Archive for November 3rd, 2008

Vote for Lando Calrissian!

Thanks to Billy for the funny video link!

DVXUser Twilightfest competition

Another DVXUser competition, Twilightfest, opened its doors for viewing and voting (free registration required). Because Comcast now has bandwidth consumption restrictions I will not be able to watch all films, so I limited my viewing to films shot with the HV20 (4), RED (3), AVCHD HF100 (1), and HPX-170 (1) cameras.

From these four HV20 films I watched, the “Calls From The Führerbunker” was probably the best. It had good direction and cinematography, beating out the rest of the HV20 films that actually used 35mm adapters. The also HV20-based “Mr. I” film was not too bad either, but it was strangely under exposed (it felt underexposed rather than “dark”, which I am sure it was the intention of the cinematographer). I was indifferent about the third HV20 film, dubbed “The Box“, while the fourth one, “Pain Container“, I didn’t like.

The HF100 film “Benjamin Merrymeadows and the Curse of the Four-Holed Button” was amateurish and silly, while “Broadcast“, shot with a RED One camera, was the best of the three RED-based films in the competition. Finally, I watched the “Cold Calls by John Whalen” (shot with the HPX-170) because it had so many comments in the forum. And indeed, it was amazingly good. This film was the only one that I wanted to have more of, and wasn’t feeling ready in clicking “fast forward” on the media player. That was amazingly well done and clever. Most of the films in the competition used the Panasonic DVX and HVX cameras, as usual, but as I said, I didn’t watch any of these, so some gems might be among them.

Review: Premiere Elements 7

One of the most successful consumer video editors out there is Adobe’s Premiere Elements. The new version, version 7, adds some interesting new features that help take editing time away from the user.

Installation on my Vista laptop was smooth like a butter, although it was somewhat long. Loading the application takes only 2-3 seconds which is pretty good for a full-featured video editor. The interface is largely the same as in the previous version (v4, there were no version 5 & 6). In my tests, performance was acceptable, especially for .m2t HDV files. I rate stability as so-so, as I had it crashing twice during some longer edits.

The most important new feature of Premiere Elements 7 (PE7) is its support for AVCHD. This feature was probably the driving force behind having a new Elements version in less than a year from the previous release. The vast majority of new camcorders are AVCHD-based and so far no Adobe product supported it, leaving a huge number of users disgrantled on forums everywhere online. AVCHD worked ok my PC with PE7, performance was acceptable on my CoreDuo laptop.

The second biggest feature is good chroma key support, that lets the editor make use of a “green” or “blue” screen. And of course, now there’s Blu-Ray burning. The rest of the exporting/rendering options haven’t changed since the previous version, with h.264/AAC being the prefered exporting way.

Other interesting new features include the usage of “templates” that lets the editor decide on special effects on videos rather than having the user edit each scene and add plugins manually. This feature is of course a recipe for disaster for advanced users, but it might prove useful and “acceptable” for complete newbies.

An interesting new usability feature is the SmartTag feature, that asks the user to tag clips based on certain technical elements: e.g. in focus, high quality, shaky etc. This way, the user can categorize clips via several ways in order to find clips faster if he/she has over 40-50 clips in the library.

Premiere Elements now supports SmartSound Quicktracks out of the box, a loop-based royalty-free soundtrack creation system. It comes with 14 music libraries. Speaking about audio though, there is no surround 5.1 support, only stereo.

Other things missing from the editor is 24p support editing (exporting in 24p is supported), a frame rate which is now found on many consumer cameras (although there was a hack for the previous version that added the feature), and proper visual effect customization. The current customization of these plugins is minimal and don’t allow for much flexibility.

Finally, Adobe recently unveiled their web service Photoshop Plus which allows users to upload photos and videos and share them with family. This sounds like a neat service, but with YouTube & FlickR around, I personally see little value there.

Premiere Elements is probably the second best consumer editor, with Sony Vegas Platinum 9 being the best with a somewhat large margin. However, while Vegas Platinum is very flexible and powerful, it comes with a steep learning curve. All this power doesn’t come for free. Premiere Elements is definitely easier to start with but sooner than later you might bump into (sometimes artificial) limitations, should you want to use your editing imagination in its full potential.

Rating: 7/10

Random Stuff, Part 27

* If you are a filmmaker and videographer interested in finding royalty-free music, please read my explanation of Creative Commons here. Most of your questions about CC music should be answered in that post. Reply there, or email me if you have more.

* I watched Coldplay on SNL the other night. Chris Martin, their singer, simply can’t sing. The guy just can’t hit the high notes, it was laughable watching him running around like a lunatic on the stage and not being able to actually sing. Note that I am a huge fan of Coldplay, I love their music. But seeing their singer performing live, it was an exercise in patience. Later, Dave Cook, the American Idol winner, was performing on SNL too, and while I hate his music (Bryan Adams-y kind of music), the guy can actually sing.

* I watched “Akira” last night. I really don’t know why it is rated so highly on IMDb. It’s probably the best anime out there, but overall it wasn’t amazing. Maybe I just don’t get anime, who knows.

* I am a pacifist, so Proposition H 2005 (applicable only to San Franciscans) is an interesting one to me. This local ordinance was meant to test the Supreme Court and the Constitution about the “right to keep and bear arms”. Now, here’s the thing. Depending on HOW you read that line of text in the Constitution, you either understand that every citizen should have the right to bear arms for whatever reason, or that this right is for militia purposes in case the people need to restore a fallen democracy. I am not against personal protection with a gun when and if required (e.g. in this recent rape case), but the militia argument is irrelevant in this day and age. If citizens need to revolt against a gone-bad government, then having some handguns in their closet won’t do jack. The wars today are fought with biological weapons, tanks, fighter planes. Unless citizens are allowed to buy an F-22 at an affordable price, the “right to bear arms” is just pointless. And so all we end up with, are just some crazies who buy guns and then they kill on a whim. In other words, the rest of us must endure the residue of a law that’s not applicable anymore. Some say that banning guns will make it easier for thugs and rapists to do harm. Well, citizens who want to protect themselves should get a taser gun (it’s not considered a “firearm” in the US), or even better, create special low-power non-lethal taser-like guns that can fire only up to three electrified blobs. I think that this would be a good middle ground for both camps: completely non-lethal, minimized functionality guns, used for protection only. Maybe what this law needs is such a provision to make sense to most traditionalists. I won’t even go into discussion about “guns used in hunting”, because I am against hunting altogether. Isn’t Safeway enough for you?

* A nice video against Proposition 8 from Larry Lessig, founder of Creative Commons, and Stanford law professor: