Archive for December, 2008

The end of the road

This is the end of the road for this blog. Seven years on it I got tired of it, I have nothing new or important to add to it, and it doesn’t really make a difference anyway in the grand scheme of things.

On top of all that, my physical health is bad, so I should be catering to it rather than this online life that takes so much of my time daily. My JBQ suggests that it’s perfectly possible to keep up with both my normal life and the online one, but it’s not how I work. Either I give 100% of myself to something, or I don’t do it at all. So the time has come to take care of myself, and to do that, I have to focus on it. So no more blogging and heavy online presence for me.

You can still keep up with me by checking my videos on Vimeo. As long as I keep posting there once a month or so, it would mean that I am still alive and that videography is still my hobby.

This blog might get re-opened some day, depending on the circumstances. But for now, it’s a wrap. Thank you for reading my rants and thoughts all this time, truly appreciated. Take care!

Sony Vegas hints and tips

[Originally posted on HV20.com, reposted here for archival reasons]

What’s the difference between Vegas Pro and Vegas Movie Studio Platinum
Info about it here. Discussion about it and more details here. There are several DVD authoring applications out there to fill the void of DVD Architect (in case of the OEM version purchase of Vegas Pro 8 which doesn’t include a DVD authoring companion app). I would suggest the freeware DVDFlick which does the basics well. If you are just an amateur or enthusiast, the Platinum version is all you need. It will be enough for your needs, since it’s already the most advanced consumer editor.

How do I learn how to use Vegas fast?
Follow the links here.

Can’t capture from the HV20/30
Connect your camera to the firewire cable (not to your USB cable), put it into “play” mode and rewind the tape. On Vegas click “File” and then “Capture video”. A window will popup asking you if you want to capture DV or HDV. If you don’t get this window you must re-enable it at the Vegas’ preference panel. Select HDV. Then, in the Capture window/tab, click the little down-arrow next to “Prefs”, then “Device” and select the HV20 from there. You can also specify where you want the captured files to be saved. Then, on that same Vegas window, press “play” and then press “record”. You will find your .m2t files on the folder you set it to save, and on the “project media” tab (next to the capture tab). If you still can’t capture, make sure your HV20 doesn’t have its “DV Locked” setting ON, and that the date/time is set in your camera. As a last resort, reset your camera’s settings with the button behind the battery compartment. Finally, you could try capturing with the HDVSplit freeware utility — if HDVSplit can’t capture either, the problem is with your Windows/PC or the hardware of your camera, not with Vegas.

Tape capture stops all by itself
When capturing HDV video, Vegas has the bad habit of stopping the capturing if you moved your window/mouse focus to another application. To change that, click the “Prefs” button on the “Capture” tab and uncheck the “Stop device on loss of focus”.

Optimize Vegas for speedy video preview
You can speed up the Vegas video preview with the following tips:
1. Make sure that you use your files with the right “Project Properties” template. If you don’t use the right template, both Vegas’ speed and visual quality can decrease. If you don’t know what files you have, or you are using 24p and there is no available template for that kind of footage, then click the icon “match media” on the “Project Properties” dialog and navigate to one of these files you want to edit. Vegas will read that file and will figure out automatically the format and will fill up the right settings in the “Project Properties” panel. The only manual work you need to do on the Project Properties dialog after that, is to select “interpolate” for De-interlacing method, and “Best” for the Quality option.
2. Set the preview quality (in the preview window) to “preview (auto)“. If you use a single monitor try editing at 1/4 of the original size (that would be 640×360). If you have two monitors and one of the two is a full 1080p monitor, set the preview quality to “preview (full)”. If you are using a full 1080p monitor as a secondary preview monitor, expect the preview speed to reduce, as the graphics card and CPU will have to work extra hard serving you in this large resolution.
3. If you run Vegas on a Mac, make sure that you use Windows on its own partition, and you cleanly reboot to it via Bootcamp. Do not use virtualisers like Parallels or VMWare.
4. It is recommended that Vegas’ temp folder remains on the C:\ drive, but the footage itself on another drive. This way the hard drive don’t have to spin back and forth between locations, as the job will be shared within two drives. I can’t recommend USB/Firewire external drives as on some systems the media become “offline” and never wake up (seems to be a Vegas bug). Your mileage may vary.
5. Right click on the preview tab/window and de-select the “Scale video…” option. Make sure that “Simulate device…” option is selected.
6. Go to Vegas’ settings/preferences panel and on the Video tab tell it to use 4 threads. If you experience random crashes, go back to 2 threads. The fewer threads the more stability, but the more threads the more speed (for a hyperthreaded/multi-processing/multi-core CPU, that is). It’s a trade off until Sony fixes all their multi-threaded bugs.
7. Do not use plugins or pan/cropping if you need every bit of previewing speed while editing. Same goes for transitions and transparent tracks/media. Add all these at the very end, just before exporting, when your cut is already finalized.
8. If you are using the Pro version, stay with 8bit color depth editing and not 32bit. While 32bit editing can offer a tiny bit better visual quality when using plugins or transitions, it is extremely slow to edit as such.
9. Despite Sony’s claims, you need at least 2 GBs of RAM for HD editing. Otherwise, Vegas will start swapping sooner than later and everything will get really slow.
10. Vegas does not use special graphics functions like some other NLEs do. It will work with any DirectX 9 card. However, it does benefit (up to 10%-15% sometimes) from graphics cards that have fast bandwidth throughput, e.g. some of the latest ones from nVidia. Since Vegas version 10+, h.264 mts/mp4/mov/m2ts support is better too.
11. On pre-10 Vegas versions there is also a method to enable dual-core support on the preview screen, by clicking CNTRL+SHFT while clicking to load the Vegas preferences panel. This will enable a secret tab called “Internal” where you can enable preview support for dual core CPUs to speed up things even more. You need to turn to TRUE the option that reads “Enable multi-core rendering for playback”. Use this option with caution, might not be very stable. Don’t use it if your CPU is not an actual dual-core one.

Exporting tips
In the “Project Properties” window, even after having selected a template or you had let Vegas auto-configure itself, there are two options that you want to mess with manually.
1. Set “full-resolution rendering quality” to “Best”.
2. Set “De-interlace method” to either “Blend Fields” or “Interpolate” depending on the content of your video. If it’s a very fast moving video, use interpolate (at the expense of losing half of the resolution, but you get clean shots). If it’s a pretty static video, use “Blend Fields”. While people are swearing for one or the other, truth is that are both algorithms are useful for different things.

You can’t have a single kind of export for every possible need. For example, if you are interested in archiving your project, you might want to try exporting in Cineform or .M2T. If you want to export to DVD Architect, you need to export in mpeg2/AC3. If you want to export for Vimeo or YouTube HD or for your viewing pleasure in your PC, you want to export in WMV or MP4 in 720p.

If you are interested in saving only the media files you used in a project and nothing more (in order to save hard drive space), you can click “File”, “Save as”, and then check “Copy and trim media with project”. This will create a new folder in your drive that will only save the parts of the M2T files and other media you used in the project and not unused media.

No mpeg2/AC3/AVC exporting available, or no M2T support
If your Vegas doesn’t offer you these codecs to export it means that either:
1. You forgot to install the companion application DVD Architect (offers mpeg2/AC3).
2. You pirated Vegas and so these codecs refuse to work without online registration (mpeg2/AC3/AVC h.264).

24p support in Platinum
While Platinum does not have any preset 24p templates like Pro does, it does work with 24p timelines and footage. Just manually set the frame rate in 23.976, or use the “match media” icon to let Vegas auto-configure itself after you select one of these 24p video files.

Please note that Vegas (Pro or Platinum) won’t remove pulldown off of PF24 footage (the format that most Canon consumer cameras shoot 24p as). You first need to remove pulldown using an external utility, and then bring the resulted pulldown removed files into Vegas for editing in 24p mode.

Vegas can’t read Cineform files
If you remove pulldown with Cineform’s Neo/AspectHD utilities and Vegas can’t read these files then close down Vegas. Go to the C:\Program Files\Sony\ folder and find your Vegas installation. There, rename the cfhd.dll to cfhd.dll-OLD. Then, re-open Vegas. Now Vegas will use the system-wide Cineform codec instead of the old and outdated licensed version that comes with Vegas.

Formats that Vegas doesn’t like editing
Vegas is optimized to edit fast Cineform, DV AVI, mpeg2, AVCHD and some other types of videos. But expect extremely slow editing with MOV and MP4 containers, and WMV. Additionally, Platinum doesn’t seem to like XViD/DivX files (even if a third party codec might be installed it usually doesn’t like it much), while Pro fairs better in that regard. Vegas may have issues with files captured by HDVSplit.

Proxy Editing
If your PC is not fast enough to edit HD, you can use this tutorial to utilize proxy editing.

Ghosting on slow/fast-motion, or when there’s too much motion
Vegas has a pretty mediocre resampling algorithm. If you see ghosting where there shouldn’t be, select the clip in the timeline that shows the problem, right click it, select “Properties”, and then “Disable resample”. Please note that Vegas’ default slow motion technique is not very good. Use this tutorial for best results, if you shot in 50i/60i.

Crash when too many pictures are part of a project
Some versions of Vegas will crash if you have way too many huge megapixel pictures in your project. So for example, if your digicam is 10 megapixel, you will have to resize these pictures to the Vegas project size in order to ensure not only the best quality and speed, but also stability So, first download this batch resizing utility from Microsoft and install it. Then, you must decide on the correct size that you need to resize your pictures to, depending on the aspect ratio of your current project.

Blu-Ray and HD-DVD burning
Vegas Pro 8 and Platinum 9 can burn your current open project on the timeline in a Blu-Ray or plain DVD disc, in HD format. There is no support for menus or other beautifications, just a straight HD burning. A Blu-Ray player is needed to playback the disc back, but not necessarily a Blu-Ray burner. Vegas Platinum 8 does not have this ability, but there is a free alternative way to achieve the same thing. For HD-DVD burns on plain DVD discs, check here.

Tips for AVCHD support
1. Make sure you have installed the free updates for either Vegas 8+ Pro or Platinum from Sony’s website. Without these updates for your Vegas there are bugs & even incompatibilities with some camera model formats.
2. If your AVCHD camera snaps full 1920×1080 video (instead of the usual 1440×1080) and you insert that video on Vegas Platinum 8, Platinum 8 will resize that video to 1440×1080 (because that’s the maximum resolution it supports), and you will lose this way both resolution and quality. You will have to either upgrade to Pro if that’s the case, or get Platinum version 9.
3. Editing AVCHD can be slow as it is a much heavier format than HDV. You can use proxy files, or import your AVCHD files in the timeline, match their format in the “project properties” window, and then directly export one by one your clips to the Cineform format which is much faster to edit (and it’s visually lossless, so you don’t lose quality during the conversion). You will find the Cineform codec under the AVI filetype rendering option: click “custom”, select the Cineform codec in the video tab, and fill up the right options for resolution, frame rate & aspect ratio in that same panel too. When you are done convert all your clips, you start a new project, match your AVI footage in the project properties window, and use these AVI Cineform files to edit. Update: Vegas 9+ doesn’t carry Cineform anymore. You will need to either use proxy files, upgrade your PC, or buy the Cineform NeoSCENE utility ($129, can also remove pulldown, it’s handy).
4. Platinum 8 can not export your edited video in AVCHD format back to the camera. Pro and Platinum 9 does though (at least for Sony cameras).

No way to export h.264 AVC from Platinum 7/8
While Pro has two h.264 encoders under its belt to choose from and Platinum 9 has one, it is a mystery why Platinum 8 has zero. There are several ways to go around the limitation:
Export either in a lossless codec using exporting options that match your source footage (I suggest Huffyuv because it’s supported by the vast majority of applications), or by using a frameserver. Then, use either ffmpeg as per my tutorial here or download the freeware utility “SUPER” which can will work equally well. Here’s how to export with SUPER in h.264 MP4. Even easier, try Handbrake.

The mother of all shows: LOST

I am such a “Lost” cheerleader, am I not? Sorry, I can’t help it. Best show of all times! The only piece of art that carries me away.

Adam wrote a very to-the-point review of “Heroes”, which I agree completely. A few moments later, I stumbled upon the following video, a brand new ABC promo for “Lost”. And damn did it bump my adrenaline to the max!

I can’t wait for season 5 to start in January!

< spoilers >
* In this season we will see Radzinsky, the guy who was there before Desmond in the hatch. The guy was only referenced once 2.5 years ago in the show, and here we are, he’s got a major guest role this season!
* How are we going to see him, you ask, as he’s dead? (for those who pay attention to “Lost” the way they should, Radzinsky committed suicide). Well, the island moved in both space and time, and our losties left-behinders will join the Dharma Initiative! In the past!
* You gotta see the leaked pictures with Sawyer in a Dharma suit! “Head of security” no less! And with a pseudonym! It seems that while Sawyer’s role was down-graded in the last season, he becomes the defacto leader of the left-behinders in this season.
* A part of the Oceanic 6 will make it back to the island, joining the left-behinders in the Dharma era. All this will happen before we reach the half of this season.
< /spoilers >

Writing the above it also just occurred to me that translating “Lost” to other languages via dubbing doesn’t work well (e.g. as they do in France), because the show has such subtle references to things, or carefully done sentences that hint things that will happen 30 episodes later, that the people who do the translation can’t possibly know (as they are not part of the writing team of “Lost”). So if you are watching “Lost” via dubbing, stop doing so now, buy the DVDs, and watch the show in English, or you will lose part of what it is “Lost”: the puzzle references and hints. That’s where the whole beauty of “Lost” is. Not in a dry, funny-sounded, dubbing.

Gosh, I hate dubbing more than ironing clothes.

UPDATE: Listen to the embedded promo video above, at the very beginning, mark 00′:02″. You will hear a voice (presumably Locke’s voice) saying something non-understandable. Now, if you reverse the audio at that point, you will hear instead “Am I… when?”. And this is my whole point about “Lost”: even their god damn ads include hints and puzzles to keep people busy decrypting & theorizing. As I said before, “Lost” is the ultimate geek/nerd TV show, if you don’t watch it, you are the one who misses out!

Lessig on remixing

We had a nice evening at Computer History Museum‘s special event tonight, where celebrated lawyer, founder of Creative Commons, and all-around free thinker Larry Lessig gave us a speech about copyright law, remixing, and his plans for the future. Very cool guy. He looked thinner than in pictures I’ve seen. Here’s proof:

Re-Cut: “You’ve Gotta Want It” by Dolorata

I completely re-cut and re-graded the music video of “You’ve Gotta Want It” by Dolorata. The original was too dark, boring, and cheesy. For the amount of footage I had (just 40 minutes of tape), I think I did a better job this time, as I used pans & crops to hide the fact that I don’t have nearly enough footage for a proper music video. HD version and download here.

To compare, the original cut is still available on youtube at Dolorata’s channel. It’s amazing that it got over 30,000 views overall though! I wish I had the current cut available from Day 1. 😮

Update: And as I was writing all that, I burned our dinner tonight in the stove.

About being Scottish

Ewan McGregor describes how it’s like to be Scottish, on the Oscar-nominated movie “Trainspotting“. Best scene of the movie, in my opinion:

This reminds me of the kind of feeling some of us have about Greece. We love our home with all our being alright, but we just hate all the shit around it, plus, we don’t love it for the same reasons every-day Greeks do. So I think is this similar to what the Scottish author of “Trainspotting” had in mind when he wrote that dialogue. It was love, and anger, at the same time.

Two feature films shot with the RED One camera

The trailers of two feature films both shot with the RED One camera: “Che“, and “Knowing“. Che feels more like a documentary, while Knowing feels more like a real Hollywood movie. It’s good to see digital taking over film cameras little by little.

Interestingly, viewing these films, they don’t always have very shallow depth of field — certainly not as much as 35mm adapters attached to cheap-ass consumer camcorders have. They feel much more natural, and yet, they still don’t look like home video. That’s because the composition of the scene, the lighting, dynamic range, and grading, are more important than just a shallow DoF scene. Another thing that bugs me with 35mm adapter footage on places like Vimeo, is the fact that 95% of them are just tests. Test this, test that. No footage of value to speak of. So why buy them then?

Review: Bluetooth dongle, 9″ Axion AXN-6090A external monitor

Geeks.com, sent over two interesting gadgets for a review, one that geeks will find interesting, and one that videographers will.

* 9″ Axion AXN-6090A Widescreen Portable DVD Player

This portable DVD player comes at the very affordable price of $70. It has a 9″ widescreen but low resolution LCD, and it can play NTSC DVDs. It has AV in/out support and cables, a battery, and a remote control. The device is amazingly cheaply made, the case is probably one of the few gadgets I’ve ever reviewed that feels so cheap and fake. However, so far, the device has hold together and its software hasn’t outright crashed.

There are some buttons on the device itself to control DVD playback, brightness and volume, but you will find more setup and menu options by using the remote control. This means that if you ever lose the remote control, you will lose a large part of options. Regarding compatibility, I found that the DVD player was unable to playback the double-sided DVD “Drowning Mona”. It did play single-sided DVDs though. I wouldn’t be surprised if the player had trouble reading home-made dual layer DVDs, but I had none to try out.

Visual quality is pretty bad when playing back the DVD, as the LCD is low-res. While the video picture itself is manageable (your eyes will probably get used to it after a few minutes), the subtitles are almost unreadable because of the low-res — and that’s a real problem.

However, this DVD player can have another, more useful usage: as external monitor on camcorders with 35mm adapters. The player has A/V-in support, so you just connect your camcorder’s female AV cable to this player’s male AV cable and you are good to go. Many in the videography scene use the Sony DVP-FX820 model that can rotate its screen, and has a high res LCD. However, I found that the difference in visual quality between the two monitors, when using the AV cable, is minimal! Sure, Sony’s LCD is still a bit better, but not by much.

A small problem is the large battery that extend on the back of the device quite a bit. The battery can playback a two-hour movie fine, and can serve up to 3+ hours as an external monitor. A car adapter is included. As for the weight, it’s almost the same between the two monitors. Regarding the overscan that screens usually do to the incoming video feed, the Axion monitor “sees” a tiny bit more horizontally than the HV20 LCD does, and about the same vertically. The Sony monitor can “see” much more of the area that’s been recorded recorded, both horizontally and vertically.

Overall, this device is pretty bad as a portable DVD player, but if you are a budget-conscious videographer who is handy with tools and can create a custom tripod stand for this device, and doesn’t need screen rotation (or you can use rails that mount the camera rotated instead), then this is not a bad deal at all. For $70, the Axion is $100 less than the Sony monitor, so you got to ask yourself if screen rotation, and marginally better battery life and RCA quality is worth the extra cash for you. Geeks also sells some other DVD players that can act as external monitors (with some googling you can easily find which ones have AV-in).

* Bluetooth v2.0 Class 2 Mini USB Dongle

This is my favorite Bluetooth dongle of all times. It’s so incredibly small that never looks ugly by sticking out as most dongles do. This small dongle is ideal for those who have netbooks that come without Bluetooth, like the Acer Aspire One and most of the Eee PC models. It’s a class 2 dongle, so up to 6 meters reception was good with my Ubuntu netbook. If you own a netbook, or a laptop without Bluetooth, this is a must have!


Android dinner party

We went to a party of my husband’s team tonight, had some good time. Most of the Google Android engineers were there, so it was nice to meet new people, and see some old friends too from the BeOS days (lots of ex-Be engineers seem to work for Android). I quickly met with Andy Rubin too, the founder of Android, and co-founder of Danger.

Regarding mind reading

In the news today there’s this major scientific research about mind reading. The scientists behind it believe that in 10 years time, casual mind reading will be possible. In 50 years, you probably won’t be able to lie anymore, to anyone — not just the cops.

What do you think of a society where telepathy is the de facto way to communicate and not your vocal cords? Terrorism, crimes, will be in the minimum. Even drunk drivers would be able to be stopped before even turn on their car engine. Everyone will be able to live a life where the fellow man is not a con-man or a murderer, because the bad apples would be already “taken care of” early on.

Personal achievements will still be yours, because if you were the first to create something, no one can lie about it and claim that it was his/her invention — but the fruits of your labor would be shared with everyone. This would be true for art, literature, science…

On the other hand, you will have no privacy. Every thought of yours, no matter how embarrassing might be (at least as our current social system thinks of it as embarrassing), every memory of yours, will be shared with the whole. You will be like an ant, working for everyone else.

But is this really bad? What if this is the next step for humanity or any other advanced civilization? Political systems, family, religion, social reforms all have FAILED to create a danger-free society. People still rob houses, people still kill others, people still try to cheat the system, people still lie every day, even to their loved ones.

The reason why this piece of news touched me is because of this experience of mine, about 10 years ago. At least for the hour that I was “under”, I experienced this so-called telepathy-based (authoritarian) society, but all I could feel throughout the session was loneliness. So I am a bit in the middle of the pack regarding this matter.

So what do you think? Would you trade your privacy, and the right to own your thoughts, for a safer society? I mean, shitting on a in-house toilet might sound the right thing to you, but up to 100 years ago was a ludicrous idea for many places in the world, and a laughing matter too. So before you start replying like a hot headed redneck, think both sides of the story first.