Archive for September, 2007

Color grading using Magic Bullet

Color grading test using Magic Bullet Movie Looks HD, under Sony Vegas. Pictures shot with a Canon A700 and a Panasonic LX2. Original VGA video here (2.6 MB).

Software usability

As I am writing this JBQ is starting to play “Dirt”, a game he bought for the PS3. During the menu screens, at the beginning of the game, there was a voice that was guiding you to the various menu options. I must say that I absolutely loved that audio guidance implementation. I am not talking about an annoying voice talking shit all the time when you mouse-over or when you click something, but a voice that guides you quickly, and up to the point, to the various options available to a certain menu. So basically, the voice works as a replacement for the the balloon text (or… Clippy) that might exist in such menu screens, not for the Help file. But it’s so well done, so NOT annoying, and it makes the game so personal, that I must say that this is a usability point well-done, developed by Codemasters. Hopefully more software developers will follow as this can have some application on other areas too. You will just need to pay a voice actor… 😉

HDV vs AVCHD

There is no doubt in my mind that AVCHD is a much more convenient format over HDV because of the main medium used is hard drives instead of tapes (I won’t go into DVD vs Blu-Ray burning here). Here’s why hard drives (and solid state flash drives in the future) have better usability than tapes:

* You can find faster a particular scene.
* You can seek faster and more precisely within that particular scene.
* You can delete that scene and free up space immediately.
* You can transfer video files to your PC much faster than when capturing from tapes.
* iPod-sized hard drives these days go up to 160 GBs which is enough for 14 hours of AVCHD.
* The AVCHD standard does not have the HDV tape-speed limitation and so it can extend its standard to true 1080p recording and true 24p — without using hacks. And even 2k resolutions when the time comes.
* iPod-sized drives take less space than the tape-reading mechanism so camcorders can become smaller (same thing for the flash-based AVCHD cameras).
* Snapshot JPEG photos won’t have to be stored to a separate flash card, but on the hard drive as well (making the camera even smaller).
* AVCHD supports Dolby 5.1 surround sound.

HDV still has a few cards to play:

* HDV has better picture quality than most AVCHD cameras to date. This is something that AVCHD will overcome in the future, after they perfect and optimize their h.264 encoders in-camera and they go for higher bitrate than 15 mbps.
* HDV is more compatible, and faster to playback & edit than AVCHD’s h.264 format with current NLEs. This will eventually change too as PCs become faster.
* If the tape is full, you just get another one. If the HDD is full, you need a laptop with you to offload some of your footage.
* If the AVCHD camera’s hard drive dies and you are out of your warranty, you are screwed. Unless you are willing to fix it yourself, or buy a future semi-pro AVCHD camera which will feature inter-changeable drives that is. With HDV, if a tape dies, well, you buy a new one for $5. Although the tape drive can die too, of course.

So eventually, the “war” between the two formats will be reduced to just “reliability vs convenience”. As a consumer/prosumer, I prefer convenience. Pros will prefer reliability, although this won’t be an issue if their AVCHD semi-pro camera supports interchangeable drives. All in all, the future looks bleak for HDV.

What I really want…

…is not a house with a swimming pool and a butler. Instead, I just want a true prosumer camcorder geared towards hobbyist artists/videographers. You see, so far, there were the pros, the indies, and the consumers (who would shoot stuff like weddings and their dog). But now, after the revolution of the cheap, capable digital cameras 2-3 years ago and the dirt cheap DSLRs selling at $500, which created a new kind of “hobbyist artists” (just look the kind of pics found at Flickr), now it’s the turn of the video market to undergo just that.

JVC came very close with their Everio HD7 to touch this *new* market, a market that would pay between $1300 and $2000 for such a camera. JVC priced their HD7 at $1500, a fair price for what the camera does. However, they did one thing wrong, and they left two features out:
1. They used 1/5 3CCD, instead of a 2/3 CMOS. While the 3CCD can produce slightly better picture than the CMOS, the CCDs they used are so small, that they produce almost no background blur. In fact, the HD7 produces less background blur than the 1/3 CMOS-based HV20. And because this market I am talking about is an *artist’s* market, more background blur is preferable to 5%-10% better picture quality. Bigger sensor would also mean less optical zoom, maxing out at around 5x (otherwise the lens would be too big). At least for me, these two points (zoom and quality) are an acceptable trade-off for more background blur. I am a sucker for background blur, and here’s why.
2. They included no 24p.
3. They included no “cine mode” gamma/contrast look preset (like the HV20 has).

But they did everything else right in their design: the manual controls, the focus ring, the easy to reach exposure dial control, the lens and its hood, the look of the camera (it looks like a hybrid between a consumer and a semi-pro camera).

Like Michael mentioned his HV20 wishes the other day on his post at DVinfo, I also think that if Canon could produce a good AVCHD 80-100GB camera with the right manual controls, focus ring and easy to reach controls, true 24p (not wrapped in that stupid 60i stream), both true 1920×1080/30/24p and 1440×1080/60i recording, a good 52mm lens+hood, and most importantly, a 2/3s CMOS chip, I would be all over that camcorder. I would pay $2000 for it without even thinking about it. I don’t need XLR inputs, I don’t need custom buttons, I don’t need most of the features/buttons found on the semi-pro cameras. I just need the basics, but done right.

I discussed this with JBQ today and he agrees that such camcorders will eventually happen, because this is indeed a new kind of market and Canon will take notice (heck, even JVC did). We might have to wait 1-3 more years for the “perfect” prosumer “artist’s” camcorder to arrive, but it will happen. I am certain of it.

24p: the format of the elite

As usual, I am part of a heated discussion over at DVinfo about video stuff (and you can ignore that note from the admin, who didn’t understand that I was talking about the HV20 format and not their semi-pro cameras when I talked about 3:2 pulldown). The opposing guy this time is the Grammy-winner Douglas Spotted Eagle, who I blogged about before. Douglas believes that 24p (inside a 60i stream, or a real progressive one) is not a consumer format and it should never be one. In fact, he claims that Canon made a big mistake by adding 24p on their consumer HDV camcorders.

Personally, I beg to differ and so do some others. I agree with Douglas that most consumer NLEs don’t have support for 24p yet (heck, not even Final Cut Express does), and it’s a format that looks bad if you try to shoot fast moving action, like sports. However, Douglas forgets a part of the consumers who are actually prosumers. Much like myself. These are users who would like some exotic features, who know what is what, but they are not willing to pay $3000 to get these features. Instead, the “sweet” spot seems to be at around $1500. Oh, wait a second. Isn’t that the price of most HDV cameras? And if Canon made a mistake to include 24p in their HV20, why is the HV20 the best selling HDV camcorder ever, with sales pushed exactly because of its 24p/cinemode support?

His reaction felt elitistic and pessimistic, rather than genuine concern for the consumer. As with any new feature that gets ‘downgraded’ and becomes a consumer feature, there will have to be a time of adjustment. And in fact, we are going faster towards the 24p adjustment in terms of consumer NLE software support rather than AVCHD support. Besides, both the new consumer versions of Sony Vegas Movie Studio and Premiere LE support 24p now (even if unofficially) and more will follow.

I don’t believe that every point-and-shooter should have access to 24p, because it indeed might confuse them, but prosumers should.

Here’s a chart on how I catalog video customers:
1. Cheapos: Digicams and cheap digi-recorders up to $200.
2. Point and shoot consumers: miniDV up to $800.
3. Prosumers: $800 to $2000.
4. Semi-Pro: $2000 to $10000.
5. Pro: $10,000 to $200,000.

I got the iPhone

So the unlocked iPhone v1.0.2 arrived yesterday. The same day that the v1.1.1 firmware came out. Kind of ironic. Anyways, I don’t have plans to upgrade to 1.1.1 as it could potentially brick my phone (I have no idea which unlocking mechanism my supplier used so I am literally with tied hands).

The v1.0.2 works with the Greek Vodafone SIM I put in it (it uses the AT&T network here in US). I love the interface, although some new features will hopefully be added on v2.0. Overall, this is a great device.

What I didn’t like, even more than the bricking danger, was the fact that iTunes doesn’t let you use your iPhone in manual syncing mode. This sucks big time for me. I have about 15 GB of music that I really like (and that’s not counting the overall of 36 GB of legally-bought music we have in this house), while the iPhone has only 8 GBs. I need to manually add/remove songs from it, like I do on my 4GB iPod Mini. But Apple won’t let you do that with the iPhone. I have to create playlists and crap all the time. What if my PC dies and I lose my iTunes library? How will I be able to *remove* or simply *keep* stuff in the iPhone as it only keeps/removes whatever is in your PC’s hard drive the next time you sync? This pisses me off royally, much more than re-lockings and non-SDKs.

How the Cylon Wars started

Discussion tonight between myself and JBQ:

Eugenia: I cleaned up the shower yesterday, hard, dirty work.
JBQ: Heh, I hope you will maintain it clean.
Eugenia: I need a Cylon for that.
JBQ: Now you know how it all started…

A good show and a bad show

We watched the premieres of the “Reaper” tonight at CW and “Big Shots” on ABC. Here you get a cheap show like the “Reaper”, shot in Vancouver no less, and it’s very funny, interesting and well directed (by Kevin Smith). And then you get the expensive “Big Shots”, which is dull and stupid. Why anyone would want to watch a series where all 4 main characters are man whores and they are all CEOs but we learn nothing about what they exactly do at their jobs. Zero morals on that show, it made me wanna puke. I hope it gets canceled for the sake of our civilization.

Same goes for “Cane” too. That show was not nearly as bad as “Big Shots”, but again, why would I want to watch some rich people killing anyone on their path to get richer? I am much better represented by Dr Who and his teleporting phone-booth rather than “Cane”.

Some more color grading

It seems that what I enjoy most in the whole videography thing, is color grading. I enjoy that even more than shooting, or editing. Shooting tires me, editing frustrates me (especially because I am good at finding bugs all over the place), and exporting bores me as it takes forever to encode. But color grading, well, that’s fun! Here’s some nice dramatic color grading. I used the footage I shot tonight, which has lots of noise because of the low light in the room, but I think the result shows my point.

As shot

After color grading

How it’s achieved (for these specific light conditions) under Vegas:

1. Plugin Magic Bullet Movie Looks HD: “Bleach Bypass” to 50%.
2. Brightness and Contrast plugin: Contrast at 0.10.
3. Color corrector plugin:
– Studio RGB to Computer RGB template.
– White balance the Mid and Highs.
4. Aav6cc freeware plugin: Jack up saturation to 60% for the most prominent color in the scene (in my case, my yellow t-shirt).

Update: Some more color correcting and grading. Original image by Wonderlane, licensed under the CC-BY-NC license. Used here for educational purposes.

As shot

After correcting & color grading

Plugins used: Magic Bullet Movie Looks HD (“Green Pearl at 50%”), Contrast (at 0.10), and Color Corrector (white balance color correction, saturation 1.200 and Gain at 1.100).

Special effects

My first ever special effects work. Sure, it ain’t very good (I only spent 10 mins on it), but it was fun.

Next up, be prepared to see me with a Jedi lightsaber. Hehehe…