DIGITAL COMICS ON YOUR TV SCREEN?
We read comics on paper, on the web, on our computers, and even on our phones. Let's think larger for a second. How would a comic book look on a television screen?
This is a picture of my new "Home Theater Room." In reality, it's the baby's playroom in the basement, but it's also being set up as a home theater for when the baby is asleep and DVDs can be played loudly downstairs without her hearing them upstairs. You can see the cable wire still hanging down from the ceiling here in this pic (it'll be buried behind the wall soon enough) and, of course, some of the baby's toys off to the left. Most of the electronics are hidden behind doors to keep grubby fingers from randomly pushing buttons. Those surround sound speakers might someday make it up through the ceiling, if I can pull that off. . .
In any case, the center piece of the whole set-up is a 46 inch television screen capable of 1080p high definition output. I can view movies with a Blu Ray player (if I had one) with crystal clear clarity that would likely blow my mind. I can use my Apple TV connected to it for slideshows of my photography, showing off the power of my 10 megapixel camera. I can download video podcasts to view on the screen. I can listen to my music library through its speakers.
Here's the challenge: I want to read a comic book on it. It seems to me that the television screen is now big enough and crisp enough that throwing a comic book page on it should work. Even better -- take advantage of the widescreen format and display two pages at a time!
Granted, I tend to look down at my reading material instead of up. Reading a whole graphic novel on a tv screen in one sitting might give me neck cramps. (Another future goal of the room is to mount the TV higher on the wall.) Why not take advantage of the technology and the screen size to help centralize even more of my home media experience?
Sounds like a Pipeline Project (TM), and I knew just how to do it!
It all revolves about the Mac application, Comic Book Lover, which I reviewed in Pipeline #534 (October 2007). It's a wonderful PDF reading program optimized for comic books. (It also handles CBR/CBZ formats.) It allows you to create an index of PDF comics to be sorted by comic title, issue number, etc. Its display capabilities are even more awesome. You can view a whole page on the screen at once, a double page spread at a time, or at 100% zoom, after which you'll be scrolling down the comic, third-of-a-page-by-third-of-a-page. This is the easiest way to read the lettering, but requires a lot of button pushing and can be very tricky to navigate on double-page spreads.
There's an option for full-screen viewing, too, making everything around the comic pages a flat black color.
If you're using a MacBook laptop, you can turn the computer on its side and the program will flip the page you're reading on its side, too. Very handy.
So the question is, will Comic Book Lover work well with my television?
All I needed was a wire (actually, more like a dongle) to convert the mini-DVI output on the side of my MacBook to an HDMI signal. As it turns out, Monoprice.com has those for less than eight dollars. I ordered one and had it delivered to my front door within the week.
With that, I was able to plug my computer into the TV's HDMI port to use as a display. (Mini-DVI out to HDMI in.) Using Leopard, the TV screen becomes the second screen in Spaces. This is actually useful, as it allows me to control Comic Book Lover through the first Spaces screen, and display the comic on the TV.
Using full screen mode maximized the display, though with a double page spread you're only filling three quarters of the display, widthwise.
The screen and the text in the comic is all perfectly legible, with a high enough resolution PDF. I found myself sitting half as close (about five feet) to the TV set as usual to most effectively read the word balloons. Sitting too far back makes all the words to shrink up to an unacceptable degree. That might just be the PDF files I was reading and their lower resolution issues; I don't know. I need to track down an extremely high res PDF of a comic book to try out someday.
The only remaining hang-up, now, is page turning. It's a pain to have to keep the laptop within arm's reach to turn a page over, and would require a longer HDMI cable. Thankfully, Comic Book Lover allows you to remap an Apple Remote to work with the program. Now, I can sit back on the couch and read comics on the big screen. You can flip between pages with the remote, scroll down pages (if in 100% viewing mode), and even skip to the next comic in your library.
These extra steps make me wish for a couple of higher-level things. First, integration into Apple's Front Row. That’s the program you can use to access all your photos, videos, and song files form the computer. It's very handy when converting a Mac Mini into a home theater server. You still also can't do it from iTunes, which has yet to turn into a book publisher. (Give it time. . .)
Second, how about an iPhone app to use as a remote control? A full touch screen menu system for Comic Book Lover would be very cool, and easier to deal with than the little Apple Remote.
Third, how about Apple integrating Comic Book Lover into the Apple TV, and then selling comics via the iTunes Store? No, it's not going to happen anytime soon, but it is a neat thought, isn't it? It's about as likely as Marvel and DC making simultaneous deals to sell their content through iTunes, isn't it?
Come to think of it, you can insert PDF files into a podcast feed, and iTunes will download, store, and allow you to view them. Is the future of your favorite monthly serialized comics an RSS feed?
For now, I'm enjoying the quaint oddity of reading comics on my television screen. I'm not sure how long this will last, though. When the novelty wears off, will the tool still be interesting, or will it just be too much trouble to deal with? I think with a high enough quality PDF, lettering size is less of a problem and we'll all be laughing at the archaic way we read comics today. Double page spread mode is still necessary to preserve the reading experience of comics with double-wide layouts. The 100% Zoom view is the easiest to read, but the extra amount of scrolling is maddening, especially with the Apple Remote. (That's the mode I use to read PDFs on my computer screen, but I have the keyboard-and-Wacom-tablet at hand to make scrolling second nature.)
I don't think the future of reading comics is on a large screen TV. I still think it'll be in something closer to today's e-readers, just in full color and a tad larger. But I had fun with this project. If you're ever doing a presentation, maybe there's an application for this technology there. For now, Comic Book Lover works best for how it's designed -- your computer screen.
Next week: We go back to 1997 for a very fun book, and possibly the most fun I've had in researching this series of columns.
My photoblog, AugieShoots.com took a look at a carnival for the last week, and is now moving onto birds and parades.
My Twitter stream (@augiedb) is like my public e-mail box. I check it daily, looking for responses and new conversational threads. Heck, you're more likely to hear back from me if you ask me something on Twitter than my own e-mail box.
The Various and Sundry blog is picking up a little steam. And it's "Idol" finale week! Whoo-hoo!
And there might still be a new blog on the horizon. . .
Don't forget to check out my Google Reader Shared Items this week. It's the best of my daily feed reading, some with commentary!
More than 800 columns -- more than eleven years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.