A Concert with PowerPoint Slides?

As you may know, Howard Jones played an acoustic show in Seattle last night with Robin Boult on guitar. The performance was fantastic, and the venue (The Triple Door) was actually quite nice with a limited menu coming from the kitchens of Wild Ginger. (Although I enjoyed the food, I am not really a fan of having the waiters walk past every 5 minutes, or of all the clanging of silverware and glassware as people finish their dessert... but I digress).

Anyway, the reason for this blog post is that before many of the songs, Howard gave a little bit of background about the song – what it was about, how it was written, previous live performances, etc. – and at one point joked that he needed a PowerPoint deck to help tell his story. And this got me thinking about what we are doing with interactivity in HD DVD with HDi: although the movie (or TV show or concert performance) is central to any home viewing experience, it is really the "extra" stuff that sets HD DVD away from current DVD or broadcast TV.

A High Definition picture is nice, and lossless surround-sound is pretty sweet too, but as a filmmaker myself I know that there is always more to the story than you can tell in the movie (TV show; song; etc.) itself. And as a movie lover, I know there is often more that I want to know about the story than is available in the movie (...) itself. Standard DVD has the usual staple of vignettes (deleted scenes, making-of documentaries, trailers) but for various reasons they tend to get skipped by many viewers.

You might watch a 30 minute documentary in the hopes of learning more about (eg) the location a movie was shot, only to be disappointed at the end when no information is made available. And since DVD is "set in stone" once it goes to the replicator, there's no way for you to ask them to add that information later. Or perhaps a DVD extra provides a filmography or a gossip about the actors in the movie, but by the time the disc hits your DVD player it is woefully out of date. Problems such as these leave many people underwhelmed by DVD extras and lead to attitude that they're of little value... even though if you actually sit down and talk to those same people, many of them really do want more out of their disc-watching experiences, especially for content they care about (favourite movies, TV shows, or music artists) – and these are exactly the kind of discs they would buy!

With technologies such as HDi in HD DVD, the producers can add all manner of information to the disc and let "you control" which bits of information you to see, and when. No more sitting through hours of bonus material in the hope that maybe you'll get an out-dated snippet of what you're interested in. With true interactivity, you can go straight to the information you want and can be confident that it is up-to-date via connections to the internet. And if the information you want isn't there, why not send feedback directly to the producers that you want to see it added in the future?

On HD DVD, Howard Jones could have his PowerPoint slides (and then some!) and you – the viewer – could decide seamlessly and instantly whether you wanted to dive into the background or just enjoy the great music (or maybe do both at the same time). That's something you can't do on a standard DVD, and it's also something that doesn't require a gigantic TV, elaborate surround-sound system, or expensive disc player to appreciate.

Whenever people write off interactivity as a gimmick or something nobody needs, I think fondly back to the day when a University friend first showed me the World Wide Web. I just shrugged... why would anyone need that? I could get exactly the same information through Gopher, only faster!

How things change.