The second season of the YouTube Web series "Video Game High School" is being released online at 48 frames per second (fps), double the 24 fps that has been standard in movie theaters for the past century. The season's second episode debuts Thursday after the premiere episode attracted nearly 2 million viewers.
Online video programming is growing fast as major networks and small upstarts go after young audiences who increasingly watch shows on laptops, tablet computers and mobile phones. Laying claim to the high-frame-rate niche could help "Video Game High School" stand out in a crowded field.
By capturing moving objects on camera at higher frame rates, filmmakers are able to cut down on blurriness because the camera's shutter opens and closes much faster. That reduces the amount of time that an object moves across an open lens and gives each image, or frame, more clarity.
The experiment is partly a way to explore how to use high frame rates creatively while pioneering a new business model online.
Seeing the format online requires a special video player that exists only on RocketJump.com, which is owned by the show's creators. Pulling viewers onto their own site improves their cut of advertising revenue compared to views on YouTube. For now, YouTube has no plans to introduce a high frame rate player of its own.
"There'll be a reason to come to our site," says Freddie Wong, 27, one of the owners of Rocket Jump and the co-creator of "VGHS." ''What 48 (frames per second) brings is a gritty realism to it. It feels hyper-real."
So far, the plan seems to be working. Within three days of the first episode's debut, about 300,000 viewers had seen it on RocketJump.com compared with 1 million who saw it on YouTube. That's about the same split as for the first season premiere, but last season's episodes were released on RocketJump.com a week early. The fact that the split remains suggests that the special format is attracting a unique crowd.
"The idea is that both versions exist to serve a certain kind of audience," Wong says.
"VGHS" uses 48 fps for scenes that are depicted in the video game world, since many video games are displayed at high frame rates anyway. For "real life" scenes, "VGHS" uses 24 fps footage by showing two identical frames in a row.
The format has some quirks.
Some movie critics who saw "The Hobbit" said the format revealed too many details, exposing the fakery of costumes, makeup and props.
Actors can appear to move at high speed unintentionally in what co-creator Matt Arnold calls the "Benny Hill" effect, referring to the sped-up scenes common to the British comedy TV show.
To address these issues, the creators of "VGHS" added back some blurriness that high frame rate recording had eliminated in some scenes. "VGHS" actors also wore less makeup than actors in "The Hobbit," so there's less chance that the format's extra detail will be distracting, Arnold says.
Still, viewers who choose to watch the series at high frame rates will need excellent Internet connection speeds and computers with powerful graphics capabilities to play the video without delays. The format isn't available on mobile devices.
Reza Izad, chief executive of project partner Collective Digital Studio, said using high frame rates was more of a creative decision than a financial one. Sponsors such as Dodge, whose cars are integral to racing scenes in the show's second season, will benefit from the exposure no matter where the video is played. And still, YouTube is expected to generate the lion's share of views.
"There needs to be a lot more adoption of it as a format before it takes hold," he says. "This is just a really unique way to display this content and it's in line with the vision of Freddie and Matt."