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James May Explains On-Demand TV As Only He Can

James May is a nerd, in the best way possible. It is not enough for him to know something works, he needs to know how it works. Then whether you like it or not he is going to explain it in painstaking detail. Here’s the thing, if you stop and listen it is often very entertaining, you don’t mind that an explanation that should take 15 min ends up taking an hour. May has this ability to take boring topics and explain their history, their function, and make it highly readable/watchable etc. The Grand Tour is no exception. Obviously we all know how it is going to work, they’re going to travel the world and present a show from a new and exciting location each week. The whole thing is a massive undertaking. However this gives May a chance to explain the history of Television and how great The Grand Tour gives you the “on-demand” viewing option. May does so in an open letter in The Times.


“First, a word about this exciting thing called “on-demand TV”. It doesn’t mean what I first thought: that televisions are given away free. No, it means you can watch your favourite programmes whenever you like. All you need is a “portable device” — a computer that’s small enough to carry around (also called a smartphone or a tablet).

This idea still excites me because I’m old enough to remember when it didn’t exist. I know it’s difficult for anyone born after 1980 to comprehend, but there was a time when things were “on the telly”, and if you weren’t in front of the telly at the same time, you missed them. And so it was that the streets would fall silent and burglary and pregnancy rates would plummet, briefly, because The Two Ronnies was on. As soon as it was over, everyone would make a cup of tea and overload the national grid. Some people regard this as a golden age of TV, because the “appointment to view” acted as a sort of social glue.”


This is the modern age after all. Unless it is a sport or debate or some other live event that must be scheduled we can not be bothered to set our schedule around a tv show. On-Demand viewing has forever changed the way we view TV. Netflix and Hulu got the ball rolling and now every single network has some form of portable On-Demand app. You set your own schedule knowing that no matter where you go your show will be waiting for you. TV, tablet, phone or computer the viewing option is entirely yours. The Grand Tour isn’t even bothering with a conventional network. Straight to Amazon where you can watch the episodes as they come out every week or binge watch them all at the end of the season. The choice is yours.

“But the rest of the time, appointment to view was a pain in the arse. There were other problems, aside from the need to be in front of a TV set that was actually working, because many didn’t. Your sister might want to watch something “on the other side”, which would lead to a blood feud, which simmers away to this day in my family. Your parents might not approve of Benny Hill. Marine Boy was pretty terrible but you watched it anyway, just in case.

Here’s a thought. Television as we know it is the best part of a century old. It had been, you might imagine, one of those things that Donald Rumsfeld would say we didn’t know we didn’t know, as there was no precedent for it in nature. As a concept, though, it may be rooted in the 13th century, when St Clare of Assisi was allegedly able to view, on the wall of the room where she lay bedridden, a priest conducting mass. She was made the patron saint of television in 1958.”


May goes on, as he typically does, in great detail about the history of broadcast television. All the way to the dawn of satellite TV and High Definition. It is a pretty interesting read which you can read here in all its glorious May-esqe detail. The summation of which is simple, Amazon On-Demand viewing is perfect for The Grand Tour. Watch the episodes at your leisure in glorious 4K.

“BUT HOW WILL ALL THIS WORK ON YOUR TV? 4K: The Grand Tour is being filmed in 4K, which quadruples the number of pixels found in normal HD to give an incredibly detailed image. But it’s even more complicated than that. The footage is 4K HDR (high dynamic range), meaning each frame combines images of different exposures to give an added level of definition and make colours “pop”. The amount of data is so huge that the servers used to record the studio segments had to be specially built, as did the kit to back up the footage on location. The Namibia special generated 40 terabytes of data — enough to fill 80 laptops. So should you buy a 4K TV? That depends on whether you’re comfortable seeing Clarkson’s head in ultra HD. X-Ray: If you’ve used Amazon Prime, you may be familiar with X-Ray, which puts information, such as which films an actor has appeared in, on screen as you watch. We asked Amazon if X-Ray could be used to “muck about” and were told: “OK, if you must.” Look out for the results during each programme.”

Classic May, it is not enough to know that 4K exists and is spectacular, but in May’s world we must also know what that all entails. Massive amounts of data, stored on a portable server farm just to make each episode. This is why May is the unsung hero of the trio. He gets railed on for being slow, or pedantic or looking like a cocker spaniel but in his own special way he entertains us all. Even with the most boring of topics. Don’t change Captain Slow, don’t ever change.

Source: The Times



Written by Chad Kennedy

Chad burst from the womb wearing a racing suit and a helmet. Chad's passion for cars is in his very DNA. His father was a gear head and passed on the tradition through owning such classics as a '66 Mustang and a '59 Corvette all while taking him to various race tracks in the area. Chad likes to wrench on his rides whenever possible, forgoing the stealership. Chad is an avid motorsports fan with particular interest in endurance/sports car racing. When not online writing for Shifting Lanes, you can find him working at the local golf course teaching people how to swing or hooning a golf cart at impossible speeds.


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