Category "Opinions"

Category "Reviews"

November 24, 2008

EBU review of production codecs

The EBU has a nerdy test of production codecs (XDcamHD 422, AVC-Intra, etc). Head to this page and scroll down to "HDTV Production codec tests" or just head right for the PDF.

This thread on DVInfo is where I saw it, if you want to discuss it further.

Posted by at 5:05 PM | Opinions | Reviews

Category "News"

Category "Reviews"

November 12, 2008

Flip goes High Def

The Wall Street Journal has the first review of the new Flip MinoHD, a 720p upgrade to the popular Flip Mino camera. This is the first serious competition to the Kodak Zi6 (damnit Amazon, ship mine already!) with the advantage of onboard storage and built in rechargeable batteries. The MinoHD also apparently sports much improved onboard software for working with your video, though "much improved" from the old stuff doesn't say too much ...

Unfortunately the review doesn't have any native video from the camera, so it's hard to really judge the camera quality. One of the biggest downsides they mention is the lack of a way to share the HD video ... yes ... if only someone had a solution...

Edit: One downside I noticed in digging a bit - it's 720p or nothing, no option to shoot natively to a lower resolution. That's one of the things I like about the Kodak - you can do 640x480 when you don't need the quality and just want long record times.

Posted by at 10:01 AM | News | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

November 6, 2008

More pocket projectors

David Pogue has a pogueish (fun) review of Optima's pocket projector. Probably a bit nicer, though much more expensive than the Aiptek unit I mentioned a few days back.

Posted by at 1:30 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

September 22, 2008

I'm in love with Skitch

Skitch was an application I really didn't understand at first - why would you need anything more than the built in OS X screenshot utility? Boy, was I wrong.

Skitch combines a very flexible screenshot tool with good annotation and drawing tools, plus one click posting to the web. It fully supports tablets for drawing on your screenshots, and gives you simple ways to get your images out of Skitch and into an email, instant message, etc.

So, if you're an OS X user that occasionally needs to send people screengrabs to explain something, it's definitely worth a look. You can follow my skitch feed here, or just download Skitch for free and give it a try.

Posted by at 3:21 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

PVC review of the Panasonic HPX-170

ProVideoCoalition has a review of the new Panasonic HPX-170. Think of it as an HVX-200 without the tape drive, and with some improved capabilities. It seems like many of the controls and interface options have been refined, and some of the imaging features have been enhanced.

If you weren't previously considering an HVX-200, this probably isn't of interest to you. Interestingly, it looks to be hitting the street for almost exactly the same price as the HVX-200 - right around $5200. If you were looking for an HVX though, you might enjoy the slimmer form factor, HD-SDI outputs and revised feature set.

Ag-Hpx170 Side Lowres

Posted by at 8:56 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

July 30, 2008

Kodak Zi6 Pocket Camera

Wow, no idea how I missed this a few weeks ago. Kodak announced the Zi6, a 720p, SD-based pocket-sized digital camcorder that retails at $180.

Has the same flip-out USB connector and built in editing software that you find on the Flip, includes rechargeable batteries, a bigger screen and uses removable memory. Even if the quality is just moderately crappy, this could be a winner.

 Eknec Documents D4 0900688A80924Cd4 Zi6 Fl-Bf Black02 250X200

Posted by at 2:40 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

July 28, 2008

Review of the Steadicam Pilot

Although it's a month old, I hadn't seen this review of the Steadicam Pilot by Charles Papert. It's very well written and in-depth - I wish there were more reviews of this quality on this sort of equipment. The Pilot seems like a great choice at well under $4000. Not quite as sexy as the $10,000 Sachtler Artemis, but hey...

 Articles Camsupport Papert Missionarybig

Edit: A good tip when linking to a review is to link to the review. Fixed that..

Posted by at 3:54 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

January 28, 2008

First look at the Sony HVR-HD1000U

DigitalContentProducer has posted a two part article looking at the HVR-HD1000U (part one, part two). This is Sony's sub-$2000 shoulder-mount HDV camcorder. The verdict? Well, what can you expect for less than $2000 ...

Posted by at 10:22 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

December 18, 2007

A tale of two cameras: Panasonic SD5 versus Sanyo Xacti HD1000

This review has been a long time coming. Now that the students are safely nestled away in their bunks, I can turn my attention to what really matters. The duel of the century. The battle to end all battles. The moderately-priced supposedly-hd direct-to-memory camcorder showdown! It's the Panasonic HDC-SD5 versus the Sanyo Xacti HD1000.

Dsc04527

Read on for the inside scoop.

In many ways, these cameras are very similar. Both record 1080i images to SD memory cards using an H.264 derivative. Both have full raster 1920x1080 imagers.

Let's look at some differentiating factors then.

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Form Factor
This is a pretty clear difference. Sanyo has gone with the pistol-grip form factor common to their entire Xacti line, while Panasonic has stuck with a more traditional (if very, very small) camcorder form factor.

I've got to say, this one is a hands down win for the Sanyo. I find the Panasonic to be very uncomfortable, difficult to pocket, and awkward to use. In comparison, the Sanyo - while not quite as nice as some of the lesser Xacti products due to the giant lens - is a joy to use. You can easily transition from chest level shooting to eye-level shooting, something that just isn't possible with the Panasonic.

Controls and Feedback
Controls and user-interface are areas in which I give both cameras a fail. Neither has an intuitive menu system, both take far too many clicks to accomplish basic tasks, and even after a few weeks of using them, I'm still getting hung up.

Both have decent, good-sized screens, with the Panasonic being slightly better saturated than the Sanyo. The Panasonic has an integrated, automatic lens cap, which is very nice (until it gets full of sand and stops working). The Sanyo is a traditional cap.

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Dsc04532 Dsc04533

Image Quality
Both of these cameras shoot 1920x1080 images. But there's a big difference. The Sanyo uses a single CMOS sensor, while the Panasonic has three CCDs. The result is that the Panasonic images tend to be slightly more detailed and less noisy. The Panasonic does particularly well in low-light, at least compared to the very, very noisy Sanyo.

The truth is that both cameras are let down by their compression scheme, so it's difficult to evaluate. I imagine both are capable of far better quality than is seen on the computer screen.

Workflow
While both cameras use an H.264 derived compression scheme, there are many differences. The Panasonic uses the AVC-HD standard, which in theory means it will be compatible with many modern NLEs. Indeed, I had good success with both iMovie 08 and Final Cut Pro 6.0.2.

The Sanyo is a different story. They make no claims about AVC-HD compatibility, and the result is a bit of a mess. The files it produces in 1080i60 mode are unreadable by Quicktime, VLC and pretty much every other player. Apparently things are slightly better in the Windows world, but not much. The 720p files it produces play fine, but at that point, why not buy the less expensive Xacti HD2? Sanyo doesn't have much in the way of support, so one wonders how they expect end users to deal with discovering that their footage is unviewable.

Because of this, I ended up doing some resolution tests with the Panasonic running in 1920x1080 mode, and the Sanyo in 720p60 mode. The results were very interesting. Even though the Sanyo was running at a lower resolution, it seemed to be the clear victor. It easily hit 700 lines both vertically and horizontally, while the Panasonic struggled to reach 600. Clearly though, the Panasonic was being let down by the compression scheme.

Sd5 Resolution
Panasonic resolution

Sanyo 30P Resolution Chart
Sanyo Resolution

(Ignore the white balance difference, both had difficulties under studio lighting)

The truth is, neither is going to challenge any of the HDV cameras on the market. While they're probably fine for casual use, or for web-delivered content, both exhibit such severe compression artifacts as to make their HD clains a bit of a stretch.

Other features and accessories
Both cameras include an assortment of accessories. In the case of the Sanyo, it's a rather nice docking station with HDMI output, power and USB connectivity. For the Panasonic, it's a rather odd DVD-burner attachment. The DVD burner can be used to burn the contents of the SD memory card to a DVD, though not in any viewable format. It's strictly for archive - so that you can make room on your SD card to shoot more, without having to connect to a computer. It's very clunky to use, slow to burn and I have trouble imagining its use in the field.

The Sanyo has one extra feature that deserves special note - external audio input. While it's only a mini-jack, it means you can hook up a real microphone and use the Sanyo for basic sit down interviews and the like.

Overall
Truth is, neither of these cameras blew me away. The Panasonic in particular, was a huge disappointment. It wasn't any fun to shoot with, the quality was subpar and there are loads of 'quirks' which made it a hassle. The Sanyo would do better if they'd stuck to a standard for their files. However, I was a big fan of the Xacti HD1A, and I hope they continue with the product line.

The redeeming value is the microphone input. If you're looking for something to produce decent 'talking head' footage for the web, it may suit your needs.

Both cameras are available now - figure around $700 for the Sanyo, and closer to $900 for the Panasonic.

Sample Footage
I'm not sure how I'm going to handle footage for this yet, as it's difficult to compare the 720p Sanyo footage to the 1080i Panasonic. Maybe I'll just compare them both at a scaled down baseline. Check back for more.

Posted by at 12:25 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

December 14, 2007

Resolving the XDCam EX

While doing the exposure tests, I also shot a resolution chart. Unfortunately, the only chart I could find maxed out at 800 lines, but you still get a nice idea of the quality of this camera.

Click for a full raster TGA. These are shot at an exposure of F8.

XDcam Ex 60i
XDcam Ex 24p

Posted by at 1:47 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

Indecent Exposure - Camera Roundup

A few folks have asked about the low-light performance of the XDcam EX. I decided to spend some time pitting it against a few of the other cameras that I've got on hand.

Read on for a full breakdown. The short summary? It does damn good.

To start with, I put an exposure chart in the studio with a single 2k instrument hitting it from the grid. Cameras were lined up side by side. I grabbed sample frames, and then brought them into ScopeBox to pull the waveform data. Then I dimmed the light to 10% and took another round of shots. I left the cameras on auto-iris, because part of what I was interested in was their ability to maximize their dynamic range. The studio camera was manually shaded.

The contenders are: XDCam EX, Canon XL-H1 and a Sony DXC-D50WSL (SD) studio camera. I did shoot frames with a Sanyo Xacti HD1000, Sony HVR-A1U and Panasonic HDC-SD5 as well, but because those cameras roll in gain automatically, it's difficult to do a comparison.

First off, let's look at some images under proper lighting. Click for a larger image.

Xdcam Exposure
XDcam EX (60i HQ)

Xlh1 Exposure
XL-H1 (60i)

They all did a decent job of taking advantage of the full range available. The XDCam pushed the whites a bit hotter than the XL-H1, but otherwise those two cameras tracked almost identically. What you can't see in the pictures is that the XDCam captured that image at an F8, while the XL-H1 was at an F5.6. The other cameras don't record F-stop numbers, so I can't clue you in on those. The studio camera was also running around an F8 for this shot, though I seem to have lost that still frame.

Not surprisingly then, with 2000 watts of light hitting a chart, the cameras did ok. But now let us see what happens when we dim that light to 10%.

Xdcam Low Light
XDCam

Xlh1 Low Light
XL-H1

D50 Low Light
Sony D50

I found this test to be pretty interesting. The XDCam continues to hold a significant advantage over the XL-H1. All the cameras were wide open at this point. The D50 blew them both away, owing to its 2/3" chips and a lens that costs more than all the other cameras in this test.

So, if low light is important, I think the old rules hold true - buy the biggest chips and the best lens you can afford. That sure makes the XDcam EX look like a great value.

Posted by at 1:43 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

December 11, 2007

Sony does it right? My review of the XDCam EX

Normally, I'm rather mean to Sony. Usually, they deserve it. Prepare to have your collective internet minds blown.

The Sony XDcam EX is the best camera you can buy for less than $15,000. It's my new favorite camera. It's the first camera in years that I've actually wanted to own personally. Read on to find out why. Thanks very much to Pat Hart at AVI Systems for making this camera available to me.

SANY0009.JPG

First impressions do a lot to dictate a camera's place within the industry. Is it amazing "out-of-the-box," or do you need to work hard to extract the joy? There is no clearer example of this than the Panasonic HVX-200. It shoots absolutely beautiful imagery from the moment you power it on. While a Canon XL-H1 will look desaturated and overly sharpened, video from an HVX-200 will be rich and smooth. I think Sony must understand that, because my out of the box impressions of the EX were excellent. I didn't feel the need to immediately dive into the many 'picture profiles' to customize the image. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Body
Let's start by looking at the physical shape and form factor. The EX is heavy, but not too heavy - around 5lbs. The size is similar to the HVX-200, though it's less of a fatty. The front half the camera is dedicated to the lens. With no tape drive, the rear half is much more compact than the Panasonic, and only a bit chunkier than a Sony Z1U.

The screen flips out from under the microphone, which puts it pretty far forward on the body. This is an excellent placement, as it means the camera can be braced against your shoulder without making you cross-eyed. The screen itself is incredibly crisp.

The button layout is one area that disappoints slightly. With apologies to Clarkson, it looks a bit like someone stuffed all of the buttons up their nose and then sneezed on the camera. Things are very spread out, and the scroll/click wheel for the menus is difficult to use without a lot of concentration.

The hand grip on the right side of the camera is a thing of genius. By pushing a release with your thumb, it rotates through a full 120 degrees, from parallel to the ground, past perpendicular. This means you can shoot down low, and move up high, without changing your grip. This is a great sign of the thought that Sony put into this camera.

Around back, there's an HD-SDI output, covered by a far-too-easy-to-lose rubber cap. All the other video outputs are on the side, under a cover, and are fed via Sony mini-connectors for composite/component. I don't mind this too much - it's the 21st century folks. Go HD-SDI or give up.

Below are some stills of the camera, followed by a video tour of the body.

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SANY0007.JPG SANY0008.JPG



Optics
The lens is claimed to be by Fujinon, and is a very, very nice bit of kit. It's essentially a standard professional lens that's been glued to the body. So you get full manual ring control of aperture, zoom and focus, with stops and scales and everything. All of the controls can also be set to servo-controlled auto, with manual override on the focus.

Perhaps I just had a particularly good sample, but I've found the lens to have less chromatic aberration and distortion than any other HD camera I've tested, including more expensive lenses on other XDcam-family cameras. There's a very slight amount of vingetting, though I found it to be barely noticeable. Breathing was moderate, and about in line with what I'd expect.

There are two physical ND filters which can be rolled in via a switch on the body. When you're running auto-iris, the screen will prompt you to add or remove filters as necessary.

The imagers are three 1/2" 'Exmor' 1920x1080 CMOS chips. You read that right - full raster HD. There's definitely some rolling shutter artifacts present in shaky footage, as you'll see later on, but it's not nearly so bad as lower end CMOS cameras.

Workflow
Tape is dead. I finally believe that for real. The P2 workflow was good, but the storage density wasn't there. The XDcam disc workflow had good density, but meant the cameras were big and clunky. XDCam EX changes everything. Take 35mbit XDCam HD footage (essentially HDV with VBR and less aggressive quantization tables), write it to an 8 or 16gig Expresscard/34 card. When you're done, pop it in the Expresscard slot on your MacbookPro or other modern laptop. Click. Drag. Done.

Pricing is still a sore spot for flash memory-based acquisition, and Sony hasn't solved that issue quite yet. An 8gig card will record about 30 minutes and set you back around $500. A 16gig card will run $900.

But there's a big asterisk here. Sony has promised, repeatedly, a firmware update that will allow the camera to take advantage of third-party memory cards. These cards currently retail for well under half the cost of the Sony cards. Sony has also discussed the possibility of a validation process, so that you'd know the card would be able to keep up with the camera. If they follow through on their word, that'll be a huge step forward.

If you don't have an appropriate laptop, you can connect the camera directly via USB, or get a USB expresscard reader. The expresscard slots are hotswappable, so you can offload one card while recording to another, and then swap them back.

For those still living in the dark ages, there camera also has a firewire (err iLink) port. When recording in "standard quality" mode, the camera will output a normal 25mbit HDV signal over firewire, so you could use this camera with an older NLE or with a Firestore or similar device. But really, if you're going to do that, just buy a lesser camera.

Quality
Now that we've covered the physical characteristics and workflow - how does the image actually look? Damn good. I'm going to do some resolution tests later this week, but suffice to say it's incredibly crisp.

The camera has a wide range of configurable features. You can do multiple custom settings for image controls, gamma curves, etc. You can choose 1080i60, 1080p30, 1080p24, 720p60, 720p30 and 720p24. In the 720 settings, you can overcrank up to 60fps, for true slow motion.

The samples section at the end of this review has a number of high-resolution videos to help you gather just how good the camera looks.

Negatives
As a cynic, I can't do a review without mentioning some negatives. As I noted earlier, the menu scroll-wheel is difficult to operate. The menus are also laid out in an awkward fashion. If you're shooting 1080p24, and suddenly decide you want to shoot some slow motion, you need to dig into the 'others' menu to set the resolution to 720p24, then go into another menu branch to set the overcrank. The 'video format' menu option is also right above the 'format media' menu option, which has more than once gotten me close to accidentally wiping my memory card.

The white balance control gives you a switch between preset, a or b. However, the preset is always fixed to 3200K. I wish they'd gone the Panasonic route on this one and let you toggle between 3200 and 5600 on the preset.

The power switch is difficult to operate, particularly when wearing gloves, though I understand this is to make it more difficult to accidentally turn it off.

Startup times are rather slow - around 10 seconds from power on to being able to start recording. Why does it take so long, when there aren't physical tape heads to engage?

Battery life isn't stellar - I was expecting amazing runtimes, thanks to the lack of moving parts. However, I'm seeing more like 2 hours of 'real world' use on a charge with the included battery.

The CMOS sensors inevitably lead to some rolling shutter issues, though they're not terrible.

That's about it. In all honesty, the negatives are easy to work around and are far outweighed by the positives.

Overall
I love this camera. It is everything I have dreamt of in a video camera. This, for me, is the new top-dog. $6699? A bargain.

Sample Footage
Thanks to an abundance of bandwidth here at the University, I'm able to host files that other reviewers can't. So here goes.

For each clip, I've posted a web-sized flash version, a 720p quicktime vesion, and the original XDCam file. You'll need Final Cut Pro 6.0.2 installed to view the XDCam files.

1080p24 - Child Walking in the Snow


720p Quicktime
XDCam Original

720p24 - Overcranked at 60 - Snow on Bricks


720p Quicktime
XDCam Original

720p24 - Overcranked at 60 - Slow Motion walker. Note some rolling shutter distortion due to the snow (or not? see this thread)



720p Quicktime
XDCam Original

720p24 - Overcranked at 60 - Dude walking.



720p Quicktime
XDCam Original

1080p24 - Failed Diet Coke Fountain. Notice the way the CMOS sensors handle the light bloom. Wouldn't want to do this with a CCD.


720p Quicktime
XDCam Original

1080p24 - Long zoom at the train museum - very low light shot, with 6db of gain


720p Quicktime
XDCam Original

1080p24 - Trains undercranked at 6fps


720p Quicktime
XDCam Original

1080p24 - 16 frame 'frame accumulation' shot


720p Quicktime
XDCam Original

1080p24 - On the set of TechTalk


720p Quicktime
XDCam Original

1080p24 - On the set again, spinning around


720p Quicktime
XDCam Original

Posted by at 4:55 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

October 23, 2007

Drobo followup a few months later

I've had my Drobo for about three months now, and I figured it'd be a good time to post some followup thoughts. Here's the scoop.

The Drobo is the first product from a young company, so I went into it expecting some growing pains. Indeed, there have been a few. But I can happily report that they've been resolved and it is now the device I hoped it would be.

The problems have been relatively minor - initially, the disks would never go to sleep (solved by firmware 1.0.2) and there was an occasionally pause when streaming video (fixed by firmware 1.0.3). I also had one scary moment in which I thought I'd lost all of my data - the Drobo refused to mount and OSX threw all sorts of USB errors. After a few hours of churning (and replaying the HFS+ journal) it appeared and all was well.

I've used about 810gigs of my available 1.1 terabytes. I'll need to upgrade drives before too long, which will be a good test of that feature. In the meantime, I'm happy with having a single, redundant, giant drive to dump all of my data onto. It's allowed me to unify all of my media into a single, giant, iTunes library, which would otherwise have never been possible.

Thumbs up to Drobo then, and onward towards glory.

 Blog Wp-Content Uploads 2007 06 Drobo-Left-Angle-1

Posted by at 3:17 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

October 1, 2007

Amazon MP3 Service - Apple shouldn't ignore this one

Amazon.com recently launched an MP3 music store, promising DRM-free 256kbit mp3s for less than the cost of an iTunes download. Initially, I didn't pay much attention, but over the weekend I took the time to browse the service. Apple better not ignore this one.

First, let's talk about the reasons that I normally ignore non-iTunes stores. First off, prior to this (and eMusic, but eMusic lost me years ago) the alternatives were all reliant on DRM-wrapped Windows Media. That meant no Mac playback, no iPod playback, and therefore, no Colin.

Additionally, most of the other stores have been strictly web-based, which compared with the all-in-one nature of iTunes is cumbersome and obnoxious. Amazon still suffers here, but they've done some clever things to work around it. By installing their download-helper application, you can purchase an album with one click, have the files downloaded in a batch and then automatically added to iTunes, with proper cover art and everything. That's incredibly slick and makes the service far less clunky than having to click a whole load of "download now" links and then drag the files into iTunes.

The selection isn't at iTunes levels yet, but they've got plenty of mainstream artists. Prices are almost universally better than iTunes - most singles are $0.89 and albums are $8.99 or less. I can't help but wonder whether there's any profit in this for Amazon.

Yes, buying still takes an extra couple clicks versus iTunes, and the web interface isn't nearly as slick as iTunes, but saving a few bucks and getting DRM-free music is a pretty nice advantage. For the first time since I gave up CDs, I'm going to consider looking outside of iTunes for music - and I'm a fanboi! So Apple: don't ignore this one...

Posted by at 10:02 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

August 20, 2007

Panasonic HPX-500 review

The HPX-500 is the big brother to the stellar HVX-200. There's a nice review up from a UK site. IT certainly seems to have a lot of benefits, particularly if your workflow can take advantage of the benefits of P2 without the disadvantages. It's a very affordable step up for the HVX (street price is around $13,000) which makes the cons (lowish-res CCDs, limited manual tweaking) seem less problematic.

Posted by at 9:53 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

July 9, 2007

iPhone vs Dash

So, I'm not entirely dead. Just mostly.

I'm finally feeling halfway competent enough to write up my thoughts on the iPhone. In doing so, I figured I'd compare it to my previous phone, the T-Mobile Dash (HTC Excalibur).

Img 8119

Let me begin by pointing out my inherent bias in this discussion - the iPhone was always going to be the God phone in my eyes. That said, it's not perfect.

Lets start with form factor. The iPhone and the Dash are very similar in size and weight. The Dash is a bit wider, the iPhone is a bit taller. The Dash is a fair svelte device for a smartphone (pre-iPhone), and I'm a huge fan of the rubberized plastic used on the case. The iPhone is far more likely to take an accidental tumble than the Dash. Luckily you'd never be so careless as to put your iPhone in harm's way.

Img 8127


Taken strictly as a phone, the Dash is also the winner. Much of this is (I believe) down to the fact that my Dash was a T-mobile device, whereas the iPhone is an AT&T device. I've had more dropped calls in a week with my iPhone than in 6 months with my Dash. The Dash was by far the best performing phone I've used though, so it'd be tough to match. (Other recent phones I've used with T-mobile - Nokia 3230, Nokia 3650, Motorola Razr, Siemens S55, Samsung S105). It's also worth noting that I live in a cave, where any RF reception is tenuous at best.

What about internet functionality? There's no comparison. The iPhone is by far the best mobile internet experience I've ever had. Having a true and proper web browser in your pocket really is a game-changer. Websites render properly and quickly, and navigation is easy, despite the small screen. Similarly, the Email client is fast and easy to use. The Dash webbrowser was slow and problematic, often locking the phone or refusing to render a page. Similarly, the email client always took ages to pull in my mail, and would often fail to complete the process, leaving my mailbox in funny half-present states.

In terms of net connectivity, the iPhone is the first phone I've had with proper, usable Wifi. It's not something you have to think about - any time you make a data request and the iPhone sees a nearby access point, it asks if you want to join. If you say yes, it connects quickly and without drama. If you say no, it uses EDGE. While EDGE is a bit of a bummer compared to the 3G networks, the iPhone is definitely the fastest EDGE device I've used. The iPhone also remembers Wifi access points you've visited in the past, and automatically joins them next time you're in range. Nice.

The other smartphone tools are pretty much par for the course. The calendar is functional, the notes tool is a notes tool, and the contact management is "alright," - no better than other phones. The touch interface makes it all fun, and I have no complaints about the functionality. A todo feature is sorely missing though, and one would hope it would find its way into a software update.

In terms of media playback, there isn't any comparison between the two. The Dash had a semi-functional version of Windows Media Player which would display tiny little videos and stuttering audio. The iPhone gives you all the functionality of an iPod, with the addition of a beautiful touch interface and high-res screen.

All in all, the iPhone has met my expectations of what an Apple phone should be. It's beautiful, intuitive, and does a few things far better than anyone has done before. And, like any Apple device, it is also to some extent defined by its limitations. No iChat, no video capture, no third party applications. It's a good enough device that I can ignore the limitations for now. Because Apple has the ability to push software updates easily and universally, unlike any phone before, I hope the next few months will reveal an ever-improving iPhone that continues to delight and amaze.

Posted by at 9:25 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

June 28, 2007

Drobo Rocks

I have made it back from Beijing (woot) and am slowly getting caught up. I want to begin with a review of my Drobo.

IMAGE_257



It really is as simple as they say. I unboxed it, plugged in three fresh 500 gig SATA drives, turned it on and formatted it. That was it. No setup, configuration, or anything else. As an aside, the drives were only $99 each, on sale at NewEgg. If you're in the market, keep an eye on the "cheap drive deals" forum at DroboSpace.

Next, I started copying data to the Drobo. While doing so, I popped in a 300 gig drive in the fourth slot. There was no excitement whatsoever - the copy continued, the green light came on and the Volume was suddenly a little bit bigger.

Picture 2-2

So, setup is as simple as could be.

Performance is probably the biggest downside of Drobo. If you need crazy thruput, this isn't the device for you. I'm seeing about 16 Megabytes/second, compared to about 60 megabytes/second on the internal disk. That's a pretty big difference, but I'm just using the device for archival purposes.

Some folks are also confused by the way it reports free space. The DroboDashboard application (shown above) reports the true disk space of Drobo. However, the OS will report it as a 2 terabyte volume, no matter how large the actual drives are. This is how they're able to grow and shrink the volume dynamically - they trick the OS a bit. What it means is that you can't trust the "Free space" report in Finder. There are also lights on the front of Drobo that tell you how much space is available. Not a big downside for me, but some folks might not be so keen.

Another issue that some folks have is noise. Drobo does have an 80mm fan in the back, which runs at varying speeds depending on workload and ambient temperature. For me, it seems pretty quiet, and I certainly can't hear it over my air conditioner. If you're one of those silent-workspace types though (still running a Cube?), you won't be thrilled.

Overall, I'm very impressed. Build quality is nice, with a bunch of high end touches, like magnets to hold the front faceplate on. For a first product from a new company, it all feels very polished.

So, if you're a person with lots of data to store, without a need for high disk bandwidth, and you want to be able to grow over time, Drobo will make you very happy.

Posted by at 10:38 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

June 11, 2007

Tapeless roundup

Audio Video Producer has a roundup of the various flavors of XDCamHD and XDCamHD EX. I'm a fan of their workflow, though I still dream of one day having a new "standard format" like DV that is shared between manufacturers. That'd be nice...

Posted by at 11:24 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

May 4, 2007

Sony Reader Rocks my World

If you listened to last week's podcast (yes, we still do them), you heard me go on and on about the Sony Reader. If you didn't listen though, here's the gist.

 Images Sony-Reader
I stole this photo from the internet

The Sony Reader is a paperback-sized ebook reader (about 1/4" thick) which uses E-ink technology to display text in a very paper-esq manner. The screen actually displays dots of ink which reflect light, just like normal paper. By using this technology, you get incredible battery life (7000 pages on a charge) and far less eyestrain than with a traditional digital display.

The Reader displays books purchased from the Sony Connect store or any PDF, TXT, RTF, JPG or GIF file. It can also play MP3s. There's about 100 meg of internal storage, but the Reader has an SD/Memory Stick slot which allows for expansion. I just popped in an $8, 1gig SD card from NewEgg.

I've absolutely fallen in love with it. Reading from it is as comfortable (or perhaps more comfortable) than reading paper. It's such a joy to constantly have a whole collection of books with you. You can easily mark as many pages as you want and jump to them as desired. Text can also be displayed in three different sizes, or rotated into landscape mode. There are multiple page turn buttons as well, to make it comfortable no matter how you hold it.

Downsides? Well, it's spendy. $350 will get you the Reader, though it comes with $50 in credit at the Sony Connect store, along with another $100 towards "classic" books. The books from the Sony store are generally in the range of 20% cheaper than the dead-tree version, however some titles are closer to 50% off (and a few inexplicably cost more).

Another downside, for some folks at least, is that the screen goes through an odd flash when turning the page. This is because the e-ink has to clear the screen before drawing new text. It doesn't bug me at all, as I just consider it akin to physically turning a page.

In any case, I love mine and look forward to showing other folks just how good it is. If you want to check one out in person (and you don't see me on a routine basis), you can find them at some Borders bookstores.

Posted by at 5:11 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

April 5, 2007

I have seen the future, and it is Joost

After much anticipation, I got my invite to Joost today. All I gotta say is "Wow" - this thing might actually work.

As soon as you launch the client, you get a list of channels that you can flip through. What makes this different is that you can not only pick your channel, but you can pick your show within the channel. Each of the channels has between 5 and 20 (or so) shows available to choose from. As soon as you select one, it starts playing, almost immediately.

It seems like the video stream is approximately 650kbits (~80K/s). At this point, it's using about 20K/s of outbound traffic, presumably seeding to other viewers. Sometimes outbound usage will spike up quite a bit. I'm not sure if there's a cap on how much outbound traffic it will generate.

In addition to flipping through channels, Joost has a widget system, that lets you chat with other users about what you're watching, or get basic widgety-type updates (news ticker, clock, etc).

It's still a little bit beta - audio sync isn't perfect, and interface operations aren't totally smooth yet. But wow, I could definitely see this, combined with iTunes, making a big dent in normal broadcast tv.

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Posted by at 12:16 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

March 26, 2007

Sony HDR-HC7 camcorder review

Camcorderinfo has a nice (as usual) review up of the HDR-HC7. The verdict? Sounds like maybe the Canon HV20 is the right choice in the "small-non-professional-HDV-not-AVCHD-camcorder" market ...

Posted by at 12:19 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

January 25, 2007

A few XDCamHD articles

I'm still a fan of the XDCamHD camera line, particularly the F350. If you are too, you might be interested in two articles that were recently posted about the F350, one from DV.com giving a general overview, and one from Digital Content Producer which provides some real life use stories. One day, it will be mine.

Posted by at 1:55 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

December 1, 2006

Review: Indie-Dolly

The footage I posted yesterday came from our new Indie-Dolly. We've been in the market for a portable, affordable dolly for quite a while, and finally settled on the Indie-Dolly.

There are a number of choices in this part of the market, including the Indie-Dolly, the Microdolly and the Losmany Spider Dolly. There are pros and cons to each. The Microdolly is definitely hte most portable, with its tent-pole style track. However, I wasn't convinced it would hold up to student use. The Losmany dolly uses flexible track, which is very cool in concept, but which I haven't been happy with in reality. It seems like there's always just enough movement in the track so as to be noticeable. The Indie-Dolly uses a collapsable track system which is significantly more robust than the Microdolly, but which is still reasonably portable.

The pricing for the Indie-Dolly system is pretty straightforward. You purchase the dolly itself, for around $1000, and then buy sections of track as desired. So far, we've got one straight track kit ($500, 12 feet) and have ordered a curved track kit ($600, 13 feet).

Everything comes in very nicely constructed bags. The bag for the dolly has wheels and a handle, similar to many luggage bags. It's a good thing the wheels are there, as the bag weighs nearly 50lbs. The track bag is slightly lighter, though much larger.

Assembling the dolly is relatively straightforward, but it's not an instant task by any means. It took me about half an hour the first time, though I imagine future setups will go much quicker.

Though the kit includes a seat, I think most operators will chose to just walk with the dolly. There is also a push bar included.

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Unfolding the track is rather analogous to collapsing a flexfill. Even after watching the demo video a few times, it was still a bit confusing. I suppose it just takes practice.

Once you've got it all assembled, the movement of the dolly is very smooth. There's no jitter when moving between pieces of track, and the individual trucks don't seem to be shifting on the track at all. I'm looking forward to getting the curved track to do some longer moves.

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In the end, I think the Indie-Dolly is a great option for those seeking an affordable, portable dolly. I believe other folks have come to this conclusion as well, as it took nearly a month for our order to arrive.

Posted by at 11:25 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

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 | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

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 | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

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 | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

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 | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

September 20, 2006

Canon HV10 Review

Camcorderinfo has a review of the Canon HV10. It's a handycam HDV camera which isn't particularly exciting in the context of this site, but which does feature the ability to play back tapes shot in Canon's 24F and 30F modes, which is pretty cool. Otherwise, it isn't anything too special...

Posted by at 9:22 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

September 19, 2006

A1Us in the Hiz-ouse

Man, I'm so cool with the titles.

Anyways, we've procured a few Sony HVR-A1U cameras, to replace our dying PDX-10s. We've got three out of four at this point, after a protracted battle with Sony. Sony apparently forgot to keep making them or something, so everywhere on the planet ran out of them. Bummer.

In any case, three of the cameras are here. And what do I think? Follow the jump!

In short, if you're looking for an HD capable camcorder with XLR inputs for less than $2000, the HVR-A1U is your best choice. It's also your worst choice. Because it is, of course, your only choice. In reality, moving up from here puts you into HVR-V1U / Canon XH-A1 range, which means you're looking at $4000 - $5000. A pretty serious jump.

Anyways, the cameras themselves are surprisingly small. I didn't realize just how much smaller (and lighter!) than the PDX-10 the camera would be. This [extra] miniaturization has introduced a few issues which, if there were other choices in this price range, I would consider show stoppers.

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PDX-10 on the left, HVR-A1U on the right

First off, it's a bottom load camera. At a minimum, being a bottom loader means that you have to take it off the tripod in order to swap tapes. In this case, it's even worse. The screw-mount for the tripod plate is so close to the tape release, there isn't a way to swap tapes without removing your tripod plate entirely. That's a serious bummer.

It gets worse though. The battery release is on the bottom as well. So, you're going to be pulling the tripod plate off an awful lot. I guess they figure that the XLR-Mic-Sporting soccer moms won't be using tripods, eh? Or perhaps we can just call it a design flaw.

Moving into the "annoying but not design flaws" space, everything is done via a touch screen. I know Sony is hot on these nowadays, but man is it ever annoying. Frankly, I don't find tapping the screen through 4 different rolly-polly menus to be quicker than pressing a physical white balance button. Oh well, it's the FUTURE, right?

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The camera has also taken some flack for sporting a single CMOS sensor, instead of three separate chips. In most situations, at least so far, I haven't seen that cause dramatic issues. However, there is a bit more noise in the shadows than I might otherwise like, and you do see some of the aliasing (not the right term perhaps) of the bayer mask in the noise. But hey, if it's good enough for RED, it's good enough for us, right?

The image itself looks quite nice, in HDV or DV mode. Comparing it against a PDX-10 when shooting a bars chart, the two are more or less equal (in DV mode). They both tend towards the reds a bit more than I might otherwise like, but besides that they have nice contrast and an overall nice look.

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So, as I said, if you're in the market for a $2000 HDV camera with XLR inputs, you can't do better. Or worse.

(By the way, the stills were shot with an A1U in photo mode)

Posted by at 4:09 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

August 15, 2006

Mini-Shootout Videos

I've got some video together from our little camera test on Friday. The "shoot-out" element of the test is more or less lost unfortunately. I can only get the first 30 seconds of any given XDCamHD clip (trial limitation of Flip4mac MXF), which means most of the footage is of me focusing the shot. The footage off the XL-H1 is largely over or underexposed, as the viewfinder was, as previously mentioned, "gone wonky."

In any case, I've pulled some of the better footage, and have my thoughts, after the jump.

So first, the footage. Each scene contains shots from each camera (with a camera label in the lower left). The links are for 3mbit H.264 versions (at 1920x1080) and also Uncompressed 8bit 4:2:2 Quicktimes. You'll probably need Final Cut Pro installed to view those.

Bars Chart (h264) Bars Chart (Uncompressed)
Shoe Tree (h264) Shoe Tree (Uncompressed)
River Shot (h264) River Shot (Uncompressed)
Down the Bridge (h264) Down the Bridge (Uncompressed)

The clips are very short, but I figure most people go frame by frame for this stuff anyways. Plus, my iMac really doesn't like rendering uncompressed HD.

So, what can we learn from this footage? First, we can learn that one should plan an event like this a bit more thoroughly - if I'd known about Final Cut's issue with VBR XDCamHD footage for example, we could have shot all CBR. We also could have gotten ahold of some P2 cards for the HVX-200.

In terms of the footage though, we can notice a number of things. The cameras were more or less in their default settings. Immediately, the HVX-200 footage looks the most "pleasant" - with its supersaturated colors, everything seems obscenely pretty. This has been a hallmark of the *VX cameras, and it certainly continues here.

When you move on to the XDCam and the XL-H1, you notice that 1) they're much duller than the HVX and 2) they're much sharper than the HVX. There's a crispness to them that's very obviously lacking on the HVX. The F350 (XDCam) and the XL-H1 both have 1440x1080 CCDs, whereas the HVX is significantly less than that. Whether that can totally account for the visual difference or not, I'm not sure.

The XL-H1 certainly looks the most like video. In fact, I think there is too much digital sharpening going on. The XDCam seems to split the difference nicely. I'm still concerned about the fringing, but I continue to chalk that up to the lens.

Having said that both the XDcam and the XL-H1 looked dull compared to the HVX, I must add that a very minor tweak in the 3-way color corrector was all that was needed to bring them into line with the Panasonic. Certainly it'd be preferable to have the footage come out of the camera that way though, as it's a nice starting point for more intense CC work.

Is it fair to cross compare these cameras? I think it is. Ideally, we would have also had an HDX-900 present, but I couldn't con one out of anyone.

I think that folks looking at the F350 and F330 XDCam units should take a long look at the Canon XL-H1. While you give up the ability to overcrank and undercrank, and the nice workflow of the XDCam format, you save $20,000. Not a small chunk of change.

That said, I think the XDCam format is amazing. I was skeptical in the past, because it seemed like a stopgap between tape and solid state. However, having experienced the pain that is the Firestore, and the expense that is P2, I think that it may have been a wise choice. The footage off the F350 was very, very good, and it was certainly my preferred camera to shoot with. However, if you're just looking for an HD camera to shoot very crisp, normal speed video, you may find that the XL-H1 meets all your needs.

Finally, just for fun, here's a bit of overcrank footage for you. We had to run the HVX-200 in 720p mode, as we were capturing directly into Final Cut Pro and it can't handle the overcrank in 1080p at this point. The link itself is only 640p, because I don't have a 720p preset in Media Mill.

The XDCam is running at 60fps, recording to disc at 24p. Note that when you're doing the 60->24 overcrank on the XDCam, you actually lose half your vertical resolution. So, even though this is a 1080 video, you're really only getting 540 lines of detail.

HVX-200 Overcrank (the first few seconds of this are just white frames)
XDCam Overcrank (some white frames on this as well)

Thanks again to Adam for use of his HVX-200, Steve at Z-Systems for the XDCam, and Gary and Mark for helping out.

I'll post a final update when the 16mm footage returns from the lab.

Posted by at 4:50 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

August 14, 2006

Sony HVR-M15U Mini-Review

We just reviewed a Sony HVR-M15U HDV deck. I've only used it for a short while, but it looks to be just about what I expected - a DSR-11 that happens to play HDV tapes. If you've used a DSR-11 in the past, you'll immediately be familiar with the form factor and the control layout.

You get full playback for both small and regular sized tapes, HDV/DV/DVCam support and that's about it. Standard analog outputs are all you get, as it's quite clear that Sony is incredibly paranoid about stealing sales from higher end Studio decks in the XDCam/HDCam line. Which is stupid.

The M15U will play 1080i60 and 1080i50 - sorry Canon and JVC shooters, no 24 frame or 720 support is available.

As I said, it's a DSR-11 that happens to play HDV tapes. If that's all you ask of it, it does a fine job. Just don't ask too much and everyone will be happy.

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Posted by at 4:55 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

August 11, 2006

Semi-Shootout Results coming Monday

Went out shooting with Gary, Adam and Mark today, with the idea of doing a little camera comparo.

We shot with a Canon XL-H1, a Panasonic HVX-200, and a Sony PDW-F350 (XDCam). Thanks very much to Steve at Z-Systems for the XDCam, and thanks to Adam for the Panasonic. We also shot some 16mm (color reversal), just so that we could say we did.

I'll get more substantial information up Monday, but I wanted to post a quick note. Results so far are:
1) One of our Canon XL-H1s is broken. The viewfinder is jittery and jumping all over. Ugh.
2) Nobody in the Twin Cities has P2 cards for rent on short notice.
3) Final Cut Pro only supports XDCam footage at 25mbps.
4) The Sony XDCam system is really, really nice.

I finally get XDCam. I finally understand why we need to drop about $100,000 on XDCam hardware. I'm ready to shill for Sony. I take back everything bad I've ever said about them. Well, no, not that last one.

More next week!

Posted by at 6:29 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

August 1, 2006

Dolly Reviews

(Stealing from DVguru) StudioMonthly has a little review of various lowcost dolly options. I've played with all the ones listed I believe, with the exception of P+S Technik's Skater Dolly. A good read if you're in the market. I've always really liked the Microdolly Indie-Dolly as it seems robust enough for student use, while still being pretty portable.

Posted by at 10:24 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

June 21, 2006

Macbook editing continued

I've been working on cutting together a short trailer of some material shot in 1080i60 HDV using Final Cut Studio on my Macbook. I'll post a link later today when the final cut is ready, but I wanted to make note of a few things I experienced.

First off, I'm cutting with the Apple Intermediate Codec, because somebody can't be buggered to add quicktime support to their product ("It'll ship in April! No May! No June!" ... ). This means I'm working with 100mbit footage instead of 25mbit HDV. This seems to be right on the edge of what the Macbook drive can reasonably stream at a consistent framerate, and things go a bit stuttery when you start adding in multiple streams. But things have stayed stable, which is good.

The next thing I've found is that all is not well in the world of Motion. Some effects, particularly some of the glow effects, don't seem to display correctly. Presumably this is due to the integrated graphics not supporting the needed features. What's interesting is that the program keeps on working without complaint.

Soundtrack Pro, as always, was flawless to work with.

I haven't noticed any other glitches that I can attribute to the Macbook. In fact, I've been a bit surprised at how stable the whole suite has been - no crashes or significant hiccups over 30+ hours of use.

Posted by at 9:48 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

June 13, 2006

Final Cut Studio on a Macbook

I've finally had a chance to spend some time with Final Cut Studio (5.1) on my Macbook. A reminder, my Macbook is the black 2ghz with 1 gig of ram. I've also poked in Aperture a bit, but I haven't had a chance to actually use it to process a whole shoot.

Final Cut Studio installed without complaining, and all the applications launch just fine. Aperture complains about the screen resolution but then continues and seems to load alright.

More after the jump...

In terms of general, straight cuts editing with a few fades and basic tweaks, Final Cut Pro is plenty usable. I'm still primarily working with DV content, though it behaved similarly when working with HDV content as well. I've run into a few glitches when selecting items on the timeline, though they may be 5.1 related, rather than Macbook related. I also experience a few dropped frames during playback from the timeline at transition points, but they seemed more related to disk speed than anything else. Normally I'd be cutting from an external disk, or else I'd look in to a faster internal disk.

Similarly, Motion loads and runs just fine for basic compositing operations. I did a fairly simple keyframed moving mask and everything performed in real time. A basic color correction filter didn't hurt performance too much either.

Things all went a bit fishy when I started adding particle effects. These are the sorts of things that rely heavily on the GPU to do the compositing. Since the Macbook has comparatively underpowered graphics processing, things got fairly lagged and painful. I didn't experience any crashes or actual loses of functionality, but when roundtripping to Final Cut Pro, things got very slow. After a render of course, everything was back to acceptable.

My verdict is that, for basic rough-cut editing, the Macbook is plenty acceptable. I wouldn't want to do serious finishing on it, but nothing precludes one from doing that. The most important thing, in my opinion, is that it seems to be stable and all the features appear to be intact. This was my biggest concern, seeing as the computer isn't officially a support Final Cut Studio platform. If anyone has particular questions, let me know.

Posted by at 10:36 AM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

March 22, 2006

Realbasic Amazes/Frustrates

One codebase, one button, three windows:

Threewindows-2
Click for a larger image

Read on to find out how ...

Realbasic is an object oriented crossplatform development language that lets you build and distribute binaries for Windows 98/XP, Mac OS X and OS9, as well as Linux with GTK2. It's fast and fairly robust.

The Realbasic IDE is fairly straightforward. If you've used XCode/Interface Builder or any other modern IDE you should come up to speed pretty fast. The integration between the interface design elements and the actual code is much more straightforward than the Xcode approach, and in my mind it makes things a lot simpler.

Realbasic Interface
RealBasic Interface

If you've used any object-oriented language in the past, you'll get familiar pretty quick. The layout of the IDE pretty much forces you to be very object-oriented in your code design. It's been quite a while since I've done any Java work, and my PHP tends to be rather un-OOPy, so it took me a bit of time to wrap my head around the various concepts - methods, properties, events, etc.

One of the most powerful features of Realbasic is the amount of built in capabilities. For example, not only do you get SQL support, but you can built an SQL server into your application for internal use. Graphics (2d and 3d, including vectors) are built in, as is Quicktime support on Mac/Windows, along with decently robust networking support. Plus, although the language is little more abstracted than C, you still get some hardware access if you need it.

You can also build not only GUI apps, but console (command line) apps and daemons.

Additionally, there are lots of very handy classes and plugins out on the net. Most of them are commercial but reasonably priced.

A few downsides - first off, a problem I've run up against is a lack of support for files greater than 2gigabytes. Why such a limitation in this day and age? It just doesn't make sense, and it's causing me no end of trouble.

Second, I find the documentation to be poor. There's plenty of it, but it's scattered around multiple files, and the built in language reference is frustrating. They should really consider replicating the system at php.net, which I think is the most user-friendly and helpful system out there.

Anyways, I highly recommend folks check out RB if you're interested in getting in to crossplatform GUI development. Some folks are doing highly cool things with it.

Posted by at 4:13 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

February 21, 2006

More XL-H1 pornography

Just playing around a bit more with these XL-H1s. Decided to pit one against a Sony DSR-D50 SD camera. Both were in SD mode, both going SDI into a Videotek VTM-440 scope, shooting a standard (read:cheap) bars chart. Here's the screengrabs:

CANON
XL-H1
SONY
DSR-D50

The XL is about a stop less sensitive than the D50, which is understandable considering the differences in chip size. Otherwise, I think the XL did pretty well. Obviously it could be tweaked a bit to have better saturation, especially in the reds, and a bit better pedestal level.

Here's an assortment of shots, all taken with the XL's still camera mode, as we were playing around.

IMG_0101 IMG_0103

IMG_0104 IMG_0105

IMG_0107

Posted by at 4:31 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

February 20, 2006

Happiness... Is an XL-H1...

Updates pending ... I'm distracted right now...

DSC00705.JPG DSC00707.JPG

Posted by at 4:14 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

February 1, 2006

StickyPod Review

The StickyPod is an inexpensive but high quality car mount for consumer and prosumer cameras. Follow the jump for my full review and some sample video.

Our StickyPod was purchased in response to an "incident" in which a camera was returned covered in duct tape. This prompted the question of "Hey, why is this camera covered in duct tape" and the unfortunate reply of "Oh, I taped it to my car."

Hrm.

We decided that at least with a car mount, if something bad happens it'll probably totally destroy the camera, instead of just making it all sticky. And, if you've ever scrubbed duct tape off a camera, you know that destruction is the better option.

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We ended up getting the StickyPod "Pro Pack" from B&H. This includes the StickyPod, an extra suction cup, some extension arms, adjustable knuckles, and a tie-down strap. The strap is my only real criticism of the kit - it's far too short to be useful for much of anything. The included training video shows a much longer strap, so it's possible that our kit was just missing a piece. In any case, I intend to get some additional straps.

DSC00291.JPG

The mount itself seems very solid. Essentially it's a steel plate with four suction cups and a standard screw mount. I appreciate the simplicity. The suction cups seem to be pretty high quality, and they grip quite solidly. I attached the mount to an interior window and it held firm, even against my tugging.

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The process for getting ready to use the StickyPod is pretty straight forward. First, clean the suction cups and the surface you'll be attaching it to, to ensure a solid grip. Then, attach the camera to the StickyPod, using whichever extensions and mounts that you desire. Then, firmly press each suction cup to the surface.

We did some test shooting using a Sony PDX-10 and overall I'm happy with the results. I think the biggest lesson learned is to turn off the optical image stabilizer in the PDX-10, as it can't cope with the jarring motion and instead overcompensates. Unfortunately, we didn't realize this until getting back inside. If we ever have nice weather again, I'll do another test run. Additionally, this testing was done with a Mini Cooper S, which has a ride that is rather on the stiff side. Expect less jarring motion with a more loosely sprung car.

In any case, I think it's a solid piece of kit, especially at the price. I'm not sure I would mount a camera much larger than a PDX-10, at least when combined with some of the extension arms. While the mount stayed firmly stuck during testing, I think physics will prove victorious with a significantly weightier camera. The StickyPod folks have a video of a 25lb weight held up by a StickyPod for multiple hours, but I found that the jarring motion of a car reduces the grip significantly.

In any case, click the image below to take a look at the sample video (Quicktime 7). Thanks to Mark and Adam for helping with the shooting.

Sticky Pod Demo-4

Posted by at 4:36 PM | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

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 | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

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 | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

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 | Reviews

Category "Reviews"

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 | Reviews