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

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eye's vs. Ears when mixing audio

This debate comes up quite frequently on audio forms. It usually is a statement purposed to end a debate about which software or plugin is better.

I Won't attemt to answer this question, but I do wish to discuss some key points
  • Is what you see on the screen a distraction?
  • Can you really hear all that you need to or is a graphic representation required?
  • Are blind audio engineers better than seeing ones?
Audio engineering is a wonderful mixture of art and science. If you know what a compressor, gate, reverb or EQ is doing to your audio then you can more easily know what should be done artistically to obtain your goal of a great sounding track. Any modern DAW is loaded with meters and all sorts of visual data to help you make the right artistic decisions.

But here is where it gets difficult... What constitutes right decisions? Will a meter tell you that? Well, maybe if you have specific technical guidelines, but within those guidelines you still have countless artistic/creative options.

It is often suggested that you close your eyes and listen as you mix, that is why there is now a myriad of control surfaces for DAWs.

My advice is if you want to close your eyes to mix, don't be afraid to occasionally peek at the screen for some clues to what you are or aren't hearing.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Vegas Video ... with built in audio!

I didn't find anything new or cool to write about today, so instead I'll talk about my favorite video editor- Vegas Video

Somtimes it's hard to convince people that an inexpensive program that will run well on an entry level PC without any additional hardware can be truly professional. One TV station in Texas was able to see what I see in this great program. See Livin' La Vida Vegas That is well worth reading. After you have looked at that you can come back and read what I like about it below.

There is an incredible beauty in the simplicity of this program. Most DAWs and NLEs require alot of setup before you can actually start to work, like creating a project folder, project settings and how many tracks it will need to be. In Vegas you just drag the media into the window and if it's a video file it creates a video track, and if its an audio file it creates an audio track, if it is a video file with audio it creates both.

After you have cut, color corrected, titled, whatever else needed to be done you render it to what ever format you need. Rather than using a batch processor like some other programs, the folks at Sony Creative designed Vegas to allow you to open another instance of the program while the first instance is rendering. You can even open the very same project that is rendering and make changes if you need an alternate version, or to render the audio separately if needed.

Speaking of audio... Vegas' audio is what I think sets the program apart. The audio portion of Vegas is almost as powerful as some of the best DAWs. It offers unlimited tracks, you can mix many different file formats in the same timeline, the built in plugins are world class, but you also have the option of using your favorite VST plugins as well- all in real time. One of my favorite things about the audio portion is that it allows you to use an external editor if you prefer. I find myself quite often needing to use a spectral editor to clean up a dialog track. Well Wavelab from Steinberg happens to to have a very nice spectral editor provided by Algorithmix. It's not the full version, but it is of the same quality. To use this in Vegas all you need to do is right click on the clip you want to edit and select "open a copy in external editor" Vegas then creates an audio file from that clip, and open its in Wavelab. You edit out the cell phone or car horn or siren or whatever you need to remove and save and close the file and when you go back to vegas your clip will show the edited version. Because you chose to use a copy, your original copy will remain untouched. I could go on for pages, but I just wanted to highlite the few things that make it special.

What's really cool is the potential for enhancing your workflow. Imagine never needing to export or import OMF, or create proxy files. You can just have the video guys work on the video, then have the audio guys open the same project and work on the audio. If you're a hands-on type you can use the Euphonix MC. It may seem silly to use a $50,000 control surface on a $600 program, but imagine how efficient you will be!

I really wish Avid would combine Nitris with ProTools. I know they are designed to work well together, but I mean to actually have ProTools be the audio engine in Nitris. Hollywood would be revolutionized! I don't see why this wouldn't be possible because both use hardware acceleration. The host CPU would be free to do whatever can't be done on the hardware, and with 8 core computers there is plenty CPU power to go around.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

This may be old news, but new to me..."Side-By-Side" advertising

I was watching Indy car racing Saturday, I'm not really a fan, but I enjoy watching from time to time. The race was on ESPN-HD. When it was time for a commercial they ran it in a split screen, the commercial was in a large box in the center of the screen and the race was in a small box to the left. Around the two "boxes" were a bunch of graphics and a news ticker across the bottom.

I think that is a great way to deal with commercial skipping on DVRs, and now as an added benefit a whole race can be somewhat uninterrupted.

I found an article from 2005 on the subject here.

My question is does that make the commercial air time more or less valuable? It's smaller, but there is "real" live content right next to it that may keep your finger off the 30 second skip button (if it was recorded), and keep you in your lazyboy instead of running to the kitchen or restroom to fill up, or empty.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Digital Cinema Done Right.... or at least differently!

Red may have a great product and world class marketing, but there is another camera that deserves just as much attention- The Silicon Imaging SI-2k.

What I think makes this product line very special are a few revolutionary things. Starting with the lens, I'd have to check but this may be the first Digital Cinema camera designed to work with good old lenses used on 16mm film cameras. That gives you tons of inexpensive lens rental options.

The next is the CMOS sensor. SI has partnered with Cineform (more about them later, they deserve their own post) to allow a RAW recording from the camera. What this means is that just as you can use a RAW file format on your digital SLR that can later be "developed", you can have the same creative fredom with video. More about Cineform RAW here. Imagine what you could accomplish and how quickly when you have a non-destructive real-time color correction ability.

The third revolutionaty feature is how the video is captured. It uses Ethernet! No expensive VTR or capture card in a PC is needed, you just need a modern laptop with gigabit Ethernet. In fact if I'm not mistaken the body of the SI-2k is just a small custom built PC that runs on an Anton/Bauer battery. Storage doesn't require an expensive P2 card, any usb drive will do.

Will this camera be suitable for situations where you would have used a $30,000 ENG camera?

In my opinion, what maters most is reliability and ease of use. If the SI-2K can meet that criteria the industry will be revolutionized!

Friday, August 8, 2008

YouTube in the Living room

Yesterday I received an email form Tivo stating that I can now view YouTube videos on my Tivo. Talk about a great new way to waste time!

Last night I only spent a few minutes with it, so I won't give a review, but my initial impression is that it's very cool, but a bit slow. By slow I mean it takes several seconds for a selected video to begin playing. During those precious seconds you just look at a black screen where by comparison on a computer you are already trying to decide which video you are going to view next while you are waiting for the current video to buffer.

My question is will this be true competition for "real" television? Maybe not, but it is one more thing that is chipping away at at televisions stronghold on American living rooms.

I'll spend some more time with it over the next few weeks and post a review. I have a few key questions I'd like to answer:
  • Will I find anything worth watching?
  • Can I amuse myself for an hour or two watching only YouTube videos?
  • How quickly will the novelty wear off?
  • Will both my wife and I be able to find mutually interesting content?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

3-D: The Future, or Just Another Attempt an Old Gimmick?

When I was a child in the early '80s there was a fancy new movie called "Comin' at Ya!". I was amazed at the idea of 3-D, I thought the future was now! I was surprised when my parents told me how 3-D was popular in the '50s.

It's now 2008 and I was a quite surprised to see at CES and NAB a big push for 3-D. Needless to say I was very cynical about the "new" technology.

My question is With current CGI, and digital cinema, and the desire for something new- will 3-D become the norm?

The Hollywood reporter has an article about James Cameron's new film "Avatar".

What might set this apart from many other failed attempts is the importace he places on the story, here a clip from the artical:

Still, the innovative filmmaker and digital 3-D pioneer and champion has never shifted his emphasis from storytelling.

"You have to make a good film that would be a good film under any circumstances," he said. "You have to put the narrative first. The reality is no matter how many (3-D) screens we get, you are still going to have a large number of people -- possibly the majority of people -- who see the film in a 2-D environment."

I guess I'll have to wait and see before I give my final judgment.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Cool things at Avid

My favorite subject to stand on a soap box and preach about these days is workflow. It seems that in the world of radio and television production there can be some terrible inefficiencies in the process. How many hands need to touch a product before it's done... or can even begin!

I have been involved in file based workflow for audio for about 10 years now. Audio is very easy. To set up a multi-user audio post production environment really only requires a simple server and reasonably priced switch. Any modern computer has built in gigabit Ethernet. Most DAWs or editing software let you stream audio right from the server. Cheap and easy.

Well... video is not quite so easy, and most definitely not cheap. To say you just need a more robust network is a gross understatement. What Avid is doing seems to cover all of the networking issues from permissions, to rationing bandwidth, and to allocating appropriate disk space. Yes, it's expensive but if you have the budget to make the capital investment then you will save a lot in the long run.

Imagine if as soon as footage is digitized how great it would be if the entire organization could immediately have access to it. One group could begin graphics as the editor is editing; the audio guys can grab the project in Avid and sync it with ProTools. At any time the producer can look at any element form his own desk.

Proof videos can be sent via ether net, or to automated DVD duplicators.

The goal is not to lay people off, but rather to make use of their valuable time. Their time and talent won't go to waste waiting for deliverables. There will be much fewer inefficiencies keeping them from producing.

Here are some links to info on there site:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An Introduction to the Blog... more about me later

I created this blog to share new products, new ideas, current news, and other happenings in this industry that either:

  • Fascinate me
  • Interest me
  • Puzzle me
  • Inspire me
  • or Make me say "I wish I'd thought of that!"
Most of what you will find here will be clips from forums, or news sources. Some of it will be my own meanderings.