Here Are Those Incredible TV Stills You Keep Hearing About


Photo: Tim Burke

What was up with that guy putting a hex on Ryan Howard? What’s so funny, Brett Favre? Quick, find me a shot of Don Draper looking lecherous.Tim Burke is the man behind these and the many other, glorious screen-capture images found at Just as another Jonah delved into the world of animated GIFs for Slate, today we explore the art of 30-frame-per-second screencaps, courtesy of a Q&A with Burke (who when not delighting the Internets is a college professor in Florida).

Where'd you get the idea to start a site devoted entirely to screencaps?

The site seems to be mostly (entirely?) sports and Mad Men. Was this a case of just going with subjects you figured made for event viewing?

Tim Burke: Mad Men isn't really part of the 'project.' The intention is to seek out telling moments in LIVE TELEVISION -- Mad Men obviously doesn't qualify. But I have a unique relationship with that show -- my
roommate Jen bought a new TV in the summer of 2007 and it was the first HDTV I'd ever had regular access to (until last month, I'd used the same 25' tube TV since I was 16). But we didn't have the HD cable package yet, and the only HD content was a free on-demand from AMCHD of the pilot episode of a show called Mad Men. It hadn't even premiered yet. So I watched it and realised, yes, this is good television.

My cable box now sends AMCHD in the clear and with very little MPEG compression (super-important for a 1080i interlaced network like AMC). Mad Men LOOKS BETTER than any channel on my TV, and it helps the show is beautifully shot to begin with. There's an audience for it and a lot of the principles of taking screenshots apply to the show, just not the artistic rationale. I know I provide a lot of people with desktop wallpapers.

Any plans to expand to other shows?

Tim Burke: To be honest, Mad Men is the only scripted TV show I watch when it airs (which, for some practical reasons, is a bit of a necessity for quality screencaps). I watch House, Chuck, Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Warehouse 13, and a few other shows (Sunday night Fox lineup, Thursday night NBC etc) but almost all off DVR or torrented. I have a hard time justifying watching scripted TV unless there are no live sports anywhere on my TV, which means I catch up on them before I go to bed most nights.

How many hours a day would you say you put into this?

Tim Burke: That's a tough question to answer because there's really only one time when I'm fully dedicated to screencapping and that's on college football Saturdays. Like, the ALCS game is about to start and I have the feed recording but I'm writing you an email so I don't really consider this 'working on the project.' But if A.J. Burnett beans Elvis Andrus and he storms the mound, I'm going to minimize this window and get to work. I have the USB tuner on this computer rolling the Bruins-Caps game in a window on the Macbook Pro's screen, but I'm barely paying attention to it. Mostly I'll drop into the game thread on /sp/ and see if anyone makes a big deal about something happening, then scroll back and screencap it.

But college football Saturday I get up and 9am and screencap College Gameday and then do three or four games at a time until the last game ends, which this past Saturday was Nevada at Hawai'i which ended around 3am eastern. That's not just because college football is the #1 sport in my heart but because I have a specific venue to showcase what I do, which really is not all that special or impressive -- most of it anyone could do with a $20 USB tuner from Monoprice and an antenna -- but either through experience or an academic background that included a lot of classes on spectatorship, performance/technology, etc. I haven't really found anyone else on the Internet doing what I do as well as I do it, and one of the keys to success in life seems to be finding the one thing in the world at which you're better than everyone else, and making as many people aware of it as possible. In other words, this whole project has turned into advertising myself and conveniently 30fps was purposefully set up to be as basic a site as possible with no ads and unlimited bandwidth on a hosting plan I share with my ex-girlfriend.

What's your process? Just vigilantly watching every second of whatever you're watching, quick draw on the DVR, that's it?

Tim Burke: OK, the technical stuff. First, I should note that a great deal of what I do is courtesy Comcast providing me a very generous cable box. I pay for all the channels I get, but most people's cable boxes either have a non-functioning firewire port or one that sends all the channels except the local broadcast nets in an encrypted format that can't be read on a computer. My box sends every channel except NFL Network HD and TNT HD 'in the clear.' Mac OS X has Firewire video stream recording built-in, so a long Firewire cable snakes under the rug in my living room to my desk and I simply hit record and whatever is on my TV gets streamed in its original transmission format to an external hard drive.

If I see something, or if I read about something I missed (I miss a lot, again, attention issues) I open the file in the free MPEG Streamclip application, scan through to find the best frame, apply deinterlacing if it's a 1080i channel, then save the file to a directory that I've set up with an Automator script to load into MarsEdit, the application I use to send files to 30fps. A window pops up where I tag the image and hit 'post' and it's there.

That's one of my three tuners, and the most cumbersome. However, my other two tuners are either marginally capable or incapable of tuning cable channels. This is due to Comcast shutting off the analogue tier here in Jacksonville. Tuner #1, the EyeTV unit that I started with, can pick up the local nets in HD through cable (thanks, FCC!) as well as the handful of channels Comcast sends 'in the clear' (different meaning of that phrase than above) -- only a few of those channels are HD, and only one shows sports (Tennis Channel, which was nice during the US Open) -- but the quality of the digital SD feeds is still better than analogue. I get Versus and Sun Sports on that thankful to have Sun Sports as a Rays fan.

The other tuner I got for $15 from Monoprice and only picks up HD channels via antenna, meaning my local Jacksonville broadcast nets. It's connected to an older Macbook that mostly sees action on the weekends, when I tune it to the Fox NFL game, use this computer with the EyeTV to watch the CBS game, and set the cable box to NFL RedZone. (It's on all day on Saturdays since there's usually a broadcast net game going on from noon-10pm or so.)

OK, here's the big one - give me your favourite screencaps.

Tim Burke: 1) Full time of the Australian Football League's Grand Final, their Super Bowl. St. Kilda comes back from a huge deficit late and ties it, only to miss winning at the last second and they don't play overtime -- they had to come back the next week and play the entire match again. (And they got killed.) I love the combination of dread, excitement, and exhaustion shown here.

2) This is more for the context and what he said. Michael Crabtree just after his breakout game and a huge win over the Texas Longhorns tells the reporter, 'I dreamed it in my head.' However his career in the NFL turns out, I'll always be a fan of his for saying that.

Wayne Gretzky at 2010 Olympics

3) Capturing how perturbed Gretzky is at the botched cauldron lighting, after such an enormously high bar had been set by the Chinese in 2008. well wouldn't you have been disappointed if he hadn't reacted this way? Years after his retirement, he still takes anything he takes part in with great intensity.

Smug Derek Jeter

4) I wish I had this in HD. I want to hate Derek Jeter so much, especially after the 'hit by pitch' incident with the Rays. But his approach to baseball is difficult to define but always entertaining and unique among his generation of players.

Michael Phelps

5) The first of two Michael Phelps caps. Pure exultation.

And ... Michael Phelps?

6) And this is Michael...on a not-so-good day. The best part is not even the look on HIS face. It's how shocked and appalled everyone surrounding him is.

Imagine the images he'll get in the NFL of the future

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.