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"Film seems more real."
"No, video seems much more real."
"Who wants reality anyway?"
-Excerpt from a film class conversation

Some of the questions that the studies addressed were:

What I expected to find:

I began to look for studies that had been previously conducted on audience perception of the difference between film and video generated materials. There wasn't much to find and I couldn't locate anything that had attempted to do what I was trying to accomplish. It is my firm conviction that the only legitimate way to test viewers' perceptions of the "film look" and the "video look" is to show them material that has been shot parallel in film and video. The ideal stimuli for a study of this type would be to have a range of content types such as drama, documentary, sports and news to eliminate as much as possible, content biases.

I had suspected that the untrained viewers would not be able to tell the difference between film and video. I figured that the media professionals would do a little better and that perhaps the engineers, who are trained and would be looking for artifacts, would be the ones who had a good chance of being right most of the time.

Plate 24


Plate 25



STUDY I: "form follows format"


Study I was not a traditional study but rather an informal gathering of information within the context of a multi-media art performance. "Form Follows Format" occurred on March 11 and 12, 1988. The purpose of this study was to see if the audience could tell the difference between a film clip and a video clip of identical content when viewed side-by-side and to see if they had an aesthetic preference for one over the other. The parallel material was part of the first program piece, called 'Erase' and was projected on two 10 1/2'x14' screens. The piece began with live dancers and at a pre-determined cue point, the film and video versions faded up from black, in sync with the live dance. After the piece was finished, the audience was asked to fill out a questionnaire which had been handed to them upon their arrival. These were collected at the door at the end of the performance. Though the design of this study was in an art context and very informal it produced some notable results.


The Subjects

The subjects for Study I were recruited by nature of attending a multi-media performance in The Philippe Villers Experimental Media Facility (more commonly referred to as "the Cube") housed in the Media Laboratory at M.I.T. Publicity for the event was generated through the Boston Globe, local area event calendars, postering, mailing lists and word of mouth. Given the informal nature of Study 1, demographics are not determinable, however it can be presumed that it was in general a mixture of an "art crowd" and MIT people. Approximately 270 people attended the performance and from two evenings' performances we received a total of 193 respondents. A number of these were unusable and obviously hadn't been taken seriously, these were discarded.


The Cube is a black box 62' x 63' and 45' high. There were bleachers to seat 100 people, though due to an overflow crowd both evenings, there were people standing on the sides and sitting in front on the floor. The bleachers were 10' deep x 40' long. The distance from the front row of bleachers to the projection screens was approximately 30'. Two Aquastar rear screen video projection systems were used to display the media for the performance. Before each performance the technician fine-tuned the systems. The screens were 10 1/2' high x 14' wide. The video was played back on two Ampex VPR-2 one inch machines, slaved to each other for synchronous play. The video gear was set up in a make shift machine room out of sight and hearing range and headphones were used to cue the tape operator. For audio playback at the performance, tapes were played on the Harmon Kardon TD202 cassette deck into a Sony MX-P21 8x2 mixing board, into the Yamaha P2200 power amp and out through (2) Klipsch Klipschorn loudspeakers. For several of the pieces the audio came from the 1" Ampex VPR deck through the board. The performance required a complex lighting design due to the mixture of live dancers and projected media; it was difficult to balance the lighting so that the dancers would have enough and the screens wouldn't be washed out. Sixty instruments were used, a combination of PAR 64s and Elipsoidal spots. Fifteen gel colors were used.


The audience arrived at "Form Follows Format" prepared to experience an evening of live dance, pre-recorded film, video and videodisc and were given a questionnaire along with their program as they entered. As part of the first dance, they were told by the dancers (who continued to dance as they spoke) that they would be seeing film on one screen and video on the other and it was going to be up to them to decide which was which. At a cue point in the dance, an edited version of the live dance appeared on screen and played in sync with the live dancers for a limited period of time. The film originated edit on the right screen and the identical video version on the left. After the dance was finished, they were asked by one of the ushers to fill out their questionnaire.

Program Material

Study I used a two minute and twenty second dance program, produced in parallel 35mm film and high quality video. The production of the material took place in the Cube at M.I.T.'s Media Laboratory with the help of many, many people. The parallel shoot is described in detail in Chapter Two.

Parallel Dance 'Kraus and...', a dance company of four, performs a dance titled "Erase". This 2 minute 20 second program was originally shot with both a film camera and a video camera mounted side by side on a tripod with the cameras registered to be as close as possible. Both versions were edited with SMPTE time code so that the edits were matched. Therefore the film version and the video version are virtually identical. The material uses dissolves, supers and straight cuts.



Q: In a side-by-side comparison of identical programming which originated in NTSC video and 35mm film, are viewers able to determine which is film and which is video?

A: Of the viewers who answered which screen was which, 50% got it correct and 50% didn't.


Q: Whether or not a viewer can correctly assess which screen is which, do they have aesthetic preferences?

A: Seventy percent of the viewers preferred the video-originated program.


Q: Does seating play a role in the viewer being able to tell film from video?

A: Sitting on one side or the other did not increase the chance of getting it right.


Audience members received a questionnaire with their program as they entered the performance space. After watching the parallel footage, they were asked to write down which screen was film and which was video. Of 187 respondents, 77 correctly guessed which screen was which, 73 guessed incorrectly and 37 said they couldn't tell which was which. When asked for screen preference, 115 said they preferred the video screen, 46 preferred the film, 20 stated no preference and 6 left it blank. When asked to write down which screen was sharper 151 said the video was sharper, 23 said the film was sharper and 13 didn't say.

When viewed in a two by two table the results get more interesting. Of the 2/3 total viewers who selected video as their preferred screen, of them guessed incorrectly and thought they were choosing film, whereas of the viewer's who preferred the film, 95% correctly said it was film.

Of the viewers who correctly determined which screen was which, 59% preferred film. Of the viewers who guessed incorrectly, 97% preferred the video, thinking it was film.

Eighty percent of the participants said they preferred film when in fact 70% of those were unknowingly selecting the video as their preference. Comments from respondents who guessed incorrectly:

"I found it hard to tell on the projected image."

"The ghosts were a dead giveaway."

"Only side by side does the preference get established."

"No contest. Right screen same old hard video."


Many viewers have the idea that film is sharper, evidenced by comments like these:

"I think film is a "sharper" medium than video."

"Because screen A was sharper I tended to think it was film."

"I have an idea that film should be sharper although I'm not sure why."


Comments from respondents questionnaires that got it correct:

"Fast motion of dancers is degraded by the film-to-video transfer."

"I have seen better film than your sample."

"Sharp, refined color!"

"I like clarity. Screen A appeared more realistic because there was little blurring of motion. I like realism."

"I like the color and sharpness of A but the motion in B."


"The media used for the image would depend on the subject. The left screen was more lifelike."

"I could care less about the difference between A and B. Both seemed acceptable."

For the Saturday evening performance the audience was asked to check off if they were sitting in front of screen A or screen B. I had wanted to make certain that results wouldn't be unfairly biased due to seating arrangement, and they didn't seem to be. There is a slight indication that people who sat in front of the film were more likely to say that they could tell a difference but there was no relation between the seating position and the likelihood of getting it correct.

It seems that viewers want to prefer film; whether they in fact do is another issue. The dance material that was shown in the performance was thought by some viewers to be content appropriate for video and by others for film. Given that viewers were exposed to only one content type (dance), the results need to be viewed with these limitations in mind. Of the eighty percent who said they preferred film (though many incorrectly), perhaps with traditional narrative content they do. Until we can present an array of content types in parallel and test with it, we will have to make do with the existing data. In Part B of this Chapter it will be seen how the results varied from an informal experimental condition (Study I) to one that was more formal.

In summation, we found that 73% of the viewers chose the video screen as their preferred screen, though 3/4" of them thought it was film. But we cannot be sure that this is due to the strength of the impact of "film style" overriding the aesthetic preferences for film. There are two possible conditions that my have adversely affected the results. First is suspected problems with the film-to-tape transfer, which may have degraded the quality of the film-based version. This did not have the same effect in Study II however, and a more likely factor to consider is the second condition. During the afternoon before the first performance, the left projection system began to malfunction. We had to trade this projector for another. Previous to this problem we had two identical projection systems. The new one had a different lens of a slightly higher quality than the system on the right. Our performance was set up so that the video was projected on the left screen and the film on the right. It cannot be determined but merely suggested that the quality of the projected image may have been sharper on the left screen (our audience response certainly indicates this).

Table 3-Screen Preference by Right.Wrong



"'re dealing with persistence of vision. In a movie theatre, persistence of vision helps you. Here, trying to go back and forth between the two, what you're doing is you're confusing yourself a little bit. You're seeing one way persistence is dealt with, another way that it's dealt with and you're trying to go back and forth and compare them."

- James Greibsch, Director of Photography



Study II was run from March 31 through April 29, 1988. This study was designed to look at 1) whether viewers can distinguish film-originated programming from video-originated programming when viewed on home television receivers and 2) to determine if aesthetic preferences exist and how important they are to the viewers.

Subjects were first shown a series of film and video clips and asked to write down whether they thought each was originally produced in film or video. They were then shown parallel footage of a dance and asked to say which screen displayed the film and which one video. After the two-minute dance clip, subjects were interviewed and their responses recorded on audio tape. Not all subjects were asked all questions. More technical questions were reserved for the "expert" sample. Following the interview, the subjects were thanked and the random subjects were given a $5 gift certificate.



The Subjects

Study II required two samples, mass audience and expert. The mass audience sample was chosen from a random number selection from the Cambridge telephone directory. The expert sample consisted of advanced engineering graduate students working in the area of video and signal processing, film/video graduate students and production and engineering professionals. Forty-three subjects were selected, 20 assigned to the "mass audience" and 23 to the expert sample. The age range was from 16 to 66.


Study II was set up in a 12'4" x 7'5" viewing room in the MIT Media Laboratory. Two identical 19" Mitsubishi monitors were placed side by side and two chairs were placed 4'8" from the screen face. An amplifier, a pre-amp and stereo speakers were used to achieve high quality audio.


Subjects are welcomed and asked to have a seat. In the instance of one subject, the chair is placed at center, 4'8" from the front face plane of the monitors. With two viewers, the chairs are placed practically touching. In rare cases with three subjects at a time, the third chair is seated center behind the other two chairs. Subjects are asked to fill in their name and phone number at the top of the questionnaire. The random respondents are asked to put their age and occupation next to their name.

The experimenter tells them that first they will see a series of thirteen thirty second program clips which were originally shot in either film or video and they are to place a "V" or an "F" in the blank corresponding to the clip number they have viewed. They are told that they should keep up with the questionnaire as the clips move fairly quickly and that they will can fill out the remainder of page one after they have viewed the program clips. These are then viewed on one monitor. While subjects complete page one after viewing the short clips, the experimenter/operator changes the tapes and makes ready the parallel clips. When they have completed page one, they are asked what cues they used to select their answers. Then they are shown the 2 minute parallel program on both monitors and asked to determine which is film and which is video. After this they fill out page two and then the experimenter asks a series of questions.

The experiments were run with one or two subjects at a time and twice there were three subjects. In terms of the arrangement of subjects, it was random. There were assigned experiment time slots and if they could be filled up with two participants then whoever the two were that could make it would be the two who ran through the study. The arrangements that occurred in pairs were:

Mass & Mass
Mass & Expert
Expert & Expert

Possible technical problem: It has been suggested by almost all of the filmmakers who participated in Study II that the quality of the film transfer could have been much better. We transferred on a Bosch telecine. Not having the means at present to try a different transfer system, we conducted the study with the material we had. Suggestions have been the Rank-Cintel (which is rumored to give a more "filmic" transfer), and the Image Transforms process. Regardless, in controlled conditions, most people were nevertheless able to distinguish between the parallel film and video looks, and claim to prefer the film.

Program Materials13

Study II-Part A used 30 second excerpts from thirteen programs selected to cover a range of content types including drama, sports, music, news and adventure. Study II-Part B used a two minute and twenty second dance program that was produced in parallel 35mm film and broadcast quality video.

1. Carly Simon "Anticipation", a daytime outdoor concert performance filmed on Martha's Vineyard as an HBO special. Carly and the band provide an animated performance on a special stage set up near the waterfront as the crowd cheers and seagulls fly by. The wind noises were such that the music had to be re-dubbed in a studio after the performance and edited in with the crowd noises. The editing and synchronization are excellent. But the film is quite grainy generating a very distinctly "film" look. It may have been shot in 35mm but it looks more like 16mm.

2. George Burns/Gracie Allen Show Live Burns and Allen in their prime. December 12, 1951, CBS TV. A Christmas show with hidden presents adding to Gracie's permanent confusion, George's monologue complete with cigars and live Carnation commercials. Much more spontaneous than their filmed programs which began the following year.

3. Pontiac Car Commercial This fast paced, high powered ad represents American advertising at its best. Using night shots, the city and special lighting, this commercial creates a distinct mood, one that makes you wish you had that car.

4. Odd Couple Oscar tries computer dating and Felix can't stop jibbing him about it. This short clip was recorded off air with terrible reception. It represents some of the worst artifacts that can appear, yet demonstrates what viewers will tolerate (for the sake of content) without much complaint.

5. Football Down-converted HDTV footage from the second quarter of the Jets-Bengals game, the Meadowlands, November 29, 1987. This footage was originally produced in parallel by 1125 Productions for an earlier Audience Research Facility study in HDTV and NTSC. NBC supplied the audio feed.

6. Cheers Having just eaten a vegetarian meal in a French restaurant, all but one in the group are still hungry and want something more substantial, like eclairs. Filmed before a live audience, Cheers was the first sit com to use multi-camera in film.

7. Black Stallion Adventure-drama story about a boy and a horse. Selected because of its superior filmic qualities, this film exudes some of the best that film is.

8. The Tale of the Frog Prince Robin Williams plays the frog prince with "Princess" Terri Garr, in a hilarious rendition of the classic fairytale. One in a series of video fairytales produced for television by Shelly Duvall.

9. Donald Duck & Walt Disney In a very old clip, Walt advises Donald that the key to success is "being yourself". Donald's "duckese" is subtitled for the foreign viewer.

10.Honeymooners Ralph's idea of vacation in the remote mountain wilderness is far different from Alice's dream of Atlantic City.

11.News Clip Report on the state of affairs in South Africa and street demonstrations about apartheid.

12.Miami Vice This segment consists of Don Johnson walking through the night streets accompanied with music. It is a very mood oriented piece with the dark night, many bright city lights and taxis swishing past as if it were you trying to cross the street.

13.1125 Commercial A series of images cut together to demonstrate the capabilities of HDTV under a variety of shooting conditions with sort of a music video format. There is a sunset scene complete with birds flying by, a queenly attired woman ascending a wide majestic staircase, a panoramic cityscape still, and a car driving along the road with tree leaves waving in the wind. All are assisted with a soundtrack by Tina Turner.

Parallel Dance "Kraus and..", a dance company of four, performs a modern piece titled "Erase". This 2:20 program was originally shot with both a film camera and a video camera mounted side by side on a tripod with the cameras registered to be as close as possible. Both versions were edited with SMPTE time code so that the edits were matched. Therefore the film version and the video version are virtually identical. The material uses dissolves, supers and straight cuts.


Study II Technical Set-Up

Video Equipment:
NTSC Equipment:
Ampex VPR 2 1-inch (2)
Mitsubishi 19" CS-2014R Monitors (2)

Audio Equipment:
Yamaha M40/C40 Power Amplifier
ADS L880 High Fidelity Speakers
Sony TC-D5M Audio Cassette Recorder
ME-80 Microphone

The video playback equipment and time base correctors were located in a nearby machine room and out of sight of the subjects. For the Part A of Study 2, a master tape of the thirteen content clips was loaded onto S-VTR. For part two, the aforementioned tape was unwound and master tapes of the parallel content were mounted, with the video version on S-VTR and the film version on R-VTR. The two machines were slaved to each other so that they would run in sync. The operator and experimenter in this study were one and the same person. The operator/experimenter would load the first tape before the subjects arrival, and then while subjects were busy filling out the questionnaire for Part A, would then load the tapes for part two of the study.

The monitors were color corrected and adjusted by a video engineer when necessary and verified at least once a day. The 19" monitors were of the same age, had identical phosphors and electronics so that the color and brightness match was as near as is possible with consumer grade monitors.


Table 4- Study II Viewing Room Setup

Experimental Variables and Conditions



What happens to the comparison of film and video when the production conditions are identical?


In order to determine subjective perception of the "film look" and the "video look" it is necessary to have identical program material. Without identical content, viewers can not help but be biased towards content when choosing aesthetic preference. Even when providing this content, viewers still grab for a context to place it within before they can allow themselves to "see" the pure look. With the dance program viewers sought to fit it into a category of whether they thought that dance belonged to the film domain, or if it was something that they might see on PBS, perhaps a "live" videotaped performance. The best conditions for a study of this type are to provide a series of identical clips covering a range of content types.

Single Stimulus Test

How do viewers decide whether a program was originated in film or video? Are their decisions based on content, artifacts or other?

Viewers use a limited number of factors when deciding what medium a program is originated in. These are content, historical, and technical and if they can find none of these helpful, they at last resort to the "look". A very few viewers possess what seems to be an innate ability to judge solely by the look or feel of a program. These subjects were found in both the mass and expert samples.


Dual Stimulus Test

In a side by side comparison of identical programming originated in NTSC and 35mm, are viewers able to determine which is film and which is video?

In this controlled setting, most viewers were able to tell which was which.

In a side by side comparison of identical programming originated in NTSC and 35mm,which do viewers subjectively prefer? Why do they prefer?

Overall, 59% of the subjects prefer the film. There are significant differences between the mass preference and the expert preference.


Components of Evaluation

In an explicit side by side comparison of parallel film and video content, how do viewers evaluate specific components of picture quality including:

a) Sharpness
b) Color quality
c) Sense of depth
d) Picture brightness
e) Motion quality



Does type of program content influence viewer’s selection of medium origination?

(Comparison of results were tabulated from the thirteen programming clips minus the parallel shoot.)
Without a doubt, this plays a significant role in viewers' determination as to whether what they're watching was originally shot in film or video.


Do previous experience and training influence a viewer’s ability to determine which program is film originated and which is video originated?

(Compare results for expert and mass sample.)
Yes, training and experience make a difference, sometimes in the wrong direction.


Does type of program content influence viewer's subjective aesthetic preference for film or video-originated programming?

Yes. Viewers generally prefer their sports to be video because they say, of the sharper harder image quality, but for movies and stories they like the qualities that film can give.



The Interviews and the Questions

Part A-Viewing: Thirteen 30 second Program Clips
Question: How did you make your selections?

After viewing the thirteen program clips I asked subjects to tell me how they decided whether each clip was film or video. To get at the intuitive perception of "the look" I had to first uncover the layers of cultural context. This was not an easy task. Learning by trial and error from this study, there are conditions that can be set up in future studies that will help facilitate getting to the "heart of the look". These recommendations can be found in the Conclusion chapter. The three most common cues that subjects used to make their choices were:

  1. Content "I know that a guy sitting in the studio reading news is video, I don't have to see the way it looks."
  2. Historical "I know that mostly because of the date, kinescope." and,
  3. Technical "I generally tell by the motion."

Other comments were, "Well, it has to be film," about the Walt Disney clip, " expect since they're called 'music videos' for them to be video," "For film the big cues were number one–motion, number two–color tended to be more saturated...number three–framing–if the picture looked crowded, I tended to think it was film," "Film is far jerkier than video, video is "fuzzier" especially for long shots.", "...the film is more like a photograph, picturesque whereas the videotape is more like you're right there.", "It has something to do with depth perception."

When in the experimental setting it is hard to get viewers to talk about the "look" and "feel" of an image without seeing these programs within some context, be it content, historical, technical or other. They are coming in for a study and the attitude they adopt cannot replicate the one they wear in their living rooms or the theatre.

Though not totally unfamiliar with American programs, some foreign subjects found it more difficult to draw upon the format cliches of American production. The engineers generally used a combination of content and image artifacts to choose their answers. In some ways, I believe that the engineers were at a disadvantage because of their training. They had the most difficult time articulating "feelings" about the look of a program. On the whole, the production participants had a tendency to go for the "feel" of the program and without probing, expressed emotions about the way a program looked. On several occasions I tried to elicit emotional responses about the "video look" or the "film look." Further along I will discuss what some of the responses to these inquiries were.

Discussion about Part A of Study II

There were two program clips selected primarily for their superior "filmic" characteristics. These were the Carly Simon concert and The Black Stallion movie clip. It had eluded me that many viewers would interpret the Carly Simon piece as a music video. The results indicate that more than half of the "mass audience" did in fact think that the Carly clip was video, whereas in the Black Stallion clip ("theatre type" content) a full 85% of the "mass audience" correctly said film. It is difficult to say whether the "mass" group chose film because of the "look" or because of the content. I would guess that their answers were based on elements of both. Eighty-three percent of the experts correctly said film for the Carly clip and for the Black Stallion, 96% got it right. The drastic difference in the "mass" and "expert" samples for the Carly clip clearly indicates the "experts" advantage and suggests that they do know more of what to look for in a technical sense.

The Burns/Allen Show and the Honeymooners were used to add a historical dimension to the study and to see how many viewers knew what was happening in that period of media history. I was accused of inserting trick questions, but one in five of the experts did write down Kinescope. It should be noted that a few other experts did know that it was Kinescope but did not write it down.

The Donald Duck and Walt Disney clip was used partially for the historical element but also because the clip displayed Donald (animation) within the real (live) world of Walt and his office. I knew for the experts this should be a giveaway but I wanted to see how it worked and how much of the "mass audience" knew that old animation was film. Well, either they knew animation was film or Walt was film or this clip really had the "film look" (which it did), because 85% of the "mass audience" got this correct along with 96% of the experts.

Table 5- Correct Answers by Program and Type

Looking for a high quality video production, the series of Fairytale Theatre videos came to mind and The Tale of the Frog Prince was selected. This clip typifies video at its best. The acting is good, the writing is good and the production displays quality in all areas. These tales, produced on the stage, have a very video feel, partially because as Americans, we are becoming accustomed to seeing stage type productions (plays, dance, and concerts) in video. It is shot television style in that there are close-ups and easy to see objects that are not going to be missed on the small home receiver. But there is an element about the "look" that is very video, that doesn't have to do with these conditionings. It is probable that viewers perceived the "video look" in this clip. The "mass audience" was 85% correct and the "experts" 87%.

The Odd Couple and Cheers presented a perplexing situation for subjects. These two clips present a very interesting case as in both of them, the "mass audience" achieved 50% correct and the "expert" sample got less than 50%. With the Odd Couple segment, 39% of the "experts" got it right and with the Cheers segment it was up to 48%. This indicates that the "expert" sample probably uses preconceived notions about content and what they think a particular type of programming is shot in. They may have used this more than the "look" although the Odd Couple was taken off air and exhibits terrible artifacts, so much so that many of the "experts" complained that they couldn't see the medium through the garbage. Cheers confused almost everybody. Most likely due to the "live" and multi-camera style of the program, some viewers assumed that it was video, as in traditional studio television. The lighting is also more traditionally video style because of the multi-camera format. Cheers had the video feel without the sharpness of the "video look."

Miami Vice, with its night scenes has a distinct "film look" for viewers who have an idea of what film is supposed to look like. And for viewers who have the knowledge that film handles night scenes better than video it was probably easy to put that together with the "look" and come up with the correct film answer. The "mass audience guessed this one 60% correct while the experts got 78% right.

Viewers were by far more certain of the Football and News clips. On the football question the "mass" guessed 90% and the "experts" guessed 96% correctly. And with the news, they were even more convinced as "mass" were right 95% of the time with the "expert" sample up to 100%. Many of the subjects remarked on the "instant replay" feature of football and thought for that to work, video had to be used. With news, most everyone said that to gather the news in the morning and put it out in the evening, they thought it was necessary to have video.

The Pontiac commercial threw a lot of people, half of the mass audience thought it was video and 65% of the experts said it was film. It was film.

The other "commercial" is more of an ad for 1125 Productions, the high-definition production house in New York. It is a high-definition clip down-converted to NTSC and has a very high quality video look. The subjects had no way of being familiar with this content beforehand. One could presume that with the music video type of presentation, subjects would of course select video. (80% of the "mass" viewers got it correct and 83% of the "experts.") However, when comparing it with the results of the Carly Simon segment (another "music video" type), it can be hypothesized that viewers are seeing beyond content, beyond the technical and it does appear that in fact, they are relating to a "film look" or a "video look".

It does appear that when asked to state whether a program is of film or video origin, viewers can't help but look at content and historical factors first. Viewers generally agree that there are several types of programming that have a blatant "film look" or "video look" such as movies (film) and news, soaps and game shows (video).

Previous training has a marked impact on the answers that were given and not always in the right direction, though 48% of the experts got ten or more correct compared to 15% of the mass audience sample. On the average, the experts got one and a half more correct answers than the mass audience. This does imply not surprisingly, that the trained eye does have a better sense of the "look" than the average viewer. It is clear that the experts have fixed ideas about particular content types and carry assumptions with them that get in the way of their ability to see only the look, as is likely what happened with the Odd Couple and Cheers. It is difficult to distinguish when viewers are using which factors of identification when, but through further research and refinement of this preliminary study, more can be learned about viewers' perceptions and preferences.

Table 6-Number of Correct Programs Per Subject


Part B –Viewing: Images in Parallel
In-depth interviews

Program clip: Parallel Dance

There is a distinct "film look" and a "video look". I had hypothesized that when presented identical program material in film and video, viewers may not be able to differentiate which was which but when asked which screen they preferred would certainly choose film.

Which screen is film and which screen is video?

After having viewed the parallel program clips, subjects wrote down which was which. A full 85% of the mass sample and 87% of the expert sample got it right. The question is how did they do it? The answer is that there is a distinct "film look" and a distinct "video look," and when given identical material to choose from, content becomes less of a factor and history doesn't come into play. Some subjects remarked that this type of content would be preferable on video.


Which screen do you prefer?

The results show that 74% of the mass audience prefers the film originated clip to 46% of the experts. This may be due to the experts being more aware of the technical factors. However, this may have acted as a deterrent in that they were involved in looking for artifacts and not the "feel" of the piece.

"I like the film a lot better and the reason I like film a lot better is because of that depth. With the tonal range that you have on film you tend to get a lot more of a sense of depth."

All of the subjects who preferred film were correct in their guess, whereas 35% of the subjects who preferred video, thought they were viewing film. This leads to the conclusion that viewers want to believe that they prefer film.


Which screen is sharper?

Fifty-five percent of the mass audience found the film image sharper compared with 35% of the expert sample. Sharpness is one of those terms that has different meanings for different people. Sharpness to an engineer is different from sharpness to a mass audience subject and sharpness to a filmmaker may be different from that of an engineer.

Table 7- Subject Sample x Right/Wrong

Table 8- Screen Preference x Right/Wrong

Table 9- Subject Sample x Sharpness

Table 10- Subject Sample x Preference




After a discussion about the parallel content, we moved on to a series of more general questions having to do with adjectives describing the "film look" and the "video look", participants ideas about cultural similarities and differences between the two media, and projections for the future to name a few.

Which do you prefer looking at: films in the theatre or television?

Eighty-five percent of the respondents said they preferred films in the theatre to television. The most common answers to this were screen size and the fact that it's a social event. One subject liked both for different reasons. Television is easier, it's more comfortable to stay at home. One respondent said that he didn't like the theatre because of the rude audience but other than that he preferred the theatre image. Several subjects said that in general the quality and content of what was offered at the theatre was better than that available on television. There were a few comments that spoke of adverse feelings towards commercials on T.V.


When asked how they would feel if video were to replace film in the theatre, the reaction was a mixed bag.

"I think it will. Film is an obsolete technology. In the end it's going to be an economic issue.", "Nooooo!! I hope not! I mean I hope not but I'm sure I've been very wrong before. I would really hope not."


What are the differences between film and video?

A generalization can be made that the public perceives video as a tool for information and film as a means for entertainment. Given, these are generalities but they are repeated often enough to make mention. A common belief is that everything on TV is video and to see film you go to the theatre, but this is rapidly changing as the populace becomes more educated about media.

According to Horace Newcomb of The University of Texas at Austin, television is the "central storytelling system" of modern society. He says,"I find more narrative, more interesting and compelling stories on television than in the theatre". Newcomb says that one of the most primary differences between film and video is "the profound serial nature of the medium" of television. It's ability to tell a story that never ends is very different from film.14

Shooting for film is usually very different from shooting for video. Film has a history of being shot single camera style, moving the camera around to get different angles and changing the lighting for each camera placement. Many hours can be spent with each separate set-up. Video on the other hand comes from a history of multi-camera style shooting in the studio and eliminates a lot of the time-intensive labors involved with changing camera positions. Also with the destination for each medium in mind, the types of images selected are different. Wide panoramic scenes get lost on a television screen and so on a small screen you tend to get larger images so that they can be seen.

The technical capabilities of each medium are different and have separate requirements. Traditionally video has required more light. There are two reasons for this, one being the camera's inability to capture a picture in low light and the other being that for multi-camera production, it is necessary to light everything so that odd shadows are avoided. This contributes to the flat look often associated with video. However this is rapidly changing due to new video technology.

Editing for television is associated with the multi-camera switching effect. Cutting from one actor's face to the other and back and forth. One mass audience viewer had this to say: " a film you're not noticing all the time the different, what do you call it, the different cuts, I think sometimes it's a little bit more fluent in film, I don't know just seemed to be more a series of individual cuts than just one flowing picture sequence."

And from a filmmaker's opinion: "...the editing here is so bad on the video examples, they just have two cameras next to each other cutting from one to the other, well film people know that doesn't work."

The training required for each field has some similarities but generally just because one has expertise in one field does not mean that it transfers directly across to the other. The mechanics of a film camera are very different that the electronics of a video camera. Loading a video tape into a VCR is relatively straightforward. Loading a magazine with film in a changing bag takes skill, and if screwed up, can be costly.

"...with video everyone's a cameraman and everyone's an editor. But wait a second, what about quality? I feel with film, people who have gone into filmmaking and film editing and have really labored over how to make a cut and how to film, and how to make something right in the natural light or how to use lighting properly, it's just so much more time seems to be spent..."


The "Film Look" and the "Video Look"


Just what is the "film look" or the "video look"? This question invites subjective answers. The look- there is something about the pure unadulterated video look that has to do with depth or lack of it,... there is oftentimes a negative associated with the "video look", and usually it contributes to a distracting effect, but it doesn't have to be. As in the aforementioned Tale of the Frog Prince, it can work quite successfully and be regarded as an aesthetically successful work of art. Video often evokes a negative connotation but that stereotype is changing.


Descriptions of the "Film Look" and the "Video Look":

Film: grainy, distant, lush, soft, liquid, moody, rich, saturated, deep, jerky, textured, subtle, dynamic, emotionally involving, quality, natural looking, natural lighting, natural colors, lifelike, sensuous, realistic, hot, too bright, too sharp, atmospheric, warm, edgy, high contrast, clear

Video: present, like you're right there, washed out, sharp, smooth motion, live, bright lights, artificial, flexible, convenient, harsh, contrasty, cardboard cut outs, lifelike, dull, colorful, unrealistic, glary, pops out, electric, hard-edged, precise, stark


Do you have a preference for watching film or video generated content on TV or does it matter?

"Well, in fact I think I probably, if you asked me, showed me a bunch of shows and said which of these do you like, I would like the film stuff, but I don't know if that's because it's film or because good stuff tends to be on film."

"I guess I don't really think about it all that much because I don't have a real high quality television at home so everything is kind of, I have rabbit ears and just slap them around."


In general, which medium do you prefer?

"Oh boy, I am a film person up the kazoo." (Richard Hollander)

"For me, depends on the kind of program"


Do you have any emotional response to film or video?

"That one was just more of a film feeling than anything else, I mean you just don't expect to see something like that on video.", "I've never been emotionally involved with a TV set, it's just difficult.", "I went to a movie last night, I couldn't stop crying."


Do you perceive differences between the cultures of film and video ? If so, what are they?

To an outsider the industries of film and video may appear to be interchangeable. By this I mean that if you tell someone that you are in the business of television and someone else works in the film industry, they figure that one is very similar, even the same as the other. There are many similarities but in fact the culture that belies each is quite different. The history, training and production methods are different and in most cases they have different goals for their end product. This is changing but there are still hard core filmmakers and videographers unique to each industry. This question was asked to try and gain perspective on the different points of view from the mass audience, engineers, filmmakers and videographers that were interviewed.

"Video has traditionally been controlled by radio people. a video production, you know where the director is? In the control room. He talks to camera people through headphones, he thinks he's controlling things, camera people are considered to be idiots, ...the editing here is so bad on the video examples, they just have two cameras next to each other cutting from one to the other, well film people know that doesn't work. So the image is denigrated, they don't work for the actors, they just go in and talk to them, so that the whole, it really has nothing to do with it being video, it has to do with the traditions of the industry. The camera man in the tv studio doesn't even have a name."

" is becoming infected by video. The power of the director is being totally whittled away. Everyday ..they have these conversations, where they discuss the days shots, and one thinks that so and so is terrific, it's insane, it's a committee process. As a cameraman, I don't like a whole flock of people looking over my shoulder through the camera. It tends to, what is so common in video work, play it safe, never take a chance, never do anything. Add a little bit more here, a little more there, play it safe, play it safe, play it safe. And it doesn't work for imaginative anything."

"...looking at rushes is a very complicated business. In video you don't even have any rushes, you make all your decisions right as you're shooting them. It certainly cuts out most of what we thought of as editing."


What if video were conducted with the same craft as film?

"I think you wouldn't be able to tell the difference."


Is video cheaper than film?

"If you're going to do it properly it's not."


What are your predictions regarding HDTV? Will it replace film?

"Definitely!", "My god, look at it! It's such a minor improvement, I can't tell you!", "...everything that's wrong with video is characteristic of the whole process."


When asked if film will eventually be replaced by video ...

"No, never, never, never, because it's just, it's beautiful.", "I don't think so and I think it's the same argument...people predicted that newspapers would disappear (because of television)...and they certainly haven't."


What is the future for film?

"I think there's always a place for film, I really do. At least short sighted. I'd say within the next 10-15 years I don't see theatres going out of business. Because I think there's a lot of good things associated with the theatre. Just look at how popcorn, people go to the theatre and they get popcorn. I mean that's the last thing you need to do when you go to a theatre, but it's ingrained and it's part of your culture that you go to the theatre to have a good time."

"I don't think there will be any. Film's horribly expensive and clumsy, and I don't see any point in it."

"...there's going to be a point at which video and the characteristics of video go the step beyond film."


13 Some of the content descriptions were excerpted from, "The Mass Audience Looks at HDTV: An Experimental Study of Subjective Responses to NTSC and HDTV Technologies", by R.W. Neuman, S. O'Donnell, S.M. Schneider & L. McKnight, ATRP-T-68, A Report on the Results of Study A, MIT Media Lab, (March, 1988)

14 M.I.T. Communications Forum, "Industry/Technology/Art, II, New Readings of American Television:"Artful Finales: Network Series in the Age of Cable", March 13, 1988

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