Saturday, January 24, 2015

Image quality vs. movie quality

Hey, there's something I haven't told you!

I am now the proud owner of a projector!

It was a gift from my wife for Christmas. It didn't arrive in time for Christmas, because it was purchased from one of those discount websites of questionable legitimacy, but it was here by early January. (The place she purchased it is not meant to be a slight against my wife. Simply put, paying only $80 for a projector is the only way we could really justify the purchase.)

It's cute as hell. Wanna see?

It weighs about as much as a quarter and will be easily transportable. And unlike the projector I used to borrow from work, it's actually compatible with my computer (I had to use my work laptop with that one). It runs via an HDMI cable.

Win-win-win-win-win, right?

Well, there's a small catch: The display is not perfect. The images are pixelated, you see. Not heavily pixelated, but enough so that even the least discerning eyes can clearly see it. Especially if there's written text on the screen.

As soon as I noted this, I felt myself deflate a little bit, and wondered how much utility it would really have for me. I mean, film is a visual medium. If you're not seeing the full beauty of the images on screen, why even watch the movie?

Well, a week and three projector viewings later, I can tell you how much utility it will have for me: lots.

I just have to choose the right movies, is all.

The three movies I've watched so far have each conformed to a different notion of what will make sense to watch on my projector:

1. Movies Whose Visuals Look Like Crap Anyway. I debuted the projector with a pretty dubious choice, the 1987 Troma feature that's famous for how terrible it is: Surf Nazis Must Die. I got a late start last Saturday night, so I wanted something under 90 minutes and Surf Nazis fit the bill. Not only was it the first movie I watched with the new projector, it was the first movie I watched after finishing up my 2014 ranking season. Doubly dubious.

Conclusion: It looked as good as it needed to. And watching it on a screen like this, I kind of felt like I was seeing it as it was meant to be seen, projected on the wall of someone's backyard at some party in the late 1970s. Even though it didn't get released until ten years after the late 1970s.

2. Movies I Am Expecting to Be Bad. Surf Nazis fits the bill here as well, but the distinction I'm drawing in this category is that the movie might be good visually, just not up to snuff storywise. So to test this viewing circumstance I watched Jason Reitman's Labor Day on Wednesday night. The movie had been panned, and rightly so, as it turns out -- though I would generously call it a noble failure.

Conclusion: I don't see how my appreciation of this movie would have been drastically altered by viewing it on a TV or even on the big screen. Its flaws are clear. It does have moments when it transcends those flaws, and I felt I could appreciate those moments just fine on the projector.

3. Movies I Have Already Seen. And in most cases this also means "movies I love," since I don't re-watch movies all that regularly unless I love them (and on the rare occasion when I'm trying to give them a second chance, though in that case I might want to avoid the projector). This is where the movie I saw last night, Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, comes into play. I'd say this was my fourth time seeing the movie, but the first in over a decade.

Conclusion: I had my skeptical moments about A Simple Plan at first, worrying in the first 15 minutes that it had not aged well (and was clumsier in some of the direction than I originally thought). But once the story gets going, I'd say I was as involved with it as I was on any of my prior viewings, and if I liked the movie less overall than I had previously, it was just a shade less. This may just mean that if it's a really good movie, it doesn't matter exactly how good the visuals look -- it's the acting and the story that really count.

Scenarios still to test:

1. Foreign Language Movies. These figure to suffer the most, as reading the text on the screen will be the only way to understand what's going on. Maybe I will test this with a foreign movie I've already seen ... or just with the first few minutes of a movie I haven't seen, after which I will quit if it's just not working out.

2. Movies With Conspicuously Beautiful Visuals. Here again I can test with a movie I know and love, maybe Richard Linklater's Waking Life. Waking Life is the movie that looked most impressive to me on the projector I used back in the U.S., and I own it so I can do this test any old time.

Overall conclusion: None of these viewings was radically impacted by watching it on a screen with tiny pixelations. Maybe the size of the screen and the pixelations cancel each out, but I have a feeling that the size of the screen actually trumps the pixelations, because each of these viewings felt special and memorable to me.

I am eagerly awaiting my next one .,. and just a bit giddy about this new era I've found myself in.

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