FireWire - the epilog

Now that it’s over it might be worth looking at FireWire again. I think there are lessons to be learned if something as smart and nice as FireWire looses against a mix of ‘ok’ replacements.

FireWire is a standard to connect things. Together with DV tape it was supposed to change everything. And interestingly enough it did not. Computers and Video were not exactly an easy match in the early 90s. TVs, recorders, transmissions: it all was analog. Digital processing was simply not fast enough to keep up with 25 or 30 images per second. Machines that could keep up with this onslaught of bits were expensive and complex. So was the connection of the video equipment: You had cables for audio, two of them if stereo, control and one to three for video. And the computer had to do the analog to digital conversion on the way in, and vice versa on the way out.

miniDV and FireWire did change all that. One cable between your camcorder and computer and you are done. Best of all: the data traveled in its native format between tape and computer. No conversion introduced a generation loss. The visual quality of the DV format is amazing, compared to any other consumer format that existed before.

When these solutions entered the market I was convinced that they would change everything. After all it was now amazingly inexpensive to create content of technically good quality. I think that Apple shared some of my enthusiasm: They promoted FireWire but also asked for a 1$ license fee per device. They invested allot into applications that would allow for easy video editing. I think every Mac runs iMovie, and with FireWire you really only need a cable and a camera to start. It is amazingly easy. Yet nobody really does it. People that edit video today probably would have cut super 8 film with a razor blade in the seventies.
Devices get sold. Of course. But there is very little output from this equipment. There are so badly named ‘vlogs’. But just a few thousand, and only few have original content.

There will be a sequel to Clerks. The story goes that Kevin Smith was buying filmstock by loaning money on his credit card. Back in 1994 that’s what you needed to do when you wanted to make a movie. Now you go and pick up a tape for 8 dollars and that’s all you need.

Has it let to an onslaught of new and fresh ideas? When Arri made a small handheld 16 millimeter camera in the 50s it spawned the nouvelle Vague. But what did DV do? Where is the contribution of FireWire? Just because everybody can edit does not mean that everybody can edit.

When FireWire was making things easy I had high hopes in the youth. I thought that there would be a revolution in visual content. That one day I would turn on the TV and would be surprised. I think it was two or three moves ago that I did not bother wiring up the TV set anymore. Finally I sold it, after I dragged it around from place to place.

The FireWire on the latest “MacBook Pro” is half as fast as on the previous PowerBooks. iPods started out with FireWire connections but are USB2 now. The self made porn market has transitioned from Polaroid over Video to phone cams.

Firewire is a thing of the past. People don’t really want to edit video it seems. For years video editing has been amazingly simple on Mac’s, and weird and cumbersome on Windows. But its market share seemed unfazed. The iPod and the constant Windows, malware malaise did what FireWire/Video could never accomplish.

I would have bet money on the opposite. Glad I did not.

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