According to tradition, the only thing more boring than a home movie, back in the 8mm film days, was a home slideshow. At least the movies had movement to keep you awake. Nevertheless, slides hung on from the advent of Kodachrome, in the mid-1930s, up till the dawn of the digital age. People may still be projecting their Ektachrome transparencies, but have you seen the price of digital projectors? Moderately priced ones were two grand until very recently.
But things have changed again. Now you can buy a digital projector for under a grand. It's still a lot, compared to the old Carousel, but it's a lot less than it used to be. Regardless of how much more the price of projectors comes down, the market has already got to be bigger than before. And at the CE show, the biggest names in the business were encouraging their usage. In fact, most of the companies now making printers also make digital projectors.
So all of a sudden, in the midst of the let's-stay-home-tonight-honey, widescreen, hi-def, multichannel, wireless, and easy-to-add-to home theater, you have a way of looking at your snapshots equally large and hi-def from the comfort of your own couch. How, exactly, do you place them on the screen, one after the next?
In the days of the Carousel projector, it was with a "clunk" and a moment of blackout in between pictures. That moment of darkness was intrusive, but short of buying a second projector and a dissolver—which some people did from the late 1960s through the '90s—there was nothing you could do but live with it.
Today there's something you can do. You can put dissolves—and, depending on your equipment, dozens to hundreds of additional transitional effects—between each picture. Just like the pros have been doing since D.W. Griffith's time. And you don't even need a second projector and a dissolver. Software does it all, using one single projector.
In some cases, such high-tech playback effects can even be created in-camera, producing a slideshow on the camera monitor—or, presumably, on any larger display that the camera's video output can support, camcorder-style.
Slideshow playback from a digicam? Using random transitions from a palette of hundreds available? It's more dazzling than a "clunk" show.
But also, once a customer starts projecting a slideshow, he or she may notice the pictures work better rearranged. Maybe they should follow a thematic sequence, rather than the chronological order they were made in. Maybe the transitional effects shouldn't be random—maybe they should all be dissolves, or wipes, or some other classic standard, because that one effect seems more attractive or thematically appropriate. Maybe there should be a soundtrack. Maybe, in a day when people are buying cameras that shoot both stills and movies, the slideshow should present both.
If you think of a slideshow as the projected counterpart of scrapbooking, you begin to see the potential scope of things. And Sony and Panasonic—although they might not be fully aware of it—are begging the public to make projectable scrapbooks to endear them more to their home theaters, so they'll be transfixed by the 97-inch screen introduced at the CE show next year.
The problem has been that the software for making slideshows has been frightfully primitive. It didn't always provide the control required for mixing media, or timing the transitions, or adding soundracks, or incorporating movies. Some of it times your pictures, automatically, to synchronize with the beat of prerecorded music. It can make an enjoyable presentation. But just as some people found their home printers leading to scrapbooking, others might find their projected snapshots to be the more appealing if a bit more thought, storytelling, and technical pizazz were planned in.
For a couple of years, we've come across Photodex at ShowStoppers, one of the satellite, media-only sideshows that augment the main events like CES. Their previous ProShow Gold software showed promise. Their latest release is called ProShow Producer, and it shows even more promise.
Apparently simpler to work with than a dedicated video-editing program, ProShow Producer permits adding movie clips to slideshows as though they were slides themselves. It also permits an automatically executed pan or zoom (or both) across still images, bestowing upon them a touch of the animator's camera. Soundtracks can be added to the finished presentation.
Slideshows and mixed-media presentations historically have had powerful roles in education, sales promotion, motivation, orientation, and similar highly practical applications. On the whole, they can be made more easily, quickly, and inexpensively than full video productions. And now they can be effused and suffused through the home theater into a screened family album and scrapbook. Is that a new market? Could anybody sell to it? Who knows? Via the home theater and software like ProShow Producer, there may be a whole new trend in the offing.
We've tried ProShow Producer since the CES, and so far we like it. We'll probably have a lot more to say about the prospects of projected pictures in coming issues.