A couple of days ago, both the esteemed editor of this magazine and I were guests at an awards ceremony, in the romantic environs of the Wembley Hilton. The evening was a tribute to the democratising effect of the dinner suit.
Receiving a lifetime achievement award richly deserved was Dr David Wood, who has devoted much of his career to the EBU. It was something of a shock to see him in black tie, rather than the lurid and loud coloured jackets he usually favours.
I have known David for 20 years or more, and know him to be a witty and urbane man who is always well-informed and good company. His acceptance speech was several orders of magnitude more funny than the comedian who had been booked (presumably at some expense) to host the evening.
Davids diplomacy skills have long been devoted to working with a broad range of partners on developing standards. When he said it took about nine years to reach international agreement on HD I felt his pain.
But it did make me think about the whole idea of standards. And, quite frankly, why we are so bad at them in this business.
Any telephone, anywhere in the world, will talk to any other telephone. How did that happen?
I travel quite a bit, and when I arrive in a hotel room anywhere in the world I can be reasonably confident that I will be able to connect to the internet. I either plug an ethernet cable into an RJ-45 socket or the wireless thingummies in my laptop talk to a box somewhere. Connection takes a second, and then it works.
I visited the very nice people at Timeline Television recently. They run the broadcast services at Parliament. Currently, much of their output is recorded on Sony SX tapes. Try taking one of those to another facility and see how far it gets you.
The Red camera is still the hot choice. But what you get out of it is a chain of ones and zeros. Without the right codecs and LUTs loaded onto the receiving device, it might just as well be a very large Excel spreadsheet.
The digital era is making matters much worse. MXF was hailed as the solution to file compatibility until people tried to use it. Then they discovered that the standard had ended up so broad that two devices could justifiably claim to be XF compatible but be completely unable to talk to each other.