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Reinventing the movie for tablet computers

Condition One and MX use tablet technologies to make video content more engaging.

Condition One
Technology from Condition One lets viewers use their fingers to adjust the perspective while watching films on a tablet.
Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Like all communication channels, cinema has a language all its own. It's a living language, though, that changes with the times, with evolving audience sensibilities, and of course, with technology. As I wrote in 2009, the innovation of 3D requires a fundamentally different style of directing: more sedate, if you can believe it.

At the Launch 'Pad conference here, Condition One showed a new form of cinematography that requires yet another adjustment to way the filmmakers shoot. CEO Danfung Dennis has created a camera rig and software system which, he says, "captures the entire human field of view" by shooting a "virtual sphere" of imagery.

During playback, viewers can change their perspective of the film by dragging their fingers across the screen, or, as Dennis demo'd below, by moving their tablet around in front of them. For example, if you're watching a man being interviewed, and he glances to his left, you can change the camera angle to see what just caught his attention.

My Freedom Or Death - Condition ONE Beta

It's like augmented reality, but the reality is happening elsewhere. The tablet becomes a window into a virtual, moving world, and you can use it to shift your visual perspective of that world.

Dennis is a war photographer, so his video is beyond compelling. It's graphic, emotional, and at points terrifying. But this technology could also be used for more pedestrian filmmaking. It'd be great for sports (if it could be done live), and especially for mysteries or procedurals.

But what really engaged me about Dennis' talk was how he described the way his perspective as a moviemaker changed when he was working in the middle of a bubble, as opposed to behind a plane. "There's no longer a frame," he said. "There's no composition."

In other words, the people and the action are carrying the whole load. The cinematographer cedes a lot of control over how the audience perceives the story. Now, I'm not sure viewers want to interact with stories that they would otherwise just "lean back" (as the lingo goes) to consume, but for many video types, as I said, it's a really interesting new way to tell a story.

Dennis won't reveal the details of the physical camera rig he's developed, but he said it's cheap enough to work for almost any filmmaker. He also says traditional editing tools, like Final Cut, can be used to edit the footage.

The second screen
Another clever movie app for tablets shown here at Launch 'Pad comes from MX. It makes your mobile device a companion to a video you're watching on your TV. So instead of switching the audio on your DVD of "The Lion King" to the director's commentary, you can watch a parallel documentary on your device while the movie plays in front of you.

On Blu-ray players, the playback of the content will sync with the video using data the player pushes out over its Ethernet connection. But there's also an audio sync function built in to the tablet app. It can tell where you are in the movie by listening to the show playing in the background.

I like this media business for blockbusters where multiple parallel tracks could be a big deal for fans, and especially for my favorite genre, science fiction. I want directors, scientists, and just plain fans to add extra content that helps me immerse myself in the universe of the content I'm watching.