Smartphones have put powerful video cameras in millions of pockets, but that doesn’t mean that the people wielding them know how to make a movie. Peruse YouTube and you will find tens of thousands of videos from smartphone users that are nothing but a thin strip of video bordered by thick black bars. This is Vertical Video Syndrome, and it’s the telltale anti-letterboxing of a smartphone owner who doesn’t realize that it’s wrong to record a video while holding his or her smartphone in portrait mode.
Designed by Evil Window Dog, Horizon is a camcorder app that makes it impossible for an iPhone user to fall prey to Vertical Video Syndrome: every video you shoot with the app will be in widescreen now matter how you hold your device.
To understand Vertical Video Syndrome and why it’s a problem, you need to understand that there is a conflict between the ergonomic orientation of our hands and the orientation in which we process sight. Because humans evolved on flat land (and not, say, in the ocean), our brains expect there to be more visual information stacked across the horizon than vertically. Our eyes are literally designed to see in widescreen. Unfortunately, this falls at odds with the most comfortable way to hold a smartphone with one hand, which is vertically.
This is the disconnect that results in so many iPhone videos shot in portrait modes: our brains are solving the more immediate problem of ergonomics without considering the longer-term problem of how our eyes prefer to process the video we’re shooting. The way Horizon resolves this disconnect is clever.
When you shoot a video using the app, Horizon will use the iPhone’s built-in gyroscope to figure out the orientation in which the camera is being held, then cut out the largest widescreen rectangle of perfectly level footage that it can from the resulting video. Everything outside of that rectangle gets thrown out. If you’re holding your iPhone in one hand, this might result in a lower-resolution movie, because Horizon will be throwing away more video than it’s keeping. If you’re holding the camera just a little crooked, though, Horizon will keep most of the video’s resolution, and just straighten it out for you.
It’s a clever idea, and using Horizon, you can do things like record a video that is perfectly level with the horizon, even though it was shot from the front seat of an upside down roller coaster. But Horizon is billing itself as a solution to Vertical Video Syndrome, and unfortunately, the problem with that–and really, single-serving apps that solve these sorts of problems in the first place–is that you already have to be aware that there’s a problem with shooting videos this way in the first place.
This is one of the problems with the sandbox approach Apple has taken with the iPhone. An app like Horizon might be very useful to someone who knows that recording a video vertically makes it more difficult to watch later, but if they can’t remember to flip their iPhone sideways when they make a movie, how will they remember to load up Horizon every time they decide to shoot a birthday party or Bar Mitzvah?
If Apple allowed users of iOS to specify default apps for common smartphone functions like shooting a video, this point would be a moot one. As it is, though, if you suffer from Vertical Video Syndrome, Horizon is just replacing a physical thing you’re forgetting to do–flipping your iPhone to the side when you take a movie–with an icon to forget to press.
Horizon can be downloaded for $0.99 on the iTunes App Store here.