International Broadcasting Conference 2005

above: This sign outside IBC will be funny to Firefly fans, and no one else.

I’m just back from IBC, the International Broadcasting Conference (at least I assume that’s what it stands for), in Amsterdam. It’s all about technology for television – from cameras and lights to satellites and set-top boxes. Most of the equipment and software are far beyond the reach or needs of a video beginner like me. But that’s what we would have said about video cameras not that long ago, so I amused myself in speculation about how soon some of these tools would move into the hands of “prosumers,” and then rank amateurs. And I formulated some ideas about how I could help that happen.

The biggest stand was Sony’s, demonstrating HD (high definition) TV. They and several others had sets crammed with intricate objects and, in several cases, live people, so that you could truly appreciate the fine resolution of the HD videocameras there for testing. Three of these displays had women getting made up by professional makeup artists. Actually, one of them was getting full body paint, which might have been interesting if I’d felt like standing around to watch it. The point was to look through the cameras at the level of detail that could be achieved. I noted that one camera had been left zoomed in on the model’s rear end – not a lot of detail there.

Sony also had a huge screen to display the output of its HD cameras, with a beautifully shot and skillfully edited sequence of breathtaking images. After their own ten-minute ad, they ran a teaser for a film, also presumably shot in HD, called “Mystic India.” I don’t go in for that whole mystic India shtick, but the footage was so amazing that I’ll have to track down and buy this film.

Show tchotchkes (give-aways) are not what they used to be – mostly cheap pens, and it seemed as if every stand was offering a drawing for an iPod, as a way to get your business card. I did get a logo-printed stopwatch from some company, advertising the speed of its processors. The only company giving t-shirts was Adobe, so I now have a nice Adobe t-shirt (black) with the IBC logo on the back. And, perhaps even better, they gave me a two-DVD set with trial software and video tutorials on how to use it. I was entranced by the demos of their professional film and audio editing software. (Down, girl! You don’t have time to play that hard.) But I stayed away from the Apple booths – drooling over computers is so unattractive.

One of the coolest things I saw was fuel cell camera batteries, from a company called Jadoo – which must have been founded by an Indian, because jadoo means “magic” in Hindi. And magic it is: battery packs for professional camera operators, no bigger or heavier or more expensive than the traditional rechargeables, but with longer shooting times, and environmentally friendly: just attach a small cylinder of hydrogen to the recharging unit, and the only emission is a bit of water vapor.

I overload quickly at hyperkinetic events like this; when you’ve got an attention surplus, an environment in which everything is moving and talking and visually extremely attractive is a constant assault on the senses. And it’s physically tiring standing or ambling around hall after hall. Everyone at these shows soon becomes miserable, and will listen to any sales pitch, if they can sit down in the meantime.

As for Amsterdam itself, I barely saw it. The first night we ended up going back to our hotel (way the hell out somewhere – everything in town was booked) for a very mediocre meal. Saturday night we had dinner at an authentic Dutch restaurant (a student hangout, really). A bit too authentic. I was surprised to find that the Netherlands are behind Italy in one sign of civilization: smoking is still allowed in restaurants, and there isn’t even a separate smoking section. So the restaurant was very smoky, and I’m paying for it now with lung and sinus congestion. The dinner, at least, was excellent: the best liver I’ve ever eaten, sliced thin and very tender, topped with fried onions and bacon. And some pretty decent fries. With mayonnaise, of course.

On Sunday, I met up with Jan and Joel, two American vloggers in town for this week’s VlogEurope meet-up. It’s always fun to meet face-to-face with people you’ve met through email or video; you sort of know each other, but there’s plenty left to discover. After that I got together with Woodstock alumnae, two of whom I hadn’t seen since schooldays, and another I’d never met at all. This was the opposite of the earlier meeting: these were people with whom I had had little or no contact in 25 years, yet we still (and always will) have a great deal in common at the most fundamental level.

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