Separating Form and Content

Most contemporary web sites can be characterized by two primary features. First, they are dynamically generated by database-driven content, and second, this content is kept separate from its eventual form. With sportsBabel, for example, Wordpress stores each post in a MySQL database and when the page is loaded, a PHP file calls for various fields (eg. post header, post body, date, author) to be retrieved in a particular order and structured in a particular way. But that only gives us a web page with plain text and images; how does the data retrieved from the database get sorted into the appropriate places on the page, how does the header for every post become blue and how does the footer for every post get marked up with barcodes?

Form is given to the page's data just before it is displayed when the PHP file calls what is referred to as a cascading style sheet (CSS). Essentially, the CSS file says, take every piece of data that has been structurally referred to as "header level one" and make it bigger, blue, Trebuchet MS font, etc. The CSS for this type of style looks like this:

h1	{
	padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px;
	margin: 0px 0px -3px -1px;
	color: #333399;
	font-weight: 600;
	font-family: 'Trebuchet MS', Helvetica, sans-serif;
	font-size: 24px;
	line-height: 24px;
	letter-spacing: -1px

The beauty of CSS lies in its scalability: when you have a web site of three pages, making layout changes or site redesigns is not that much of a hassle. But when your site is database-driven and/or grows to hundreds or thousands of pages (if sportsBabel was created manually, it would comprise over 1,000 pages), trying to change "header level one" to a dark green serif font is a major challenge. The beauty — and practicality — of keeping form and content separate in web site design becomes readily apparent.

But what about with television? Could we see the same thing happen in TV program design?

Courtesy of NBA on CBS

From time to time I will flip to the Raptors TV channel and catch some of an NBA Hardwood Classics game. Though the games are usually from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s, I am always startled at first glance by how dated they look. Have televisual production and distribution technologies really made such great strides in a decade and a half? (Keep in mind that my personal televisual consumption technologies haven't exactly made astonishing gains: I'm watching digital cable on a old tube television, not Hi-Def on a 1080p plasma.)

If so, then why hasn't anyone anticipated such improvement and worked to ensure that libraries of legacy footage will always look as pristine as the technology of the day will allow? Why should the technical limitations of the medium today be the determining factor in how it will be presented years from now? In other words, is it not better to capture the content separately and then mark it up form-wise at the time of presentation such that an NBA Hardwood Classics game doesn't look so, ummm … classic?

The reason we don't do it today is that we tend to conceive of television in two-dimensional terms, despite the fact that it has been reduced to this plane from a three-dimensional reality. But television doesn't really exist anymore, does it? In other words, even if we still believe that we are watching a planar, "television" medium, we need to get beyond the limits of a two-dimensional mindset.

The technology to separate the content and form of three-dimensional data currently exists. This type of "photography" is essentially what occurs with motion capture in the construction of sports videogames. Capturing points of light as content allows for the digital creation and replication of a wireframe skeleton on top of which formal elements such as flesh, hair, uniforms and running shoes may be added. But motion capture photography takes place months before game production is completed and viewing by the public occurs. For form and content to be separated in a live sports television environment, however, we need to shrink this temporal lag and capture athletes volumetrically in real-time.

Motion Capture Collage - Courtesy EA Sports

Of course, this is a major leap technologically-speaking, but one that is presumably solved as chip processing and graphics rendering solutions become faster and cheaper. Another challenge for live three-dimensional sports television production is the motion capture suit that allows for different points of light to be isolated by the camera, which is prohibitive for normal athletic performance. But other technologies are beginning to erode the dependence on such a suit for the creation of volumetric imagery. The "bullet time" simulated high speed photography for Michael Jordan's IMAX dunk, ProZone's soccer athlete tracking system, and the EyeToy videogame interface are all making rapid advances in what is possible without the requirements of a traditional motion capture apparatus.

From here, one could "mark-up" the volumetric content with formal stylesheets that, for example, could change a team's uniform colours, improve the lighting conditions at the arena, customize the corporate sponsors for different audiences, or take advantage of other output devices that might follow the television, such as a holographic projector. In other words, the static archival document is no longer the sole option for professional sports leagues going forward.


3 responses to Separating Form and Content

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  1. Jessica De Chaves says:

    This shows how media technology is ever-changing and extending its flexibility for great improvement specifically for television and video games to entice the general public. The television is a great invention in that it allowed for communication and broadcasting of sporting events all around the world in a fast and convenient fashion.

    With technology and graphics, when talking about capturing points of light as content allowing for the digital creation and replication of a wireframe skeleton it can be related to the subject of biomechanics. Biomechanics is the application of mechanical principles in the study of living organisms. The mechanics part deals with the branch of physics that analyzes the actions of forces on particles and mechanical systems. When studying kinematics in biomechanics it is the study of the description of motion, including considerations of space and time. Video and film are the main tools used for measuring kinematic quantities and with the continual improved advancements in the technology and the widespread availability, durability and ease of use. The standard video gives sixty resolvable pictures per second and even more for more commercial uses. Just as human bodies are created for television purposes, reflective joint markers and placed on all the joints on the human body so they can be tracked by a camera for automatic digitizing for the movement. In previous decades this use to be done all by hand by individuals and computer software did not exist to calculate the data. This shows how technology has advanced and allowed for research in physical activity that will be beneficial.

  2. Katie Donohue says:

    In the past, I think, it is important to have these "classics" be in their original form, including the style and level of technology we, as a population, were capable of at that current time. The extent to which our television technology had developed at different times, helps to mark points in history, as well as allows us to define by date, what period of time the sporting event took place in. Even though form and strucute of the game itself, has developed and changed over time, as well as technology, I believe they should be evolving together.

    To an avid basketball fan, I would not think that the advancments in technology would substract from the skill an athlete had, and therefore, not subtract from the enjoyment they felt when observing the game. These changes in technology, that we can look back and visually experience, help us to mark our advancements in technology, televesion specifically.

    The idea of seperating form and content is also, I feel, a way that corporations could use to maximize there renvenue. As discussed in this post pertaining to the idea that different sponsors and advertising could be substituted into the game for different geographical areas, this is soley benefiting the corporate media, and not necessarily the fans. Similar to the computer and its seperation of form and content, if this were possible throught television, it would allow corporate media the opportunity to alter previously played games and therefore increase their profit with this technology. Who is really benefiting?

    If television sets can also be upgraded to have high-definition, plasma, liquid crystal display, and many more advancments, the technology of watching "classic" sporting events has already evolved in our homes.

  3. Laurie-Beth Brown says:

    Televised production and distribution technologies have made some significant strides with respect to instant replays, breaking down plays, and analyzing teams and players. With this advanced technology, the production companies are able to attract the attention of different viewers who would not be normally drawn to the sport. An example of this could be for last years NBA finals the main theme song was sung by the pop group the Pussy Cat Dolls. The NBA created a music-like video that showcased the Pussy Cat Dolls as well as the key NBA players that were playing in the finals. Another example of technology is through the half-time analysts being show us a break-down of the plays that are working for the teams. This technology is also a great teaching tool for people who are learning the game of basketball. They are able to get these great angles of the plays through the many cameras that are positioned above the nets, above the courts, and camera men on the sidelines. Advancements of technology have enabled the NBA to expand from the United States to many countries around the world. They are able to broadcast their games of Yao Ming, in China thus opening up the large Chinese consumer market.
    NBA Classic Hardwood games are my favourite games to watch because you get to watch a completely different style of basketball. I believe that the NBA should update the quality of the NBA classics so that the games would appeal to their mass market. The content of the game will not be affected; therefore it will stay a classic game. Technology can create a clearer and crisper image that will attract more viewers. Advancements in technology have aided the NBA tremendously today.