Monday, July 28, 2008

HDTV launch...

Auckland Park in Joburg is always buzzing. It's Thursday night, just after 6pm, and I'm at the launch of HDTV. Champagne on arrival, snacks served and on entry into a large room where old vintage TVs are set up, playing clips from fantastic TV programmes like the Golden Girls, the Cosby Show, Carte Blanche 1988 (when Derrick Watts had ACTUAL hair and Ruda Landman wore shoulder pads)... plus the A-team.

But before nostalgia takes over and everyone gets too plastered on the free cocktails, a curtain at the end of the room unveils a neon hallway. Cue the Enya music, and all 200 people are suddenly in a club-type venue with doof-doof music and swirling disco lights. I feel 18 again. Someone walks up to me and introduces himself. Can't hear a thing. I nod anyway and shake his hand.

Then Mark Bailey (yeah, the Survivor oke), who is MC for the event, dubs his "Mr Incredible" voice and introduces us to some big screen visuals, clips of Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and Princess Di. The visuals are pretty grainy. But I can see what the set up is. A projector the size of a go-kart is generating the images. Apparently it cost R1,5 million, an insider tells me. Multichoice obviously don't wanna botch up this HD presentation, and hey, what's a few mil for a multi-billion rand company.

Next up is the Parlotones song Colourful over a PA system which has really bad mixing. (Sorry, being a muso, I can't help but notice these things.) Then by far the highlight of the evening for, the Soweto Gospel Choir, singing along to the song playing over the PA system. Spine-tingling stuff. There is nothing like the SGC singing live - it's Africa at its purest, most magnificent.

But back to the HD. Nolo Letele gets up and starts rattling about another "world-class product". Then comes the interesting part: "To take advantage of the Olympics," he says, "we decided to move the launch of HD a month earlier. We have rushed it a bit, so some of the functions won't be available immediately." Obviously the dude didn't study marketing.

"But we have made it possible for HD viewing on people who have PVR decoders already. They can connect to the current PVR," says Letele. Three people clap. "Oh," he says. "Obviously not too many people with PVRs here."

Raucous laughter ensues. But the point is obvious: HDTV, as cool as it is, will remain out of reach for most South Africans.

Mark then goes about a presentation on the big screen as he walks in between the Parlotones performing Colourful.

HDTV varies in its signal source in different continents, but very simply - it works like this:

The systems which broadcast HDTV are defined by three aspects: the number of vertical lines, the scanning system (progressive or interlaced) and the number of frames per second.

SDTV operates on around 570 vertical lines. HDTV typically operates at 780 or 1080 vertical lines. The bottom line is, it looks better.

Regarding scanning - Wikipedia defines progressive scanning as drawing "a complete image frame (all the lines) per image", while "interlaced scanning draws a partial image field (every second line) during a first pass, then fills-in the remaining lines during a second pass". This all gets a bit technical... but essentially what you want to know is what does it look like?


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hillside ride

Sunday's concert was an education. Wear sunscreen. I remember the song from my matric year... "To the class of '99". Excellent advice it was - and I flippin forgot.

So did everyone else for that matter. The fact is, winter in Maritzburg shouldn't yield such fantastic weather. Normally there's a nip in the air, and as soon as there's an outdoor concert planned, the cold front storms in (pun intended) from Cape Town. But the day was glorious, a mild 23 degrees, not a cloud in the sky in the beautiful Botanical Gardens.

So there we were, mildly sunburnt, but all in all, our gig went well. For a lot of people, it was the first time they'd heard us play. It started a month before, when Dee and Brian Bedingfield came to our show at Bellissimo's in Howick, and afterwards chatted to me and invited us to perform at this Sunday concert alongside Magna Carta, Southern Gypsey Queen, the Hairy Legged Lentil Eaters, Ilan Lax and Zephyr. Who refuses those kind of offers?

But let me tell you, it plays on your mind for weeks - what to play, how to play it and most importantly, why should it be played... I guess I'm still figuring that one out. Point is I just can't help myself.

Anyway, I've discovered why Roberto is so good on the bass. Barry Meintjies (of the Hairies) has blown the secret wide open. We were chatting backstage, and he revealed that most of the time, he's trying to work out what key the band is in. That's how he pulls off those impressive bass runs - not because he intends it, but because he's searching for the right note to play. So Berto, you've been figured.

My brother Jon is back in Cape Town. He changed his flight from Saturday to Monday so he could perform on Sunday. Poor oke had to catch a flight to JHB and then travelled to CT. But having that piano during the set makes a real difference (cheers, bru!).