Feature Article: Koala-Tea: the perception of quality

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Feature Article:

Koala-Tea: the perception of quality

So I have a little story for you all. Over the summer, I got a job at a local movie theatre. I would go in for my shift, don my uniform, make popcorn and sell tickets to the latest blockbusters. Not a hard job but a very repetitive one. And one of the phrases that I found myself repeating most often was, “It’s only showing in the 3D, is that okay?”
I can probably credit this question to the fact that there has been a 450% increase in 3D movie screen worldwide between 2009 and 2011. The market for 3D movies has grown exponentially. Whether this is a cause or effect is debatable, but it is evident that filmmakers have taken advantage of the advanced technology.
We can look back to 2009 with the release of James Cameron’s Avatar. He expertly used 3D technology to immerse the viewer in the fictional world of Pandora. And the result was epic; the film grossed over 2 billion dollars.
Since then, many films have attempted to do the same, with varying degrees of success. However, in my opinion, there hasn’t been any that has stood out quite like the recently released Gravity.
An article from The Huffington Post describes director Alfonso Cuaròn’s decision to use 3D technology best when it says:

The goal of creating an immersive experience was a key reason Alfonso Cuarón and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki chose to use 3D in Gravity. The film's virtuoso seventeen-minute, 3D opening tracking shot was designed to draw the audience into a visceral, first-person experience of the story. As Cuarón describes it: "the camera is a third character that is the audience POV. So the audience is experiencing this journey together with the characters."

Essentially, the incorporation of 3D technology is meant to improve the viewing experience. It adds a new depth to the film and enables the audience to participate in the story in a way that is just not possible in a traditional, two-dimensional viewing. The quality is heightened.
And yet, when I’m at work and ask the question, “It’s only showing in 3D, is that okay?” The response I find to be the most common is an exasperated “Really? I guess it’ll have to be.”
This could be due to a variety of reasons. Some of the people who I talk to go on to say that 3D movies give them headaches and they definitely are not alone. A study conducted in 2011 found that movie-goers were three times more likely to suffer from discomfort ranging from eyestrain, headaches and vision trouble throughout 3D films.
There is also a chance that this exasperation is a result of the $2.00 surcharge for 3D movies. And just a little side note: no, the $2.00 isn’t for the glasses and yes, you still have to pay even if you brought your own.
Or maybe it’s simply the hassle of having to wear a pair of glasses.
But from what customers tell me, the annoyance is more often than not a result of the latter two. They would rather have reduced quality than go the extra mile (or millimeter, really) to have a completely immersive, improved viewing experience.
This says a lot about how we, as a society, perceive quality. In this particular example, quality becomes a nuisance because it forces us to change our habits. We are not habituated to pay a bit extra or wear a pair of glasses, therefore we are hesitant to embrace it.

But this certainly isn’t the case for all forms of media. In others, we are so eager to achieve high quality that we are willing to metaphorically bend over backwards to attain it without really thinking about whether or not it’s worth it.

An obvious example of this are the headphones, Beats by Dr. Dre. Their website describes the headphones as having “effectively brought the energy, emotion and excitement of playback in the recording studio to the listening experience and introduced an entirely new generation to the possibilities of premium sound entertainment.”

A review of the Beats by Dr. Dre Wireless from PC Mag confirms that they provide a handful of excellent features. However, some of these features, such as the exaggerated low frequency response, may distort the audio, resulting in a sub-par listening experience if you’re listening to anything that isn’t meant to have deep sub-bass.

They also go on to list examples of headphones that offer consumers the exact same features. The only noticeable differences between the Beats and these other sets mentioned are the price and the lack of celebrity endorsement.
These other headphones, such as the Outdoor Technology DJ Slims and the Phiaton PS 20 BT, total up at $80.00 and under which is a considerable difference to the $279.95 at which the Beats retail. The article speculates that what the consumer is paying for with the increase in price is truly the look and the endorsement by Dr. Dre. Essentially, it is that endorsement that causes us to believe that the quality we are getting from a pair of Beats by Dr. Dre is the best out there.

Unlike the previous example of 3D movies, because this product is marketed to be the best in quality, we are willing to shell out the extra bucks to get it. In this case, branding shapes our perception of what is considered quality.

Similarly, we have a tendency to assume that if a photo is taken with a lovely dSLR camera, it will almost automatically be a nicer photograph. Likewise, if a photo is good, the first question that viewers will often ask what camera the photo was taken with.

While it is completely true that technically, the photos are higher quality, it is not true that the photos are inherently better. If a photographer is talented, they will be able to frame a nice photo no matter what camera they use.
One of my favorite examples of this are the few iPhone-only photographers who I follow on Instagram. These photographers, as the their title implies, only shoot photos with their iPhones and the results are often amazingly beautiful.
One of my favorites is user Vutheara who captures the artistry of Paris through the lens of his iPhone.
You can also see the theory of better camera doesn’t always result in better pictures in action with the website Camera Showdown. This games allows you to pit two cameras against each other and choose what you consider to be a better photo out of 10 pairs.
It’s safe to say that I was shocked when I learnt that apparently I thought photos taken with an iPhone 5 were just as good as photos taken with my camera of choice, the Canon Rebel T3i.
This conception is pushed even further we you consider the vast amount of photographic accessories available for the iPhone. From tripods to flashes to lenses to filters (and not just of the Instagram-variety), you can truly turn your phone into a powerful camera. The only real difference is the file quality.
In this case, it is our impressionability that tricks us into thinking that a better camera equates to a better photo. We are almost taught to believe that one cannot exist without another. However, that is simply not the case.

In the end, what I am getting at is the way in which we perceive quality is influenced by a host of factors. The factors that should logically play a large role are our sensory reactions, such as the visual aesthetics of a photograph or the sound of song. However, it is clear that the most important factors often become what we are taught to believe, whether that is that quality is not worth changing our habits or that a product will provide better quality results if it is more expensive.

However, quality is ultimately subjective. Maybe you like the enhanced, deep sub-bass of the Beats Wireless. Or maybe you’re like me and appreciate the creative control that dSLRs have offer. Either way, you have the opportunity to choose what level of quality you want. After all, who am I to judge?

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