Entries Tagged as 'Digital Media'

Display Resolutions, Aspect Ratio…

When you go shopping for a new display for your computer or for entertainment viewing, here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind.

The reference resolutions for each of the “standards” are:

  • SD (NTSC), 480i = 720×480
  • ED (NTSC), 480p = 720×40
  • HD, 720p = 1280×720
  • HD, 1080i = 1280×1080, 1440×1080, or 1920×1080
  • HD, 1080p = 1920×1080

However, the aspect rations commonly used are:

  • 4:3 (SDTV)
  • 16:9 (HDTV)
  • 1.33:1 (Academy Standard)
  • 1.78:1 (Academy Flat)
  • 2.35:1 (Anamorphic Scope prior to 1970)
  • 2.39:1 (Anamorphic Scope — Panavision/Cinemascope)

Both 1280×720 and 1920×1080 are 16:9 resolution… so if that’s what the material was originally shot in you’re fine; HOWEVER, it’s very uncommon to find any modern movie of note (or any “action” movie for the last 20+ years) that is 16:9.  The bottom line is you’re going to see black bars on the side or top and bottom when you watch “movies” most of the time — or you’re going to have your display stretch (distort) the image to fill the screen.

Originally posted 2008-12-16 12:00:47.

HDX Media Player

I ran across this site while reading on the web.  The HDX 1000 and HDX 900 look like they could be interesting devices to hookup to your high definition panel to give you options in how you acquire and manage your content.

I haven’t played with one, so all I have to go by is what’s on the web site.

http://www.hdx1080.com/

Originally posted 2008-11-13 12:00:36.

GIMP

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.

It has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc.

GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted.

That’s what the GIMP site says; but what GIMP is is a free Open Source alternative to programs like Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paint Shop Pro that runs on Linux, OS-X, and Windows.

GIMP is reasonably easy to use, powerful, and rock solid.

If you understand the principles of image/photo editing you’ll be a pro at using GIMP in no time — far easier to use than Photoshop, far more functional than Paint Shop Pro.  And it’s free — totally free — just download it an install it.  There’s lots of plug-ins for it as well (so make sure you take a look at some of those add ins).  Be sure and review the online documentation, tutorials, and FAQ; plus there are a number of well written books on GIMP available for purchase.

GIMP.org

Originally posted 2010-03-08 02:00:45.

Panasonic HDC-SD10 High Definition Camcorder

I purchased a Panasonic HDC-SD10K High Definition Camcorder from B&H Photo Video a little over a week ago for $299.00 delivered.  The K suffix means black; which is I believe the only color available in the US.

I had originally found this model camcorder on Amazon for the same price as a customer return, but I was a little hesitant to purchase it, and by the time I decided it was worth the asking price it was no longer available; but as luck would have it a few days later B&H was offering brand new units for the same price.  The B&H price is good through 16 January 2010 while supplies last.

First, let’s keep in mind that $299 is less than half as much as the nearest comparable camcorder; so if it doesn’t seem like this is a Rolls Royce, perhaps that’s because you’re paying Yugo prices.

The HDC-SD10 was announced last year at CES, but didn’t ship in the US until this past Summer, and it was never really a very popular model since Panasonic offered an almost identical model with 8GB of internal memory (the HDC-SD10 has no internal memory) for $50 more.  Other than the internal memory, these models are identical.

A quick overview of the HDC-SD10 (for those who don’t want to just look up the specifications for themselves).

1920x1080i MPEG4-AVC/H.264 video, 2.1MP JPEG stills, 1/6″ CMOS, 16x optical zoom, 2.7″ touchscreen LCD, image stabilization, auto focus, built in light and flash.

When the unit arrived, I opened the box and allowed the battery to charge for a couple hours before trying it out.

While the batter was charging I looked over the unit.  It seemed reasonably well constructed, and it looked like a good deal of though had been put into positioning the controls.  The only thing I don’t care for is how the cover on the SD slot opens — I’m very partial to how Nikon did the SD cover on my D40, and this just seems far less well done.

I popped a 2GB SD card into the camcorder (I expected it to complain about the slow speed rating, Panasonic recommend Class 6 SDHC cards); but to my surprise it worked.  I would recommend that you use at least Class 4, and that you use at least a 4GB SDHC card.  But if you have other cards around, try them.

Unfortunately, by the time the battery had charged, the sky was cloudy and I was robbed of my opportunity to get some bright daylight shots — but I figured taking shots in overcast would give me an idea of how the camcorder worked.

I took two videos outside at the second highest quality setting (that’s the default); and I snapped about a dozen still images.  Then I went inside and did pretty much the same test.

The two video tests were:

  • walk back and forth with the camera
  • stand stationary and rotate around

Both tests involved using the zoom in and out (both moving and stationary).

I should note here that I did all of my initial testing without reading the documentation — this should be considered a testament to how easy this camcorder is to use for anyone who’s used a camcorder (or digital camera) before.  The controls were easy to find and use and there was simply no confusion about how to accomplish my task (which is good; my old JVC camcorder always seemed awkward to use, even after having it for several years).

With my test data collected I sat down and the computer.

I didn’t bother installing any software on my computer, I just popped out the SDHC and slipped it into the computer.

The digital stills were easy to find; same directory structure as most digital cameras.  The images are JPEG files, and contains EXIF data.

The video sequences took a little more looking to find, and they are standard AVCHD (MTS) files.  Both Windows Media Player and Live Movie Maker are able to deal with these files.

Let me pause here and remind you that what follows is my first impressions of the HDC-SD10; not a complete review.  My personal feeling is you need to use a camera or camcorder for several shoots before you’ve got a good feel for what it does and how well it does it.

The outside stills were good.  Certainly they don’t compare with either of my DSLRs or my high-end point-and-shoot… but then again, this is a camcorder, not a camera.  The only weakness I found with the digital still was that focus cycle requires a few seconds and the shutter release is not locked out during the focus cycle.  Which means you can snap a picture that is out of focus fairly easily if you’re not patient.  You can snap a still image when the camcorder is recording or when it isn’t.

The outside video was amazingly clear.  The color was very good, and the motion was acceptable.  Quickly panning produced some motion artifacts, but normal movement was far clearer than on my JVC miniDV camcorder.  I will have to say that my feeling is that the zoom is too fast; but I guess it’s better to be too fast than too slow; and for most people I would expect they want a fast zoom.

The inside still images were fine.  The flash works very well.  The colors were about what you expect from a mid-range point-and-shoot.  Nothing to write home about, but acceptable if you need to snap a still and you have the camcorder in your hands.

The inside video was actually quite impressive.  The reviews I had read of the camcorder indicated that low light performance wasn’t very good.  From what I saw low light performance was quite good.  In rooms with no lights on the camcorder was able to register a moderate amount of detail just using its built in light.  In reasonably well lite rooms the level of detail was quite good.  However, the color under LED lights or CF lights was definitely off (I don’t have any incandescent lights in my house, I suspect the color balance would have been better).  Comparing the performance of this camcorder to my JVC miniDV it is definitely better.  Better detail in low light, and equal or better color.  Obviously if I wanted to shoot any video that I was going to show someone I’d turn on some incandescent lights (bounced off the ceiling).

The sound quality on the recordings were fine.  There was quite a bit of wind outside, but the camcorder didn’t seem to be able to deal with it.  Obviously the stereo separation on any camcorder without external microphones is poor — and not a metric I’d concern myself with.

At this price point, the HDC-SD10 seems like a keeper.  You’d pay as much for a standard definition digital camcorder, and half this much for a standard definition miniDV camcorder; or twice as much for a camcorder with substantially better specifications.

I’m hoping the weather here warms up some so I can get out on a sunny day and really shoot some footage to fully evaluate how the camcorder works; and I’d like to do some shoots on the river and at the beach as well.  My expectation is that this camcorder will be fine for me, and I’ll be looking to purchase a few accessories in the near future.

If you want a really high end camcorder; this isn’t for you.  If you want a good quality high definition digital camcorder for hobby use and your not foolish about throwing your money away, perhaps it is worth consideration.


Optics

Sensor
1.47 Megapixel 1/6″ CMOS
Lens
2.95-47.2mm f/1.8-2.8
Zoom
Optical: 16x
Digital: 1000x
Filter Size
30.5mm
Recording
System
NTSC
Recording Media
SD/SDHC
Recording Time
Not Specified By Manufacturer
Video Format
High Definition
MPEG AVC/H.264
1920 x 1080, 1440 x 1080
Still Image Resolution
JPEG: 2.1 Megapixel
Audio Format
2-Channel Stereo
Display
Display Type
LCD
Screen Size
2.7″
Touchscreen
Yes
Features
Image Stabilization
Optical
Lux
1400Standard illumination
91/30 low light mode
1Magic Pix
Built-in Mic
Yes
Built-in Speaker
Yes
Built-in Light/Flash
Light – Yes
Flash – Yes
Accessory Shoe
None
Tripod Mount
1/4″
Input/Output Connectors
Inputs
None
Outputs
1x A/V
1x USB 2.0
1x Mini HDMI
1x Component Video (out)
Microphone Input
No
Headphone Jack
No
General
System Requirements
Windows System

  • XP, Vista, Windows 7
Battery
Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack
Power Adapter
Battery Charger / Battery Eliminator
Dimensions (WxHxD)
1.87 x 2.48 x 4.51″ / 47.50 x 62.99 x 114.55mm
Weight
0.5 lbs / 226.80g

HDC-SD10

HDC-SD10K Product Information

HDC-SD-10K Support Information

Originally posted 2010-01-09 01:00:28.

Just Say No To Adorama

I wanted to buy a couple filters for my camera, and I’m fairly picky about just what brand of filter goes on my lens.  My preference is Sunpak and Quantaray (Quantaray is made by Hoya) — both Japanese manufactured, and solid glass construction with multi-coats.

I looked up prices, and found that Amazon had a good price on a Sunpak kit with both of the filters I wanted in it; so I looked at the buy options, Amazon was a little more expensive than a couple of the other vendors they listed, but with free shipping it was just about a wash and I prefer to deal with Amazon and avoid Amazon merchants.  The only problem was, Amazon was out of stock, and of course no way to know how long it would take for them to get stock.

I guess I just wanted to be done with it, so I clicked on the link to buy the item I wanted from Adorama

I have to say,  Adorama was fairly quick about shipping out the filters, and their shipping price was fair; but when I opened the bubble envelope inside was a clear plastic bag with an invoice and two Tiffen filters rather than two Sunpak filters.

  • NOTE:  Tiffen is US made, and they may be believe their manufacturing technology is great; but I’ll pass on it.

At first I thought I’d made a mistake and ordered the wrong thing; but then I noticed I could read the itemized invoice through the plastic bag.  First line on the invoice was a Sunpak filter kit with the Sunpak number; the next line said kit consists of (hmm… Sunpak sells the two lens in a package, the vendor doesn’t assemble it — but I’d have no problem taking two individually packaged Sunpak filters for the price of the kit, provided they were the Sunpak filters that were supposed to be in the kit); the next two lines listed out Tiffen filters, descriptions, and part numbers.

So much for even thinking I’d made a mistake, and so much for even thinking it might have been human error on Adorama’s side.

I don’t have a problem with a vendor being out of stock of an item I ordered; and I don’t have any problem with them substituting an equivalent or better item (with my permission — I get to make the call whether it’s equivalent or better); or advising me that there will be a delay; or refunding my money.  The key really is the vendor needs to contact me and advise me of the situation and the options they’re comfortable with. 

What Adorama did was bait-and-switch; only they didn’t have me participate in the switch so it was just out right fraud.

Personally I don’t do business with companies who think so little of their customers that they believe they can do what ever they want when ever they want…

I, of course, contacted Adorama (still no reply — and we’re moving in on a week).  I contacted Amazon, I’ve actually exchanged email with them twice on this matter, and they’ve ask that I wait until after Monday before they will take any action.  And I’ve contacted my credit card company; who were appalled at a merchant doing what I told them they had done, so I don’t expect having any problems getting a favorable resolution to this.

One of the reasons I felt it would be “OK” to purchase from Adorama (breaking my policy of avoiding Amazon merchants when ever possible) was that Ken Rockwell, who maintains a great web site on photography (and other things) had listed Adorma on his site as a vendor, and I had hoped that they had the same high standards as Ken (he also lists Amazon, B&H Photo Video Pro Audio, J&R, and Ritz Camera /Wolf Camera — all of which I tend to trust).

I’ve ordered a set of Sunpak filters from Amazon, and I’ll just be content to wait until they get them in stock, which will probably happen before Adorama sends me a pre-paid return shipping label.

__________
 
For your reference, I’ve include links to the two Japanese filter manufacturers I prefer (again I find Hoya branded filters expensive, and you can get the exact same product at a lower price by buying a store or generic brand that’s made by Hoya). 
 

__________

NOTE:

Please read the complete follow up before making any decisions on Adorama.

Originally posted 2009-01-04 12:00:16.

Video Encoding

A little over a year ago one of my friends with a Mac wanted to get into re-encoding video; I knew about the tools to do it on a PC, but none of the tools really had a OS-X port at that time, so I set out on a quest to find tools that could enable a person who didn’t know much about video encoding to accomplish it.

One of the first tools I stumbled on was HandBrake; it was an Open Source project leveraging off of a number of other Open Source products intended on creating a cross platform suite of tools for video encoding that was reasonably straight forward to use and produced reasonable good results.

Well, the version I tested was a near total failure… but the project showed promise and I keep tabs on it for quite some time.

Over the past year it’s steadily improved.  In fact, I’m probably being a little hard on it, since right after I played with an early version a much improved version was available that did work, and did allow my friend to accomplish what he wanted.

Last month HandBrake released a new version — a much improved version.

With Windows, OS-X, and Linux versions you can try out HandBrake for yourself and see the results.

I did two separate tests (and for some reason I always use the same two DVD titles — Saving Private Ryan, and Lord of the Rings — the reason is that both movies have a wide range of  video type from near still images to sweeping panoramic views to everything in motion (blowing up)…

I had two separate machines (a Q9300 and a Q9400 both with 8GB of DDR2) doing the encodes, and did both normal and high profiles; one test was H.264 into a MPEG4 container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track; the other was H.264 into a MKV container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track in addition to AC3 5.1 pass-through and Dolby Surround pass-through with [soft] subtitles.

For the high profiles: Lord of the Rings took a little over three hours; Saving Private Ryan took just under two and a half hours — so don’t get in a hurry, in fact, run it over night and don’t bother the computer(s).

The high profile achieved about a 2:1 reduction in size; the normal profile achieved about a 4:1 reduction in size.  The high profile’s video was stunning, the normal profile’s video was acceptable.  The AAC audio was acceptable; the AC3 5.1 was identical to the source, and in perfect sync.

There are a number of advantages to keeping your video in a MPEG4 or MKV container verses a DVD image… it’s much easier to catalog and play, and of course it’s smaller (well, you could keep the MPEG2-TS in a MKV and it would be identically sized, but I see little reason for that).

The downside of RIPping your DVDs is that you lose the navigation stream and the extra material.  Do you care???

HandBrake will read source material in just about any format imaginable (and in almost any container as well)… you can take a look at it’s capabilities and features online.

I’ve got some VCR capture streams in DV video that I’m encoding now — trying a few of the more advanced settings in HandBrake to see how it works (well, that’s not really testing HandBrake, that’s testing the H.264 encoder).  My expectation is that once I get the settings right, it will do a fine job; but with video captures you should never expect the first try to be the best (well, I’m never that lucky).

While HandBrake is very easy to use, your ability to get really good results from it is going to partially depend on how willing you are to learn a little about video re-encoding (which will require a little reading and a little experimentation).   But that said, NO product is going to magically just do the right thing in every case…

Overall I would say that HandBrake is one of the best video encoders you’re going to find, and you cannot beat the price — FREE!

Here’s some additional notes.

For Windows 7 you will want to download the DivX trial and just install the MKV splitter (nothing else is needed) so that Windows 7 can play media in a MKV container using it’s native CODECs.

With Windows Media Play 12 and Media Center I haven’t figured out how to switch audio streams; so make sure you encode with the audio stream you want as a default as the first stream.  With Media Player Classic and Media Player Classic Home Cinema it’s easy to select the audio stream.  Also, Windows Media Player will not render AC3 pass-through streams, it will just pass them through the SPDIF/Toslink to your receiver — so you won’t get any sound if you’re trying to play it on your PC.

Don’t delete any of your source material until you are certain that you are happy with the results; and you might want to backup your source material and keep it for six months or so just to be sure (yeah — I know it’s big; but a DVD will fit on a DVD).

Handbrake

Originally posted 2009-12-17 01:00:07.

Video Editing on a PC

I purchased a Mac Pro and Final Cut Studio to do my video editing, simply because I felt that PC solutions were just not there.

Adobe Encore is a joke, the only thing it was good for was crashing (and thinning out your wallet).

Sony Vegas was a descent application (and solid), but difficult to use and didn’t seem to expose as much control as I wanted over DVD production.

Times change; and now I’m not as concerned with DVD production as I am with just video editing, and two of my friends have shown interest in video editing and really don’t want to invest in a Mac (there is only one real choice for video editing from Apple, and that’s a Mac Pro, and the combination of the hardware and software is a little scary).

One of my other friends has used Vegas for quite awhile, and he’s been happy with it (of course he’s never done video editing on a Mac).

I’ve decided my project for the next several days will be to evaluate Sony Vega Pro 9.  I’ll try it out on Windows 7 and write a BLOG post that tries to detail the strengths and weaknesses without directly comparing it to Final Cut Studio; though I may use Final Cut Studio as the “standard” for what a high end video editing suite should do.

Originally posted 2010-02-19 01:00:15.

Adorama — Follow Up

This is a follow up to a fairly unflattering post I made on a purchase from Adorama.

First, the time line of the entire espisode for reference, my thoughts follow.

  • 2008/12/26: I order a Sunpak CF-7078 Twin Filter Pack (52mm Ultra-Violet and 52mm Circular Polarizing) from Adorama through Amazon (Amazon was out of stock).
  • 2008/12/18: Adorama ships my order, and sends tracking information.
  • 2008/12/31: My order arrives, but Adorama has substituted a Tiffen filter set without contacting me (the invoice clearly indicates that it’s intentional).
  • 2008/12/31: I contact both Adorama and Amazon via Amazon’s web interface).
  • 2008/12/31: I contact my credit card company via telephone; they indicate their will be no issue initiating a charge back, but ask that I give the merchant time to resolve the matter first.
  • 2009/01/01: Amazon replies to my inquiry and indicates that vendors may not materially change an order and that the Amazon A-Z Guarantee would apply should I not be able to resolve the matter with Adorama.
  • 2009/01/04: Adorama has sends me a pre-paid UPS shipping label for the return of the items via email.  Though the instructions indicate that I must drop off the item at a shipping location.
  • 2009/01/05: I’ve also been contacted by Helen Oster, Adorama Camera Customer Service Ambassador who has read my BLOG post and interested in investigating the matter.  I’ve already sent her enough information to get her started.  I’ll be sure and post anything of interest that happens.
  • 2009/01/06: The Tiffen filters to Adorama via UPS, my regular UPS delivery person picked them up for me, so I didn’t need to drive to UPS to drop them off (but I was still out packing material and time).
  • 2009/01/09: Adorama has offered an explanation (that their buyer felt it was acceptable to replace an out of stock item with an in stock item that retailed for more, without contacting the customer first); while I accept this as an explanation, I find it an unacceptable practice.  Only I can decide what product has equal or greater value, since only I am able to gauge the metrics of the products I choose to fit my needs.  Also, Adorama is attempting to “make this right”, and I certainly applaud their effort — but it would have been easier on everyone had someone just ask what I wanted before shipping a substitution.  Additionally Adorama offers a single Hoya filter as a replacement; I reject that offer simply because I would still need to buy an additional filter.
  • 2009/01/10: Adorama offers two Hoya filters in place of the Sunpak.  I agree to this and they ship the filters (I have an order pending for the Sunpak filter set on Amazon; that’s what I wanted, and that’s what I’ll have — but I certainly felt like I needed to let Adorama exercise their right to “make it right”).
  • 2009/01/16: The Hoya Filters arrive as promised.

Let me start by saying that this matter probably should be characterized as one individual making a bad decision that was inconsistent with the Corporate polices of Adorama, I think Helen’s dedication to making things right, and Adorama’s willingness to incur substantial costs in this matter is evidence of that.

I rarely appraise companies by whether or not they make mistakes, but rather by how they address their mistakes.  While I would have preferred to just get the items I ordered in a timely fashion; or been told their was no stock, I would put forth that you simply could not find a company more willing to go the extra mile; or an individual (Helen Oster) with more moral fibre and tenacity to make sure the right thing is done.

Initially I felt that I would never deal with Adorama again; but my feeling is that they’re certainly worth a second shot (each of you will need to decide for yourself, since this is my only dealings with Adorama I do not have a feel for statistically how often something like this may happen, other than to say my gut tells me it’s rare).

Originally posted 2009-01-16 01:00:20.

Google Music – Beta

Google has launched their cloud based streaming music service as a beta; you can request an invitation (using a Gmail account) via the link below.

What does it get you?

Well, up to 20,000 songs in your cloud storage; play back support on most Android devices; play back support from a browser; and an upload program that will sync your library to the cloud.

Not bad for free.

Apple provides a similar service for $25 per year; there’s no limit to the amount of music you can store.  The main differences being that there’s no Android support (basically devices iTunes supports is supported), and Apple actually finger prints the files and serves their iTune version of the music rather than your copy (likely at a higher bit rate — they, of course, don’t incur the storage overhead).

Amazon provides a similar service for $20 per year (you also get some storage for other files); and there’s no limit to the amount of music you can store, but you might find their uploader is a little less friendly to use (OK — to be fair it’s been updated since I tested it — so maybe not).

You can play with the free 5GB version of the Amazon service and decide if you like it, and it’s worth the $20 (I was hoping they’d just bundle it into Prime — but if they’re serious about Hulu they really need to start Al-a-cart charges for services, or Prime is going to have to go up).

Anyway, if you have an Android device, I highly recommend you go ahead and request an invite to the Google Music Beta — you can try the Amazon out as well… if you have an iOS device, you’re probably stuck with the Apple solution (but you’re an Apple customer, so you’re used to having to shell out money for everything).

Also, the Amazon tablets will reportedly ship with a free Prime subscription, possibly a free year of cloud storage might be thrown in as well (that’s speculation on my part).

http://music.google.com/about/

Originally posted 2011-09-10 02:00:28.

So you want to be in pictures…

Or rather should I say that you want to be able to play “moving pictures” on your computer…

You computer may have come with software for playing back video, DVDs, etc — or the operating system version you installed might support some formats; but eventually you’re going to reach a point where you want to play something that you don’t have support for and you might not feel like spending a lot of money.

There are two major issues with playing back media:

  1. Your computer needs software that is able to decode the audio and the video portions of the media; and
  2. Your computer needs software that is able to “break apart” the audio from the video.

The first piece of software is call a “decoder” — or often times a codec.  And you’ll hear things like MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264, etc for video and things like AC3, AAC, PCM, DTS, MP3, etc for audio.

The second piece of software is called a mux (specifically for play back a de-mux) — and those take particular containers and split them into the separate audio and video streams.  The file extension generally tell you about the “envelope” the data is contained in, or how it was muxed.  Some standards mux specifications, but even when the audio/video standard includes a way to mux the data, it might be in a richer envelope that supports alternate audio streams, alternate video streams, hyperlinks, closed captions, multiple languages, etc.

A growing open standard for containing audio and video is the Matroska format.  It’s generally designated as .mkv for audio/video files and .mka for audio files.

It’s a rich standard well supported on Windows, OS-X, and *nix platforms.

For more information visit the Matroska Offical Homepage:

You’ll not only find information on the Matroska format, but links to many free tools to help you play back that audio and video format you’re having trouble with.

Originally posted 2008-12-14 01:00:52.