delter | Overview

MPEG is a standard >> for the compression of moving images and audio, and this compression allows large media files to be more easily distributed through the Internet. Familiar examples of such files are MPEG movies and MP3 music files.

delter is software which operates between the frames of an MPEG movie. By extracting and rendering only the inter-frame motion vectors, objects in the movie are effaced, and only the ghostly traces of movement remain.


cap: delter < hula.mpg(will pop in new window)
cap: delter < eit.mpg(will pop in new window)
cap: delter < psycho.mpg(will pop in new window)


Choose movie file

I found these MPEG-1 files on the web and copied them to my server for convenience. Appended are links to where I found each of these movies.

Bouncing ping pong ball. 29KB. src >>*
Girl with hula hoop. 145KB. src >>*
Driving down a flower-filled street. 674KB. src >>*
Rotating star, I think. 2.7MB. src >>*
Classic shower scene at Bates Motel. 8.9MB. src >>*
Other. Enter URL:
Other movie suggestions >>.
Also see usage notes below \/ for more info about this.

Select applet dimensions

512 x 384
768 x 512
960 x 640
If you find playback to be sluggish or choppy, choose smaller dimensions.


Controls and options

delter will launch full-screen, and the deltered movie will automatically begin. The movie controls and options are accessed by clicking on the tabs on the edges of the applet.

Main control panel

The main controls allow you to play and pause the movie.

Options control panel

The option controls allow you to toggle the delter effect, the fade effect between frames, the amount of zoom, the speed of playback, and monochrome / color display. While most of these controls are immediate in effect, the delter toggle takes effect gradually, so be patient, as the transitions can be quite nice.

If you zoom into the movie and the movie is bigger than the size of the applet, you can pan the view by dragging the mouse along the movie surface.

Offsite MPEGs

You may feed delter with the URL of any MPEG-1 movie. Note that not all MPEG movies will work, only MPEG-1 movies. Further, a few MPEG movies are not encoded with any motion vectors, so these will not show any delter effect, but you may still view the movie undeltered. Tip: to copy the URL of an MPEG link, use your mouse to access the context menu for the link (ctrl-click on Mac, right-click on Windows) and select "Copy Link to Clipboard" or "Copy Link Address" or "Copy Shortcut" or whatever similar fucking verbiage. Then paste in the text box above.

You may try Google >>* to search for MPEG-1 movies .

Technical Requirements

You need a Java-enabled browser.


A recent paper in Physical Review Letters >> describes using the technique of file compression to analyze texts of different languages to gauge the relative similarities and differences between languages. Using this method, they were able to group languages into families, and even point out which languages (eg Basque) stood apart from the others. Of course, these results are old news to linguists, but the difference here is the surprising use of data compression as a tool for analysis. A good synopsis >> is at ArsTechnica, and a less technical intro >> is at The Economist.

The authors used the technique of file compression, a popular example being ZIP files, to analyze the languages. They discovered that the amount the two files could be combined and compressed revealed the "distance" between the two texts. In a similar way, MPEG files use data compression to encode only the differences between movie frames. A highly static movie will compress more than a dynamic one since there is less motion data to encode. Thus the amount of compression, eg file size, can be a metric for the amount of movement in an MPEG file. delter takes advantage of this compression scheme to render only the "delta" information, that is, the changes between frames.

The idea that the artifacts of data compression can reveal bits about the structure of the information processed is beautiful to me. This is the motivation behind delter. By exposing only the relative motion data, delter reveals something of the structure of movement in a movie. And, what is revealed is not simply the movement of the objects in the frame, but also the movement of the eyes of the camera. Moreover, if, following Deleuze in Cinema 1: The Movement Image, the camera shot can be equated with a sort of a-subjective consciousness, then by visualizing only the inter-frame motion vectors via delter, we perhaps obtain a glimpse of the movement of (a-subjective, machinic) thought.


This code is distributed under the GNU General Public License >>, meaning you can freely use it and modify it, as long as you also distribute the resulting product under the same license.

\/ delter-1.0-src.tar.gz (33KB)
\/ (41KB)


delter works using a modified MPEG-1 codec. I doctored a sample MPEG-1 decoder implementation in Java >> written by Dr.-Ing. Jörg Anders at the Technische Universität Chemnitz. His code and mine are released under the GNU General Public License.


Included in Internet Art >> by Rachel Greene, published by Thames & Hudson.

delter shown at info@blah: Artists respond to information overload at the Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts from April - June, 2003.

Part of the Istanbul Museum Web Biennial 2003 >>.

delter showcased on >>.