Likewise, we use technology to "take us" from our email on the Web to our workstation at the office. Technology is also responsible for moving all of our important digital data from one medium to another. Whether it's spreadsheets, EDLs, or images, technology is the transporter that gets it done.
Not surprisingly, new technology is a lot like the express train. Most of us watch it go by on a regular basis, but we don't actually ride the train that often and when we do, our trips are short and sweet. I, like most people, enjoy watching trains go by. I don't know exactly what about trains makes people stop and notice them, but they do. I even find myself saying to my kids, "Look, there goes a train!" They delight in each and every one as if it's the first they've ever seen. New and exciting technology is the same way,; we often admire it from afar and say, "Wow, look at that!"—even if we never get on board with it.
Purchasing new technology is a very intense process for most production departments. Even before they take delivery of these new products, the pre-purchase process of researching, demo'ing, pricing, etc. can drive even the sanest person to the brink of insanity. Just go online and look at some of the "techie" forums out there. One of the most frequently asked questions by far is, "What ____ should I buy?" It doesn't matter if it's any edit system or a lighting package; people really struggle with nailing down what they should buy. I could write an entire book about purchasing gear for specific situations and still overlook a situation that might be unique to a particular production team.
Technology is the linchpin of the situation. If gear didn't improve (and sometimes vastly) with advancements in technology, then people wouldn't debate so vigorously what they should buy each time around. It's this express train of technology that pushes equipment and people into new horizons.
Technology, like trains, is something that people often take for short rides instead of longer hauls. If it's production or post, people hop on, barely get settled in (a.k.a make their purchasing decision), and they are already at their exit where they get off and go about their business for quite awhile before boarding a train again.
This is why many people agonize over purchasing options so much and with such great detail. How can one know what will be the best format to edit with four years from now? For that matter, even two years from now? With technology moving at such tremendous speeds, how can anyone know what will be the most economical, high-quality, smoothest-workflow choice for their future needs? The answer: it's impossible to know, so stop beating yourself up about it.
Make your purchase decisions based on what will work best for you now. As much as we'd like to predict what will happen a year from now, we can't justify the purchase of an editing system on what future upgrades might offer. If it doesn't do the things that you need it to do today, then it's not the right system for you. This is not to say that if you know of major upcoming changes that you're going to make in your workflow or the technologies you use--such as switching your acquisition format--you should ignore those future needs. But catching today's train for tomorrow's destination will always be a shaky proposition.
One specific example of the technology express train is HDV. What started off as more of an experimental format and as a bridge to HD, rather than a significant acquisition format in its own right, is now coming into its own. With the new arrival of third-party software and hardware, HDV is staking its claim as a credible choice for production and post. A recent trip on this Starlight Express finds HDV-to-HD (1080i/720p) hardware converter manufacturers, resulting in HDV gaining the quality and workflow solutions that it so badly needed. This is something that most people would not have forecasted a year or two ago.
This chain of events puts even more pressure on post houses that need a distribution format for their HDV material. It leads one to ask, "What's the point of shooting and cutting in HD if you just show it on a VHS or DVD?" We've devoted entire articles to this question, and even when we've arrived at satisfying answers--like the ability to pan and zoom within an HDV image without losing quality, as you would with DV or another SD source--we still find that the tools available aren't fully acclimated to the task.
That said, I believe that we're approaching an extended stop at the HDV station—or a longer trip on the HDV train, if you prefer. Once everyone works out how they will show their final video, they will be buying their one-way tickets for the HDV Express. A lot of people have already purchased their tickets, but as the last few pieces fall into place, there will be very little reason for anyone to buy a $5,000 SD camcorder, when one can spend the same amount (or less) and get a camcorder that supports HDV.