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November 30, 2006

Dolly Shot

(Click to Play)

I'll explain tomorrow ...

Posted by at 3:24 PM

November 25, 2006

DMCA-a-go-go

1. Audiovisual works included in the educational library of a college or university’s film or media studies department, when circumvention is accomplished for the purpose of making compilations of portions of those works for educational use in the classroom by media studies or film professors.

So, it's now legal to rip a DVD for some educational uses. Nice. Now... about the rest of the DMCA?

EFF has the whole story

Posted by at 11:52 PM

November 24, 2006

VideoLED

Again, stealing from DVGuru. Video LED is a neat little company producing on-camera LED lights which draw power from the hotshoe. Cheap and easy!

Posted by at 1:16 PM

Film School in a Box

Stealing shamelessly from DVGuru today - Check out Film School in a Box. They're selling harddrives preloaded with all the footage from a 90 minute film, with 9 camera angles for every scene. They've set it up as a multicam project in Final Cut, so that you can go through and cut the film in the way you want, with the angles you want. I think this is a pretty cool concept as a way to learn about story telling through editing. You can do it all in realtime. Slick.

Posted by at 1:15 PM

November 21, 2006

Canon XH-A1 Review

Camcorderinfo has yet another good review, this time of the Canon XH-A1 camcorder. The battle between the XH-A1 and the Sony HVR-V1U is likely to be intense over the next few months. It'll be interesting to see whether one ends up a distinct winner.

Posted by at 10:21 PM

Review: Microsoft Zune

I had a chance to play with a Zune last week. Frankly, I'm a bit of a biased reviewer in this case, being an Apple fanboy and all. That said, here's my rundown of the player itself. I haven't used the software, but check out Engadget's Zune review for the whole scoop. This is mostly just ranting.

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Zune next to a 30gig video iPod

First off, I'm not sure I could get past how gigantic the things is. It just doesn't feel pocketable. Beyond that, it feels a bit cheap. The choice of a non-spinning "wheel" control is also a bit questionable. Everyone who picked the unit up started trying to spin the wheel and said "why isn't it working?" - a clear indication that it's not very user friendly. Having to use separate back and play buttons outside of the wheel is also a bit cumbersome.

Once you've gotten the controls down, the interface is for the most part quite nice. It's certainly got more visual flair than the iPod, but you can still navigate it at a pretty good pace.

The choice of a larger screen rotated 90degrees makes for some awkward situations though. As you switch between videos and the menu for example, you need to rotate the player back and forth. It will be interesting to see how Apple deals with this issue when they go with a larger format screen on the "real" video iPod.

As a music player, the Zune is fine. It's not great, it's not terrible. The FM tuner is nice, and I'm sure the WiFi will be useful to some folks. I'll stick with my iPod though.

Posted by at 3:50 PM

Review: Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1A

The Sanyo Xacti HD1A is a pocket-sized direct-to-memory camcorder. The Xacti line has grown to encompass a number of cameras, ranging from around $350 to the HD1A, which retails for around $600. All of the cameras boast direct-to-memory recording in an MPEG-4 format, using SD memory cards.

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The HD1A distinguishes itself, as the name might suggest, by being capable of recording HD video. I'm resisting the urge to put HD in sarcastic quotes ("HD") as the HD this camera records is a bit of a joke. But more on that later.

Read on for the rest of the review...

The HD1A is an extremely pocketable device, about the same size as many small digital still cameras. It has a flip out LCD panel, an integrated flash, and a relatively long 10x optical zoom. In the box, you get the camera, a rather nice carrying case, a docking station, as well as a charger and assorted USB cables. The HD1A uses an integrated rechargeable battery, so I was very excited to have a dock for charging and syncing with the computer.

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When powering on the device, the first thing you'll probably notice is that it talks to you. Literally. It was "Camera Mode" and "Going to Sleep" and whatnot. Frankly, I found this very entertaining, but I'm a sucker for stuff like that.

The HD1A has two trigger buttons on the rear, one for recording movies and one for recording stills. This is actually a clever way to avoid having to specifically switch between camera and movie modes as is required on so many other devices. You don't have to decide in advance whether you want to shoot some video or take a still.

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The rear also provides menu access, zoom, and a very manual override controls. The HD1A gives the user a surprising amount of manual control for a camera in this market segment. Not only do you get manual focus, but also manual control of exposure, white balance, ISO and shutter speed. With the exception of focus, these need to be accessed through the menu system.

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The camera records in a standard MPEG-4 file format for videos, and JPEG for stills. The quality can be adjusted from the full HD resolution, which will put about 15 minutes of video on a 1gb SD card, all the way down to 320x240 at 15fps, which will pack nearly four hours of video on a 1gb SD card. If you select "640 HQ" or below, the files generated by the HD1A can be transfered directly to a Video iPod, without reencoding. This is a major feature if you need to bulk produce video podcasts.

Now, about that HD claim. The camera can indeed record video at 1280x720 (720p), so they're not wrong in calling it HD. However, there's so much compression and interpolation going on, it's really not usable for anything which demands quality. Frankly, I can't think of a situation in which you'd be better off using the HD mode versus the SD modes.

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I'm suspicious that this lack of quality may not be due to the compression, but rather due to the imaging chip itself. All of the images produced by this camera have a distinct feel over being interpolated up to a higher resolution, with an extreme amount of digital sharpening added. I think that it would be possible to do a direct-to-memory HD capable camcorder in this form factor while still retaining HD quality, but this camera isn't quite there.

That's not to say the camera is total crap. You just shouldn't buy it expecting a pristine image.

There's one other feature of the HD1A which deserves a mention, and for which Sanyo deserves applause - It has an external mic input! So many cameras these days have done away with external microphone inputs entirely, so I was rather shocked to see one on the HD1A. The jack itself is a 2.5mm plug (sub-minijack) but they include a 2.5mm to 3.5mm (minijack) adapter in the box. I was able to plug a Beachtek into that, with an AT Shotgun hooked up to the Beachtek, and the audio I got was surprisingly acceptable.

Being able to bring in an external microphone feed, including a nice balanced mic with the help of a Beachtek box, makes this camera far more useful than it otherwise would be. It takes the camera from toy to tool. Now, you can go out and shoot a video podcast with decent audio, dump it into an RSS feed and be done. No transcoding, no conversion, no audio syncing. Record, copy, done.

In all, I think the Sanyo HD1A is a nice camera, so long as you don't expect too much from it. It's not a real HD camera. The quality will not match anything in the HDV world. You trade quality for convenience - no tapes to deal with, no log and capture, just hook up the USB cable and go. It's not for everyone, but it's not junk either.

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Sample "HD" Footage

Posted by at 11:12 AM

November 20, 2006

Review: Zoom H4 pocket recorder

This is a review of the Zoom H4 "Handy Recorder," a portable audio recording device. Sometimes branded a Samson device, the H4 retails for around $300.

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These devices have been growing in popularity over the last few years, due to the growth of podcasting and also the growth in independent film production. Because the H4 records in either wave or MP3, it is appropriate for both uses. MP3 bitrates can be adjusted between 320kbps and 48kbps. Wave files can be sampled at 44khz, 48khz or 96khz with either 16bit or 24bit precision. So, whether you're a podcast producer looking to create quick MP3 files on the go, or an indie filmmaker looking for better audio than your camera can produce, this device tries to meet your needs.

Read on for the rest of the review... apologies for the terrible picture quality, my normal camera was unavailable.

Physical Device
The device itself feels a bit on the cheap side. I'm not convinced it'll hold up to normal abuse as well as the Marantz PMD-660, a similar device. However, I also thought the PMD-660 felt kind of cheap, and it seems to be holding up just fine. The unit has two XLR/TRS inputs on the bottom, a mini-jack line input on the side and a set of stereo microphones on top. It runs on two AA batteries and accepts a standard sized SD card.

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I like the fact that you can connect either XLR or TRS connections without using adapters. Additionally, you get phantom power and either manual or automatic level controls.

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Usage
The user interface is relatively confusing, as you have to use both the direction pad and an up/down jog button on the side to navigate the menus. Some functions can be accessed through buttons directly on the device - choosing your recording mode for example. This is a nice touch.

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Who's it for?
One of the biggest problems with consumer and prosumer camcorders is the quality of the audio they record. Often times the audio seems like an afterthought, with noisy preamps or limited manual controls. Many low end cameras have done away with microphone inputs entirely, and instead expect you to rely on the built in mic.

While the Zoom H4 does not compete with high-end field audio recording setups, it does a very nice job for the price. The biggest limitation to its use in film and video production is that it does not accept an external timecode source, so matching your audio to your video will be strictly a manual process.

For podcasters, it's an even more enticing option. The built in microphones are "good enough" for capturing a quick bit of audio on the go, and as your needs grow, the H4 can grow with you. Being able to record directly into MP3 is another plus, since your files are all set to be dropped on an iPod or added to an RSS feed.

The Zoom H4 is also attempting to serve third market - musicians. It is the only sub-$500 portable recording device I know of which can do 4-track recordings. That is, you can record a track of audio, and then go back and record another track while listening to the first track. The H4 also has a built in metronome with a lead-in feature. It also has a built in tuner, which I think is a fantastic addition to a device like this. If nothing else, it's rather entertaining to try and sing a perfect note. Entertaining to me at least.

Finally, there's the H4's party-piece: it can act as a USB audio interface. Plug it into your computer, navigate through the menus on the H4 to find the "USB" option and enable the USB interface. On Mac OS X, the H4 immediately appeared in the System Preferences Sound pane as both an input and output device. I was able to select it in GarageBand and recorded without any trouble. That's an extremely cool feature! It alone may justify the cost for some users.

In all, I'm really enjoying the Zoom H4. The big worry for me is still the issue of durability, but at $300 it doesn't have to last all that long. I really appreciate that Zoom has gone the extra mile to add features which distinguish the H4 from the rest of the market. This has become my new defacto recommendation for portable audio recording.

Posted by at 4:13 PM

November 17, 2006

BMW "Precipice" Ad overview

StudioDaily has an interview with Ben Grossman from the Syndicate, discussing the creation of the BMW "Precipice" advertisement. It's a pretty cool bit of CG, as they had to shoot the commercial during the day, in the dry, but present a commercial which showed the car at night in the rain. Lots of rotoscoping and particle effects ensured, and the end result is pretty impressive.

Posted by at 1:07 PM

First look at the Sony V1U

DV.com has a preview of the Sony HVR-V1U online. I'm very interested in this camera, as it seems like a pretty solid player in a part of the market that has long by dominated by "subpar" options. I'll be eager to get a chance to play with one. The DV.com article makes mention of the new CMOS chip setup in this camera. I think it will be interesting to see how the indie-film types adapt to the minor differences inherent in CMOS imaging. Curious.

By the way, I've got a bunch of reviews coming next week, including the Zoom H4, Sanyo Xacti HD1A, Presonus Firepod, Microsoft Zune and a few other cool toys.

Posted by at 12:43 PM

November 15, 2006

The Fastest Editor ... in the WORLD

</clarkson>

Everyone's favorite throwback company, NewTek has launched SpeedEdit, "the world's fastest video editor." It's got a "Next-Gen Workflow" and other features of much importance!

So what's the deal? Despite my sarcasm, it actually has some interesting features. Or at least, the marketing speak talks of some nice features. They claim to edit natively in any codec, without transcoding, and without worrying about mixed resolutions. So, instead of picking a resolution for your project before you start cutting, you just start cutting. If they can actually do it (we'll see) it's a pretty neat idea. Resolution independence is something that I'd love to see in Final Cut Pro sooner rather than later. Cutting natively with all the crazy formats that come off the internets is a bit more questionable - it seems like a recipe for glitches.

They've also got a fancy interface which appears to consist of the worst elements of Avid, mixed with a dash of Video Toaster and a pinch of TriCaster. Ugly.

Still, it's a curious product. Nothing they're doing is technically impossible, but it's the sort of thing that's really hard to do well, especially in a brand new piece of software. We'll see...

Posted by at 11:26 AM

November 10, 2006

Tripod Reviews

Tripods are one of those things that can be very difficult to judge objectively using just published information. Unlike a camera whose specs you can read and understand, finding a good tripod is much more subjective.

With that in mind, I was really happy to see that DV.com has published a large tripod review. They're looking at primarily high-end tripod systems, but there's still a lot of good information there. You might need to log in to access the article.

Posted by at 11:07 AM

November 8, 2006

... "Why I don't care about AVCHD but maybe you should" ...

Panasonic has released a couple of new AVCHD-based camcorders, the HDC-SD1 and the HDC-DX1. The SD1 shoots to SD card, the DX1 shoots to 8mm DVDs.

Both of these cameras record in AVCHD, a format which appears to be gaining some traction in the consumer space. What is it? Essentially it's an H264-based recording format targeted at folks who don't have any intention of serious post production. Because H264 is not only long-GOP but also bi-directionally predicted, cutting it in an NLE is relatively problematic. But then, how many soccer-moms or nascar-dads are cutting their video of little Jimmy's baseball game? Not that many.

Anyways, I haven't paid much attention to these devices because I'm not convinced they're worth the trouble. For most people, digital cameras are quickly replacing separate camcorder devices, because the 640x480x30fps video that most digicams shoot is "good enough." For those who need a little more, something like the Sanyo Xacti HD1A is probably a more convenient device than a traditional camcorder form factor. I'll have one of those in for review in a few days, so we'll see.

In any case, I think AVCHD is an interesting format which I don't really care about. But perhaps you do.

Posted by at 9:49 AM

Core2Duo Macbooks announced

Booo! Hisss! They antiqued my laptop. (It's like pimping my ride, but different)

Apple has announced Core2Duo based Macbooks, combining juicy Merom chips with ... well actually, it was really just a chip upgrade. The upper tier models ship with 1gb of ram now as well, which is a nice addition Additionally, the superdrive is dual-layer now.

This is a bit of a surprise to me, as we're getting awfully close to Christmas. I had expected Apple to hold off on any more product line updates until Macworld.

Despite what the specs might have you believe, these are actually quite capable laptops for video editing. Motion certainly isn't thrilled about running on mine, but if you're just working in your NLE, there isn't a ton of reason to jump up to the more expensive MacbookPro.

Posted by at 9:22 AM