Episode 20: How good is “good enough”?

With the advent of high quality acquisition tools for relatively little money, is there really a role for the highest quality production outside of niches?

Terry and Philip have different understandings and it makes for an interesting show.

21 thoughts on “Episode 20: How good is “good enough”?

  1. Further to your discussion, here’s an article that popped up on the Internet today:

    Apple and music labels are reportedly in discussions to raise the audio quality of of the songs they sell.

    That would be a good thing for the audiophiles, right?

  2. Hey guys, I’m in the camp of “good enough is the enemy of the great”. Although being a card-carrying member of the “Quality Counts!” club doesn’t prevent me from acknowledging the reality that good enough often does suffice much of the time.

    Even though I’m a quality perfectionist, “good enough” completely affects my own work simply because budget is ALWAYS an issue and that dictates the scope of what can accomplish in a given production. I can’t afford to work for free, and this industry can’t afford having other people out there doing that much more either. Fair product for fair price.

    Except for clear technical errors, any so-called professional who shrugs those off as “good enough” and ships the deliverables anyway loses my respect.


  3. I think the ‘good enough’ factor is way more than bad compression artifacts. Things like corporate video clients who used to want time and attention to detail in the look, background and lighting of their CEO is now okay with a camera setup in his office or the ugly conference. The record label who used to want an EPK of the band with several different locations, interviews and shows is now fine with a bad stand-up and an already produced music video for b-roll.

    It’s that kind of thing that hurts the most when ‘good enough’ is good enough for these folks.

  4. Hey, guys, been listening for a while, I really appreciate your analysis of, well, everything.

    I had a couple of thoughts while listening to this episode.

    First, the “good enough” isn’t always in the consumer’s hands – sometimes, the compression is unavoidable. For example, I toyed with a HuluPlus subscription, which allows a consumer to view shows in HD (well, 720p). But my ISP isn’t giving me the bandwidth for HD – when the buffer is high enough for it, I can see beautiful images, but most of the time, my internet connection limits me to Hulu’s 288p streaming.

    So, just thinking – sometimes, the “good enough” solution isn’t because it’s what customers want, it’s because it’s what they’re limited to. Hopefully, this will change.

    Second thing I wanted to comment on was the “Ikea” vs. “Pass-down-antique” furniture analogy. I understand it, even agree with it, but every time I hear you mention it in the show, something pops in my head. That’s Pottery Barn.

    That is, there’s Ikea; they sell the cheap, particle-board stuff that you need to replace every few years (as said on the show). And, as you metnioned in your analogy, there’s the high-end furnishers who build stuff that will last for at least a generation or two.

    But in between those two is something like Pottery Barn. Stuff that’s at least somewhat higher quality (MDF as opposed to your typical particle board), and at a higher price. They survive the market. So it may be that, between the high-budget “Avatars” and the low-budget “Blair Witch” type stuff, there’s room for projects that are at least of some quality.

    What do you guys think?

  5. Pottery BArn is a good point. BUt again, they survive because their client base sees a difference worth paying for, and is therefore given the option. What is you high quality option for viewing at home?

  6. In my case, “high quality” is limited to sticking to the broadcast schedule, or waiting for the show on DVD. (A DVR subscription isn’t an option for me at the moment–though it should be an option).

    Beyond that, I’m stuck with the internet. Which is Netlflix – not usually available in the current run – or Hulu. Or, of course, downloading illegally.

  7. When it comes to content – some of the things on the web and TV makes me wonder if people in the future may not be able to recognize quality content just as they can’t recognize (or care about) image quality today. They’ll be like cows in the field, chewing their cud, and watching anything that moves…

    …or maybe I’m just a grumpy old man.

  8. I wouldn’t call it grumpy old man, just realist. We may have done a disservice to future generations by dumbing down the medium as far as we have.

    I am certain that we have done a disservice to the societal aspect by removing people from contact with each other via twitter, facebook, et al. As tools to aid in communication, they are great. As tools to replace human interaction, they are deadly to our future.

  9. On balance, aren’t the signals the end-viewer gets today, compression artifacts and all, vastly superior quality to the fuzzy, bleedy, muddy analog signals they suffered with only ten years ago? If you look from the consumer perspective, the quality of the video delivered to homes today is far better quality than the video of a generation ago (at least with respect to the presentation of the signal- I can’t vouch for the content…). I also believe that while they may not know why, consumers can generally sense production values as being good or cheap. Maybe they can’t tell the difference between footage shot on an Alexa vs a DSLR, but they know a “home video” look when they see it.

    And to follow the physical goods analogy further afield, Apple has certainly found a way to sell mass market goods of extremely high quality; that is, the delta between a MacBook Pro and a comparable PC’s hardware quality is far wider than that of their prices.

    We have at our disposal today tools that permit an unprecedented level of quality for a fraction of the price it cost only a decade ago. That there are also Flip cams and DSLRs doesn’t diminish that value.

  10. Clay Shirky writes about a consulting gig with ATT, in the mid 90’s, that never came off. ATT couldn’t work out how to provide competitive hosting at $20 a month which would comply with their five ‘9’ (99.999%) quality policy.

    But, let me not summarise away your joy of discovery when confronting the point in the third story down: http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/04/the-collapse-of-complex-business-models/ and perhaps continued perusal of the inside of Mr Shirky’s head.

    Consider flying. The operation of commercial aircraft is, quite rightly, well beyond six sigma (3.4 defects per million opportunities). However, other parts of the flying experience operate at much less than six sigma. We generally arrive just fine, but the same can’t be said for our luggage.

    Top end TV or film shot, edited and uploaded from a mobile phone? I think not – at least not very often. Yet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrDxe9gK8Gk

    Just lately we have been seeing mobile phone footage from Libya. Should news editors have waited for a crew with a ‘proper’ camera to go in, or was something else more important?

    Home is an extremely expensive and high production value environmental documentary. Yet it can be seen free at YouTube.com/movies, and that would seem to be that for the money it cost. Yet, like many others, I bought the Blu-ray simply to see it in full quality, and to have a physical copy.

    The concept of good enough is a bit more complex than just how good the pictures are. Oh well, back to episode 963 of ‘There’s cash in your relocated undercover kitchen makeover!’ in stereo 3D.

  11. I’ve only now found your podcast and I like it a lot.

    While I get the idea of the argument, I’m not sure that the comparison to cars and furniture is a good one. Cars and furniture are pieces of equipment that you rely on for your daily activities. Films and videos however belong to consumables, usually seen once or twice and discarded. Their obsolescence is pretty high. Of course, we’re talking about the general quality of experience, but still.

    I see the issue of quality as a limitation of all digital workflows. In desktop publishing the introduction of true-type fonts was both a revolution that democratized the field, and a demise of type esthethics expressed in lack of ligatures, kerning and mediocre design in general. What’s more, moving the content to the web-like formats like epub, stopped in its tracks the revival of type features that started happening with open-type fonts a few years ago, and the quality of “print” design was again sacrificed, this time on the altar of portability, even though today you are able to make things that 20 years ago nobody thought possible.

    So on one hand there is a trade-off in high-end features and quality, because they require expertise, and training, therefore much higher prices, and on the other the democratization of the whole process that results in a lot of mediocre “stuff” being put out. Both have pros and cons, but I’m not sure that there will be no market for good quality, as there is still the market for good design.

  12. Hi Bart,
    I guess the question is, will there be a “Citizen Kane” which is a classic of great quality, made in the new paradigm of “shoot it with the iPhone and post it on iTunes”?

  13. I think the overall number of great quality classic will remain about the same. On the one hand democratization will allow new ones to spring up unexpectedly, and on the other there will certainly be a decrease of high-end productions due to the effect of “spoiling the market”.

    However because of the sheer volume of mediocricity, the overall percentage of great works will decline. Thus your very good question about who becomes the aggregate, and I’m not sure that the social network is really an answer.

    Actually, becoming such a quality aggregate could perhaps be a good idea for a business.

  14. “Actually, becoming such a quality aggregate could perhaps be a good idea for a business.”

    I think it is the goal of Steve Jobs and all the pieces have been being put into place over the years.

  15. Hi,

    What about the argument that ‘good enough’ in video/film post will become the highest quality that can be physically SEEN by the human eye. The argument of 4K vs 2K and screen size vs resolution vs viewing distance. Eventually…say 10 years, for 2D, we will reach the limit of the human eye, say 5K, 1,000,000 contrast ratio, billion colours, bright images.

    What are your thoughts on this?

  16. Toby,
    That would be nice, if we were actually moving in that direction. But it seems that everything is about moving away from quality towards ease of lower cost delivery.

    Proof would be in the audio world. We could easily push the fidelity to the point where it was outside any human’s hearing. Instead we go to the easiest MP3 compression we can get.

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