I had a social studies teacher in high school whose special gift was expansiveness. On the first day of school, he drew a "1" in a box on the blackboard and confabulated a notion of "Square One" that eluded understanding so narrowly and deftly that it made the first page of a standard European history text seem like the launching pad for an epic journey from nescience to knowledge. Part of his talent sprang from a liberating imprecision that occasionally glossed facts and dates but opened up oodles of inspiring conceptual wiggle room. His overarching mission, it seemed, was not so much to make history come alive as to demonstrate that history was life and life history, and he'd seize any opportunity to prove the point.
He made one of his most memorable leaps of logic during the spring of 1984 when the Beach Boys rolled into town to play Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium. He urged us all to go, explaining: "What you'll see there is the end of an era."
I suppose the most important thing I learned from Mr. Gould (here's to ya, if you're out there) was that there is no single right version of history; it's all interpretation, right down to the bookends we use to mark our so-called eras. His approach supports the argument that the 20th Century began 45 years in at Hiroshima. It lets us say the Sixties began in Montgomery in '55, or Dallas in '63, and that they ended at Altamont in '69, at the Watergate hotel in '72, or here in Madison with the tragically botched bombing of the Army Math Research Center in 1970.
Almost no one I know marks the passing of the year in any practical sense on December 31. The academics in my life operate strictly September-May, and most of us in the DV and DVD industries toil in the long shadows of the March-to-March Japanese fiscal.
December marked the end of an era for us at EMedia with the retirement of longtime senior copy editor Holly Pivor, who picked up after me for nearly as long as my mother, steered me out of harm's way nearly as often, and with just as gentle a hand. For me personally, a new year, new era, new life began on November 3, with the birth of my son Henry.
In any event, in the spirit of the eponymous Roman god Janus, I'll use this January Spin (or what's left of it) to look back at the major developments of 2003 for the digital studio, using the change in year as a convenient—if not compelling—signpost.
Most visibly, 2003 brought a spate of software releases in the digital studio space—Final Cut Pro 4, Premiere Pro, Liquid Edition, Vegas 4, Encore, DVD Studio Pro 2. But 2003 wouldn't have been such a banner year for software solutions if it hadn't been for a sea change in enabling hardware. The single most significant technological development of 2003 was the emergence of mainstream multiprocessor personal computers. It began with the hyperthreaded (HT) Pentium 4, a single-processor chip that isolated processor-intensive tasks (in HT-optimized tools) like video effects rendering so effectively you'd think they were faking it. (Which, in fact, they were.) Following closely behind the HT P4 was Intel's Xeon dual processor, which delivered a "true" dual-chip system for a price that's beyond the general computing mainstream, but now well within the range of the creative professional.
Shortly thereafter came Apple's dual G5, a system of genuinely frightening power. And if Apple's market share remained some cause for concern, who could resist their razzle-dazzle with the G5, Panther, and an armful of Editor's Choice-winning tools (the juiced FCP 4 and spruced DVD Studio Pro 2).
On the prosumer/consumer end, integration reigned supreme, with products like Pinnacle Edition and Studio unifying editing and authoring; Adobe's Collection and Ulead's Quartet modeling life en suite; and Roxio, Nero, and Sonic debuting the about-damn-time fusion of DVD authoring and CD/DVD recording.
Also noteworthy was the de facto détente between the DVD recording formats, heralded by the mid-year release of the Pioneer DVR-A06, which joined recorders from +RW Alliance adherents in multifamily burning bliss, offering DVD±R and ±RW in the same drive. Who's to say if someday we'll see this commingling move in the same light as the Irish soldier at Kinsale who wandered drunk into the British camp and confessed his side's battle plans, irrevocably turning the tide of that centuries-long colonial struggle. Or, more likely, look back on it as the time when the recorder manufacturers simply relieved their customers of the punctillious +/- burden.
The year's "Howard Hughes in Dylan's Shoes" moment happened in October when Napster re-emerged, corporate-coiffed, to go head-to-head with iTunes in the cut-throat dollar-a-download business. Is that Freedom Rock? Turn it up!
Finally we saw the last-ditch effort of accidental anarchist 321 Studios to keep DVD X Copy alive. As they offered a LiteOn DVD recorder for $20 with every purchase of two 321 tools, they fired another blank across the DMCA's bow. A $250 street price for an internal DVD recorder and two bundled recording tools? Yawn. That was 2002's big breakthrough.
I don't know why I always end up knocking these guys. Probably because they're not as righteous as their rhetoric implies. But that doesn't mean they aren't right. 321 may not get there with us, but non-distributive copying of copyrighted material will become the single most common—and openly discussed—function of DVD recorders in 2004. We may not be at the "3,2,1..." stage yet, but feel free to start your countdown any time. And call it a new era if you like. You might not be right, but you wouldn't be wrong.