Tag Archives: iMovie

Some media workflow updates

My earlier post on some of the tools I use in my video workflow was pretty popular, so I thought I’d post an update on some of the latest developments.

Software

I’m now using VideoMonkey for some transcoding tasks. I mentioned in my previous post that VisualHub is now defunct – it was more-or-less the de facto free transcoding tool on OS X. VideoMonkey is also free and is based on a similar codebase… currently in early development, but it works and is looking really promising.

Since I wrote the previous entry in February, iMovie 09 has been updated to 8.0.1 (and, today, 8.0.2). Amongst the “hidden” / undocumented additional features is proper HD export, which had been a bit hacky via QuickTime export before. That’s particularly handy for dealing directly with YouTube’s HD option.

One piece of weirdness I’ve encountered… I’ve been using Keynote for animating certain intro and closing sequences, and exporting as QuickTime for import to iMovie. I did that the other day, and iMovie reported that the movie file could not be imported as the format was not valid. I ran the .mov file through VideoMonkey to get a .mp4 h264 encoded video, and that imported into iMovie as required. I hadn’t come across that before, so maybe an iWork or iLife update changed something there.

Oh, and I’m no longer a stranger to GarageBand – I used that the other day for building some sequences for Dogear Nation. Ironically I still ended up exporting the “song” to iTunes, getting the .aif file, and chopping it up and re-exporting pieces as MP3 using Audacity! However, it worked very nicely for applying real-time effects and applying volume ducking etc.. Once I got my head around the interface, I was very happy.

Hardware

Latest acquisition is a Blue Eyeball USB HD microphone and camera. It’s the evolution of the Blue Snowflake that I’ve been using, but with the addition of a tiny (and I do mean tiny – the iris is really small!) HD 1280×1024 webcam which pops out of the side.

This was mentioned on MacBreak Weekly a couple of weeks ago, and being a fan of the Snowflake I expected to be blown away by this product too. The truth is – I do think it’s a lovely piece of kit, and the audio quality is great. The problem I have is around software compatibility on OS X! It turns out that iMovie can record from the internal iSight, or from a Firewire-connected webcam, but not from a generic USB webcam. This is an insane limitation that I hope Apple fixes soon! (surely no-one is going to try to persuade me that they use this as a differentiator between the consumer and pro line of products, or that there’s some inherent limitation, given that other native tools can capture the video?). The workaround, as described in the Blue Eyeball FAQ, is to use Photo Booth to do the video capture and then import and edit in iMovie. Oh, and although Skype works flawlessly with the camera, any Flash tools (like, say, Viddler and 12seconds and TweetDeck) don’t seem to want to see it. Video and still image wise, the camera is a definite step up from the iSight, but it still leaves something to be desired on the part of Apple and Adobe software support. On final thing is that it auto-adjusts image quality based on light levels, and there’s no software support for tweaking white balance etc – a bit of a shame.

Useful tools for homebrew media – my OS X workflow

As I’m sure regular readers are aware, I’m producing a wider range of media than ever before, now that I’m a regular podcaster and creating a range of video content as well. I thought it would be useful to talk a little about the range of tools that I’m using – far from professional level Final Cut or anything!

Hardware

The hardware is pretty varied. The core of the whole “system” is the MacBook Pro, which I use for pretty much all of my editing. That also has the iSight camera, which is adequate for videos which need to include my face, although I’d like something higher quality (any recommendations?). I’ve mentioned iGlasses before, which is useful for adjusting the iSight input. From an audio perspective I use a USB headset and also a Blue Snowflake USB microphone, which is absolutely great – compact, convenient, and it captures excellent quality sound.

If I need to capture video away from the computer, my current camcorder of choice is the Kodak Zi6 which can take HD 720p footage, albeit at a quality limited by the rest of the hardware (lens, sensor etc). I’ve yet to do a proper review of this, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a step up from either the Flip Mino or the older disgo Video Plus which I’d tried. I also sometimes grab snippets of video on my compact Canon camera.

Screencasting

For screencasts I use ScreenFlow. This is just a wonderful piece of software which is capable of recording both the screen, and from the iSight simultaneously. This allows the video to be overlaid into the screencast if required, so you can personally narrate what is going on. Even better than that, ScreenFlow lets you zoom in on windows and desktop features, and is really a general purpose compositing application… if you look at this video I made when I talked to a friend recently, you’ll see there are no desktop elements at all, just the video stream from the camera, a picture of him, and the audio, with some nice image tilt and reflection effects applied. ScreenFlow has also recently added text annotation features, which are really useful.

I’ve yet to use it for any practical purpose, but I also just downloaded OmniDazzle, which is now free. OmniDazzle lets you highlight areas of the screen with visual effects using a single keystroke – I can see this being useful in combination with ScreenFlow in the future.

Video editing

A few weeks ago I blogged about iMovie 09. I know a lot of people really dislike both iMovie 08 and 09, but I’m totally comfortable with both versions now, and I have to say that 09 is just beautiful. I’ve had no issues with it – it’s great for rapidly mixing and editing video, still images and audio. Watch my introductory series on YouTube or the whole thing as one movie on Viddler. I wrote a bit more about my use of iMovie back in December, too.

Here’s a tip: have you ever wanted to create some animated titles of your own? I have one word for you – Keynote! When I created the Home Camp TV title sequence it was a simple matter of creating a slide with some animated elements in Keynote, and exporting it as a Quicktime movie (which I did without sound, allowing me to overlay a choice of audio on the title sequence in iMovie). It’s great for quickly creating JPEG stills with text for titles, too.

In terms of finding audio to accompany videos… I’ve used both the pre-canned loops that come with iMovie, and also used some audio from Podsafe Audio. I do find that site a bit cumbersome to search though, so I’d be interested to know of any other useful, royalty-free resources.

Audio editing

I’ve not done a great deal on the audio-only side of things, but my essential tools here are Audacity for editing and cleanup; and Levelator for post-processing. That’s a really important point, by the way: only levelate your audio once everything is mixed together, the whole point is that it’s going to analyze everything and modulate the volume equally… if you have a bunch of snippets of audio and levelate them separately, then edit them together, you may well still end up with volume variations.

Another quick tip at this stage: to avoid issues with VBR MP3s showing up as weird (and incorrect) lengths in some tools, I bring the audio file into iTunes and do the MP3 export in there.

Imaging

For “proper” RAW photo editing and management, regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Lightroom. I use Pixelmator for finer adjustments on exported images.

Beyond that, I find that iPhoto is useful for quickly grabbing snapshots from the digital compact camera for compositing into iMovie clips. Skitch and LittleSnapper are both very useful tools as well as they enable me to rapidly take, resize and annotate screenshots or clips of web pages. For diagrams and so forth, there’s nothing that can beat OmniGraffle.

Extras

Finally, a couple of other useful bits and pieces. Transcoding to different formats is through either VisualHub (now defunct) or ffmpegX. QuickTime Pro is an essential (and highly cost-effective) upgrade too, since it lets you make very quick edits to QuickTime movie files and control the output format more finely.

There. Now, I imagine this may attract a range of “have you heard of…?” “why aren’t you using…?” and other responses, but that’s how I’ve currently settled things. Hopefully some of the tips and thoughts here will be useful to other amateur content creators, too! 🙂

iMovie 09 – beyond the basics

A lot of the iMovie 09 reviews I’ve seen on YouTube have been pretty much “standard” coverage of the basic new features. I’ve been using it for a while now and put together a number of different videos with it… along the way, I’ve found a couple of handy tricks like how to incorporate on-screen logos or information, or how to zoom into a map. Interested? Take a look at my screencast.

(I would have posted this on YouTube as well, but need to re-edit it first as there’s a 10 minute length limit!)

Oh, and another really interesting resource if you want to get more out of iMovie 09 is the Unlocking iMovie 09 blog – some great material over there!

Video production – my way (and a bit about YouTube)

One of the stories I caught last week was the fact that YouTube is moving to providing a widescreen, HD player.

It’s an interesting move and the speculation is that this will enable YouTube to start to host more movie content. Aside from that, it has also affected the way I’m capturing, editing and uploading video on my own machine. If you have non-widescreen videos on YouTube now, the main player will show the video with black bars on either side. Here’s one I made earlier.

YouTube widescreen
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

First of all, it’s probably worth noting that for the simple video projects I’ve been playing around with – I’m far from a prolific or professional video blogger – I’ve been going for the basic options. On the hardware side I’ve used the iSight (with iGlasses), video capture on my digital compact, or a cheap handheld camcorder – so I’m not capturing HD quality content by any means. On the software front, iMovie 08 is fine for my purposes. There have been one or two limitations: not the best range of effects and titling, not a lot of audio editing support, and it’s hard to add title cards. However, I’ve found one or two handy hacks / workarounds in the past few weeks, and learning tips, and so far it has been fine for my purposes.

So how am I adapting to the new world of widescreen, higher-quality videos on YouTube?

When I start a project in iMovie now, I tend to go for the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. Unfortunately, most of my video sources are not widescreen themselves (unless I’ve captured from the screen, for example), so when I import the footage it gets cropped, although this can be changed if not suitable – bearing in mind that if you don’t let it be cropped, you’re likely to end up with the bars.

When I want to upload a project, I tend to export in Medium or High quality from the Share menu, and don’t typically upload straight from iMovie to YouTube. This means that when I do upload it, YouTube gets the full quality version and will create a reduced quality one for standard viewing… the user can select the new “watch in high quality” option to get a better picture, although it still will not be HD.

If you’re interested in the results, I have two main online sites for video – a YouTube channel, and a Viddler channel. I don’t claim to be an expert, but you might find this sort of thing interesting.

Review: disgo Video Plus

A new video device

Video PlusA couple of weeks ago I saw a short news item on Tech Digest, which mentioned a new handheld USB camcorder called the disgo Video Plus (also mentioned on Shiny Shiny and Slashgear). Something similar has been available in the US since last year – the Pure Digital Flip Video – but that product is not available in the UK. The disgo camera has a flip-out screen which the Flip Video does not have, but in other respects they seem very similar.

I’ve been experimenting a little bit recently with video. This device seemed neat – it plugs in directly via USB and is aimed at YouTube-quality, quick video capture. The only thing I was concerned about was that according to the specifications, it didn’t support the Mac… unlike the Flip Video, which has full Mac and Windows support, the disgo product is only listed as compatible with Windows. I contacted disgo’s support team and had an excellent conversation via email where we established that it should just be a USB Mass Storage device, and I might have to do some fiddling to get the AVIs to play on the Mac, but I was willing to give that a try.

Impressions of the Video Plus itself

The camera is extremely neat. It takes 2 x AA batteries (a pair are supplied), comes with a soft carry case, and apart from that… it’s ready to go. The height is less than the size of my hand from the base of the palm to my fingertips, and it is about the same width as a classic iPod. It’s light, too.

ScreenThere’s a 1.5 inch screen (which, incidentally, is really nice and clear) that flips out sideways to enable you to see yourself if the camera is pointing at you – it doesn’t rotate on the axis, though. On the back there are a few buttons: on/off; play/pause; delete (which enables individual clips to be deleted on the device itself); a four way next/zoom/volume button; and a big red button to start or stop a recording. And that’s about it – this is simple stuff.

On one side there is the battery compartment, an SD/MMC card slot which will take up to a 2Gb SD card, and a slider which when pressed causes the USB connector to slide out of the top of the camera to the right of the lens. On the other side there’s a switch to choose between high quality or long play recording, and an A/V connector for hooking up to a TV. There’s a tripod screw connector on the base, and a mystery port on the top with a rubber cover, that I’ve not identified just yet.

It was dead simple to get going – switch on, hit record, and start making video clips. The onboard memory will store 30 minutes of video at high quality, or 60 minutes at lower quality; beyond that, you can obviously add an SD card to expand the capacity.

Using the disgo Video Plus with OS X

There was no CD in the box, and I’ve not plugged the camera into a Windows PC. When I plugged it into my MacBook, it appeared as a USB drive called ‘disgo’ on the desktop.

disgoVideo-1.jpg

Interestingly, although the disgo website does not say that the device is supported on OS X, the ReadMe.txt file included on the disgo’s internal memory does give information about how to access the video files (i.e. you can get them from the DCIM/100VIDEO folder you can see in the screenshot). It is not clear whether files on an SD card plugged into the camera will be able to be read in the same manner – I suspect possibly not, and that I might have to use an external SD card reader, but I’ve yet to try it.

The AVI files played without problems in Quicktime on Leopard. Thinking about it, I did have all kinds of codecs installed already – the camera appears to record an XVID video track at 640×480 resolution, with an mpga audio track – so I may just have been lucky, and it might be necessary to find the right codecs before this will work for anyone else. The files would not, of course, load into iMovie, since that application does not recognise AVI files.

The solution is very simple – transcode to a more Mac-friendly format like a .MOV file or MPEG. The free option for doing this is ffmpegX, but you can also use VisualHub, which I’d previously bought for other purposes and is rather more user-friendly than ffmpegX. Once I’d done that, I was able to use iMovie ’08 to quickly edit together a movie. iMovie ’08 is quirky, and possibly less functional than the previous version, but actually it was ideal for this kind of rapid editing.

Availability

The disgo Video Plus is available via Currys in the UK or direct from disgo.

More photos on Flickr.

Final thoughts

There’s only one way to do this, really…

(I’ve also put this on YouTube)

Update: rebranding, and Windows software

My friend Heidi notes in the comments below that the camera is available in the US as the RCA Small Wonder EZ201. According to this ZDNet review, the original Small Wonder was based on the same technology as the Flip Video, but now RCA have tried to differentiate more (which they seem to have done, in adding the flip screen etc.). However, as we established above, although the ZDNet article claims that this is not Mac-compatible, and the manufacturer doesn’t supply software for the Mac, it seems to work.

The Windows software is on the device itself (remember, I said there was no CD in the box). Inserting the camera into the USB slot on an XP machine, it appeared in My Computer as a USB device called disgo, and when I right-clicked there was an option “Manage your videos” which started the software. It has a few simple features – a grid or list view to access the AVIs and play them; the ability to grab a single frame as a .bmp or .jpg; a section for “editing” i.e. using just part of a clip, or splicing clips together; and a section to email your video to a friend. I’ve added a screenshot on Flickr.

Update: SD card support and UK retailers

I’ve now tried plugging an SD card in. This is treated as an additional device. When you first plug the SD card in the camera copies its software to the card and creates a directory structure. When you then plug the camera into the computer, it continues to see the internal USB flash memory as the storage device, but if you then press the red button while it is connected to the computer the device vanishes (nasty unsafe device removal message), and then the SD card gets mounted instead. So it does work with OS X, but not entirely seamlessly.

Oh, and it looks like Amazon UK have the same device, but branded a Busbi BUSVP0010R Video Plus (and looking at the Busbi site, it looks like they and disgo are the same company since they are both handled by cleverstuff.ie).

Update: other reviews

Paul Knight has done a very detailed video review including a comparison with other cameras including DV tape, and an excellent screencast of how to get the disgo working with a Mac. Shiny Shiny have a short review on YouTube, too.