On Tuesday, in The Guardian, before the war began, I wrote:
“Our proximity to the fighting is unarguable. The collision of network-era news gathering tools, weblogs and interconnected internet communities will produce a kind of ecstasy of information and communication. The war will be fought as if it were on the other side of the thinnest sheet of glass. It will be as if we are there.”
I didn’t anticipate the ‘video phone’ coverage, though. Something about the personal, portable nature of the kit makes the images transmitted even more immediate than I’d imagined – almost intimate… The choppiness and urgency of the footage gives you the sense you can almost feel the reporter’s pulse and breath. The reporter and his technology are merging. A Gulf War reporter is a borderline cyborg.
These cheap cameras seem to be velcro’d to aircraft carrier masts, to the outside of tank armour, to fighter pilots’ helmets and, of course, to dozens of reporters. I think we’ll remember this war as the war of the ubiquitous video phone.
I don’t understand how these things work but the chunky, lossy compression suggests clever, adaptive transmission and very low bit rates. Presumably the video is transmitted via sat-phone channels intended only for voice (possibly even analogue transmission?).
This story, from an NBC reporter in Kuwait City, doesn’t get me any closer to understanding how the video phones work but lays out the Gulf reporters’ new tech tool kit. This one is better. I learn that TV reporters in the field are using essentially the same kit as any amateur (a Mini DV camera, a Mac Powerbook and simple editing software) to produce their own packages for transmission back home (but I still don’t know how those video phones work!).