Saturday, November 29, 2008

Solution Looking for a Problem?

That is the consensus of reviewers of a new product from Nikon--The D90.

The Nikon D90 is a Digital SLR still camera. It is a high-end model just below their professional cameras. Overall it is an outstanding performer as a digital camera with hardly any compliants from even the most thorough reviewers.

What makes this camera different, and the reason I'm bringing it to your attention, is the so-called "solution looking for a problem", the ability to shoot 720p HD video.

There appears to be a feeling among still photographer that adding video is a silly waste of resources, and the no real photographer would have any interest in it.

I don't have any friends in the Nikon marketing department, but I think I have a pretty good idea of why they added that feature, and further why it is very cool.

I suspect that many people, myself for example, never used a real film SLR camera. Instead we being products of our convenient environment have become accustomed to instant cameras, Polaroids and at the best point and shoot 35mm cameras. Once small digital cameras became sensible to own we became accustomed to what there were capable of, most notably, compact size excellent image quality and a great video feature that you weren't quite sure what to do with.

If point and shoot digital cameras have one annoying flaw it would have to be the annoying shutter lag that makes an capturing action shot more a game luck than skill. So that flaw created a market for the entry level DSLR. No more shutterlag. That new market introduces the the casual photogrpher to a whole new world of expensive lenses, depth of field, circular polerizers and the rest that goes woth the hobby. But up until now that new expensive camera lacked video. I have come to like the ability to capture videos without the need to also carry a camcorder.

I have yet to find a convergence product that does two things well. Cameras are no exception.

But the D90 does something very special.

It's not just some grainy, ugly video that would be considered better than nothing. Instead it is very high resolution 720x1280 at 24 frames per second. In a previous post I tried to define HD and this camera is not exactly what I would call HD, but the video is of reasonable quality.

Now consider the fact that you can use a myraid of very high quality lenses and that it shoots at 24fps you now have a consumer product for just over $1000 that actually can have a real film look! We can argure what cinstitutes "film look", but in this case I'll say it looks like film in two key ways: depth of field and motion blur.

This site has bunch of examples shot on the D90: vimeo (I have not viewed all of the video posted, view at your own risk!)

I'll post a few examples of how this camera can be used creatively.

Stream from Jeff Greer on Vimeo.

Central Park, November 25 from Alfonso Bui on Vimeo.

Transitions from Chris Beaumont on Vimeo.

Here's a brilliantly edited wedding video. It is a great example of the D90's beauty as well as it's flaws. The primary flaw being the rolling shutter affect caused by the CMOS.

Nikki . Noah from Go Speed Go on Vimeo.

Needless to say I hope to see this under the Christmas tree this year:)

This idea makes me wonder if Nikon or Canon or the others will develop dedicated video body for use with the collection of expensive DSLR lenses that the enthusiasts collect?

~Jay Morrissette

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Document Scanner

This is the ScanSnap s300 by Fujitsu. It's not the only document scanner in the world, but it's the one I have been using for a few months now. I won't bother to give a product review, there are many online, but instead I will tell you why I like it so much.

First, it's important to distinguish between a flatbed scanner and a document scanner. They serve two different purposes. A flatbed scanner is what you need to scan a single photo or page in a document. A document scanner on the other hand allows you to scan a stack of sheets of paper and scan it all at once, and with the s300, you can scan both side of each page at the same time.

Why scan your documents?

Even if you are able to keep things neatly filed, document scanning is still for you!

I'll give a brief overview of what this particular scanner does, and then how I use it.

The s300 comes with some paper management software that I don't use. I prefer to keep everything as non proprietary as possible. To use the scanner you flip open the lid and it powers on, then you load all of your papers in. The scanner can create a searchable .pdf file. After you have loaded the pages you want to go in a particular pdf file you push the button on the scanner. The scanner reads both front and back at the same time and pretty quickly, and in full color. I set the quality a bit higher than the default setting and it can scan about 10 pages in less than a minute. Then depending on how much text was scanned it will take 30 seconds to a few minutes to create the searchable pdf. Then you choose where you want it to go and what you want it to be named. Amazon has a nice video describing the s300.

I scan any paperwork that might be worth keeping- all of my bills, any nag letters from the HOA, bank statements, receipts worth keeping, or anything I might want to see again. After it's scanned it goes right to the shredder.

I store all of my personal documents on a network drive in my home. That happens to be a RAID mirror (raid 1). Redundancy isn't enough for me so I also back it up using Jungledisk (a service worthy of it's own blog entry) Jungledisk is an application that scans your selected folders for new or modified files and uploads them to Amazon's servers for a surprisingly reasonable price.

I also use a free Microsoft service called Foldershare so I can have unlimited free access to my files where ever I have internet access, it also will sync some folders if you want

I know this sounds like a lot of work, the payoff is big.

  • Any printed document that I have scanned will easy to find and print
  • It doesn't take any space
  • It's all backed up automatically while I sleep
  • Every word is searchable using finder or explorer
  • No matter where in the world I am I have access to all of my documents
  • The time it takes to scan is no more than it takes to file
  • Any document can easily be emailed
  • You can actually find what you are looking for!
I am in the process of scanning older documents so I can get rid of the filing cabinets and boxes of old papers that I might need some day.

Hard disk space is so plentiful and cheap I could conceivably keep all of my documents indefinitely, and none of my friends will ever know that I am a secret pack rat.
~Jay Morrissette, the pack rat

Saturday, September 6, 2008

DVRs Can Improve Relationships

When I read that story in The Hollywood Reporter I was very interested in the survey, and why it was done.

The survey finds that people are less likely to argue over what to watch when they have a DVR. I would say that what to watch only scratches the surface on ways a DVR can improve your relationships as well as many other areas of your life once you have finally been set free from the television networks' schedules. You can then watch on your own schedule!

Let me tell you how a DVR has improved my life... I'll give a quick list:
  • Watch what I want when I want
  • Pause the show rather than must when the phone rings
  • We're no longer slaves to a TV schedule
  • We never have to leave a beautiful place so we don't miss our show
  • Tivo actually finds great shows that I wouldn't have found on my own
  • With instant replay, you never miss a thing
  • The 30 second skip can quickly zap the commercials
  • The ability to pause the TV allows us to discuss what we are watching
Is my relationship with my wife better because we have a DVR? I would hope that our lives are not so TV centric that a DVR could affect our relationship. But we do watch TV, and with a DVR it is more enjoyable.

I have stated many times that I would not have a TV without a DVR, and we have had a DVR in the house for about 8 years so we are hooked.

~Jay Morrissette

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What is HD?

If you have been to a big box TV store within the past year you may have heard something like this from the sales kid "In 2009 everything's going HD and your old TV won't work anymore" Fortunately those stores have shelves filled with thin and wide $1000 and up TVs.

  • What is really going to happen in 2009?
  • Who will be affected?
  • Will you really need a new TV?
  • What is HD?

For what's really going to happen, has the true story. Bottom line, most Americans will NOT be affected. Pretty much the only people affected will be those who still receive TV over the air with an antenna. Ironically that is the group who is least likely to care about HD or digital, but they are the ones that will need to go shopping in February.

What the sales droids at your local big box store are not likely to tell you is that you is that you will onlt need a converter box for around $50, and that there is a coupon available to help you pay for it.

So back to my question - What is HD? If you ask 10 people you will likely get 10 different answers, if you ask 10 professionals you may still get multiple answers! I want to break it down into a few areas:
  1. Digital TV vs. HDTV
  2. The standard as ATSC descibes it
  3. Aspect ratio
  4. Perceived quality difference
1. Digital TV or DTV simply means that data (digitized video and audio) is being sent over the air as opposed to analog. See: How Stuff Works
In a nutshell, Digital is the delivery method. You can deliver old fashioned standard definition TV digitally. Just having DTV doesn't equate to having HDTV.

2. The ATSC standard is actually a set of standards. It would take several pages to describe them all, but I'll just list the popular ones:
(copied from the How Stuff Works artical)

  • 480i - The picture is 704x480 pixels, sent at 60 interlaced frames per second (30 complete frames per second).
  • 480p - The picture is 704x480 pixels, sent at 60 complete frames per second.
  • 720p - The picture is 1280x720 pixels, sent at 60 complete frames per second.
  • 1080i - The picture is 1920x1080 pixels, sent at 60 interlaced frames per second (30 complete frames per second).
  • 1080p - The picture is 1920x1080 pixels, sent at 60 complete frames per second.

3. Aspect Ratio. Some think HDTV is the same as widescreen. We have had widescreen TVs and Widescreen DVDs, which are standard definition, for years. Practically speaking all HDTV is widescreen, but all widescreen is not necessarily HD.

4. Now this is where the hard part to define, and certainly falls under the heading "What is HD?"

By definition HD has more resolution, but does more resolution mean that the picture will look better? The dirty little secret in the digital world is compression. Over compression can cause even the highest resolution images to look bad. The purpose of compression is to make delivery possible and more efficient. Every time a service provider announces additional channels we need to ask how they did it. Did they get more bandwidth? Did they dumb down the quality- i.e. over compress? Or is there a new, more efficient compression scheme? Let your eyes be the judge.

Below are two identical pictures and both are at the same resolution, but the bottom one is more compressed. Notice the blocking artifacts in the background, and the edge distortion around the ornament.

Example zoomed in:

Here is a thread I found discussing the same issue when comparing two services which should be sending the same quality. Uverse vs. Comcast

On our local HD news there is a stark contrast between studio quality and the field footage. So the anchors are in HD, but the news is often not... at least it it doesn't look HD. My best guess at the reason for this is that the cameras in the studio and the best available, and the lighting and set is well done. On the field you have little control over lighting, and very inexpensive HD cameras, and sometimes older SD cameras that are just up-converted.

What level of quality should we as both professionals and consumers be willing to call HD? how do we measure the quality?

I think the sad reality is that quantity is more important than quality. Over the next year you will see providers boasting hundreds of HD channels. But then when you look at them you may wonder why all the fuss over HD? It doesn't look any different.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wireless HD SDI

I'm sure if you receive any magazines or news letters you have already heard about this. The IDX Cam-Wave HD.

There is a good overview of the product on

There are many great cameras for many situations. I personally am not brand loyal -- If you were to look at my home entertainment center, there are no two pieces of equipment that are the same brand. I like to buy the best product to suit my needs. With video cameras, typically the brand you choose will dictate the codec you work in. If you mix brands of cameras you will need to mix codecs. If you're lucky you won't also have to mix resolutions!

SDI is a standard, it is uncompressed video. most high-end cameras now have HD SDI, so you can either use a $20 cable to your DVR or a $6000 wireless HD SDI system to get to your DVR.

Here is the beauty of using an SDI workflow- The DVR doesn't have to be an expensive tape deck, it can be an inexpensive computer. On the high end is the Wafian HD-1 and similar models at about $17,000. If that is out of your budget then you can build a very capable PC that has raid for redundancy with a capture card and the wonderful Cineform codec for about $5,000. Imagine a stack of these in a truck with calibrated monitors, and soundproof walls, your location shoot could have studio comfort and quality. If you love FCP and have no desire to work in the PC environment then you can do that same thing on a MAC, it will only cost a little bit more, and you will have many Apple codecs and even Cineform if you like that. I personally would always opt for a multi-platform codec. If time is critical then you must consider the Gallery PictrueReady software. That product deserves a post of it's own. Please spend some time on their site, it will blow your mind! Imagine a live multicam shoot that you begin editing in FCP while then multiple cameras are still recording the LIVE event! That seems like the ultimate ENG solution.

What I have been talking about isn't new for 2008, but the addition of Wireless HD SDI helps us to overcome a major hurdle in this workflow.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

TV vs. The Internet

Last weekend I was in Carmel on vacation. I was quite proud of myself for not turning on the TV for the whole four days we were there. But then it quickly occurred to me that I did have Wi-Fi in the hotel room and I spent at least two hours each night on the computer either blogging, editing photos, or just surfing the web.

Stay at home moms used to have the reputation as one sitting in front of the TV watching soap operas and eating Bon Bons. That may not have been the case for most, but for many at least the TV was on.

Now there is a new distraction in the home (and at the office!). The Internet. Web 2.0 as some call it, is where you can live a very social life while doing your household chores, taking care of the children, or even while at work. Facebook, email, blogging, and chat rooms are a way to interact with real life people you know or even don't know all over the world. On TV you see people you only wish you could know, but the internet you can meet someone new every day.

When I first got internet in my home some 10 years ago I described it to my friends as being like a TV with a 1,000,000 channels and nothing on. Well, now there's something on. In fact, wether it's legal or not, YouTube has EVERYTHING of significance that has been on TV from the last few hours to the past 20 years! Almost any event you can remember seeing on TV, can be quickly found on YouTube. A friend of mine told he used to have a crush on a girl in a Capri Sun commercial form the early '80s. Guess what? She's on YouTube:

How can TV compete? I wish I had an answer, but in my home it simply can't. I am a media centric person. I have a 9 foot wide screen in the living room. I have spent thousands upon thousands on A/V gear in my home. Yet here I sit at the computer blogging.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Home Media Servers

What exactly is a media server you ask? It can be as simple as an Apple TV holding a few shows and movies from the iTunes store all to a multi-terabyte raid array holding everything from music to home movies to ripped DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. Here is an example of one such server: M One

Now you know what, but the real question is why? Many are familiar with Tivo or any CATV DVR. There is an incredible convenience when you realize that you have dozens of hours of hand selected content to choose from with the click of the remote.

In an ideal world all of your TV recordings (including pay channels), DVDs, CDs, Blu-Rays, home videos, and photos would all be on a central server. Then any TV or computer in the house could have access. Imagine watching a show in the living room, then pausing it, and then shortly after resuming it in the bedroom.

All of this is technically possible, but because of copy protection it is hardly practical.
  • Pay TV can be recorded on a Cable Card PC, but the content can't be shared on another PC, only on approved extenders.
  • Ripped DVDs and Blu-Rays can be viewed on other PCs, but not extenders
Will we ever be able to have the ideal scenario? Should we ever be allowed to freely copy and redistribute purchased media throughout the house?

Who knows how it will all pan out, but for now consumers see what they can get away with, while content providers see how many versions of the same movie they can sell. The legal loophole used is the argument the a back-up is considered "fair use" of the media.

Is it ok to cicumvent copy protection to make your "fair use" back-up?

As far as I can tell, it's illegal to circumvent copy protection. Therefore there is no such thing as legally ripping DVDs or Blu-Ray. (Kaleideskape however insists that when they rip DVDs they are keeping the copy protection in tact.)

So Kaleidescape can legally do DVDs, but not yet Blu-Ray, and no TV.

To sum it up -- Legally, you would need multiple servers and mutiple players to have all of your digital assets conveniently accessed.
  • Kaleidescape server and multiple players for DVDs
  • Vista Cable Card Media Center with multiple extenders for TV or Fios and U-verse allow shared content using inexpensive set top boxes, where the primary box acts as tghe server
  • Your personal videos can be viewed on a Media center PC
Maybe the music industry made a mistake by not encrypting CDs. Now people are copying their CDs to their iPods like mad! Shouldn't they be required to re-purchase the music in a "digital" format?

It's worth pointing out here that there is one media server in particular that is way over the top! This persons hobby turned to obsession when he began to build a 48 Terabyte media server. I suspect that that is more storage than most video post production facilities.
Here is a link to his thread on the AVS forum