How to kill a Snow Leopard


IMPORTANT UPDATE: Sony has released new SxS drivers for Snow Leopard – – thanks to Oyvind Stokkan on the board for passing this on! But for the archive, the rest of the post goes thusly…

Somebody has to be first. Somebody brave or stupid. Or somebody with a full backup sitting on a hard disk in the case of moving up to a new operating system, because there be dragons.

On the morning of the 28th August, I was there in my local store with half a dozen fellow MacBraves queueing up to purchase the latest Apple Operating System With A Feline Name – and this one’s Snow Leopard. Probably because ‘it’s like the previous one, Leopard, only cooler’. Indeed it is in many ways. You’ll find lots of interesting and learned information about it elsewhere on the web, so I will refrain.

So I pop the install DVD into my backup machine, previously Time Machined, and just hit the button. Just like any user would do. That’s the way Apple wants us to experience things – shove it in, click the button and go and do something else for an hour. Ping, there’s your ‘new’ Mac, freshly booted, looking the same but strangely different, like it’s had an incredibly expensive haircut that you’re supposed to notice. And yes, the first fifteen minutes are great. Everything works straight out of the box. No awful hangs even when quite serious software opens up.

I will point out, though, that when I shove a Sony SxS card (what my cameras shoot onto), my Snow Leopard machine acts as if Derren Brown hit it with a long hard stare. The screen slowly wipes down a sort of half-tint darkness and a little dark box appears in the middle of the screen, with calm white lettering telling me to shut down the computer by holding the power button and then switching it on again. This is known as a Kernel Panic, and it is a very, very rare thing.

No, it’s not a missing driver, it’s a bug. If you start the machine up with the SxS card in it, the same thing happens BEFORE you get to the blue screen of life (Macs’ screens go blue just before you get to your desktop or choose your log-in, in a sort of antethisis of Windows’ BSoD). So it’s pretty terminal:

The solution, at the moment, is to stick to using my MxR adaptors, which use the same slots but work using USB magic rather than SxS magic. The point is that they work, so the slot is working, and XDCAM Transfer is working, so the drivers it installed are working.

So next step is to reinstall everything and try again. But to be honest, my preferred step is to go back to Time Machine, ditch the Cool Cat and catch some rays before the weather cottons on that it’s a bank holiday weekend.

Well… it’s been interesting being a pioneer striding into the future of computing – albeit a pioneer attached to the past by a nice strong bungie rope. Next time I’ll try this will be in December.

More WOOT from the MxR folks

E-Films have some great new toys for PMW-EX1/3 owners that update and enhance the successful SDHC adaptors and add a couple of new products that tick a lot of wishlist boxes.

Ross and friends over at E-Films make adaptors so you can put SDHC cards into your PMW-EX1 for cost effective bulk-shooting. They’re wonderful little things, but as we shooters got used to the things, many realised it was a lot easier to let the SDHC cards ‘live’ in the adaptors – one per card – rather than swap them out. Some of the more hamfisted amongst us could occasionally and accidentally pop-out the SDHC card whilst pressing the adaptor into either the camera or the computer. Nothing bad happens, beyond having to unplug, reseat, replug, rinse and repeat. But…

Ross has responded by making an adaptor with no pop-in-pop-out mechanism. Plug a card in, and it’s not coming out without a ‘determined effort’.

In addition, the adaptor has been designed and tested with the newer 32 GB cards (with a view to future high capacity cards). 32 GB cards get you almost two hours of high quality shooting per card. Switch to HDV quality, and you can fit nearly 3 hours of material on a 32 GB card. With one in each slot, you’re good for almost 4 hours of XDCAM or 5 hours 45 minutes of HDV.

But wait, as Steve Jobs would say, “one more thing”. Here’s the Steve Jobs moment. The redesign of the adaptor has left room for (wait for it) a sticky label! Yay! You can write out a label and stick it on the adaptor and it won’t scrape off in the camera or jam up your computer. It sounds a simple thing, but ye gods – I miss my labels. If you’re new to MxR, go for the new adaptors, even if you’re going for 16GB cards, as the non-popup, futureproof capacity and writable labels are must-have features. Remember to get your boxes too!

With lots of cards, and maybe many hours worth of material (event capture, multi-camera) to ingest, with the slower transfer speed of USB, one could be in for some long evenings. I’m writing this whilst I ingest. So imagine the ability to ingest 4 cards at the same time. Boggle!

The E-MCR (Multi Card Reader) comes in a little zip-up soft case which will also store up to 6 MxR adaptors with the cards inside. It will work with ShotPut Pro from Imagine Software which can back up each card to up to three different locations with a range of data integrity checks ranging from a quick copy to bit-for-bit checking.

I’m a bit leery of recommending ShotPut as they’ve not given me particularly good customer service in the past, (the English way of saying ‘it sucks’). But hopefully there’s somebody out there who can give ShotPut the thumbs up.

Their store will point you in the direction of a local supplier or from their own store if applicable.

Am I buying any of these products? Well, right now, no – I’ve invested too heavily in the first round and am getting more than satisfactory (an English way of saying profanely brilliant) performance from my kit. But if I were to be heavily into multicam, or invested in a second camera which needed its own setup, yes: I would. Like a shot.

And if I found that Imagine Products’ customer service stopped sucking, I might look into giving it another go. Word on the wire is that keeping with the original file structure may be a wise thing to do, that we should back up our BPAV folders rather than the QuickTime movies that XDCAM Transfer creates. Right now, I’m not sure why my workflow would enjoy this, but I could be convinced.

Google’s bought a codec

The rumours are true. Google has bought advanced video codec creator On2 Technologies.

On2 are famous for creating the VP6 codec made insanely popular by Macromedia’s Flash and therefore the cornerstone of video on the web.

However, whilst the quality is very good and the installed base is wide if not pretty universal, it’s not perfect. There’s lots of reasons why a move to a more modern codec is a Good Thing – scalability, streaming, mobile devices, high definition, open standards and so on.

The MPEG4 iteration known as H.264 was tipped to be the next big thing, adopted by Flash and QuickTime, and open enough for 3rd parties to write competing software products and make hardware accellerated encoding options.

So why has Google gone and bought On2? Why hasn’t it gone with the flow towards MPEG4/H.264?

I can only speculate, but for one thing it may be to do with licensing.

The MPEG consortium generates revenue by charging a license fee to use its products. It’s not Open Source! This is why Apple have to charge extra for the ‘Pro’ component of its QuickTime Pro, which enables MPEG2 encoding and decoding. Furthermore, if you’re creating a lot of ‘units’, the MPEG consortium will want a royalty. This cuts in at around 10,000 units if memory serves me correctly, so it doesn’t really touch most of us. But it does touch big players like broadcasters, and… YouTube.

Macromedia chose to go with On2 because On2 could provide them a superior technology with absolutely no hidden gotchas to do with volume licensing. Flash video could take over the world and no alarm bells would ring in a lawyer’s office to start the collection of fees.

I think I prefer this speculation rather than anything about Google being anti-Apple and not adopting H.264 going forward. After all, YouTube’s HD service is really rather good and firmly based on H.264.

On2 made Flash video ‘work’ but it has remained firmly in the background, and has quietly got on with extending and improving VP6 and has new technology ready to play with.

So even if it’s not licensing, maybe it’s simply because Google wants the ‘Next Big Thing’ in web video which sadly can’t be QuickTime becuase that’s an Apple-only technology. It may even be a Good Thing for those wanting to embed markers and events in live video just like Real and WMV.

After all, it’s another standard to choose from.

Build it and they will come

At last. Final Cut Pro 7 is now happily installed and earning money.

But oddly enough, I started a new project this week and, entirely unbidden, we’re suddenly deep into the world of Alpha Transitions: a little animation or visual element that swoops over the screen, hiding the outgoing clip and revealing a new clip.

Although its presented as a new feature in FCP7, it’s not exactly that new to users of Final Cut Studio, as Alpha Transitions were used in DVD Studio Pro 3, and they’re a sort of ‘apprentice piece’ technique in most FCP editors’ education when learning how to use travelling (moving) mattes.

What FCP7 has done is to make the whole process easier by providing a simple interface: here’s the transition, there’s your animated video element, and here’s a separate matte that defines where to wipe in the new video (hidden under the element above).

Even so, it’s not the first Alpha Transition plug-in. I’ve owned the SupaWipe plug-in published by Idustrial Revolution for some time now, and as usual for me, I used it once and it has since languished in my Effects folder.

So, fast forward to today, getting stuck into a new project, and Russell is hard at work in After Effects cooking up an Alpha Transition or two to help the programme get between historic and cultural references to ‘right here, right now’ voxpops.

Okay, so there’s 720 MB of  Apple-supplied transitions available, which boil down to a dozen or so examples – a couple of which are very useable! But one should really ‘roll your own’. I’ve had a quick browse of the online tutorials (including a great set from Ripple Training) and I’m sure new ones will crop up that are FCP specific.

But when planning an alpha (or ‘object’) transition there’s one major step that I haven’t seen made obvious enough, and that’s the transition matte or ‘Wipe Matte’.

For an alpha transition to work, think about it like this: it’s a standard wipe where you hide the edges behind a moving object. At some point, the object has to extend over the entire width or height of the screen. This may sound blindingly obvious, but in the many examples I’ve seen, it hasn’t been mentioned. So a pirouetting dancer is scaled to fit so her head touches the top and feet touch the bottom of the screen. The Apple ‘leaves’ transition ensure that at one key point, the leaves overlap the width of the screen. A seagull swooping over the screen has its wings extend off the screen edges. And so on. So not every element is ready for Alpha Transitions.

How do you start making one?

Motion is excellent for this. Having isolated your video element (through rotoscoping, chromakey, or more commonly using a rendered object’s alpha channel), create a new layer above it to generate the Wipe channel. Keyframe the points of a black bezier shape over your video element ensuring that it’s a full edge to edge wipe against a white background. Export this as a separate movie and drop into your Wipe matte channel.
Ripple Training have an excellent series of tutorials on using Alpha Transitions.

Should I get the time, I’ll make a ‘how to make your own’ movie too.