Main | February 2006

January 31, 2006

StickyPod review delayed, Canon XL-H1 Rocks

Sorry that the StickyPod review didn't make it up today. It was delayed due to the unexpected, but much appreciated, arrival of a loaner Canon XL-H1. (Thanks Pat!)

I'll have more thoughts on the StickyPod up tomorrow, and I'll have some XL-H1 thoughts up on Thursday. I love the XL-H1!

Posted by at 5:02 PM

January 30, 2006

Thumbs up for the StickyPod

I'm putting together a full review of our StickyPod car mount with some sample footage we shot this weekend. I just wanted to throw a post out to say that the StickyPod is very cool. Stay Tuned!

Posted by at 4:53 PM

January 28, 2006

4 cam shootout

Everyone should check out the 4 HDV camera shootout results at DV.com. I'll post my thoughts on Monday, but if nothing else, I hope the tests get the "HDV isn't really HD" folks to quiet down a bit.

Posted by at 5:52 PM

January 27, 2006

Cheapo HDV?

According to camcorderinfo.com, Sony is working on a new budget HDV camera, the HC3. Since the HC1 is retailing for around $1500 right now, while the HC3 doesn't seem to be much lower in spec than the HC1, if it came in at $1299 it might be, psychologically at least, a more reasonable camera for home movies. Of course the big news will be when one of these pushes below $1000. Then we can start throwing them off cliffs without worry ...

Posted by at 11:27 AM

January 26, 2006

Celtx: Because you've been sleeping too much

I was recently shown a program called Celtx, a free (but not OSS) script development tool. It's based on some of the backend stuff from Firefox and gives the commercial scriptwriting tools a pretty serious challenge. I highly encourage folks who are interested in script development to take a look - not only will it help you collect your ideas and write the actual script, but it will also help with scheduling, budgeting and a number of other tasks related to your production. It runs on OSX, Windows and Linux and seems relatively production-ready. Anybody have other preferences in script development tools?

Posted by at 11:02 AM

January 25, 2006

Where hath all the CRTs gone? (Rant)

It's starting to get really hard to get a CRT video monitor. This makes me sad. I've always been a big fan of the Sony PVM series, but they are not long for this world (limited stock is still available). The replacement is Sony's LUMA LCD line. Now, go and read the Luma FAQ, especially the question "Is the quality of the LUMA line as good as the PVM?" - their answer? "No."

So why discontinue the PVMs? Arg.

Apparently they're still making the 16:9 BVM series monitors, though even that is rather ambiguous. I've heard from at least one person that Sony is dropping those as well. This confusion led me to call Sony. Big mistake. Read on to learn how my head exploded.

So, first up, if you call Sony's Sales number, you're greeted with a friendly computer that tells you that all the information in the world can be found on Sony's website. And then hangs up on you.

Now, this is a lie. And, frankly I don't think it's right for people make computers do their lying for them. At least give me a minimum wage call center worker who can lie to me. Everyone on the planet knows that Sony Professional is the worst website in the world. Beyond just being a terrible design, it's a terrible design that contains no real information. Compare that to Sony Europe which has a terrible design which hides tons of useful information.

Anyways, so having been hung up on by the computer at the Sales line, I called the corporate offices. There, a friendly chap pointed me to another number. The person there pointed me to another number. Where, surprise, I was pointed to another number.

And that's where I met Max. Max is one of these new-fangled voice activated phone interfaces. I really don't agree with them having names, because I don't want to be friends with Max. But Max really wanted to help me... buy a DVD player.

Max: "What product are you wondering about?"
Me: "PVM"
Max: "I heard AHT3059XM"
Me: "Hu?!"
Max: (getting angry) "I really need to know what product you're calling about!"
Me: 0! 0!
Max: (angrier) "PLEASE TELL ME WHAT PRODUCT YOU'RE CALLING ABOUT!"
Me: 0! 00! 0!
Max: "I can't help you! Goodbye!"
Me: "Arrrrggggh"

Bloody passive aggressive slacker AI program hung up on me. And sadly, that's the most human interaction I've had with anyone from Sony.

And that's when my head exploded.

Posted by at 10:56 AM

January 24, 2006

iWork 06: Not That Bad, Anymore

(Not really video related)

I've recently had a chance to work with the new iWork suite as part of a presentation I'm putting together. I must say, it's come a long ways. I wanted to mention some of the highlights, because I think it's becoming a usable alternative to the 800lb Gorilla of Office.

When I first played around with the iWork suite, it showed promise but there were still many issues. This new version though is really quite remarkable. I've just finished a short presentation in Keynote and it probably would have taken me at least 25% longer in Powerpoint.

Part of what made it so hard to compete with Office in the past was file compatibility issues, but thanks to PDF, that need is significantly reduce. How many Word docs do you get mailed nowadays?

The real power of all of the new applications that Apple has been releasing that deal with layout (iWeb, Pages, Keynote) is that they just let you do what you want and get out of your way. Want to rotate an image and then throw it on top of a quicktime movie? Go ahead. It may be ugly, but you can do it. Anyone who's worked with Word knows the frustration of trying to get the program to let you do what you want to do.

Pages has come a long way. Previously, it was too slow and too flakey for me to consider using it as a Word replacement. This new version has me thinking about whether it's time to ditch Word. While I may not go quite that far, but I think I will be starting to do my image-heavy tutorial work in it.

So what do you get?

Pages gives you a layout design program disguised as a word processor. Some folks have complained that this is overkill, but I think the new version has found the right balance. You get some amazing templates that you can modify with ease, or if you prefer, an easy system to create your own complex designs. Have a look at the Pages site to just see some of the possibilities. It really is remarkable.

Keynote is similar. You get nice templates, nice transitions, but most of all, ease of use. Powerpoint always seems to hide too much away. You never get a feel for the flow of things. If anyone has had to sit in a presentation while a presenter struggles with the 15 different ways to navigate slides or start the show, you know what I mean.

I think anyone who has a Mac should at least stop into an Apple store and take a look at iWork. It's not going to kill Office, and I don't think that should be the goal. But if the kind of work you do in Office just causes you frustration, you may find that iWork is what you need.

Posted by at 4:29 PM

January 20, 2006

Good news for Firestore users

I somehow missed this in all the hubbub surrounding Macworld SF. Focus is going to be offering an upgrade to the Firestore FS-4pro in April (so... June) that will allow it to record HDV footage in a format that Final Cut Pro can deal with natively.

This is very excellent news!

Posted by at 6:08 PM

January 19, 2006

Why are there no good review sites of this stuff?

Part of the inspiration for starting this site was the utter lack of decent review sites for video gear. At best you'll find reviews of cameras, and even then they tend to be "dude in his bedroom shooting out his window" type of stuff.

Case in point, I'm trying to find a decently priced HMI kit. B&H has plenty to chose from. Why isn't there a site I can go to to read reviews? Hear about quality? At best I'm left searching forums looking for answers. Someone should get some proper VC together and start an all-encompasing production gear review site. Anyone want to volunteer?

Posted by at 12:54 PM

January 17, 2006

Adobe Announces New Updates

Adobe has announced updates to much of their production software. New versions of After Effects, Premiere, Encore and Audition were announced, as part of something called the Production Studio. My thoughts after the jump.

First off, Adobe has a very annoying website. While I would rank them lower down the "annoyance scale" than folks like Dell or Sony - there's a special bit of angst reserved in my heart for those two. But come on - links to a new product from your company homepage should not take me to the store to buy the product, they should take me to a page where I can learn why I should buy the production. And what is this, 2003? Navigating with drop downs and a "Go" button? C'mon.

That said, the new software looks like a pretty major leap forward for Adobe. It appears they've gotten serious about their interface design, and I must say it looks a lot better, if not a bit too similar to another product. They're obviously taking Premiere Pro more seriously as a competitor to Final Cut Pro and Avid. They've added proper support for uncompressed formats, native HDV support, multicam cutting and an abundance of other features.

As someone who has supported Premiere in the past, I can only hope the updates are as serious as they look to be. The thought of cutting 4k in Premiere is enough to terrify little children, but I won't judge until I've actually seen it.

The updates to After Effects look a bit more incremental, though the new interface is again, a major plus. It doesn't look like it's a Universal Binary (Apple likes to capitalize that phrase...) on the mac, but that's not particularly surprising.

Both products are advertising Macromedia FLV export support, presumably to remind us that they bought Macromedia. It's a good thing though - FLV is a great "quick and dirty" video delivery format. Of course, Flash already comes with the exporter and you need Flash to do useful things with the FLV, but hey ...

All in all, I think it's a pretty significant update. I look forward to learning more.

Edit: Just to be clear, I don't personally think that the updates to Premiere put it on par with FCP and Avid. Just saying that it's getting closer...

Posted by at 8:54 AM

January 13, 2006

Spring Semester 2006!

Sorry for the lack of updates. Our school semester starts on Tuesday, so it's been a push to get everything squared away for the return of students. I'll get back in to regular updates next week.

Posted by at 5:24 PM

January 11, 2006

What's 24p?

The new generation of HDV cameras has started a big debate regarding the definition of 24p. Here's the deal.

First off, what does 24p mean? 24 frames per second (like a motion picture), progressive frames. This means, unlike normal NTSC video which samples half a frame (called a field, consisting of every other line of a frame) every 60th of a second, a whole frame is sampled every 24th of a second. The idea is to get a look on video that approximates the traditional cinematic feel.

So, what's the right way to do it? In an ideal world, we'd have a CCD or CMOS chip in the camera capable of sampling a whole frame at a time, recording to a tape format that recorded 24 individual frames each second. It's not an ideal world though, is it?

In the prosumer space, the first camera to make big waves in this area was the Panasonic DVX-100. It owes much of its success to the fact that it actually did the 24p thing right. It used progressive CCDs so that it could capture 24 individual frames. It then gave you the option of two different well-documented pulldown patterns for putting those 24 frames into the 60 fields of NTSC video. It was straightforward, it was reversible, and it looked darn good.

What the hell went wrong?

HDV has introduced a number of new problems. First off, the highest resolution within mainstream HD (the stuff that gets broadcast) is 1080i, an interlaced format running at 60 fields per second, just like standard definition. The first round of real HDV cameras, the Sony FX1 and Z1U, were optimized for this resolution. Due to this, their CCDs were designed for interlaced recording. Sensing that there was a demand for 24p recording, Sony added a "CineFrame" setting, which attempts to give a "film look" by deinterlacing the footage and tossing out some fields to get a 24 frame per second rate. For reasons I don't fully understand though, Sony chose a very odd cadence, or timing pattern. This gives motion shot in the CineFrame mode a very unrealistic look. The footage than goes through a pulldown to fit it into a traditional 60i form, but because of their odd cadence, this isn't easily reversable. Getting a true 24p timeline from footage shot on the Sony would be quite a bit of work. Frankly, it's all but unacceptable to anyone but the Soccer Mom videographer.

Hoping to capitalize on the frustration the Sony settings caused, JVC released the GY-HD100 at NAB last year. You can learn more about my feelings towards this camera in a previous post, but needless to say, it doesn't thrill me. However, if all you need is progressive video at 24fps, and you can deal with a camera that's using a bit of an odd spec, it might be the camera for you. Unfortunately, the best you're going to do is 720p24, not a full 1080p24. This is a pretty significant resolution drop.

The Panasonic HVX-200 attempts to pick up where the DVX-100 left off. You get very similar options for recording 24p, and because it's using DVCProHD on a p2 card, you can get native 24p files. The only downside is that the Panasonic CCDs may not be quite as high resolution as one might hope. Judging from the footage coming off of it though, it's still a beautiful camera.

Canon goes a route similar to Sony with their XL-H1, but with some key differences. They're still using a 1080i CCD, so you won't get native progressive frames. However, when doing 24p recording, the Canon clocks the ccds at 48hz, so that they're capturing 48 distinct moments in time. Then, using some fancy deinterlacing algorithms, they blend fields to make 24 discreet frames. While this does cost some clarity and resolution, you at least avoid the cadence issues of the Sony. Canon also uses what they call a "24f" recording format, that puts 24fps on tape, instead of using a pulldown to get to 60i. Unfortunately, this means that they've introduced yet another format that won't work with other HDV devices. Fun!

So, if you want to shoot absolute, "true" 24p, you need an HD100 or HVX200. If you want to shoot "nearly true" 24p, get the Canon. And if you want to shoot "not really 24p at all", get the Sony. At this point, if you need to edit your video in Final Cut Pro, you're pretty much stuck with the Sony or the Panasonic.

I'm sure it's all perfectly clear now, right? Ask questions!

Posted by at 4:39 PM

Post MacWorld Roundup

So, another MacWorld has come and gone. I must say, it was a pretty good one. The big news is probably best covered by some of the more Mac-centric sites, but I wanted to post a few things that caught my attention.

First off, the new iLife suite looks pretty sweet (ha ha ha). The most significant new feature in my opinion is the Garage Band podcasting features, integrated with the iWeb software for posting a podcast. While folks at the University of Minnesota have UThink which provides an easy way to post podcasts, other folks aren't so lucky. I think it'll be a big hit.

The other iLife updates are less substantial from my point of view.

The big news of course was the announcement of Intel based iMacs and laptops (the "MacBook Pro"). I won't go into the nitty gritty on these, though I'll be eager to get hands on with one.

For me, the single most exciting bit was the announcement that the Pro Apps (Final Cut, Aperture, Logic) will all be universal binaries by the end of March. This has been one of my big concerns - from what I've heard, the move from OS9 to OSX was rather painful for Final Cut, and I was worried that the port to x86 would be similarly difficult. After talking with some reps from the Pro Apps group a month ago, that fear was heightened by their "we'll be on x86 someday" attitude.

Anybody who still has an older version of Final Cut will also be able to take advantage of the transition to Intel to upgrade to Final Cut Studio at a reduced rate as well. It remains to be seen whether the upgrade will apply to academic discount versions, but we can hope.

It's exciting to know that the next generation of the platform is now in the wild. It's an exciting time. Once the iMacs start arriving in the hands of end users, there will be much more to write about.

Posted by at 3:14 PM

Comments are Broken

Commenting is broken right now. Apparently they'll be fixed before too long. Thanks for your patience!

Update: Comments work now. Hoorah!

Posted by at 2:35 PM

January 6, 2006

Rumor Rumor on the Wall (42" or 50"?)

For true Macintosh aficionados, the next 3 days are just about the most exciting time of the year. Only 3 days, 18 hours and 8 minutes until the keynote address at Macworld San Francisco! There are some interesting rumors this year. I'm expecting Intel iBooks and Mac Minis, some new form of living room integration and updates to iLife and iWork. If we got all that, it'd be very exciting. Anything more and I may just end up in a pool of my own drool...

Posted by at 4:57 PM

January 5, 2006

Tech Vs Art - which wins?

Eventually I'm going to post some notes with my thoughts on how to best distill down the video recording and compression process. This post is a bit more general. I've been going back and forth about how much a person learning production actually needs to know about the nuts and bolts of video technology. Is it important that they understand what happens once the light hits the lens, or should they just understand that their video comes out the other end?

Along the same lines, I wonder if the types of people interested in the nitty-gritty are likely to be totally different from the types of people interested in production. If someone wants to be a freelance videographer, how much do they really need to know about their camera?

I like using the analogy (stolen from a friend) of teaching a painter to paint. You wouldn't hand someone a paintbrush and just say "go, do!" without explaining some basics of paint mixing and technique. Similarly, I personally feel it's important to understand how the light hitting the lens gets sampled, processed and laid down to tape. I think it helps yield better work.

If you agree that it's important to understand the medium, then you need to figure out how far to go. You can choose to stay fairly abstract - sort of like "assume the horse is a point" in physics. Or you can go ridiculously in-depth, with something like Tektronix' MTS4EA software suite. Is that just overkill?

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I will be adding some more thoughts about ways of distilling some of the information down. For now, I'd like to hear the opinions of others regarding this balance of teaching tech or teaching art.

Posted by at 4:49 PM

"We don't want HDV because it's not really High Def"

How many times have you heard that? I'm not sure where all the FUD has come from regarding HDV but it's starting to get on my nerves. Is HDV the perfect format? Definitely not! Does it get 1080i into a 25mbps datastream with surprisingly good results? Sure does!

I wasn't really around when the transition to DV happened - were the same conversations happening? Did people say "We don't want DV because it's not really Standard Def"?

For people who aren't clear: HDV can support up to 1080i, 60 fields per second, 8 bits per pixel, 4:2:0 sampling. Is it as good as HDCamSR? Nope. But DV isn't as good as DigiBeta either. That doesn't make it any less valid a format.

If anything, I think HDV makes it even more clear that the import issue is not what technology you use, but rather how you use it. Home movies shot with HDV will still look like home movies.

</rant>

Posted by at 11:43 AM

January 4, 2006

Is the Canon XL-H1 the Holy Grail?

So, in my post talking about what I hope to see at NAB, I mentioned that I'm hoping to see second generation HDV devices. That raises the question of what a second gen HDV device will actually be - are we there already?

We're certainly a lot closer. A year ago, we had the Sony FX1 and Z1U and that was pretty much it. We've now got the Sony A1U and HC1, the JVC GY-HD100, the Canon XL-H1 and the Panasonic HVX-200. Additional choice is never a bad thing. I want to use this post to go through a basic summary of my thoughts on the various cameras out there. This is not intended as an indepth review - those will come later. Just wanted to give a brief overview of the landscape as it exists today.

First, I think that the Sony A1U is a great camera for the market segment that it addresses. The CLA-TV Studios currently send out Sony PDX-10s are our primary prosumer camera. When we move to HD, the A1U seems like a clear successor. Similar form factor, XLR audio and a pretty decent image. I think that it gets largely ignored by camera-snobs for having a single chip. While it'd certainly be nice if it was a 3ccd camera, you can't complain about the price. If you had about $2500 to spend on a camera right now, it's almost a no-brainer.

The JVC GY-HD100 disappoints me. It had such great potential when it was announced last April - A nice form factor, interchangeable lenses, proper progressive chips - the whole package! Unfortunately, it's a very flawed camera. The quality of the images in general doesn't impress me, and I have difficulty accepting the reasoning behind the ProHD format. Why start splintering a format so early in the game? I'm especially upset that, despite breaking their compatibility with every other piece of gear, JVC still isn't using the full bandwidth available on the HDV tape when doing 24p. If the whole reasoning behind ProHD is to avoid having to do a pulldown to 60i/30p, why waste 20% of your available bandwidth? Give us a less severe compression, or a more redundant recording structure - something! Additionally, I wonder about the reasons behind the slow adoption of HD100 support by Apple in Final Cut Pro (and Avid too?). Is it a purely technical situation, or are they hoping the format will be stillborn?

The Panasonic HVX-200 is in a bit of a different class from these HDV cameras. If I were an indie-filmmaker with some decent cash looking to shoot a feature, this is probably the camera I'd go with. The benefits of DVCProHD are enormous, both in terms of quality and flexibility, and the drawbacks of P2 can be avoided if you've got control over the whole shooting process. Many people were scared off by the idea of expensive memory cards and the limited recording length. I firmly believe that with a little bit of planning, these problems can be minimized. When the Firestore FS-100 ships (my Focus Enhancements rant will get its own post), things will be even better. While I'll reserve final judgement until I see some more footage, the flexibility offered by this camera is unmatched. The footage that Kaku posted really blew me away. I'm a big fan of the DVX-100 though, so I may be a bit biased.

Finally then, we've got the Canon XL-H1, and we can revisit the question posed in the title of this post. First off, I have to admit that I've never been a big fan of the XL series. I don't like the form factor, I don't particularly like the image tonality, the audio preamps sound terrible, and the XL1 and XL1S especially just never seemed like great value for money. Because of this, I was even more surprised to have the XL-H1 be so impressive. We get 1080i, 1080"p", 720"p", plus standard def. It is important to note the quotes there, because these are not progressive scan CCDs. However, unlike the Sony camera's, all indications are that Canon generates their 24p (24f in their lingo) timing with a proper cadence. This means that when you go to post, you can cut a 24fps timeline without the crazy motion problems of Sony's Cineframe. While they are doing some onboard deinterlacing, it appears that they're getting around 80% of the vertical resolution of a true 1080p image, which is still pretty good - better than the HD100's 720p chips.

What really sold me on the XL-H1 though was the HD-SDI output. To me, this says a number of things about Canon's mentality regarding the camera. First off, it shows you what a manufacturer can do when they don't have a high-priced "pro" business to maintain - Sony wouldn't dare put a similar output on such an inexpensive camera. If someone can come up with a mildly priced HD-SDI DTE box (no, the suitecase sized boxes don't count), this camera will be the absolute king. Maybe they'll throw Triax on some future "XL-H1S" and give us a proper CCU - then we can really watch Sony squirm.

So to answer the question - The Canon's as good as we get right now. They do so much right that I can't imagine anyone beating it soon. I hope that the HVX-200 lives up to expectations as well. Between the two of them I think most people's needs will be covered.

Of course, both of these cameras will run you nearly $10,000 (once you buy P2 media for the Panasonic). If you're an indie filmmaker with only $5000 to spend, you're in a pretty tough spot right now. Do you shoot with the JVC in order to have 24p? Do you shoot with the Sony Z1U and convert to 24p in post? Do you buy a DVX-100B and shoot standard def? Anyone have suggestions?

Posted by at 4:55 PM

Booked for NAB

So, after writing about what I hoped to see at NAB, I decided to actually get the trip booked. So, I'll be there Sunday-Wednesday (23rd - 26th), staying in the Monte Carlo. Anyone else going? Want to go to Nobu with me?

Posted by at 3:57 PM

NAB Thoughts?

So, we're in to the New Year now. CES is about to start, Macworld San Francisco is next week, and we're a mere four months away from NAB. This is an exciting time! So, what should we expect?

Macworld San Francisco may end up being the most exciting of the shows in many regards. If we see the first Intel macs next week, it will kick off the transition and make for some exciting times. If there's no Intel news, it will sure disappoint a lot of folks.

This post is really intended to start some discussion about what we expect at NAB. I think that 4K will be the big deal this year. Last year, it was clear that the transition to HD, from a vendor perspective at least, was basically over. There were already a few people beginning to play with realtime playback of 4K material on lower end gear. I expect that this year we'll see 4K being out in full force. There's lots of buzz on the net about the new RED camera. I'm personally unsure whether to believe it or not. The DVInfo Forums have quite a bit of discussion about it, with messages that claim to be from the various folks involved with the project. It sure seems fishy. But if it's for real, it'd be a pretty big deal.

Similarly, Thinksecret is now reporting that Apple will announce Final Cut Pro 6, as well as a new product called Final Cut Extreme. FCP6 is a pretty safe bet - NAB-announced upgrades have been the trend for a few years now. Final Cut Extreme is a bit less clear. First off, how will we abbreviate it? FCE is already taken. FCEx? Second, one of the powerful things about FCP is that it grows with your needs pretty well at this point - from DV to HD and beyond. Adding a third "high end" product would muddy the waters a bit.

I also really hope that we start seeing second generation HDV equipment. There is a huge need for dedicated HDV decks that are more than just stripped down camera tape transports. Give me something like a DSR-45 that can play back HDV and DV, including 720p24 and 1020f24 and the rest! Even better, give me a DSR-1500-style deck that does all of the above, plus has HD-SDI in/out and AES/EBU. Then I'll be in heaven.

Please offer your thoughts on what you think will be coming in the first half of this year!

Posted by at 11:18 AM

January 3, 2006

About This Site

Welcome to DiscreteCosine, a blog and discussion site about video technology. This site specifically caters to the use of video in education, particularly higher education. It is maintained by Colin McFadden from the CLA-TV Studios at the University of Minnesota.

The aim of this site is to fill a few gaps that I perceive in online coverage of video technology. First off, there are very limited reviews of studio equipment, and the reviews that do exist tend to be incomplete. The CLA-TV Studios maintain two all-digital 3-camera studios, and I intend to add reviews of some of the equipment we use. In the future this may include obtaining outside units for review.

Additionally, I'd like to focus on the real world use of video equipment, when placed in the hands of non-professionals. When we pick a camera for the University, we have to focus not only on the quality of the video it records, but also on its ease of use, durability and service life. These issues are sometimes ignored when reviews are written with professional users in mind.

Finally, this site is intended to serve as a discussion site for assorted news and information regarding the video industry and video technology. I'm particularly interested in compression systems and signaling protocols, so expect a focus on those topics.

Posted by at 3:32 PM