Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer Project Video Experiment: HD Video on Mac (Part 2)

This is Part II of the Summer Project Video Experiment: HD Video on Mac (Part 1)

I've been playing around with my HD video camcorder, a Panasonic HDC-SD5, and playing with different output settings as part of my summer project, to learn as much about video as I can in 4 weeks. Check out Coop's Word Wiki for my research.

When I left off with the last post, I showed you how I was able to convert my HD files in the AVCHD format to MOV files on my MacBookPro, which are editable on the Mac in both iMovie HD and Quicktime Pro. Then we had to decide
which output format to use to share the videos. I decided that I would first try uploading our HD movies to popular video file sharing sites, keeping in mind that most video sharing sites, especially YouTube, will compress the video into the FLV flash format, and the beautiful HD movie will look less than spectacular. But before we even got to that we had to decide on which program to edit the files in. My two inexpensive options were: iMovie HD, free with every Mac, and QuickTime Pro ($30 upgrade). I mentioned that there are other options for editing video on the Mac, but they are out of my "cheap" range.

I decided to try iMovie HD first. I was able to create a spectacular movie by adding music, transitions, titles and still photos, and when it was time to export, my options were unlimited. I chose the Quicktime option Expert Settings and got all the options shown to the right. I chose to use the Divx since it has an HD setting. The output file size was only 36MB.

Editing the HD files in Quicktime was a different story. I got all the same options for output, but the bad thing is the editing features in QT are limited to cropping and piecing files together. You won't find themes, music, or even transitions in QT, but you'll be able to produce a movie a lot quicker. It might be just me but I thought the QT movie looked better than the iMovie HD one.

So let's take a look at the four video sharing sites that advertise HD uploads:

For the life of me I couldn't figure out if I was able to upload HD videos on YouTube, so I just uploaded my test files and then waited to see if they would play in HD. It didn't happen right away, but eventually an option appeared under the video: watch in high quality. I uploaded a Divx encoded HD file from Quicktime and iMovie HD to YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion and ViddYou. DailyMotion says that the file will eventually be encoded in HD format, but it has yet to happen; same with Vimeo. And with ViddYou you have to upgrade to premium to be able to upload HD content. The quality on Vimeo was noticeably better, but a little jittery (based on other HD videos uploaded previously). Let's just face the reality, web video is just not great when you're relying on free video sharing sites who limit your upload file sizes.

If you'd like to see the results of my efforts, here is the list:
My favorite site was Vimeo even though it has a 500MB weekly limit, but if you encode using Divx you'll end up with small file sizes and will be able to upload lots of videos. Vimeo doesn't give you a time limit. YouTube lets you upload as many videos as you want as long as they are under 100MB and less than 10 minutes. Same goes for ViddYou and DailyMotion. ViddYou allows 5 minute videos for a max of 250MB, and DailyMotion allows 20 minutes/150MB. Vimeo and YouTube displayed the movie in their version of HD, although YouTube makes you click a link to switch to the higher quality. I thought the Vimeo video looked better. All four sites offer all the basic features of a file sharing site, so it really comes down to two things: if you want the possibility of your video going viral then YouTube is your choice, and if you want simplicity and a less cluttered site to deal with, go with Vimeo. YouTube does have one up on the others with their newly added video annotation feature. Learn more about video annotations.

Next time I'll take a look at editing standard video files on a PC using free video editing sotware.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Playing with a Flip Mino Video Recorder

I got my Flip Mino from Amazon yesterday, and I couldn't wait to play with it. It's part of my summer project to learn all about video, video editing software and camcorders. I first saw the Flip at the Sloan C conference and then talked to Lisa Young at GWCC who has one. Both owners absolutely love their Flip Ultra. My first impression then was, it's cool, but it's a little big for me. Then a month later they came out with the Flip Mino, a much smaller version of the Ultra with touch controls, better resolution and a rechargeable battery. I was in for that.

First impressions: HOT! This thing is tiny. It's smaller than my Blackberry Pearl, which I carry everywhere with me and fits nicely into my pocket. Dimensions are 3.94" x 1.97" x 0.63" and it weighs in at 3.3 oz. That's 2 oz lighter than the Ultra. All three Flip cameras shoot at 640 x 480 resolution, but the Mino has a little better compression using the Pure Digital Video Engine 2.5. It also has a omni-directional mic.

Of course the best feature on any Flip is the flip out USB "thingy". I plugged it right into my MacBookPro first, and although I didn't like how it makes the camera dangle in mid air, it didn't seem to be a problem. It created a drive icon on the desktop and when I click on it I was able to open up the Flip installer and install the software. It first prompted for a 3ivx player to install before I could load the software. Surprisingly, things were even easier on the PC. Once I plugged in the Flip there, a dialogue box opened up and asked if I wanted to "View your Flip camcorder videos using the program provided on the device." Sure!

The program was installed and I was viewing the videos I'd shot just moments before. I was also able to make some quick edits, which included chopping off the beginning or end. I'm sure I could probably crop in the middle too, although I didn't try that.

Next I wanted to see what I could do with the video. The software makes it easy to upload your videos to AOL Video, YouTube and now MySpace. If you want to upload to other services, it will compress the video for you and put it in a folder on your hard drive. I tried YouTube on for size, and as always the compression really sucks. I'm not a fan of YouTube, so I tried it on Vimeo, but I didn't let the Flip program compress it. I just uploaded the video from the Flip directly to Vimeo. Vimeo also compresses the video, but for some reason, I think it looks better than it does on YouTube. What do you think?

YouTube Video:

On Vimeo:

Yamaha V-Star Custom & Classic from Coop on Vimeo.

So far I'm pleased with my purchase, and although the price of the Flip Mino is much higher than the entry Flip's $100, I still think it was worth it. I'm sure you'll find a deal out there. I found the Flip Mino White for $20 less on Amazon ($157) just because it was white. You can also try out Creative's entry into this field for a lot less, the
Creative Vado, but beware if you're using a Mac. The only knock on the Vado is it doesn't play nice with some Macs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Summer Project Video Experiment: HD Video on Mac (Part 1)

I'm working on my summer project, which basically is to learn as much about video as I can in 4 weeks. I did some research about video formats, codecs, commercial editing programs, online editing and free editing programs, video sharing sites, videocameras, and system requirements for working with video on both the Mac and PC. I compiled all the information over on my Coop's Word Wiki. Now I'm going to play with the 6 video cameras I own and talk about the process from shooting video to editing to posting the video online. I'll start with my best camera, the Panasonic HDC-SD5.

This is a full HD camcorder that shoots on SDHC cards. Those are just fancy Secure Digital cards. I have a 4GB and an 8GB card for this camera. It shoots in 1920x1080 HD in the AVCHD file format. The AVCHD file format is a nightmare right now. More on that later. But the video from this camera is beautiful on my 50" Plasma HD television. I love this camera.

So I shot some footage a few weeks ago while at Hawley Lake in the White Mountains, AZ. I'll use that footage for this experiment. I don't think I have many options for editing this footage on my PC unless I fork over the dough for one of the upgraded commercial packages I listed on my Video wiki page. Most of the trial packages don't provide support for AVCHD files. That's an upgrade, so I'll start with my MacBookPro.

The first thing I noticed is that iMovie HD doesn't support AVCHD files. How ironic is that - iMovie HD doesn't support HD? After doing a Google search I found a program, VoltaicHD, that would convert the AVCHD files to MOV files so I could then edit them in iMovie or Quicktime.They make a PC version of VoltaicHD as well and it only costs $30.
VoltaicHD lets you copy all your footage to your Mac, unplug your camera, then convert the footage while you (and your camera) go and do other things.
There's definitely some truth in that statement. It takes a long time for those files to be converted.
On a 2.0 GHz MacBookPro with 2Gb of RAM, a 10 second AVCHD clip takes about 2 minutes to convert. Yes, it really takes that long. But the good thing is, you have to remove the SDHC card from the camera and use a card reader to get the files on the Mac, and you need to make sure it's a newer card reader because the old ones won't read the new SDHC cards.

One other thing to note is that the files are bigger after they are converted, so you have to be sure you have plenty of hard drive room. I only have a 80GB hard drive on my Mac, so I hook it up to an external hard drive.
The converted output file will be about four times the size of the input. My first file was 11 seconds long and 17MB but the output file was 64MB.

I could use Final Cut Pro or Express to convert and edit these AVCHD files, but I'm trying to find affordable ways to make movies, and if you don't already have Final Cut, it's too expensive to go out and buy. FC Express is $200 and the Pro version is part of FC Studio which runs $1300. Ouch! Another option would be to upgrade to iLife '08 and iMovie '08 for $80, which is affordable but iMovie '08 is not worth the upgrade.

Once the files have been converted, the quality still looks pretty good. What happens is the AVCHD file is a highly compressed HD format and VoltaicHD uncompresses it into a Quicktime-friendly high definition format - HDV 1080i formatted Quicktime movie, encoded using the Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC). Now I can edit these files (MOV) in either iMovie HD or Quicktime Pro ($30). I opted for QT Pro first for ease of use. I can quickly trim off the beginning and end, edit out any pieces in the middle, and join files together into one movie. For more movie like effects like titles, transitions and a fancy theme, iMovie HD is the ticket. I created two movies on the Mac.

Deciding which output format to use can be confusing. You have to decide what you are going to be doing with the movie. If you plan to upload it to the internet, then be warned, most video sharing sites, especially YouTube, will compress your video into the FLV flash format. Your beautiful HD movie will look better than most on YouTube, but it will still look like crap. I tried out four video sharing sites that advertise HD uploads:

We'll take a look at the end result for each site and how I prepared my HD video for upload in my next post, so stay tuned. Making movies in HD takes time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Zoho Notebook as CMS, Part 2

This is the second post in a series of posts about moving from Blackboard, our current CMS in the district, to Web 2.0 sites. The first post, Moving from Blackboard to Web 2.0, Part 1, is about how I used Zoho Writer, Notebook, & Show to compile my course content into one place. This post shows you how I'm using Zoho Notebook as a writing portfolio for students and as a way to collect assignments from them.

As mentioned before, Zoho Notebook allows for users to create a notebook that can include a number of different pages. Each page can be created adding either a sheet, writer or web page. Sheet pages are spreadsheets, writer pages are word processor pages created in Zoho Writer, and adding a web page embeds the site into one of your notebook pages.

You can also add a blank page which then can have numerous elements added to it and can be edited just like a Writer page. The picture to the left shows all the options available to build a page. I like how the Add Audio and Add Video options automatically build a player for the media right into the page, and add HTML makes it possible to embed just about any kind of widget from anywhere on the web. The add video option requires that you paste the embed code from the site where you posted the original media, meaning you can't upload video directly to the Zoho site. There is, however, the option to upload audio files to Zoho, although I couldn't get it to work for me. Best bet is to upload the media elsewhere and add the URL to file into the page. It creates a nice player for you so the file can be played right on the page.

Students are required to sign up for Zoho and create a notebook. With each major assignment they are required to create a page in the notebook and post the assignment in the page. The notebook will then have tabs for each of the assignments, and thus be a collection of their work. Student can then "share" their notebooks with me, which allows for me to view and grade their work. Zoho gives you two options for sharing, and students need to be sure to share using the Read/Write option. That way I can add comments to their notebook and help make corrections.

This brings me to one of the things I'm not too excited about in Zoho notebook. There really isn't a good way to add comments to a page. You literally have to add a text box over the original content, which makes both the note and the page difficult to read. Currently I'm downloading the pages that need to be graded, grading them in Word using the tracking and comments features, and then posting the graded work back on the students notebook as an attached file. This only works if the student used a Writer page to post the assignment. If he/she used a blank page and added text, then I have to cut and paste the assignment into Word.

I've also had a little trouble with the links I get in the notices from Zoho. Whenever someone shares a notebook with you, Zoho sends you an email alert with a link to the notebook. The link takes me to my Zoho Notebook, but the shared notebook never displays. I can see it, but I have to click on my Shared tab for it to show up. All the notebooks shared with me are compiled in one spot, and I can open then all in tabs in my Zoho site.
Here is a shot of 4 student notebooks tabbed across the top, and a view of the first student's notebook with her assignments tabbed on the right (click to enlarge). This makes it easy for me to click on a name at the top and then review his/her work by clicking on the tabs on the right.

It's not even close to being perfect, but surprisingly it's working well. We'll see how the students are liking it after their midterm poll. Until then, we're moving on to the next step in our move from Blackboard to Web 2.0. - social network as CMS.