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December 13, 2009
This is what static looks like in the digital age. Sort of (caveat emptor: codec error).
One of the problems with digital tuners is that virtually all of them will display a blank screen reading "no signal" rather than show you a screenful of static. The manufacturers do this thinking that they're doing a favor to the consumer. But, as usual, I think otherwise.
After failed attempts to cajole and coax my digital tuner into giving the "no signal" screen the boot, I finally managed to subvert the tuner into doing my bidding and record ten minutes worth of static (albeit without audio).
(Unless you're interested in the complicated process behind this "video", you can stop reading now.)
First of all, I set the tuner to analog channel 37. As far as I'm aware, no one is allowed to transmit on that [analog] channel, so any signal that the [digital] tuner interpreted as being a valid data packet was pure chance.
Second, I had to record this "video". Unfortunately, the recording tended to have a few frames changing in rapid succession, followed by lengthy pauses of inactivity. From the trial runs, I determined that I would need to record for (roughly) three hours in order to get ten minutes of activity.
Third, distilling the video. I could easily export a sequence of images since the recording was in MPEG, but it would take some time, a lot disk space, a bit of shell scripting, and heavy use of ImageMagick's "identify" to delete the repeated frames. For the record, it took about a week for the shell script to run.
Finally, all the remaining frames were stitched back together in Final Cut Pro. Yes, it takes ages for 17,982 images to be imported, laid out on the timeline, and rendered. But in the end, it's worth it: it's more authentic-looking than Final Cut's "Noise" generator, it's interesting from a technical perspective, and it satiates my curiosity.