Entries Tagged as 'Digital Media'

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.

Flat Panels

So you decided to get that large flat panel high definition LCD TV for yourself…

That’s so last year.

The new display technology is based on organic light emitting diodes (OLED), and they promise to provide much high contrast images, blacker-black, and way better energy efficiency.

Right now there’s a premium associated with the price; but all that is changing (and changing rapidly).

OLED and related technology are becoming the commodity technology that’s used in computer monitors, televisions, and portable device displays.

Your big-block electronic store might only have one OLED model for every ten LCD models at the moment, but the CES is just around the corner, and manufacturers will be looking for ways to lure consumers to spend more of their hard earned money, and offering them compelling reasons (in the form of phenomenal displays at reasonable prices) to get their share of your paycheck.

Not to far down the road we’ll see PLED, the flexible version — which may finally deliver on the dreams of “LCD Paper”…

To help you understand the new acronyms, here’s a list you might want to familiarize yourself with.

  • OLED = Organic Light Emitting Diode/Device/Display
  • AM OLED = Active Matrix OLED device
  • FOLED = Flexible Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)
  • NOID = Neon Organic Iodine Diode (CDT)
  • PhOLED = Phosphorescent Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)
  • PLED = Polymer Light Emitting Diode (CDT)
  • PM OLED = Passive Matrix OLED device
  • POLED = Patternable organic light-emitting device
  • RCOLED = Resonant Colour Organic Light Emitting Diode
  • SmOLED = Small Molecule Organic Light Emitting Diode (Kodak)
  • SOLED = Stacked Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)
  • TOLED = Transparent Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)

For more information on these technologies, get yourself a snack and beverage and spend a few hours reading the results of an Internet search.

Originally posted 2009-12-19 01:00:36.

Formatting an SD Card

So you like many PC and Mac users (not really an issue if you use *nix and understand what you’re doing) have had a horrible experience trying to format a SD, SD-HC, or SD-XC full size, mini, or micro card for use in your device… fortunately the SD Association, the people who set standards for these cards are offering a free download of a SD card formatted program for Windows and OS-X… just use the link at the bottom of this post and go to their “downloads” section.

And a few things to keep in mind when you go out to purchase a new SD card — look at the speed ratings, the higher the “class” number on the card, the faster it is.  And take a look at the warranty, life-time warranties are always something you’ll use (flash devices have a limited life), but certainly you’ll want to get a reasonable warranty length (just in case you got the lemon off the shelf I missed).

sdcard.org

 

NOTE: There’s also a link on the SD Association to a driver to a driver Microsoft provides which may resolve issues with SD-XC memory cards when using an SD-XC compatible reader/writer.

Originally posted 2011-11-22 02:00:38.

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.

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.

Hardware MPEG2/MPEG4/MPEG4-AVC/H.264 Transcoding

Leadtek Research Inc has release the WinFast PxVC1100 PCIe x1 add-on card which uses four of the Toshiba encode/decode cores  (SpursEngine SE1000 — BXA32110) derived from the joint Sony/Toshiba/IBM alliance (STI) Cell (Cell Broadband Engine Architecture, CBEA) processor (used in the Sony PlayStation 3 game console).

If you’re serious about video encoding this card is way more powerful than leveraging your GPU (nothing stops you from using both).

I couldn’t find a retail price on the PxVC1100; from what I’ve read it was delayed, but should be available in the US soon.  I expect it’ll be fairly expensive since Nikkei WinPC’s benchmark showed a high-def video in MEPG-2 TS format was transcoded to H.264 using the WinFast PxVC1000 about 2.9 times faster than a Core2 Q9650 (3GHz).

If you want to check out other vendors that offer a SpursEngine enhancement, some Toshiba Qosmio laptops and the Thomson-Canopus Firecoder Blu PCIe add-on card are candidates.

Originally posted 2009-01-03 12:00:46.

The Worst Company in America

I’ve long held that one of the best measures of how bad a company is is how much they advertise, particularly direct mail advertising, and how they build their mailing lists.

Clearly we have a winner by this metric…  DirectTV of El Segundo, CA.

Three to four times per week I get a direct mailing from them, and once per week I get an insert in a advertiser newspaper.

Additionally I’ve filed for countless prohibitory orders through the United States Post Office (and I still get as many or more mailings from them).

Obviously there service is so pathetic that they desperately need new customers to replace the ones who bail as soon as their misleading contracts are up.

Today I called Direct TV and attempted to have my address removed from their database — they seemed to have a problem understanding that because they had taken my name and address from the telephone company listings and it was under “Solicitation Prohibited” that they didn’t need my real name to locate the record, and why they needed any name was beyond me (no it wasn’t, they were attempting to collect more demographic information to target even more advertising — they have no intent of removing my address from their database, if they had they would have done it when the United States Postal Service sent them the first prohibitory order over a year ago).

I don’t understand why anyone subscribes to satellite TV services… but then again I don’t understand why couch potatoes sit around watching mindless television programs when they could be doing something constructive with their lives.

Again — those who support unethical companies like DirectTV are part of the problem… and you should be ashamed for enabling them to operate.

Help me help DirectTV go out of business — boycott them and every other company that thinks they can continue to barrage you with direct mailings after you’ve filed with the USPS or requested removal of your address.

Originally posted 2011-01-21 02:00:39.

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.

NoFlix

Perhaps NetFlix should consider changing their name to NoFlix.

I can’t get over companies that charge for services, fail to deliver the services they promise, and then tell you that they’re not going to refund you a penny.

Yep — that appears to be NetFlix’s policy. I’m waiting on confirmation from Reed Hastings NetFlix CEO (I’ll follow up with anything I receive, if I receive anything) — but that’s what I was told by Sean Callaghan today after I called because NetFlix was down (unable to stream to any of my multitude of NetFlix enabled devices — or any of my friends either) for quite some time.

I was told it was due to a “service outage” beyond NetFlix’s control.

But let me provide a few more highlights of my call. When the agent I spoke with proved to be unable (or unwilling) to resolve any issue I was having — I requested a supervisor. Originally I was told that he was a supervisor and he did not have any manager there. That was then modified to be that he would not escalate the call (suggesting there were actually at least one manager there), and when that change was questioned he again modified the statement along the lines of there was no reason to escalate the call because he had answered my questions. Of course, he was apparently to say anything he wanted since he also told me that NetFlix does not record customer service calls when I ask him. That one statement really does say it all… I don’t think there’s much I can add.

Also, I pointed out — this evening was the only time this month I had cared to watch a movie (I think I had demonstrated NetFlix streaming on my Droid for maybe 3 minutes total — but I don’t really consider that using the service)… and I had no NetFlix DVD in the house, so I expected to be able to sit back and enjoy a movie via the “unlimited” streaming service I paid for each and every month from NetFlix (even though I rarely use it).

Well… not only do I have to say I find NetFlix’s service questionable, but when you consider how difficult they make it to contact them on an issue (NetFlix enabled devices aren’t even an option to report an issue to them) — how long they expect you to stay on hold, and how completely inept their customer service staff impressed me as being — I see no reason why I’d want to send them any of my money, much less putting up with them almost doubling the cost of what I have in a month (which I might add will be four times what I paid when I first signed up for NetFlix, not all that long ago).

I would say that the only thing the agent on the phone was able to do competently was cancel my account; but even that he proved to be inept at — and failed to tell me before doing so that NetFlix wasn’t going to refund anything for unused service.

It’s a joke — and the customer service agent couldn’t reference me to anything that provided information support his claim that NetFlix wasn’t going to refund any of my service fees (even though over one third of my bill cycle remains).

Then I tried to access both there “Terms of Use” and their “Privacy Policy” through both links in the emails they send and the footer on their web site as was presented with “The page isn’t redirecting properly” — I guess yet another “service outage” that was beyond their control.

I’ve closed the virtual card number I used to pay for NetFlix services; and I’ve filed a charge back dispute with Citibank… if they decide not to reverse the charges to my account; well, then I guess I can eliminate a credit card from my wallet as well.

Personally I’m tired of companies promising to provide services, then continually increasing the charges, decreasing the services, and feeling like they have no responsibility to actually fulfill their commitments to customers.

I can say this categorically — I will never use NetFlix again. Amazon provides similar services at better prices, and I have great faith that Amazon will work very hard to meet the expectations they set for their customers… and if they fail, I’m betting you won’t even have to ask for a refund, they’ll be one step ahead of you.

Most every one I know is canceling their NetFlix service before the rate increase in September, and that was my intent anyway — but as of today, I live in a NetFlix free zone, and encourage everyone to ban those red envelops from their mailbox and streaming services from their devices and computers — support a company that deserves your business and watch yet another failure shrivel away and die.

Originally posted 2011-07-22 02:00:36.

Upgrading Drive Firmware

First, if you’re not having problems with your drive (unless it’s brand new, has no data on it, and you don’t have an issue returning it to the place of purchase or manufacturer) DO NOT DO IT.

Second, make sure you give yourself plenty of time, don’t try and do it quickly, or in between other commitments.  Do it when it’s quiet.  Make sure you have a UPS on your computer and that the weather is clear (so that there’s no likelihood of power outages).

Third, run the drive diagnostics from the manufacturer first.  If the drive shows it’s having problems — return it to the manufacturer for replacement (most manufacturers will do advance replacement at no charge with a credit card; that gives you a drive to migrate your data onto, and a shipping container to return the failing drive in).

Fourth, many manufacturers support upgrading firmware directly from Windows (a few from other operating systems).  I high recommend you choose the bootable CD approach — that way there’s no question whether or not you have something installed on your computer that might interfere.  And if you’re using SATA I recommend you set your computer to SATA IDE/Legacy mode to insure that the upgrade (and diagnostics) don’t have any issues with your SATA controller (IDE/Legacy as opposed to SATA/Native, SATA/RAID, SATA/AHCI — different BIOS manufacturers will call it by a different term, but it’s the lowest setting for the controller, likely it’s what the default was).

Fifth, make sure you obtain the firmware update only from the manufacturer’s web site; and make sure that it is for your drive; and that it’s recommended as a general installation or specifically addresses an issue you’re having.

Sixth, make sure you read and follow the manufacturer’s procedure for updating firmware.

Seventh, power off your drive before you attempt to use it after updating the firmware.  Most drives will not use the newer firmware until they are power-cycled; some drives just flat out won’t work until they’ve been “hard reset”.

Hopefully all goes well, but many drives become a brick if your firmware upgrade fails; a few can revert to the previous firmware and keep on running.  If you have problems, contact the manufacturer, most drives under warranty can be replaced — but data recovery is not included.

NOTE:

Upgrading drive firmware may also change the first several sectors of the drive; I highly recommend that you backup the drive before upgrading the firmware.

Originally posted 2010-02-09 01:00:56.