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February 4, 2018 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Signal Loss: Mapping "video errors" in Star Trek. Collected examples from each of the Star Trek series where audiovisual signal loss is conveyed.

For example:
  • when the crew is having trouble talking to a planet,
  • when someone is on a ship getting attacked and their communication keeps breaking up,
  • when an alien-virus invades the ship,
  • when someone gets stuck trying to teleport somewhere... et cetera.
posted by zamboni (19 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
posted by Nelson at 9:09 AM on February 4, 2018 [14 favorites]


This is a interesting sub category of Star Trek nerdery.

There's a broadcast channel showing ST every night, starting with TOS at 8pm, which I like to catch two or three times a week. I often think it would be interesting to compare the original sfx with the redone cgi effects. Some are pretty obvious, such as spaceship scenes. Others I may have not noticed at all. Occasionally, I'm pleasantly surprised, such as when the Gorn blinks its eyes, something the original rubber mask was never capable of doing.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:36 AM on February 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


My favorite:
"Sir, this indicator's gone crazy!" Indicator looks relatively normal.

I would link directly to this crazy indicator, but the site doesn't seem to work that way.
posted by Lirp at 10:49 AM on February 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Did the vertical-greyscale-snow effect never make it to the small screen? I think it debuted in “The Search for Spock” and appeared in every Prime universe movie thereafter as the Starfleet equivalent of the real-world blue “no signal” screen.

I could’ve sworn the effect even got play in “The Next Generation” but maybe I’m wrong.

At any rate I always liked the vertical snow effect because it implied a non-horizontal scanline technology, which made me wonder how 23rd century imaging worked under the hood.
posted by Construction Concern at 10:51 AM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


At any rate I always liked the vertical snow effect because it implied a non-horizontal scanline technology, which made me wonder how 23rd century imaging worked under the hood.
In my head-cannon I always imagined that computing in Star Trek was based upon interference patterns in polarized wavelengths of electro magnetic radiation. It's why you see moiré patterns everywhere.

The computer graphics are all blocky because they're just hipsters.
posted by device55 at 11:05 AM on February 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


I don't remember exactly, but i think The One With The Whales had a more blocky MPEG-y distortion pattern when Kirk was talking to Starfleet through spacewhale-interference.

There was also the scene in Wrath of Khan when Kirk was talking to Carol Marcus and Khan was jamming the transmission, I forget exactly what it looked like though.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:28 AM on February 4, 2018


And I don't remember if we ever saw what V'ger distortion looked like, did we? Enterprise must have just been using a CRC.

I hope future Trek shows use a neural-net-powered DeepDream sort of thing, as it's probably what future compression tech might look like, assuming we get out of Moore's Tarpit.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:31 AM on February 4, 2018


I try really hard not to be a Trek pedant. Often I succeed. But. . . sending video (or holograms!) over crappy communications channels is the one case were I just can't help myself. After a youth spent in ham radio, it's overwhelmingly obvious that sending decent video requires an booming signal, high quality audio orders of magnitude less, narrow band audio a factor of a few less, and an extremely narrow band cw or digital signal far less still. I couldn't count the number of times I had a barely intelligible conversation with a friend over voice and then switched to morse code to carry on a perfectly clear, hour long conversation. I don't know anything about subspace physics, but I have a hard time believing the effective data density of your transmission doesn't matter, assuming there's something equivalent to a transmitter power and a signal bandwidth.

Instead of sending full frame video through an ion storm while the recipient says, "what's that, captain? You're breaking up," the obvious thing to do is use those same millions of bits to send a thousand error-correction encoded copies of a text message. A video distress call is perhaps the single silliest thing in all of Trek. And it happens every season!

I know it's just a show and I should really just relax. I forgive them for gravity, aliens that look human, forgetting that momentum exists, and absurd language conceits. . . but this one is actually cheaper and easier to get right than to get wrong. And, it's something I'd expect random film and TV crew to know about. This isn't some subtle violation of obscure physics; it's something anyone who's looked at the size of a video tape, an audio tape, and a floppy disk containing 100 scripts should understand intuitively.

The only head canon I can some up with is that they're actually using a Fire Upon The Deep style AI-generated simulated video and only exchanging the absolute minimum number of real bits. But, there's nothing in Trek that suggests this.

Also, and on topic, that's a fun collection of images. Thanks! I don't quite understand why the ones with no errors are included, but that's okay. I don't need to understand everything.
posted by eotvos at 12:30 PM on February 4, 2018 [23 favorites]


the obvious thing to do is use those same millions of bits to send a thousand error-correction encoded copies of a text message

In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Uhura did send "linguacode friendship messages on all frequencies" so I assume that's a big stream of Unicode emojis.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:48 PM on February 4, 2018 [19 favorites]


The computer graphics are all blocky because they're just hipsters.

I feel this is supported by the text, honestly. Nostalgia and deliberate anachronism is a huge deal in Federation culture.
posted by mordax at 12:53 PM on February 4, 2018 [7 favorites]


I just clicked on the link with my ancient iPhone and just got a black screen. Is that an example of a trek video error?
posted by njohnson23 at 12:59 PM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


I just clicked on the link with my ancient iPhone and just got a black screen. Is that an example of a trek video error?

Maybe not a trek, but a Safari. It looks like the title load animation uses CSS @keyframes, fully added to iOS Safari in iOS 9.2 or so, so older iOS machines aren't going to see it. Do the videos work if you scroll down?
posted by zamboni at 1:30 PM on February 4, 2018


Even in the 23rd century you can’t escape issues setting up the teleconference.
posted by simra at 2:10 PM on February 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


The only head canon I can some up with is that they're actually using a Fire Upon The Deep style AI-generated simulated video and only exchanging the absolute minimum number of real bits. But, there's nothing in Trek that suggests this.

That plot point in Fire hinges upon graceful degradation. I think you're right, except they send full-bandwidth wherever possible, and degrade when necessary. By the time the visual interference kicks in they've seamlessly degraded down to a few bits a second and oodles of error correction. TNG onwards are probably using the same data and algorithms that the holodeck uses to create convincing simulacra of bridge officers, just with a different output device. In fact, I bet the communication tech came first and the holodeck tech just builds on it.

(Overthinking Trek since 1989).
posted by Leon at 4:44 PM on February 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yes, I've often thought that with the level of computer speech recognition & speech synthesis shown in Star Trek, every video signal should have multiple redundant text encodings of the past 30 seconds of speech, totally eliminating audio drop outs.
posted by fings at 6:26 PM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


There’s this interesting bit from the novelization of ST:TMP. It’s while Enterprise is trapped inside V’ger, able to hear Starfleet but unable to contact them. Kirk tells Uhura to put a booster on their location beacon (which, as an intelligent, well-trained communications officer, she would have thought of before Kirk did, but...).
The alien vessel’s powerfield was putting an intense wall of static between themselves and Starfleet’s transceivers. But Kirk had realized that a constantly repeating beacon signal might be detectable through that static long before Starfleet might recognize and understand any other kind of message from them. And once their ship’s beacon signal was recognized, it would bring all of Starfleet’s antennae aiming directly here, and Starfleet had experts who would know how to listen through that static – and they would then be able to hear Kirk’s report telling how completely he had failed Starfleet and Earth.
Not on screen, not canon, of course.
posted by bryon at 9:39 PM on February 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


There are quite a few images in these that have nothing to do with video effects ("User error: someone eats a poisoned meal" etc). And there are some rather famous missing shots (where is the one from the many worlds episode that had a desperate Riker demanding he not be sent back to the universe where the Borg won?).

Cute site design, though. The artifact on the title page seems to be pure CSS, as it worked before I had a chance to hit the noscript-allow button!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:48 AM on February 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


This topic actually brings something to mind that my brother and I talk about occasionally: we are quickly running out of dated recording artifacts.

It's especially notable in fortean topics, where the possibility of paranormal events was often just behind the veil of jittery over-exposed film or blown-out video highs. We used to be encouraged to squint at grainy interlaced stills from underpowered security cameras on episodes of the X-files, assured that they had a particular meaning.

I remember an episode of Stargate SG:1 where a mundane human got an infrared image of the Go'a Uld (or however that was spelled) fellow, and the whole crew managed to gaslight him out of believing in its force as evidence by just squinting and saying "I can't work out what that even is" and "Did you make this yourself?"

But holy cow, modern phones just take high-def video that can sometimes come close to 32mm, and you get auto-focus and anti-jitter and all sorts of things. I think the future of this kind of image distortion effect will be the result of overprocessing rather than underpowered recordings. We'll be told that The Paranormal Event really did happen in 2021 and you can see if only you'll look behind the seams of the Slimming Module and Automatic Selfie Makeup plug-in used while recording this footage. Don't you see how the makeup module detected a face there, and started applying blush to those curtains? Who was in that room with her?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:56 AM on February 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


I know it's just a show and I should really just relax. I forgive them for gravity, aliens that look human,...

You may be interested in figurant's comment from a recent thread on DS9:
An illustrator I follow on Twitter has a marvelous interpretation of DS9 as a humans-in-makeup performance of actual historical events in the 24th century where the aliens were much less human-like....
posted by solotoro at 8:16 AM on February 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


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