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Home-Made Broadcast Effects (February, 2003)

When I don't have a video project on the go I like to practise effects and techniques, saving small projects to refresh my memory later on. The one illustrated here uses a matte, quad picture in picture over the matte, a moving title and transparency, to allow the main video to show in a rectangle below the other layers. The matte was

The effect in Premiere
made in Photoshop, using an action safe template to set the boundaries of the coloured blocks. The quad picture in picture placed in the lower left using Premiere's motion tool is actually a piece of video already edited as you see it. It's simply zoomed down and dragged to the location I wanted it. The title containing my web address is a static Premiere title with the motion effect applied so it enters left and exits right as the clip runs. The Content Shop logo and the text below were added as layers in Photoshop. The resulting matte has a layer keyed out (transparent), where you see my lovely niece Alexandra, playing with her brother, Simon. Click Here to bring up Windows Media Player and view the 14-second clip, less than 500 kb. If you're on dial-up, you probably already know you can right click and save the file, to view it without buffer interrupts.
Another trick I had to use to make this clip was to create a wav file containing silence. I didn't want a sound track but windows media video can't be encoded without an audio track. I used CoolEdit 2000 to create a new wav file and inserted silence. I set the duration for one minute, and when I need it I import it into a Premiere project and lay it into audio track one, adjusting the length accordingly.When the clip plays on a PC you see black bars on all four sides. On a TV however only the top and bottom are black. Making it to action safe dimensions means that the TVs overscan hides the vertical bars. If you want some help creating a similar effect, send me an email. With enough interest I'd be glad to do a web tutorial.

High-End Analog (January, 2003)

I always look at camcorders and talk to their operators whenever the chance exists. Yesterday at a seminar on DVD I chatted with the shooter about his S-VHS camcorder from JVC. He picked it for its 3-hour tape, given he was shooting a full-day seminar. It was mounted on a Manfrotto 501 fluid head (the dream head for ambitious amateurs) and feeding a NTSC monitor atop a stack of road cases. Video is digitized to computer using the Media 100 system.

JVC S-VHS camcorder

Great New Video Viewer - January 2003

One of my video mags recently reviewed the newest version of ACDSee 5.0. I've used the classic version of this great image browser/viewer for years but what caught my eye was the claim that the latest version handled video files. Yes! How long have I wanted to be able to browse video content just like still images. When you're hunting for the right background, or just trying to find the right content it's a pain to have to open each file separately to see if it's what you're looking for. So, off I went to purchase it. I wanted it for my editing PC where the majority of my video clips reside. I found it wouldn't install without calling for a file from the ACDSee web site. My editing PC isn't Internet-connected so that didn't get anywhere and the installer shut down. Over the course of several days I traded email with their support group and was finally directed to a URL where I could download the missing link. Now I can browse video effortlessly. If you have a large collection in various file formats you really should take a hard look at this upgrade - about CDN$85.
One curious aspect to the tale: I ordered both the download and the CD, at a point when I thought that would solve my problem with no Internet connection to the target PC. The CD showed up yesterday, and has nothing on it but the download file. I'd still be trying unsuccessfully to install it on the editing PC - why the files to deal with this aren't on the CD is a head scratcher.

Annual Report - January, 2003

I am happy to report to you that in the two years since I installed a DV Raptor and began learning to edit (and shoot) I have met virtually all of my goals for The Content Shop. I produce in all formats, have sold my work more than once, have a successful video streaming web site and I feel at home in the wonderful world of digital content creation. I tell you this so that, if you are new to digital video and desktop editing, or considering getting involved, you can be encouraged at how far you can come in a couple of years. I've put many hours into the passion and as usual you get back what you put in, so your results will vary, but you can be a one-person movie producer from a standing start in less time than it takes to earn a college degree. Among my current objectives is that of producing material with the intent of selling it and by happy coincidence I found an interesting new approach to doing it - CustomFlix.The group behind it includes developers of the Media Cleaner application, people with a history in digital video, who saw a new opportunity. In brief, CustomFlix takes your tape master and converts it to DVD, complete with professional packaging, in quantities as small or as large as necessary - but only as purchase orders come in. They set up an e-store for your productions, complete with movie trailer, handle payment and shipping and send you what's left over every month. Their fee is flat per sale so you decide what the right retail price is to cover them and you. At the moment they ship only within 50 US States but content creators may live anywhere. To get paid on your sales however, you need a US postal address for the cheques and a US tax ID. It's a very persuasive business case. You do what you're good at and they do what they're good at and everybody wins! Now if you'll excuse me, I have to screen that old squirrel in the snow piece I did. I'm sure folks will line up to pay $19.95 for their own copy on DVD. And what about "Racoons in the Yard"? That was a riveting piece of animal insights. And who could forget "Visiting Jumpy"? Must get that tax ID right away. Time is money...

Camera Support

rigged up

(December 2002)

rotating ball head

I've had no luck getting the pan/tilt handle for my original tripod replaced by a local wholesaler/distributor, so, having done some research, I went off to Henry's Camera Saturday morning and came home with the items shown above. The Slik unit has a quick release plate, with "lock" and "release" positions on the switch at the top of the handle, and a squeeze and release handgrip that allows for considerable rotation in four directions. This interested me because I got tired of shooting lakes and such at a slight angle. Lakes tend to be flat so when video of a lake makes it appear to be higher on one side than on the other, just maybe the shooter screwed up? This Slik unit allows me to level the head, regardless of what the legs are on, or in, such as sand beach or a stony hillside. The unit has its own spirit level, and mounts atop the tripod. Used this way it looks a tad silly, but allows one to use the pan and tilt arms of the tripod as usual, with freedom to switch to the Slik control for leveling and pan/tilt with the handgrip. The other feature I liked is the absence of a spreader on the Proline 200 tripod. The legs can be spread as wide as you want, allowing for unusually low camera positions with full support. You can't see it but it does have a centre column with geared crank, and it runs very smoothly. Bottom line: after a weekend of playing with it, and getting some forum input I've reluctantly concluded that it's not practical . The Slik unit has no fixed starting position that guarantees it to be 90 degrees from horizontal. As a result, no matter how level it is at one point, when you begin to pan you can see it going more and more off-level. So, today it goes back and we try yet another solution, courtesy of a forum member at dvinfo.net. Filmtools markets a twin-bubble spirit level that slides into the camcorder shoe mount! Used in conjunction with a ball level this should make those slanted lakes a thing of the past. spirit level for shoe mount

Hobbyist's Dream (October 2002)

Thanks to a client/friend asking me to shoot a video promo for his luxury Bed & Breakfast in Ucluelet, British Columbia (www.awesomeview.com) I had the thrill of flying in a seaplane over Barkley Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island! Pilot Louie (The Fly Guy) took off the passenger door so I could shoot with only a wing strut in the way. Even with some parachute jumping in my past, focusing in the wind blast and holding steady in corkscrew turns was a bit challenging, but how else can you shoot a whale from above? Some days this video hobby is worth every nickel and every minute it takes.

Whale from Seaplane

  • Painful Lessons (October 2002)

    I shot four hours of tape on a recent trip to Vancouver Island, Canada's most westerly landmass. On both the west and east coasts I saw awesome beauty and I worked hard at capturing it. Once home I logged it all over several nights, and that's when I realized there were two segments missing. I eventually remembered that in both cases I had replayed footage for an audience before shutting down. When I started shooting again, I didn't check that there wasn't more footage AFTER what I'd replayed. There was, of course, and I had taped over it! No solution. Hard lesson - tape is cheap. When you've finished a sequence shot from a seaplane over the Broken Islands, complete with whales in the water and distant mountain views, pop the tape out and store it in your kit bag. Don't touch it until you get home. So what if it has only fifteen minutes exposed? Your captures are solid gold. When you're two thousand miles from the shoot all you can do about screwing up is suffer. Believe me, the cost of a few extra tapes means nothing compared to the realization that some of your best work doesn't exist anymore.
    By the way, most of my "best work" survived and is now (mid-November) posted on the video page. : =)

  • New Products & Stories (September 2002)

    I have mentioned the eight meetings per year of the Canadian Corporate Television Association before in reporting neat new stuff, like last year's demo of the JVC Streamcorder. Last night's meeting near Toronto was the new season's opener and did the job justice. The guest speaker, Bill Kinnon, has a couple of decades behind him in broadcast production/post production at network level. In 1995 something strange happened to him. He discovered DV and has never recovered. Last night he claimed in front of a roomful of fellow pros (except for me) that DV camcorders produce images every bit as good as BetaSP cameras! Talk about heresy. Bill's personal life includes a faith-based organization involved in Africa. For the past couple of years he and his wife have traveled often, particularly to Kenya, where they have equipped and taught school kids in making DV movies. The videos that resulted from four weeks of training in shooting and editing (in Premiere) were very impressive - what bits we saw of course. There wasn't time for more than a sampling. Some of the benefits of seeding this knowledge in so poor and disadvantaged an area include creating and showing to villagers programs to discourage eating bad meat and drinking still water, and footage that assists the NGOs (non-governmental organizations, like World Vision) in their fund raising and donations programs. Great work, Bill. The group will have a web site up soon at www.changeagents.tv.

    Panasonic showed off the new AG-DVX100 3-CCD miniDV camcorder, the first with 24P (24 frames per second - same as film) functionality. It actually shoots 60 fields per second, like your and my camcorders do(if you own NTSC) but with editing software tweeked to understand the digital info, will pull down just the 24 frames per second in editing. Not all of us want a camera for film-making of course, and this one operates beautifully without ever switching the 24P on, plus it has a 3-1/2" LCD, a colour viewfinder that works even when the LCD is open, a Leica lens and all the options you'd expect of a camera competing in price with the Canon XL1-s and the Sony PD150. It will be released around October 1st.

    This is year two for me as a member of the CCTA, whose membership includes most broadcasters in Canada plus suppliers, agencies and so on. I joined to involve myself some of the time way over my head, and the stretch has been good for my education. But what I'm really interested in is the obvious change in attitude among pros toward what's coming from the "low end." They are still largely disparaging of 25 mbps DV and everything supporting it, including editors like Premiere ("a piece of junk" as one put it) but you can sense unease among them. Their ivory tower is under attack and I'm glad to have a good seat for the battle.

  • Attention PC Editors (September 2002)

    I had what is for me a rare opportunity this morning to attend a Canopus Storm demonstration at a local (Toronto) retailer called Smart Machine. All of us thinking of upgrading our capture cards have read the specs and the magazine reviews and so on, but how often do you get to sit in the front row, watch it work and ask any question that occurs to you? (There were only a dozen or so in attendance). The Storm's real time capabilities were quite amazing, five video tracks with effects, including one demo of three PinP windows over a main track, with effects on the PinP clips playing back effortlessly in real time from the timeline. The system running it was a P4-2.53 Mhz with 512 MB of, I think, DDR RAM, on Windows XP Home edition with the service pack installed. We were watching the output on a fairly large Sony professional NTSC monitor and the image was so good I thought the clips used might have come from a film camera. But someone asked and the source was a 3-CCD Panasonic camcorder of "decent" quality, according to the store owner. Now I have another toy on my wish list (the monitor that is. I think my Sony VX2000 will hold up in the image department). The demonstrator, in answer to my question, said that with the Storm, the real time effects in Premiere 6.5 weren't worth using. But, he believed the upgrade is justified for the Inscriber titling application, and for laptop/firewire editing where you have no supporting capture card. Also demonstrated was United Media's Multicam editing software, which opens a Premiere project and shows two to four (depending on which version you buy) tracks in separate windows, allowing you to create a timeline with the camera selections you want, then save back to Premiere. What a time-saver if multicam is something you work with. I've read many forum posts from people looking for a simple way to edit two-camera source material in Premiere and there really isn't a good solution - because you can't view two tracks at the same time. Most of us don't need to, but if you shoot events with more than one camera this software is an elegant answer. The two-cam version was Cdn. $400. The Storm card and bundled software was Cdn $1849 and I didn't get an answer to whether or not that included the Storm 2 upgrade, now shipping.

  • Making "Pro" VHS Copies (September 2002)

    I've been making VHS copies of editing projects for nearly two years now and because my projects are seldom more than twenty minutes in length, and often shorter, it has bugged me to be handing out two-hour tapes with so little media on them. Granted they don't cost more to mail, since a cassette is a cassette when it comes to fitting it into a mailer, but there's something that says "amateur" to me when I do it. So, I began to think it was time to search for custom length blank tapes and within 24 hours I received a regular e-mail newsletter from a local (Toronto) DV retailer who, wonder of wonders, had just begun to carry them. They were available in 15-30-60 minute lengths, starting at Cdn$1.25 each. As I have recently done a piece to market the creation of affordable personal family biographies, I wanted multiple copies for distribution - and didn't want to hand out two-hour tapes for an eight minute teaser. I bought thirty each of the 15 and 30 minute versions, I print labels and make sleeves on cover stock which I then have laminated, hand cut and tape them and hand over a fairly professional looking package with something approaching a reasonable amount of tape for the content. The price is right and, equally important, I feel like a pro when I do it. If you're in the Toronto area you can buy them at DV Shop on Dundas West. Otherwise, warm up the search engine or call a specialty camera store and ask for direction. You'll be glad you did, whether or not you have any commercial intent in distributing your masterpieces..

    Home Made VHS Sleeve and label

  • Don't Zoom Zoom (September 2002)

    One of the toughest habits for me to break as a videographer is my tendancy to find the zoom rocker while shooting. The human eye doesn't zoom and neither should we the majority of the time. It's the mark of an amateur. Today I read an excellent suggestion for dealing with the habit and getting an added benefit thrown in. Most of us use the hand strap the manufacturer provides, sliding a hand into it to "steady" the camera. When we do, the zoom control is just so handy to the index and middle fingers, isn't it? Don't use it. Support the camera from below. If yours has a bright enough LCD screen open it and use it with your left hand to further steady the camera. I found recently, shooting an open-air market, that using this hold and framing via the LCD I was able to make fluid moves into and across the flowers and produce on display, and the resulting footage made me look good. Not a zoom in sight. Zoom zoom is a great line for a car commercial but a really bad idea for videography. For more tips on learning to shoot visit simplyDV.com.

  • News for CD/Web Video Makers (July 2002)

    From DV.COM's email newsletter comes word of the release of a new MPEG-4 codec providing superior quality and reduced file size. The product called mpegable comes from a company I've never heard of - "dicas" - headquartered in Berlin. Among their claims is that the mpegable codec will create two hours of TV-quality video on one CD disk. Their samples look very good, but require their free player to view. The codec is available for US$25, with an editing plug-in separately sold at US$9.95. One note of caution: the version now available converts video for windows (vfw) AVI's to MPEG-4. Vfw is the original multimedia offering from Microsoft, with serious file size limitations and no longer much used. To encode AVI's created in a DirectShow environment, which is today's standard, eager buyers must await the release of the next version - mpegableS4 - apparently out soon at the same US$25 price. Check it out HERE.

  • Timing is Everything (July 2002)

    The night before I began a four-day Canadian long weekend (one day of vacation included) Fedex delivered my new Sony VX2000! I bought it from B & H Photo Video in NYC and I'm now on record with a very high opinion of their service. I paid a competitive price, got no pressure to purchase accessories, no bull about in-stock versus back order, got on-time delivery for a fair price and was able to track the shipment on the Fedex site right to my door. I spent the first night reading the manual and playing with settings. Friday and Saturday I shot everything in sight. I love this camcorder every bit as much as I expected to. I know there are many 3CCD units to choose from these days, some cheaper, some not, but if you have the money for this prosumer category take a hard look at this baby. There are many good sites on the net that evaluate it against other good cameras. I wish it shot progressive scan at 30 fps (it does 15) and some would want the XLR mic inputs it doesn't have, but it takes lovely pictures, even in very low light and has enough manual options to keep me practising for months..

  • Home Movies (June 2002)

    It's taken me 18 months since buying my camcorder, but I finally have my first vacation video in the can, as they say. Four hours of tape from ten days in Portugal has become 21 minutes of movie. I have it on VHS tape, I have it on DVD, I have it in three segments for web display and I have it in MPEG-1 for CD. My conclusion is the not very insightful one that home movies will never be the same. Yes, it did take me six years to learn my way around the pc and hundreds of hours on the 'net and elsewhere learning how to use the camcorder, editing hardware and software, where to find royalty-free music, how to use still images, record narration, make titles and bugs in Photo Shop, etc. etc., but now that it's all behind me it didn't seem that difficult. And did I mention the thousands of dollars I've spent on it? Having a hobby you love is worth all of that and more. I've been bored at times in my life and I wouldn't go back there if you tripled my refund. If you have a few minutes, go visit Portugal with me. One or another of the three segments will be up on the video page for a while.

  • Great Overview Site (May 2002)

    Thanks to Terry at the DV Shop here in Toronto for this link to a tightly written, very informative site on all aspects of digital video. For those who want to go deeper than shooting and editing for VHS this site covers the history of the media, explanations of multimedia formats, digital television and more. It's a section of PC Tech Guide, one more site I hadn't heard of and now expect to visit often.

  • Steadier Shooting (May 2002)

    When I first shot video in the '80's it was with a big, heavy analog camcorder recording to full size VHS tape. I had no experience as a shooter but one of the few amateur give-aways my footage didn't suffer from was camera shake. To accomodate the VHS tape the camera body was sufficiently large that it rested on my shoulder when I looked through the eyepiece, providing a good, stable platform. Today's D8 and MiniDV units come in sizes from shirt pocket to a few pounds in weight, but virtually none is large enough to create that kind of stability without a tripod. I've learned to bring the tripod on every shoot, but when you can't , you might want to consider another option: the mini-mate from Videosmith. This lighweight, extremely well made accessory attaches to the base of your camcorder with the usual tripod mounting screw. Once in place it offers a post for your second hand, for increased stability, or for making shots you can't make without it. Even shooting yourself is much easier with this rig, and as an added bonus, it includes a hot shoe mount for offsetting your external microphone or adding an on-camera light that isn't directly in the face of your subject. In my experiments with it I didn't find it eliminated unwanted camera motion but it is a much steadier hold than one hand can provide. You can mount it with a quick release plate too, to easily switch to your tripod, but make sure the plate you buy is compatible with your tripod mount.

    Mini-mount in Use

  • New To Streaming Your Video? (April 2002)

    I've been streaming a few of my videos from this site for nearly a year now, and finally found the HTML code I needed to present them in an embedded player. That means that instead of the link opening Windows Media Player as a pop-up it opens a new HTML page with the player centred among whatever other text or images you choose to accompany it. This technique gives you control over how the movie presents in the various screen resolutions your visitors use - 800 X 600, 1024 X 786 and so on. The downside is that it only works in Internet Explorer. My web stats tell me that 86% of my visitors do use it, and more could since they come using WIndows 98/2000 in the largest majority. Having started with Netscape in 1996 and having stayed with it despite increasing difficulty in viewing the newest web innovations I am sorry to leave it behind in order to accomplish this long-sought after goal. In this case I've decided the end justifies the means. To see what I'm talking about click here. If you are new to streaming your own videos (and I hope you're at least thinking about it) feel free to steal the source code. And, while you're there, check out the video page (use the link below the player) for a new Photo Shop Tutorial made using the amazing Camtasia screen capture product. After using the trial version I had to buy this suite, which includes the capture utility, a producer module for editing and exporting finished movies and a viewer. The original captures can be imported into Premiere, or other editors using AVI files. But without leaving Camtasia Producer you can export AVI or wmv and asf files for streaming. You can check it out for yourself at www.techsmith.com

  • I DVD! (April 2002)

    I've noted elsewhere on the site my recent purchase of a new PC for editing. While I had installed a Pioneer A03 DVD/CD burner in it, I hadn't tried making MPEG-2 files of any of my "productions", so obviously hadn't tried burning DVD. Well that's all behind me now. Using a version of MyDVD which came with the graphics card bundle, and TMPGEnc to create the files I managed to create a three-video DVD with a working menu - which to my astonishment plays in my Proscan consumer DVD player! Since making that discovery I've read that I shouldn't have been so surprised. Apparently most DVD decks will play the DVD-R format, not a claim I've tested at all. Mine failed to recognize a CD version of the identical project although it plays well, naturally enough, in the drive that wrote it, using Power DVD as the viewer. It was a real treat to watch my stuff in the same environment as the Hollywood DVDs I routinely rent or buy. Certainly there are differences, mainly in depth and richness of colour - we are after all comparing the output of a one-chip DV camcorder to film conversion, with the film itself the result of a highly experienced crew of light, sound and camera people. But that said, mine stands up well, certainly better than the same material on VHS. I don't have a current generation television set either so I've yet to see the full impact of DV resolution in a supportive environment, but that will come.

  • JVC Streamcorder (March 2002)

    I mentioned in a January note (on page two below) my first exposure to a prototype JVC 3-CCD camcorder capable of shooting in and wirelessly transmitting MPEG-4. Tonight I found the first site I've run across with full details on it. Check it out at SuperVideo

  • My New Editing PC -DVD Burner & All (March 2002)

    I moved a little closer to the bleeding edge this month, taking delivery of a new PC built to the specs I provided after weeks of research, soul-searching and budget reviewing.
    In the end I went with Intel, selecting the P-4 processer at 1.8 GHz (cost/performance), and an Asus P4B266 motherboard with 512 MB of DDR PC266 RAM. Two Maxtor hard drives at 20 & 60 GB, a Creative Audigy Platinum sound card with on-board OHCI-compliant firewire port, an Asus 7700 Ti 32 MB Deluxe video card, a Pioneer 103 DVD-burner and the Canopus DV Raptor card from my existing PC. And lest I forget, a 19" Samsung 900 NF (with the Trinitron CRT).
    The video and sound cards came with a great combo of extras like 3-D glasses (that plug into the vid card), several audio applications including Cubasis VST and WaveLab Lite, which immediately became my tool of choice for recording narration.
    The other really cool tool the Audigy Platinum purchase woke me up to is a firewire network between the two PCs. With the addition of a firewire PCI card in the old machine and using the firewire port in the Audigy I was able to link the two by firewire and run an application called FireNet from www.unibrain.com to operate a TCP/IP network at firewire speed. There's no conflict with my ethernet cable Internet link (also TCP/IP), and the rate of file transfers is really impressive. With the network in place I was able to transfer 32 GB of video/audio files from the second drive of the old PC to the new 60 Gig drive - so that I could finally reformat the original drive without losing archives. I had originally intended to buy an external firewire hard drive (Maxtor and LaCie both make them at 7200 rpm) and bounce it between the two PCs to transfer large files, but the firewire network costs far less and allows me to use the old PCs second drive as additional video storage.

    I couldn't be happier with how everything works. I have Windows 2000 Pro on the new PC, taking advantage of the NTFS file system which has virtually no limitation on file size, and Win98SE on Grampa. I'm using Premiere 6.01, capturing via the Raptor (although straight firewire capture is an option) and monitoring on both the PC monitor and a 19" TV/VCR combo, using S-Video in to the VCR for much improved colour on VHS exports.
    Finally, regarding speed, the new system will transcode full resolution DV files to Windows streaming format (wmv for example) at under two times real time where the old one was closer to 7:1. Yes, I still have to render - but even that happens way faster in the land of P-4.

  • more... page 3.

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