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October 30, 2006

Apple 24hr Film Fest

For the students out there, check out the Apple 24hour Film Fest. Rock on with the coolness.

Posted by at 5:21 PM

October 26, 2006

Oooooh SNAP, Adobe drops Soundbooth

Adobe has announced a public beta of a new product called SoundBooth. The idea is to take a big helping of Audition, along with a dash of Soundtrack Pro, and end up with an easy to use audio production tool for Video/Flash professionals.

It seems like it has potential. The interface follows Adobe's new palette design, and much of the rest of the look and feel reminds me of Audition or its ancestor, Cool Edit Pro. I'm not sure it's even fair to call it beta at this point, as it's obviously far from feature complete. At this point I can't see anything that would make it worth a second glance when compared to Soundtrack Pro, but I imagine there's a lot left to be added.

Interestingly, this product will ship for the Mac and for Windows. Even more interestingly, it's going to be Intel only on the Mac. Sorry PPC users, but that ship has sailed. Or at least, it will have by the time Soundbooth ships in (late) 2007.

It's very good to see someone, especially Adobe, choosing to compete directly with Apple on Apple's playground. Oftentimes if feels like Adobe is ceding the Mac market at the slightest hint of competition. As I believe we've seen with the Lightroom versus Aperture competition, both products are stronger because neither developer can get away with selling crap.

It'll be very interesting to watch where this goes. I've heard a faint rumor that Adobe may reemerge in the Mac video editing market down the line as well. Hmm.

Posted by at 9:04 AM

October 25, 2006

Politics in the Age of YouTube

Seeing as I have a Political Science degree rotting on my shelf, I figured I'd make a big-picture post about my view on the impact of YouTube during this election cycle.

By providing the ability to distribute video without concerns over bandwidth and storage space, YouTube has had two very distinct impacts on the way the "netroots" groups operate during this cycle. While "netroots" is a rather stupid term, in this case I'm using it to refer to the politically aware, internet savvy folks who troll sites ranging from DailyKos to (gulp) FreeRepublic.

I want to look at two cases to show by example. The first is the case in which a candidate is able to audition ads to the entire country, without making an ad buy. They can then use the ad to raise funds. In this way, folks can give money directly in response to what they believe is effective advertising, rather than giving money in the hopes that the candidate applies it wisely. Whether or not this is a good thing for the political media landscape is yet to be decided.

An example is this ad, from the Ohio 2nd (the fighting second!). The Wuslin campaign has made very effective use of YouTube to get their ads out and to solicit feedback. Other groups and candidates are making similar use of YouTube. Unlike in the past, this isn't a case of individuals recording ads from TV and posting them, these ads are being posted by the campaigns themselves. The global availability of these ads, combined with candidate websites and political blogs, has made every race a national race.

The second way in which YouTube has become a force in the election is the ability to quickly and easily share video of politicians being stupid. Before this election, a politician would say something stupid, like "We've never been stay the course," and the website hosting the video would get hammered and knocked offline. But now, when someone says "Macaca," or talks about "the Google" the video can live on and on without the hosting provider pulling the plug. The impact of this shouldn't be discounted.

Will YouTube decide the elections? Definitely not - just like blogs didn't decide the election in 2004. But what it will do is increase interest in candidates who might otherwise not get significant exposure. Thoughts?

Posted by at 5:19 PM

Panasonic is (nearly) shipping 1080p plasmas

This is big news. Panasonic is now (almost) ready to ship their 50" and 65" plasmas capable of displaying a full 1920x1080 image. This is really important for HD monitoring. Now you'll be able to see every single pixel at a 1:1 resolution. There isn't a significant price premium for these, which makes them especially exciting.

But hey, it's just a plasma. Why so excited?

One of the things that causes me great pain on a daily basis is the death of high quality CRT monitors for studio use. Sure, you can still drop $43,000 on a Sony, but that's just a bit much, thank you.

LCDs are great, but they don't get very large at a realistic price.

I've often considered getting something like a Miranda Kaleido-Quad box, to combine a number of SDI/HDSDI signals into a single feed, and then using one large plasma for both program and preview monitoring. However, the relatively low resolutions of large plasmas had always put me off.

Now however, with decently priced 1080p plasmas a reality, this option is much more realistic. Since the Miranda box can jump between different layouts, you can setup a standard Program/Preview layout for production use, but press a button to jump to a single, full screen, pixel-for-pixel display of your 1080p video.

Delicious.

Posted by at 2:43 PM

Greenscreen Fun!

Everyone else is linking to it, so I might as well too...

General Specialist has a guide to getting the most out of your greenscreen. There's some excellent tips there, such as how to configure your camera to make keying easier, and how to direct your talent to get the best performance on set. It's actually a really good piece, so check it out.

Posted by at 1:54 PM

October 24, 2006

You've been Antiqued!

I'm afraid your shiny new Macbook Pro is now an antique. Might as well toss it to the curb and whip out the Visa.

That's right, new Macbook Pros have arrived! They're... slightly faster! Hoorah!

This is a fairly incremental upgrade. For buyers of the 15", the biggest upgrades are Firewire800 and a dual-layer DVD burner. I definitely approve of two out of the three models coming standard with 2 gigs of ram though.

Posted by at 9:26 AM

October 23, 2006

Behind the Scenes Fun

Personally, I do a lot of my learning through observation - seeing how other folks do something, figuring out why they did it that way, etc. So, for me, "Behind the Scenes" videos are really helpful. With that in mind, here are a couple I came upon this weekend.

2nd Unit TV: This group does on-set interviews and walkthroughs at major TV studios. The current episode is part two of a visit to The Office. Check out the "past episodes" as well. There's a bit of awkwardness present, but they're still pretty helpful.

Buzz Image: This is a production house which has done both major motion picture work as well as commercial work. Their making of section goes over some of their work in detail. Most of it is rotoscoping work, but that has been a subject of much discussion around the studios lately. The link goes to a piece of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"

Posted by at 12:00 AM

October 22, 2006

I've been Living a Lie

All this time, I thought I was working with HD. You know, the beautiful HD images produced by our $9,000 Canon XL-H1s, or a $25,000 Sony F350.

I was wrong.

You see, I was reading Wired tonight, and stumbled upon a Canon ad which explains that their new HV10 shoots in "True HD," because it has a 1920x1080 imager. Everyone else is just a poser.

Time to throw out the XL-H1s I suppose. Or maybe not.

You see, the HV10 is an HDV camera. Which means that the signal it puts to tape is 1440x1080. Just like all 1080i HDV cameras. Some 1080i cameras (Sony HVR-V1U) have chips that are actually lower in resolution than 1440x1080. Some, like the XL-H1 and the XDCam have chips that are exactly 1440x1080. It seems nobody else has deemed it necessary to build a camera that images at a higher resolution than it records. Wonder why?

Posted by at 11:51 PM

October 19, 2006

PodcastingGearGuy

Since I know a lot of folks are interested in various levels of podcast recording, you might be interested in podcastgearguy.com. Just stumbled upon it, but it seems to have some decent information.

Posted by at 4:10 PM

Adobe buys Serious Magic

Ok, this is getting silly. I know it's almost the holiday gift buying season, but what's with all these corporate acquisitions in the video realm? YouTube, Silicon Color, Serious Magic ...

In any case, Adobe bought Serious Magic, makers of DVRack. Which begs the question - have you looked at Scopebox lately?

Posted by at 8:20 AM

October 17, 2006

MovieVideoChart

One of the hardest thing to teach is video compression, because it's really difficult to visualize what's going on at a low level. One of the best tools for understanding what's going on inside a highly compressed video file is Textronix' MTS4EA software. It gives you a full visual analysis with motion vectors and macroblock coefficients and everything else a math geek could want. Unfortunately, even with the generous educational discount, it's still a bit out of most students' price range. About $20,000 out of their price range. Bummer.

However ... I've just become aware of a little application from Apple called MovieVideoChart. This program (described in depth in WWDC05 Session 208 for you ADC members) gives you a visual representation of each frame of your compressed video, showing you which frames are keyframes, which are intermediate, and how they're reordered in your video.

Picture 2


In the above screenshot, you can see a few things. The red frame (marked with the word "sync") is an I-Frame. It's the start of a GOP. In this case, this video has 150 frames between each keyframe, which is pretty extreme, but generally OK with modern codecs. Frames tagged "droppable" are are B frames (B frames can generally be ignored without breaking other frames, so they're the first to get dropped on a slow system). Everything else is a P frame.

The bottom row is showing you the order in which the frames are decoded. The middle row shows you order in which the frames are displayed. The top row would should you the effects of any edits made to the file itself.

This can teach you a lot about modern (h.264 in this case) video compression. Frame reordering is an important concept. If you want to understand why B frames are so important, just look at the "data size" entry for the B (droppable) frames. Most frames are running between 2000 and 4000 bytes (P and I frames respectively) but the B frame is between 130 and 700 bytes! That's a pretty huge reduction, and that's just one of the many things you can learn from this free program.

A full explanation of I P and B frames is out of the scope of this post (though I'd be happy to geek about it someday), but Apple has an OK blurb up if you're curious. Otherwise, take a look at MovieVideoChart. You might also be interested in Dumpster (at the bottom of the page) which shows you some good information about the internal constructs of your video file.

Posted by at 8:20 PM

October 16, 2006

Apple acquires Silicon Color

In somewhat interesting news, Apple has acquired Silicon Color. I really respect the FinalTouch product, and have always found the Silicon Color guys to be helpful. I hope this bodes well for them, and for users of Final Cut Pro or some future high-end correction suite.

Posted by at 3:38 PM

October 11, 2006

Mac Pro Makes Me Happy

Picture 1-2

Muahaha.

Yes, it adds up to slightly more than 400%. It's not instantaneous sampling. For those wondering how I'm managing to exploit all four chips from Compressor, take a look at qmasterprefs from the command line. As I've mentioned in the past, you can issue a command like:

qmasterprefs -service "Compressor Processing" on instances 4 autorestart off unmanaged off

and then build a cluster with four separate compressor nodes from a single machine. Submit a job to the cluster, and so long as it can be segmented (so, h264, mpeg2, mpeg4, etc), you'll exploit the full power of your multi-cpu machine. Without doing this, I was hitting at best about 250% cpu utilization. Now I'm getting the full 400%. Woot.

Aside from being smoking fast, this machine is otherwise relatively ordinary. It did ship with one bad DIMM, which is a bit of a bummer. However, since it's ECC ram, the system kept on humming - I didn't even know about it until I happened to open System Profiler and noticed:

DIMM Riser B/DIMM 1:

Size: 512 MB
Type: DDR2 FB-DIMM
Speed: 667 MHz
Status: ECC Errors
ECC Correctable Errors: 40380

Quite a bit more user friendly than the old days, where a bad stick of ram was only discovered through voodoo. Apple's shipping a new stick out, so all should be well there.

Anyways, the Mac Pro. It's swell.

Posted by at 5:12 PM

October 10, 2006

Explanation of Bayer Patterns

There's a growing trend towrads using really large single-chip imaging solutions for HD cameras. Everything from our teeny-tiny Sony HVR-A1Us up to the RED make use of one really big chip with a Bayer pattern.

Silicon Imaging, a camera company which is sort of like RED without all the pretentiousness, has a really good description of Bayer filtering on their website.

Posted by at 9:47 AM

October 9, 2006

Production Assistant's Handbook

(leeching from HDForIndies)

There's a free PDF book called the Production Assistant's Handbook, available for download from NoEnd Press.

I haven't read through the whole thing, but I think there are some good tips in there. I think this might be a useful document for folks who are looking at moving from the sheltered world of the University into the scary, cold, Real World™.

The folding instructions are far too complicated for me though. Fold in half? Hu? I just keep ending up with a swan...

Posted by at 11:03 PM

Got my Firestore Update

We received our Firestore FS4ProHD 2.0 firmware update disc today. Installation was straightforward, and it seems to work as promised. I captured 1080i60 HDV off the Canon XL-H1 with no trouble, and it happily opened in Quicktime. I'll post more once I've had a chance to play with some of the other new features. For now, it's all a boy could want (save for 24f support ...).

Posted by at 5:54 PM

Canon XH-G1 footage

I wasn't going to post this as it seems kind of boring, but everyone else is posting it so I might as well too... There's footage up from the Canon XH-G1. This is the baby brother (along with the XH-A1) to the XL-H1 camera. Ooo and Aaah away...

Posted by at 2:34 PM

October 8, 2006

Artemis Camera Stabilizer

DV.com has a nice review of the Artemis DV Pro camera stabilizer (not a SteadiCam™). I'm not familiar with this setup, but it looks very interesting. In particular, I like the integrated monitor and power cabling. The high quality screen is another major plus. It looks like it's good for cameras up to around 20lbs, which is pretty reasonable. Not as affordable as some of the lesser Glidecam systems, but still pretty snazzy.

Posted by at 6:42 PM

October 6, 2006

Doing the XDCamHD Math

I'm still interested in the XDCamHD product line, and have been doing a bit of investigation regarding lens choices. Both Canon and Fujinon have a few lenses available to work with the 1/2" chips used by the XDCam.

Half-inch is a bit of an odd size for a CCD sensor, so I didn't have a good sense of how to compare focal lengths on the lenses. Most of them have a wide angle of 5.5mm-6.7mm, and I wanted to know if that would be "wide enough."

Read on to follow my exciting adventure!

Since my other hobby is photography of the still variety, I have a pretty good sense of the lenses used in that realm. I shoot with a Canon Digital RebelXT, which has a sensor that is slightly smaller than 35mm film. Because of this, the Rebel (and most other "affordable" digital SLRs) has some amount of magnification as compared to a 35mm still camera.

Let me try to explain why. If you have a lens which is designed to project an image onto a 35mm piece of film, but instead project that image onto a smaller surface, you essentially get a center crop of the image. It's the same image you'd get on the 35mm film if you were to zoom the lens in a bit. In the case of the Rebel, it's a 1.6x zoom factor. Think about it for a bit, it makes sense.

When picking lenses for the Rebel, it's helpful to convert them into "real" 35mm numbers. For example, a while ago I purchased a 12-24mm Tokina lens. This is in the category of "ultra wide angle," and is very nearly a fish-eye. When you do the 1.6x math though, it's the equivalent of a 19-38 lens when shooting to 35mm.

Anyways, this same math applies to video, more or less. Things get a bit fishy because of the different aspect ratios, but we can deal with a center crop of a 16:9 image and get approximations - at least, I'm pretty sure we can.

So, I broke out the ol' whiteboard pen and started doing some geometry and algebra and whatnot.

Image(145)

Just a bunch of triangles, since we know the ratios of the two sides, you can use algebra to find the scaling factor, then do Pythagoras to get the diagonal. Or work backwards from the diagonal. 35mm in film refers to the horizontal, chip dimensions in video refer to the diagonal. Exciting!

After churning through all the math, I came up with the XDCamHD, with its 1/2inch chips, having a 4.25x magnification factor. So, that 6.4mm Canon lens is actually the equivalent of a 27.2mm 35mm lens. So, still moderately wide.

And that's what I wanted to know.

Posted by at 4:47 PM

October 5, 2006

Fontastic!

Oh man. Puns.

DVGuru has a great little post about some freebie fonts for movie credits, as well as box templates for DVD cases. They're a bit tricky to download on the Mac though - control click the links, do "save linked file to desktop," then rename the file to be just .rar, instead of .rar.txt. Then you can double click it and all is well. See, I added value to the post, instead of just shamelessly copying DVGuru. +1 for me.

Posted by at 11:33 AM

October 4, 2006

FS4ProHD Quicktime Support!

I can stop ranting now! FS4ProHD support for recording HDV in Quicktime files.

Now, I could rant a little bit about spending $40 to have a CD shipped to me, but I'm so happy to finally be done waiting, that I won't complain.

Place your orders now!

Posted by at 4:11 PM

October 3, 2006

Finally, a DVD Rewinder

Yeah, I want one..

Rew2001-1

Posted by at 9:17 PM

Howto: Stream Video with Flash Media Server

As of late, I've been working on project that involves streaming flash video with Flash Media Server. I've been a bit frustrated by the process, and wanted to post some tips I've picked up along the way. Follow the jump if you care ...

First off, if you just need to stream FLV files off a FMS, take a look at the Livedoc entry for this topic. If you follow those steps directly, you should be able to stream video. Just launch Flash8, go file->import->video, enter your rtmp:// address and you're set.

If you screw something up with the main.asc file, or forget to include it, you'll need to restart the server after fixing the problem. What you'll quickly learn as you work on further main.asc development is that server restarts become habitual. This is a bit more trouble if you're working on a server that hosts live applications, but I suppose you shouldn't be doing development work on such a server.

If you want to go a step further and start implementing securing on the server - that is, real security, not just security through complexity - you have two options. Which are actually only one option. Dig?

You see, when you read the documentation about FMS, you'll find out about something called the "Access DLL," which is represented by a file called libconnect.dll/libconnect.so. This is supposed to be a wonderous API through which you can write C code to control access to your content.

The problem is, it doesn't exist. At least, not in any way that I've discovered. You see, there's supposed to be an SDK and sample code to aid one in developing such a module. The documentation makes repeated mentions of this sample code. But nobody seems to have ever seen said sample code. Adobe phone support was helpful enough to suggest that I purchase a $10,000 support control in order to ask whether such an SDK actually exists. Fantastic. A bit out of my budget though.

However, main.asc, the file that you need in place in order to stream you content, gives you a pretty good level of access control. They're even nice enough to document it:

//Add security here

this.acceptConnection(p_client);

You can do a few things to enhance your security. You can check the client.referer property to make sure that the SWF that's connecting to you actually came from a valid host. If you want to get really sneaky though, add a query string to the SWF file when you load it. For example:
mymovie.swf?file=rtmp://blah&secretpassword=monkey

Anything you pass in on the query string to the swf will be visible to the Flash server inside your main.asc actionscript. That means that you can pass information from the http server to the Flash server dynamically.

If you don't use the FLVPlayback builtin in Flash8, you have a lot more options about client->server interaction. You don't need to do the hacky query string solution, but instead can actually pass objects back and forth. However, FLVPlayback is supremely nice, so it's a shame not to use it.

Anyways, my hatred of Flash is slow waning, as I grow more comfortable with the tools. I'm far from liking it, but I'm closer to tolerating it.

Posted by at 9:08 PM