Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Online Images Old and New

In December 1984, a small and innovative company called Thunderware released a product called Thunderscan for the Macintosh. Thunderscan was a clever way of making a dot matrix printer work in reverse - rather than outputting dots on paper, the printer would scan an existing document left to right, slowly but surely. The user would install the sensor in place of the print ribbon cartridge, put the sheet to be scanned in the printer, and wait a long time - and after the printer had scanned the whole page line by line, the image was in the computer. In order to imagine how this worked you need to remember dot matrix printers, those slow and noisy beasts we all used to use before inkjet printers were dirt cheap (to the point they started to be given away free with the purchase of a computer in the mid-90s).

I thought some might find it interesting to compare one of the old Mac Thunderscans to a random image from the web today. Above, you see a picture of Christie Brinkley, probably from a magazine, that was "Thunderscanned" (fed thru a printer and scanned into a Mac) in September 1985. These were common trades on the online dial-up bulletin boards. Below is a picture of cute Zooey Deschanel taken from a Web page discussing M. Night Shamalan's latest disaster (of a) movie, The Happening. Look closely at these two image files and compare and contrast - we've gone from one color (black pixels on white, mathematically arranged using a kind of "visual noise" called dithering, to create the illusion of shades of grey) to 70,308 in the Deschanel image, according to my image software (Modern image formats actually can display millions of colors - more than the human eye can perceive). The detail on the more recent picture is amazing as well - zoom in and you can even see the peach fuzz on her chin!

I wonder what online media will look like in another 20 years or so?

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