Archive for October, 2007

San Francisco Zoo, revisited

A much shorter edit of my San Francisco Zoo video at just 1/3 of the original length, re-made specifically for Vimeo’s HD channels. Shot with a Canon HV20, edited with Vegas Pro 8. Starring: bears, peacocks, penguins and tigers among others. Music and video are licensed under the Creative Commons “BY” license. You can view the video in 720p HD using your browser by clicking here instead of watching the low-res video below.

Regarding Vimeo, which I blogged about the other day: Sure the site has its problems (e.g. no de-interlacing during re-encoding, avatars used with wrong sizes throughout the site etc), but overall it looks great, and the HD ability is just top notch. It just feels much better than Stage6, the only other place that allows HD videos to be played. It feels much cleaner and more targeted towards videographers and artists rather than “one size fits all” youtube-style.

In fact, the site has been a hit in the HV20 community lately (a community that proved this year that there is a market for hobbyist artists), and its popularity is growing. For my, it seems that Vimeo will replace Revver and YouTube will only function as a platform for my video tests. Hopefully the last few issues will be fixed and the missing features will be added soon, but even as it is now it does the job if you know how to export vide properly out of your NLE. If you have an HD camera export and upload in 1280×720 at 4 mbps, and if not, use 800×440 at 2 mbps — just make sure you export in progressive mode.

Update: One more re-edit, this time for Stanford University’s campus. HD version here. I have one more video to re-edit (my Foster City video), but I will need additional footage to do so, so that would take time.

Update 2: And one last one, for the road. HD version here.

The Methuselah of fish

On August 10th 2004 we bought 12 Cerpae Tetra fish. When they entered our big fish tank, they caused the death of the rest of our Cardinals and Danios (possibly they brought a disease from the store).

Anyways, within a year, the Tetras started dying out too, naturally mostly. However, a single one survived, but at that point we had decided to not buy more fish. For two years that Tetra fish lived alone in a big tank, ate food only twice or thrice a week and listened to my music daily. These fish are not supposed to live that long, especially not alone. And yet this one did (and it would probably live even longer if we were cleaning up the tank more often). I only discovered it dead this evening, after 3.5+ years of life.

I am only sad because it didn’t mate as there were no other fish in the tank. It seems that this IS the kind of fish that could bring its species to the next level. Goodbye my little tiny friend.

JBQ goes to Google

Starting Monday, JBQ will be working for Google. A new chapter will start in our lives, and especially JBQ’s. Quite possibly, JBQ would have been working for Google for years now if our visa situation was not an obstacle. But finally we are over that now, they really liked him, they made him a very good offer, and so he will finally be there soon.

Which means that I won’t be reporting, blogging or commenting on Google and their related technologies from now on. While I know nothing about what they are working on — in fact JBQ does not know what he will be working on at Google either –, I will still not be blogging about stuff even if I knew. The only thing I know is that they have amazing food anyway.

So, congratulations my love! Good luck on keeping off the weight you lost last Spring too. 🙂

Squaw Valley revisited

A much shorter re-edit of my original Squaw Valley video, re-made specifically for Vimeo’s HD channel. You can view the video in 720p HD using your browser by clicking here instead of watching the SD video below. Shot with a Canon HV20, edited with Vegas Pro 8. Music and video are licensed under the Creative Commons “By” license. We are thinking with JBQ to go back to Squaw Village at the end of next month for a few days, we’ll see.

As for the HV20, it was voted the best consumer camera of the year via CamcorderInfo. It won the “Best HDV”, “Best High Definition” and “Best Under $1000” categories.

Ratings

I don’t know what to think about it anymore. “Heroes” ratings go from bad to worse (and I believe that the second season is better than the first). It now has fewer than 9 mil viewers, while last year it was steady at around 12-14 mil. And then, you have crap like the medical dramas or “CSI:Miami” riding the ratings train with 16-18 min viewers (did you see the last episode where a ghost helped the detectives? how laughable was that?).

This means two things:
1. Either the vast majority of humans are boring idiots who prefer old style dramas, or…
2. Most young viewers are getting their episodes from Bittorrent/DVR and so the Nielsen ratings are inaccurate.

I think the truth is somewhere in between. I have noticed that dramas that get high ratings and many millions of viewers (e.g. medical dramas, CSI, Desperate Housewives etc), they have very few comments on IMDb — compared to shows like “Lost” or “Heroes”. It is my understanding that the people who view these shows are just older people, who are used to a specific style. Young people, are more active online and more fanatic about their favorite series, but they don’t necessarily view the episodes on TV when they air. And this hurts their favorite series ultimately, like it happened with “Jericho”. Now, it’s “Heroes” time to get hurt… Possibly “Lost” is next.

Understanding Pixel Aspect Ratios

Aspect ratios is possibly the most confusing matter in video editing for many videographers. There are a number of tutorials online about it that make the matter even worse with their PAR/DAR/SAR terminology, but I will try to present the problem as simply as possible, and in regards to PC monitors and web exporting instead of TVs.

So, in a nutshell, aspect ratios allow you to “stretch” videos during playback using that aspect ratio number as a guidance as to how much the video should be stretched. So for example, both the NTSC Standard 4:3 and NTSC Widescreen 16:9 resolutions are 720×480. And for PAL both are 720×576. What’s different between Standard and Widescreen is the pixel aspect ratio regarding their horizontal size. You see, by default, consumer widescreen cameras are shooting squashed! So while the 480 or 576 lines/pixels never changes, the horizontal number does — it stretches out in order to not looks squashed. These videos that are supposed to stretch out when played back are called “anamorphic” videos.

On NTSC for example, the DV Widescreen aspect ratio is set by the DV consortium as 1.2121. If you take NTSC resolution of 720×480 and you do a 720*1.2121 you will end up with a number that’s 873. And that’s the actual rendered resolution of the DV Widescreen on a PC monitor: 873×480. That’s how many pixels of your screen will be used to display your DV footage, even if the actual resolution that was shot by the camera was 720×480. The Europeans are a bit luckier, they have higher resolutions (720×576) and different aspect ratios (1.4568). So for PAL DV widescreen it’s 720*1.4568=1049 and that creates an overall playback surface of 1049×576. These calculated “playback resolutions” (as opposed to “as shot resolutions”) now are said to have a pixel aspect ratio of 1.0000.


Sony Vegas project properties

Different delivery formats have different aspect ratios, so you always need to calculate them manually. For example, NTSC DVDs (after you apply their aspect ratio calculation over their original resolution) are 853×480, not like DV’s 873×480. SVCDs, VCDs and HDV have their own aspect ratios too and they create a different playback resolution surface on a PC monitor when played back. If you are exporting for the TV instead, just use your application’s pre-configured templates to deal with that. For example, Vegas knows how to export with the right aspect ratios for DVDs. However, if you are exporting for the web, then you need to pay major attention in what resolutions you export, especially if you shot in widescreen mode.

Let’s say you want to export in h.264, or mpeg4 or WMV. Let’s also assume that you shot in widescreen NTSC. If you want to export using the full rendered resolution (zoom 1:1), you need to tell your application to export in 873×480 (for PAL that would be 1049×576). If you instead you export in NTSC’s standard resolution of 720×480 you will end up with a vertically stretched video, where everyone’s heads will look like eggs. If your application is “clever” it will add black bars on the top and bottom of your video (called “letterboxing”) and so you will avoid the stretching problem. But thing is, most applications are not very intelligent to do that, plus, by exporting to 720×480 you don’t export to the full extend of the real PC resolution (873×480) and so a resizing will take place by the encoder.

Resizing a video is bad news for quality, especially if the resolution you chose does not divide exactly over the original number. For example, an encoder will generate a better quality when resizing a video that’s 256×128 to 128×64, instead when resizing to 134×63, because 256/2×128/2=128×64. The math is just easier for the encoder. Even numbers (especially when these divide exactly by 16), mean better quality.

Here is a guide on what exact resolutions you need to export your DV/HDV footage to for the web/PC (instead for the TV), at aspect ratio 1.0000:
NTSC DV: 655×480 (or 654×480)
NTSC widescreen DV: 872×480. If you are using Vegas Movie Studio which is not able to export to anything bigger than 800×600, then the maximum resolution of your choice should be 800×440.
PAL DV: 786×576
PAL widescreen DV: 1048×576 (or for the half size 524×288 if you export for youtube). If you are using Vegas Movie Studio which is not able to export to anything bigger than 800×600, then the maximum resolution of your choice should be 800×440.
HDV: 1920×1080 (1080p), 1280×720 (720p), 960×540 (540p) or 848×480 (480p)

Of course, make sure that you also de-interlace your footage (when you export for the web/PC instead of DVDs). If you are using Vegas, here are some de-interlacing tips.

Finally, three more tips that users should be aware of:

1. If you shot in HDV or AVCHD at 1440×1080 with aspect ratio of 1.3333 (which generates a playback surface of 1920×1080), and then you want to export in 720p, you must change the aspect ratio in the exporting dialog of Sony Vegas from 1.3333 to 1.0000. You see, 1280×720 has an aspect ratio of 1.0000, just like 1920×1080 does. In other words, 720p and 1080p are not “anamorphic” standards, but 1:1 16:9 resolutions with aspect ratio of 1.0000. Thank God, the HD world is moving away from anamorphic resolutions and all the complexities they bring, and I am trying to explain here.

2. Do not export on delivery formats in NTSC or PAL resolutions for widescreen video by telling the encoder that the aspect ratio is anything different than 1.0000. Always export in resolutions that have aspect ratios of 1.0000 (after you calculate that resolution). You see, most media player applications and devices have no freaking clue how to deal with aspect ratios. So it’s better to feed them the right resolution that has aspect ratio of 1.0000 (e.g. the suggested resolutions above), rather than playing Russian roulette with the intelligence of developers who put together a media player on their free time during weekends and didn’t implement the aspect ratio features for all codecs. Except WMP, most other media players are hit and miss regarding aspect ratios, as they mostly expect 1.0000 aspect ratios. Worst of all in recognizing aspect ratios out of the box is MPlayer — avoid it like the plague.

3. On Sony Vegas, always have the “Simulate Device Aspect Ratio” option checked when you right click on the “preview window”.

Here’s another tip: calculating the size you need to use in order to convert an HDV footage (1920×1080 with aspect ratio being 1.0000) to a PAL DVD one (720×576), without stretching out the picture out of its correct aspect ratio. There are two ways to do this, one is by creating a 4:3 PAL DVD and one is by creating a 16:9 PAL DVD.

The formula for the 4:3 PAL DVD is this: 720*1080/1920=405. However, because PAL 4:3 DVD’s aspect ratio is 1.0926, you also need to do 405*1.0926=442, or it will look squashed on TV. So basically you need to export at a resolution of 720×442 in order to satisfy both the original 1.0000 pixel aspect ratio and the PAL aspect ratio. However, the PAL standard requires the DVD resolution to be 720×576, not 720×442. To go around the problem, you add black bars on the top and bottom of the video (letterbox) in order to fill out the rest 576-442=134 pixels (67 pixels above and 67 pixels below the actual widescreen video). If your application can’t letterbox, then you are using shitty software (sorry for the language, but I have an inherent dislike against encoder front-ends that don’t support automatic letterboxing).

Now, if you want to create a PAL widescreen DVD instead of a 4:3 DVD, you resize your HDV footage at 720×576 and you tell your encoder that the aspect ratio of PAL widescreen is 1.4568 (so this way the DVD player will know how to stretch the 720×576 4:3 image to look 16:9 on TV). Similar calculations go for NTSC DVDs too (you just change the aspect ratio number to 1.2121 and the 576 number of lines becomes 480 — the rest of the algorithm is the same).

Leave a comment or email me if all this still does not make sense to you.

I hate software, part 5

I just tried a PAL interlaced mpeg file (Ivan, it’s yours 😉 ).

I load it with Totem under Linux. It has interlacing jaggies when I play it. I select “View” and “Deinterlace”. Nothing happens. The jaggies are still there. I had to restart a number of times to get a de-interlaced result and if i change the window size or go full screen it interlaces again immediately. What a piece of shit.

I load the same file with VLC. De-interlacing is by default disabled and it has a number of algorithms, but no “interpolation” option. Only the “X” option is kinda usable, but it doesn’t stick for each video playback, and even if you tell it so on its preferences to use that method, it just doesn’t use it when you restart the app or you re-playback the video.

As for Mplayer, it doesn’t even have a GUI de-interlace option (I didn’t bother with its CLI which requires the pp=li flag) so there are always jaggies. More over, the aspect ratio is out of whack (known problem of MPlayer).

Software sucks. You just can’t count on it. Ever. Especially under Linux it seems.

Nathan on TV

I was watching “Journeyman” (NBC) on TV tonight, and then a character comes on screen, and I was thinking “wait, I know this guy…”. And it was my online friend Nathan Baesel. Apparently he also guest starred on last Friday’s episode of “Murder Women’s Club” (ABC) and the previous week’s “Numb3rs”. He didn’t blog about it at all though, so I had no idea about the last two shows. Needless to say that I was (positively) surprised to see him out of the blue on TV tonight. He did an amazing job on tonight’s episode of “Journeyman” btw (he played the bomber at a later age)!

NBC Universal chief says Apple “destroyed” music pricing

NBC Universal chief flat-out said that Apple and iTunes had “destroyed the music business” in terms of pricing and that video was next unless “we take control.”

Given the fact that Warner wants to pull out of iTunes too, I can only say two things to Apple:

1. Ditch them first and go DRM-free indie all the way.
2. Add support for normal USB media players instead of just iPod, just so you increase your iTunes market share even more.

Then, these studios/majors will come back crying and begging for crumbs. Apple is strong enough to “educate” its users to prefer indie.

Vouno! Thalassa! Vouno! Thalassa…

I grew up in Greece, in Epirus. Epirus is full of bare mountains and few trees. Most of it it’s eaten away by the goats and sheep. Naturally, when I want to go for vacations, I want to see the opposite of what I grew up with: trees, lots of green, rivers, fluffy animals etc.

JBQ on the other hand grew up in France, which has quite some green. And so he prefers to go to places like the Death Valley, Grand Canyon and anything else that looks like a complete desert to me. I don’t like anything that resembles deserts. Which is one of the reasons why I didn’t accompany him in his recent trip to Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

We have trouble finding places that we both enjoy for vacations, but thankfully seaports do it for both of us. For the next few years we have already discussed the possibility of visiting Alaska, Hawaii, and maybe a cruise trip from US to Europe.