Tag Archives: Mac

Video on OS X – more infrastructure

I’ve posted a couple of times now about my experiences creating audio and video on OS X. A couple of weeks ago, I had a brief conversation with my friend Ian Hughes, aka epredator, who was trying to get himself setup:

divx-question.png

Good one. All I knew was that DIVX AVI files were playing on my machine fine, through QuickTime.

The answer, which I’d evidently missed before, is Perian. This is a really simple, installable package which enables support for a whole range of “other” file formats in QuickTime. You’ll also want to install Flip4Mac, which gives support for Windows formats like WMV. It’s also worth adding the Xiph component for formats like FLAC and OGG. Once you’ve got those in place, you should be fine to import, play and edit in iMovie and other QuickTime-based applications.

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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!

The Flip Mino in the UK

Regular readers will know that one of the things that I’ve been getting more into this year is video editing (see the page that I’ve just added as a teaser for things to come in 2009). This has been driven by the increasing ease-of-use of online services, the capabilities of the machines and software I have, and the gadgets I’ve been playing around with. In January I looked at a cheap USB video camera, and since then I’ve had even nicer toys to look at 🙂

Interview

Back in October I was invited to talk to the EMEA President of Flip Video, Ray Sangster, at the press launch of the Flip Mino in London. I imagined at the time that my earlier blog posts about this category of devices was at least partly responsible for the invitation.

Before the visit I’d canvassed some questions from my friends on Twitter, and I had some ideas and thoughts of my own that I wanted to discuss. For instance, why bother with a USB camcorder like a Flip when mobile phones are increasingly able to record video and connect to the Internet? Why are the Flip cameras later coming to Europe (typically several months behind the US launch?). Would the Flip cameras get external mics, or other accessories to make them more useful to journalists?

Ray kicked off the conversation by showing me some sample video made by college students in the US… and immediately also pointed out that the target audience for the camera is primarily the 14-25 age group who use the web more than TV, and also particularly with the Mino (which is slimmer and sleeker than the previous Flip Ultra) more slanted towards women, who capture “memories” more than “video for editing”.

The answer to my core question around the value of the device compared to, say, a mobile phone was a great one – Ray offered me his phone and suggested that I try to find the controls for recording video. It’s true that right now, it is relatively difficult to do that (and impossible on the iPhone, which still doesn’t support video, or have a decent resolution)… The very simplicity of the Flip is the selling point. It is reflected in the design of the hardware (big lens, big record button, flip-out USB connection, that’s about it!) and the use of the software, which I’ll talk about in a moment.

The time-delay on release was put down to the time needed to convert to European standards and languages, which is fair… although I remember when the original Flip came out, I got very frustrated waiting for the UK release. It would be great if they could reduce that window for future models.

The accessories include tripod, underwater casing (for the Ultra… I’ve not seen that for a Mino yet but I’ve not looked hard)… but it doesn’t seem likely to me that items such an external microphone are coming along, given the focus on simplicity and the consumer market.

I was interested to learn that the Mino is being used, in the words of the PR company, “from the catwalks to Kandahar” – they are being used to record fashion shows from people like Stella McCartney, and covering war stories in Afghanistan for upload back to the UK over a telephone modem.

A very enjoyable afternoon!

Hands-on

The Flip Mino itself is delivered in a smart box reminiscent of Apple packaging (particularly that of the iPhone). You get the camera, a soft carrying pouch, and that is it – all you need to get going.

You get a simple camera with no batteries to fiddle around with. It’s a fixed 2Gb capacity (60 minutes recording time), unlike some other devices on the market which can support additional storage like SD cards. You record your clips, plug in to a computer, and the software can upload directly to YouTube and MySpace… I was somewhat surprised that it doesn’t support other services like Viddler and Facebook too, given their growing popularity.

If you’re curious to see what I thought of the hardware and the Mac software, take a look at the short clip below.

A number of small things bother me about the Mac support for the Mino, some of which I mention in the video. Firstly, I notice that the software is PowerPC and therefore runs in Rosetta on an Intel Mac – why not ship a Universal binary? It doesn’t support logging in to YouTube with a Google ID (iMovie 08 does). The Save to Album option puts the videos into [homedir]/Documents/My Flip Video Library – which seems strange – why not use the Movies folder, or just use drag-and-drop on a Mac to copy the movies straight off the USB drive (which is actually what I ended up doing, and editing with iMovie). Generally, I’m left thinking that they could have done a better job of the Mac support. It works with OS X though, and that’s a step forward from previous models.

I also took the camera out with me on a weekend break with friends in November. It was a good opportunity to see how it performed outdoors, and also to see what others in the target age group thought about it. Here’s a chance to see what kind of audio and sound quality you get.

As for opinions: generally, friends were commenting that the screen was too small, and shared my impression that phones are moving into the same space, so many were doubtful that they would buy one… but they also don’t make many videos at the moment anyway. In all honesty, their reactions were not strongly positive.

By the way, you can also see those videos on my YouTube channel, along with some other examples of footage shot with the Mino.

So where is the “but”?

So far I’m probably sounding reasonably positive, and the fact is that I do like the Mino, despite the faults I’ve observed. It’s small, convenient, and “good enough” in most respects. My issues with it are that I think it’s somewhat expensive given the competition from alternatives like the bulkier and AA-battery-driven, but 720p-capable Kodak Zi6 HD; and that right around the corner are some other rather nice-looking HD devices. DSLRs are also increasingly getting HD video recording capabilities, so the market space for these devices is potentially narrowing. That said, there will always be something better on the horizon!

My overall feeling is that if you want a simple, straightforward video camera that is easy to use, portable and “good enough” then absolutely, check out the Flip Mino. And if you don’t want my opinion, then Scoble reckons the Flip was the best gadget he “stole” in 2008… although commenters on his post also note that the Kodak is a contender. You can also take a look at Julia Roy’s video review.

Available from Amazon in black or white (which, weirdly, is slightly cheaper!)