through the online store and on Blu-Ray.
There is a refreshing amount of experimentation going on in the available downloadable games like FlOw, FlOwer, the PixelJunk games, Noby Noby Boy, Everyday Shooter. Home is also a noble idea. It’s not one that works in practise at present: what the hell am I supposed to do in there?
The PixelJunk games are fantastic, or at least Eden and Monsters are. I’m in love with Eden. It’s minimalist, beautiful, addicting, and can be played in 10 minute bursts. Monsters seems like it got too hard too fast, but still ranks with the best tower defence games I’ve played. I wished there was more to Noby Noby Boy. And yes, Burnout Paradise at $20 is a truckload of awesome.
On disc I’ve mostly played Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid IV. They are spectacular, really – great examples of current generation A-list games, with engrossing stories that imbue the gameplay with significance. MGS certainly has its quirks. But I’m willing to view them as a strength, as I was a huge fan of Kojima’s auteurism in the past MGS games (although I’ll admit to gradually tiring of the stealth gameplay). I also picked up Valkyria Chronicles and Ratchet and Clank Future, but haven’t spent much time with them. A man only needs so many games at once. If I became suddenly unemployed or they added an extra couple days to the weekend, I’d be trying Killzone and Little Big Planet for sure.
More recently I’ve become quite taken with Demon’s Souls (more on that in a separate post), but that may get punched in the face by Nathan Drake shortly.
A post like this seems like it needs a section about Blu-Ray, but I confess to not being the enthusiast I thought I was. Well, I guess I just spent a week watching three films a day in theatres, so give me a break. I did rent a flick and it looked amazing; it’s definitely the best quality home HD option, far better than either Rogers HD feeds (which generally suck, with visible macro blocking and poor lowlights) or HD rentals on Xbox / iTunes, or even downloaded .mkv files. Then again, I’m having a hard time making myself buy Blu-Ray discs. It just feels like it’s not worth the money. When DVDs were new and fresh, I bought a whole bunch of them. Now I have shelves full of the things, and I can count on one hand the ones I’ve watched multiple times, so the bulk of them weren’t worth the money. And it’s clear that my film collection of the future will all be on some 500 terabyte hard drive. So I’m hesitant to go through the whole thing again, at least until prices drop. I can see myself renting the things fairly frequently, though.
Summing the Hell Up
The PS3 slim is a nice piece of work. It used to be that the PS3 was the $700 console with a crappy games lineup. Now, the console is $300. Sony’s game library is strong, and and we still haven’t seen the old Sony standbys like God of War, Gran Turismo and Final Fantasy. Blu-Ray is the only remaining HD disc format, and the PS3 the only console that offers it. Sony even outsold the Wii in September.
Times have changed.
There is no question in my mind that cameras like this are the future for many of us.
By us I mean those interested in both still and motion picture photography. I’ve been into both fields for a while, both by hobby and trade, and it still blows my little mind to think I could afford a thing like this. It’s been a long, gradual and perhaps predictable time coming, but that doesn’t make it seem any less crazy. When I was in university we shot on VHS, and people were saying Hi-8 video was the future. Then it was the DV “revolution”. I split on a cheap DV handicam with some friends. But you still couldn’t get a nice image with these things – you could imitate video stuff, but never convincingly film. For that you needed to shoot film, which was a mulit-thousand-dollar proposition for camera rental & processing. Soon, we were lucky enough to be able to shoot on early pro HDCAMs like the Sony F900, but that was still a half-million dollar camera. A few short years later, the Red is here at $20,000, which is mind-blowing to anyone in the industry.
And now we have sub-$2,000 video SLRs like the GH1. Cameras with great optics, all-digital workflow, 1080p24, compact size, full manual control. Interchangeable lenses, decent low-light shooting. Total craziness.
These are amazing cameras, but they have kinks. I’m sure in a year or two this category will have stabilized, the feature set will be clear, and choices will be easier. The next iteration of the GH1 (might I guess GH2?) will solve a lot of the problems with this thing. Because yes, there are problems.
- no video out – you can put HDMI or composite out when reviewing shots, but not while capturing. This makes it very hard to do a lot of things where the director and camera operator are not the same person.
- poor audio support – the GH1 has a surprisingly decent built-in mic, and an optional mountable shotgun mic, but most of the time, I’d want to hook up a wireless lavalier mic. You can do that, but the audio in is a minijack that auto-levels the signal. For best sound, you need to record into a separate audio field recorder and then sync in post. That’s a couple hundred extra and a big pain in the ass.
- low bitrate – the camera has great optics, but the files it saves are too low a bitrate. Sometimes this bites you, sometimes it doesn’t.
- AVCHD – I find this to be a shitty codec, which causes headaches in post as it must be converted to something Final Cut can use (still haven’t figured out how to get it into the Avid). When you combine AVCHD’s interframe compression with the low bitrate, especially in 1080p24 mode you get compression mud in certain situations, like fast camera movement and/or complex detail (grass, especially). This sucks. There is an MJPEG mode that is mud-free, but it’s only 720p30 and is still low bitrate.
I don’t want to sound complainy here. The GH1 has a lot going for it. Mainly:
- I found the still modes to be awesome. I may not be the best judge, not having used a lot of DSLRs, but I’ve gotten some great photos out of this thing.
- The flip-out LCD is a lifesaver. Every camera should have this.
- the kit lens is impressive. It’s the equivalent of a 28-280mm zoom, which gives you a lot of options. Its silent autofocus is another engineering marvel for an SLR. I really never thought I’d use autofocus, but it’s quite smart.
- An advantage of the category in general: these cameras are really small compared to video cameras, and thus really stealth. You can get away with a lot. Except you’ll have to put up with people posing as they wait for the ‘click’.
- This is another categorical feature, but one that compares favourably to most video cams, even much more expensive ones: interchangeable lenses. I’ve picked up a fast 50mm FD lens and the results have been really satisfying.All the cameras in this category, which right now includes the Canon 5DMkII and the new 7D, suffer from strange, idiosyncratic drawbacks.
Like I say, I’m figuring in a year or so the dust will have settled, each manufacturer will have figured out the featureset they need, and eliminated the needless problems. Red’s cheaper camera Scarlett will theoretically be on the market, too. No matter how you slice it, it’s a great time to be shooting, and it will continue this way for the forseeable future. Perhaps one day we will simply exhale a fine mist of microscopic flying camera bugs and then let our algorithms cut it together, but until then…