At the end of my holidays, as I waited for a for a flight to Sydney, I ran to a bloke I know who has a very healthy business as a marriage celebrant. Two hundred couples a year say their vows under his auspices, and he’s always looking for ways to keep his business fresh, to keep those engagements coming.
Within a few minutes our conversation turned to technology. “I’m thinking of adding some 360-degree video recording,” he said. “So the happy couple can visit a Nan who was too frail to make it to the wedding, hand her a Google Cardboard, and, then, well, she’s there, isn’t she, watching them say their vows.”
I agreed that seemed a fantastic idea. Then I reached into my carry-on and pulled out my new toy, a Ricoh Theta S 360-degree camera. Looking a little like an overgrown USB stick studded on its two wider sides with fisheye lenses, the Theta S can shoot 360-degree panoramic still photographs and fully immersive video.
With just a little work - nothing beyond what an average punter could handle - you can grab the video from the Theta S and upload it to YouTube, where Google’s YouTube 360 feature allows anyone, anywhere, to immerse themselves in footage shot on a Theta S. If you’re running the YouTube app on your smartphone, you can move your smartphone around to pan around the video, or strap on a Google Cardboard to give yourself a fully immersive view.
At around US$350, Theta S is the first consumer-grade immersive camcorder, but it’s only an opening shot in a transition into immersive content. At the recent CES, both Nikon and Kodak (who knew they still existed?) introduced fully immersive cameras, each company looking to one up GoPro in the fast-growing action camera market, and both promising higher resolution images than can be captured by Theta S.
Those higher resolutions are going to prove a big problem. My Theta S captures immersive video in full HD resolution (1920x1080), but when you get to 4K resolutions (3840x2160), you need both serious computing and serious bandwidth.
In preparation for working with immersive video - I have plans to create, edit, and publish quite a bit of it over the next little while - I purchased a top-of-the-line iMac - basically a small, powerful computer driving an insanely high-resolution 5K display.
That iMac gives me the screen real estate I’ll need to edit 4K video - but, even before that, I decided to head over to YouTube to watch a few of the UHD videos already on the site, just to get a feel for the richness of UHD content.
It didn’t happen. As if I’d jumped into a time machine back to 2006, the videos stuttered, stopped, buffered, started again for a second or two, stuttered, stopped, and buffered. Again and again and again. Finally, I just gave up.
I’d run into the 4K wall that I’ve written about previously, the pervasive Australian bandwidth limitations that prevent us from accessing any streaming UHD content.
Suddenly, that wall isn’t keeping the nation from watching the latest mega-blockbuster. Now, it’s stopping a 95 year-old great-grandmother from having a look around the wedding of her great-grandchild. That’s a tangible failure.
Back in 2010, then communications minister now prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and I tangled on live television - this wasn’t long after he claimed any Internet application could run fine in just 12 Mbps. I insisted that as bandwidth grew, we would develop applications to use it, a point he refused to concede, in the face of all evidence to the contrary.
Here we are in 2016, and now it’s not just Netflix that needs 4K, but Australians everywhere, so they can share the most important moments of their lives. The hamstringing of the NBN by successive governments could be the most self-defeating act of recent political history. Although it may briefly preserve the media oligopoly that protects and defends the current political arrangements, the knock-on effects have appeared, and are growing.
Eventually these knock-on effects will overwhelm any force that tries to contain them. That was always going to be the case. But now, at the start of 2016, we can see exactly what will bring them down: a marriage celebrant, working hard to stay ahead of his competitors. ®