Hear today, hear tomorrow

I often film parties as part of the events I cover. Parties have bands and acts, and bands and acts have PA stacks, and PA (Public Address – speaker) stacks make a good place to get shots because not many people are stupid enough to stand in the veritable breeze of moving air beside these things. That’s right, I’m stupid.

So here’s a plea to fellow videographers: think about your hearing, and look after it.

Ever been in a loud environment to shoot, then later feel that your ears are still a bit numb or ringing a bit? That’s damage. That’s permanent hearing damage. So says any hearing specialist.

I didn’t believe it. I thought that hearing was like vision. We may get an afterimage from having accidentally got an eyeful of 2K or caught a glint of the sun in a windscreen or even found ourselves blinking away a green and pink version of that email (no wonder pro-apps have switched to a grey background). Soon it’s gone and life goes on. Hey, tastebuds only last (on average) 11 days, so a couple of weeks after a Scotch Bonnet Salsa, you’re good to go.

But hearing is a little different. Apparently.

Please don’t take my word for it. Go out now and get a hearing test. Find out what you’ve got and how to protect it. Before you accidentally scrape off valuable hearing range.

As you can tell, today I’ve had the lecture from Stuart Roberts of Leightons HearingCare, whilst he tests my hearing and prepares moulds to create the special sleeves that will be made to fit my ear canal. Basically taking a mould of my middle ear following a hearing test. Stuart is usually a Hearing Aid consultant, but works with Advanced Communications Solutions – purveyors of “cutting edge in-ear technology”.

ACS will make custom-fit earplugs and sleeves for in-ear monitoring and protection. Very common in the music industry. We all take hearing for granted until it’s suddenly not as good as we remember it and suddenly it’s too late. If we only recognised the warning signs, knew what was likely to do damage, maybe we’d have less damage to work around later on.

Luckily Stuart doesn’t need to read (or shout out) the riot act as my natural hypochondriac tendencies have kicked in before I’ve lost anything too crucial. My Etymotic earphones will be good for in-ear monitoring and noise protection once I get the custom middle ear moulds for my ear buds – a snip at £90 (on top of the cost of the earphones themselves).

But I am now very aware of how lackadaisical I have been, and I recognise the trait in many of my colleagues. We may have a laugh at the stereotypical aging rocker who wears ear plugs to concerts, but likes-o-lordy, we really need to be risk averse to hearing damage.

Please do look at the ACS earplug range, or at least find some earplugs that work for you. And I wish you freedom from that ringing numb feeling. You never know a good thing ‘til you lose it.

BTW – I will rave extempore about my Etymotic FM2s once Stuarts molds are fitted – and it seems the esteemed Mr Stephen Fry has also seen (or heard) the light – with his ACS.

PS: Once you have custom molded earplugs, they become effective and battery free noise abatement devices as well as cool earphones.


iphonematteI was going to run a little April Fools gag this year, and never got round to it: basically, put an iPhone into a full 15mm rails system with a nice big matte box and 35mm DoF adaptor, as the ultimate cinema verite rig. And of course Alex Lindsay has done just that in the latest edition of MacBreak: http://www.pixelcorps.tv/macbreak227.

But it has got me seriously thinking about the iPhone as a video device.

Sure there’s better cameras (video and stills), there are better cameras on phones, but here is a device that trims and publishes as well as shoots. But if it were to roll several trimmed clips together… That’s going to be quite a killer feature. There have been devices that purport to edit clips ‘in camera’ but frankly it’s been too painful to get beyond a proof of concept. But tie in a cut-down version of iMovie into a device that you slip into a pocket, and you’ll be more tempted to polish and publish little video postcards than ever before. IMovie is great and very quick, but you still feel like you’re starting a mega project as you ingest your footage and scan through your rushes.

Often a snap is transformed by a little cropping, some finesse with the levels and perhaps even a caption. A video that contains an Establishing Shot, a master shot, some cutaways, and a couple of captions and even a voiceover, is a programme. Not a very complex programme, but completely watchable. Which is the crux.

Sometimes the enemy of good is ‘better’ – when we lose the plot and get hung up on production values and gear and everything, when the moment is now. Transient. Fleeting. You can shoot it on a little solid state mini camcorder, but then you’re in search of a laptop to download it to, and a power outlet to feed it whilst you edit. Meanwhile, the iPhone movie has been topped and tailed and is working its way up to YouTube (albeit slowly via 3G).

I’m not going to sell my EX1 and start making movies on an iPhone. But I still think that this could be a new genre of film making. The sort of ‘Bar Camp’ to the usual ‘Moscone Keynote’.

Well, that’s my excuse for buying a 3GS. What’s yours?

PMW-EX owners: WOOT!

Ross Hereweni has done it again. His company, E-Films, produce the MxR adaptor designed to enable the use of inexpensive SDHC cards inside the Sony PMW-EX line of cameras. With a couple of relatively inexpensive 32GB SDHC cards, you’re good for almost 3 hours of shooting without swapping cards.

But there’s times when some need more than this, or need to start editing straight away – which is a problem if your rushes straddle two cards.

So here’s the scoop: his newest product is the HDR. This ingenious device allows you to connect a hard disk – any hard disk – to your EX camera and shoot directly to that. If you shoot conferences and presentation material, or even the ‘waiting for it to happen’ shoots when you have to keep rolling, the HDR is yet another ‘enabling’ technology.

It even comes with an enclosure with – get this – a power supply. So you’re not tethered to a power outlet.

Okay, so Sony makes the PHU-60K – so what gives? Well, if you have 4 days of conference to record, you’ll need two if not three units per camera, plus their batteries. They’re only 60GB. With the HDR, I can get any size I want, at street price, not ‘Sony Price’.

But lets go one stage beyond that. You can elect to fit a Solid State Disk – vibration proof, high performance and so on.

Combined with CalibratedQ software I reported on a few days ago, at last we have a system which enables shooters to capture long-form to disk, stop recording and IMMEDIATELY start editing – and in my little niche, that’s a big deal.

I’d been doing this trick with humble Z1s and recording DV directly to Final Cut Pro via FireWire. This worked well – no loss of content due to tape changes, quick turnaround and so on – but of course requires a laptop and a copy of FCP per camera.

With the HDR, maybe the time has finally come when I can retire my Z1s and invest in PMW-EX throughout, shooting 720p direct to disk (any hard disk) and then multi-cam the edits when done.

And you don’t need a PCIexpress bus on your MacBook Pro – Apple, thank these guys.

Betting the farm?

MacWorld is but a fading memory. NAB has come and gone. WWDC is over. MacBook Pros are being booed at. Still no FCP. Not even a whisper. Where’s the beef?

No, I am not going to join the rant about how FCP hasn’t been updated and how Apple may be abandoning the Pro Video market as exemplified by the dropping of PCI Express in the Location Video workhorse 15″ MBP. I don’t buy that. But I do buy into the fact that something serious needs to happen with FCP for its long term health. So much is broken. So many compromises. Sure, the enemy of ‘Good’ is ‘Better’ and at least FCP is out there.

And 6.0.4 is good. Good enough. It does what I want it to do, but that’s now. Things change. Innovation. Things must evolve in the face of change, or die. So is FCP dying or evolving? Probably pupating is closer to home. Getting ready for the next OS.

Look at what SnowLeopard is bringing: 64 bit, so FCP won’t slow down on large RAM hungry projects (currently only 2.5 GB RAM can go to FCP, no matter how much you have installed). QuickTime X improves H.264 and pokes connectors into custom hardware. OpenCL taps into your GPU so rendering Core effects gets a speed bump, and Grand Central should make multi-processor machines deliver on their promise.

And then there’s the fact that FCP isn’t a spring chicken. It has a history, and a complex one at that. There are things deep in Final Cut Pro that really shouldn’t be there. Stray DNA, vestigial PC routines, note that I’m guessing, but pretty sure that their removal would require complex surgery.

So I’m betting the farm on a re-write of FCS, with significant chunks making their way into Cocoa to make FCS into a full-on Snow Leopard app with a future, rather than a rehash on the same chassis. And hoping same goes for Color, SoundTrack Pro and Motion, with the assumption that LiveType gets put out to grass.

It would be a mammoth task. But Apple’s done this before with the Intel switch.

When you’ve blown the XDCAM-EX magic smoke…

There’s been a definite meme at work this week. I’ve heard it at training sessions, I’ve had emails, I’ve read posts, and had phone calls all about people having trouble with getting EX1 footage into their system.

Of course, XDCAM Transfer does a great job – check out my tutorial in the How-to section above. But some people have been, well, ‘playing’ – doing things that perhaps they shouldn’t. And suddenly there’s an EX1 card with stuff they can’t view, can’t edit, and haven’t backed up.

So here’s an interesting utility that I’ll be investigating soon:


Essentially, it promises that you can edit the native EX1 files, even if the magic structure of your SxS or P2 card has been mangled out of shape. It promises you can rescue your ‘orphan’ video clips – no bad thing, but hopefully people accept that SxS (or equivalent) cards are like your negatives, your original film. Best not muck around with them too much. But I digress.

Whether this is a codec or a way of generating QuickTime wrappers on the fly remains to be seen, but basically the idea is you can shove the mp4s directly into Final Cut and start editing – straight off the SxS card if necessary.

News cutters: rejoice!

MacBook Amateur

So, Apple launch a new range of laptops at this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference. Lovely screens, fulsome batteries, lots of beefy hard disk goodness, and… an SD slot.

Oh. Thanks.

Receiving the news that new MacBook Pros will come with SD slots is equal to the news that you’re going to get comedy bri-nylon socks for christmas. We saw it coming, somebody somewhere probably even asked for it, but… oh dear.

PCI Express is gosh-darn fast. You can fill it with FireWire, HiDef video recorders at cinema quality, SxS cards from cool cameras, magic output boxes that plug into huge projectors, and you can even purchase a little SD adaptor for half the cost of any other adaptor your MBP will inevitably need.

So why the feck has Apple pulled the PCI Express slot in favour of putting in an SD card slot? Because (and use your best sing-song voice for this) ‘lots of our customers have digital cameras!’. Yes, and lots of professionals (the ‘pro’ in MacBook Pro) use CF cards, and lots of professionals use SxS and MXO, and AJA Ki Pros, and so on.

So somebody at Apple who had two cups of coffee in the morning ensured that the 17″ MacBook TeaTray retained the PCI slot. I, as a dyed-in-the-wool MacBook TeaTray fan, am glad. But pity the foos that want a small neat 13″ to work with their SxS or their AJA IO or their Compact Flash from their Canon EOS 5d Mk 2. They’re stuck with USB.

This is not a new thing for Apple. IIRC, there was the FireWire debacle a short while back, which suddenly got updated.

Now listen in, Apple: some people need two FireWire slots, one for disks, the other for the camera. That’s what YOU said. You take the PCI Express slot out of the MacBook Pros, and you turn them into MacBook Amateurs. Nothing wrong with that other than losing sight of your key market for these expensive laptops.

When a good friend dedicated to the small neat life feels obliged to purchase a 17″ only because of the PCI Express slot, it’s time to give the Apple Marketing Machine a fiery message. Adobe Premiere is available on PCs…

Welcome to the new blog!

After almost a year of TV Soup, it was apparent that I needed to start afresh.

TV Soup was a great idea, but perhaps it was the blog I wanted to read, not the one I wanted to write. The broadcast industry has plenty of scribes far better qualified than yours truly, and whilst I may have opinions, I’ll try to keep them to myself.

All the old posts are here, and feel happier in the new environment. I’m so encouraged, I’ll probably post more and include videos and other tidbits too.

TV Soup is dead, long live Travelling Matt.