Gone in a flash

So Steve Jobs doesn’t like Flash.

Flash has always had a chorus of catcalls and boos from off-stage, way before Mr Jobs started his campaign. It dates back fifteen years ago, in fact: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9512.html and http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20001029.html

Nevertheless, the reason why Flash became so popular in the Corporate video world was that Mac based video generators found WMV a hard format to publish in, and WMV wasn’t the nicest progressive download format around. QuickTime was a bit of a no-no at the time, with a 40 MB download and cumbersome install (from the viewpoint of conservative IT departments). Flash played nice on both Mac and PC, and was ‘as standard’ on corporate PCs.

Now… imagine a world where Microsoft adopted QuickTime (that’s never going to happen, but just imagine), would we be messing around with Flash? Sure, Flash works, but the playback is prone to stuttering and feels gritty in all but perfect playback environments. And even then, a dropped frame would never occur in the same place.

I used to use QuickTime for web based work. It was easy to integrate, provided smooth playback, looked great and worked well on the PC – so long as you installed QuickTime, which went from 7 MB to 42 MB (mandatory iTunes install) in the days before ubiquitous broadband. So QuickTime was out for client-facing stuff.

I adopted Flash, learned to like and to use flash, because the alternative was so unappealing (convincing Corporates, NGOs and the like to adopt QuickTime.

Well, hell’s closed for skiing and formation pig-flying:


We think H.264 is an excellent format. In its HTML5 support, IE9 will support playback of H.264” — Microsoft.

Flash gave lots of us video guys a solid foundation on getting video on the web as a reliable, easy standard that any website could benefit from.

Then Mr Jobs comes along, starts a war, and it’s out with Flash, in with HTML5 if you want to play in his little iGarden.

Don’t get me wrong – Flash is going to be around for some time yet. Many corporates do not use HTML5 compatible browsers, but give it a couple of years and Flash for video publishers will fade to black.

So it’s time to get good at H.264. For those of us publishing corporate video, we’ve got to get to know new settings, new wrinkles, new ‘chops’ that get even better results. New gamma, new keyframes. Maybe new software, or new plug-ins. New workflows.

And more importantly, new hardware. H.264 is not a quick codec to encode to. Whether it’s raw horsepower with an Octocore Mac, a mid-end solution like the Matrox MXO2 or an Elgato Turbo264 HD, we’ll need hardware help for a while yet. It’s not like encoding to the On2 codec!

And there’s a transition period. Remember, H.264 works in Flash now, and that’s pretty much the bleeding edge as corporate web video goes. The safe route has been On2’s Flash 8 codec, but I for one will be moving on to become H.264 based.

Until, of course, the next great codec comes along.

Level Up!

As we’re all aware that you can build a business from videography, there will be times when you invest in equipment. There will be times when you divest from equipment. The hope being that you divest your equipment when prices are high, and invest in equipment when prices are low. At all times, you bear in mind that equipment must pay back its original capital (what you paid for it) over time, but some kit can’t be a ‘line item’ (something you explicitly charge for).

So, you may buy a camera, and allocate a portion of your daily rate to pay for that camera. In a year or eight, it will have generated enough income to cover your ownership (the capital cost, the interest on any loans, the maintenance cost of keeping it working and the insurance cost of, well, insuring it), and whatever the accountant says to ‘write it off’.

But do you do that to your tripod?

Another way of looking at this is to get an idea of how much it costs to hire the kit you use on a daily basis. Well, maybe not all of it, but a full camera bag (including batteries, stock, a few accessories), a couple of microphones, and some sticks to put it all on, and some cans to hear it all on. That hire cost can be saved by owning your own kit, but the cost of owning your own kit must be recouped by charging for your own kit as if you had to hire it.

Now, having established that any purchases you make MUST be a revenue generator in a direct or indirect sense, what happens when you sell some kit that’s been written off, been a revenue generator and has since become a dust generator? Whoopee, free money.

It’s a bit like one of the many ‘FaceBook Farming Games’ you will have heard about. You’ve ‘levelled up’ and have been awarded a sack full of coins to invest in your farm/kingdom/videography business. Watchoo gonna doobout dat?

It would be lovely to go out and splurge on something you’ve always desired – that Steadicam system you always dreamed about, a full-on DSLR system with ALL the glass, or whatever. But really – the adult in all of us has to say: ‘what will generate enough cash, or enough ‘experience points’ (client goodwill/stickability/attractability) or enough ‘skill points’ (your own awesomeness/speed/capability) to pay for this quickly and earn enough to buy yet more toys?

Just like lottery winners, you need to know that a pot of cash needs to be invested in such a way that it returns enough profit to pay for its generation cost, AND keep its value over time (so it beats inflation) AND then generate an income for you on top of that. The inflation proof income generation of a million quid may be quite modest. You can tell I married an accountant. It makes great pillow talk.

And so here I am, having levelled up because I sold my Z1s and all their accessories, not willing to put the coins into the bigger pot, but to dedicate it to getting more experience/skill points. Okay, that’s a really nice position to be in, and I really hope you find yourself in that position too. But, then how does one ‘not screw it up’?

Okay, so ignoring all the toys… (I wanted Canon L series glass), what will your AUDIENCE see?

– Upgrading SD cards to SxS: speeds up your acquisition in time critical situations. I doubt this situation affects many, but it would get me from end of shoot to warm bed quicker on every job. Very expensive though, and nobody will see the difference.

– Upgrading to daylight running Fluorescent lamps. Sigh, how often are you asked to do an interview in mixed tungsten and daylight, trying to get the outside without burning it out, having dimmed your puny little tungsten lamps you bought so you don’t fry your subject? Clients will see (and feel) this difference, sort of, but they probably won’t pay for it over standard tungsten.

– Getting into DSLR – now, there’s an investment for the modern videographer. Trouble is, you’re going to expose yourself to a whole new world of want. Clients will see the difference, but you’re going to have to do a whole lot more work for it, AND you are going to need really silly expensive stuff: LCD viewfinder (£250), shoulder stock (£350), batteries (£100), lenses (at least £1500), new bag, software, training – it will end up the same price as a brand new pro camera. But the pictures are worth it. Honest. Buy a 550D and a Tokina 11-16 and find out.

– Invest in a few high end plug-ins. I’ve already managed to get a job to pay for Magic Bullet, and I’ve been with Colorista for a long time. DVmatte Pro has made chromakey a joy, and FX factory has done great things for me. They will for you, so long as you buy them for a job based on how many hours it saves you. Clients don’t pay for plugins – not directly, anyway. But they’ll like the expensive look you can make (‘expensive’ is subtle – use the Magic Bullet waveform monitors to stop things oversaturating or blowing out, and explore the curves to add richness).

– Buy a Steadicam – get the shots you can only dream about as the camera floats around your scene. However, the learning curve is steep and requires arms like Popeye unless you get an arm and vest. You’re not going to get usable results in the first three months. You’re not going to get good enough until there’s a year of it under your belt. You’ll get lucky now and again, with shots that make the show, but you’re never going to be a full-time Steadicam operator (OTOH we may not want to be).

– Get a bunch of crash cams, including the GoPro Hero HD and a little DSLR. With this setup, you’re going to get shots that you will never ever get any other way. Put a GoPro on the end of a broom handle or three, and pretend it’s a PoleCam. Put a DSLR in the corner of the room and shoot timelapse like there’s no tomorrow. Clients love these shots, but you’re signing up to a whole lot more kit in your kit box.

Or just calm down and mix and match.

Microphones, tripods and lamps don’t go out of date, and will last a long time. I think I’ll level up a lamp or two (a Kino and a dedo spot), add a 50mm f1.4 lens and get a slider from the Z1 cash. Each one of those will be seen by clients. Will I earn any more on a daily rate? No. Will I get repeat bookings? Will I get fans? Will I be proud of the new work? Yes. That will generate the extra income, be it ever so small. But over time it adds up.

Oh, yes, and I need a GoPro Hero. And a 24-80mm f2.8. And a Steadicam. I really want a Steadicam. And a MacPro. And Adobe CS5. And Boris Continuum. And most of the Foundry plugins.

Oh dear…

iPad – or should that have been LooBook Pro?

Or even ‘a little something for the weekend’?

Like the 2000 network engineers whom I’m filming in Barcelona this week, I downed tools to watch the Apple announcement of their new toy: the iPad.

It is, to all intents and purposes, a big iPhone. Big enough to watch stuff on, read stuff (in colour, in magazine format, rather than a Kindle-like virtual page), browse stuff, send stuff, tweet stuff, and do a whole lot of things that iPhone applications do and more besides (page layout, spreadsheets and so on).

So is this brand over substance?

Well, here’s my thoughts after watching it through.

This is the computer that non-computer users will like. One could say it’s the Flip Camera of the notebook world, but that would be unfair.

I think it’s the computer my parents would want, now that they’ve owned an iMac for nearly a decade.

A computer more at home on the sofa than the desktop. A computer that they can take on holiday, or take to the dentist, as well as accompany them round the TV or even in bed.

One could get all techy and think of it as a mix of portal to the cloud, media browser and communication tool, but like the iPhone blended a music player, phone, satnav, torch, blackberry and gameboy (but better), so the iPad does the main jobs of email, web, photo, music and video browsing, adding books, magazines, then there’s the games, the distractions, the visual toys, the educational toys, and so on.

So it’s a computer for people who don’t like computers – and that, ladies and gentlemen – remains a huge untapped market. And a steep mountain to climb in getting the message to them that the iPad is a Nice, Useful Device.

It is also going to appear in places where a laptop is currently used, but not comfortably. Tried using a laptop in Economy? Ever wanted to catch up with reading in a waiting room and couldn’t find a power point and a horizontal surface? Ever wanted to fire up the BBC iPlayer in bed? Ever burned your lap whilst surfing in the loo? Okay, don’t try that at home, kids.

Noteworthy is the lack of a camera. I think this is Jobsian purism at work here, and that future iPad devices will have them. Ye Gods, try the ‘PhotoBooth’ app that encouraged use of the built-in webcams on Macs. Think about skyping home, virtual meetings, guided tours, quasi augmented reality. The iPad needs, REALLY NEEDS front and back cameras.

And then there’s the really amazing things that iPhone application developers do, filling in with niche products.

I am going to use my iPad as a prompting device on my camera. I am going to use it as a clapper board for filming. I hope soon to be at least doing rough edits of freshly shot footage on it whilst chilling in the hotel bar. But I think those are fairly pedestrian in comparison to what the community, the ‘crowd’ will create over time.

The iPad is a very clever, very well researched device that I really hope will set alight a whole new world of computer usage. My fear is that its best target market (the non computer user) is going to be very negative and a very hard sell.

In 20 years time, I could be buying one for my grandchild for the price of a box-set of books, but right now lots of people who could really benefit from such a device will not pay the price, and get a cheap laptop from PC world instead. And they will still hate computers.

iPad isn’t all sharbat fountains and shang-ri-lah. Apple is a shrewd company adept at emptying the pockets of its fans, telling them that is the price of simple things that work well. But they are also the company with the bone-head policy of banning some applications that might be something Apple doesn’t want, or falls foul of some idiotic interpretation of draconian rules – a news reader application is classed for Adults Only, may contain nasty stuff… News can be nasty. A browser gets an 18 Certificate because it’s possible you might see a saucy picture or too. An app might upset the hidden marketing of an Apple Partner, so you’ll never see that one. Yet a crass and shameful prank app (Shaken Baby – you can guess) is passed and approved.

Apple may have billions of apps and millions of units shipped, but they still can’t work out how to intelligently vet their App Store, and continue to muck up the businesses of many developers – big and small.

I’m not a developer (I wish I could be). But I am a media maker, and I’m very interested on what this class of device will excel at in media terms. Casual learning like Rouxbe.com?

So the iPad might drown in a sea of apathy that surrounds the tiny island of the Mac Faithful. The iPad may shrivel on the vine of ‘a good idea badly marketed’. The iPad may fall at the first fence of performance by being too little too early like its embarrassing uncle Newton.

But it could be good. Very good.

Papa’s got a brand new drive

I’ve upgraded the internal hard disk of my main MacBook Pro this week, and whilst it’s not the most stunning upgrade in the world, it has left a rosy glow on things. It’s also left behind a very useful little disk drive that will be a constant travelling companion. It has also given me absolute faith in Time Machine as a backup system. You simply MUST use Time Machine – it’s so easy and works so well…

Here’s why:

Two years ago, I had an internal hard disk drive fail the day before going on a job abroad – thankfully it didn’t happen on the job, as I needed to offload SxS cards whilst on site. The only solution that would work for me was to just go out and purchase a whole new MacBook Pro, and ‘restore’ my old identity onto it. That’s when having backups really saves the day – but I learned the value of REGULAR backups after that.

Now, before the failure, I have to say I did notice some tell-tale signs. The hard disk was louder in operation, I had a few odd things happen with software suddenly not working, or losing preferences. But the sound – the sound of a hundred mice tap-dancing in clogs inside my hard disk – will stay with me for a long time. I listened to that sound as I tried to reboot my machine over and over again…

So when I heard my internal hard disk on THIS new machine begin to get louder, and for a couple of FCP plugins to misbehave all of a sudden, I remembered. I tried out SMART Utility


and it didn’t like my hard drive either. It reported it as ‘FAILING’. Now, SMART is, and I quote: “Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology … a system built into hard drives by their manufacturers to report on various measurements(called attributes) of a hard drive’s operation.”

It can tell you that your hard disk is working. Yay. It can tell you if your hard disk is broken. Boo. But some would say that diagnosing anything in between is a bit of a crap shoot. SMART Utility has a go, by looking at a variety of reports on read errors and some technical stuff I don’t understand. It also knows how old your hard disk is, and quite frankly I think this is its most reliable feature – a bit like a weatherman who reports rain when his corns hurt.

So, with a two day lull in procedings, and a religiously up-to-date Time Machine backup on hand, I took my MacBook Pro to the Mac Daddy in North London


who took my old disk out and replaced it with a Western Digital Scorpio Black 320GB 7200RPM drive


whilst I tried to purchase some more disks at a local emporium. But that’s another blog.

Back home, I attached the Time Machine drive to the Mac, booted up off the original DVD-ROM and rather than install the OS, I opted to use Time Machine to restore my hard disk. This reformats the entire drive so you start from scratch, so don’t bother doing anything to it beforehand.

The process is simple: select the Time Machine backup you want to restore from (latest, or any other stages in the past), select which drive to restore to, and hit the button. The time it thought it would take varied from three to six hours, but it took two and a bit.

Everything worked straight away, except for Mail where I mistook its desire to reimport – it sounds contradictory, but let Mail do this. If it goes wrong, just use Time Machine to restore the Mail folders in the Library and try again. A couple of FCP filters needed reinstallation (probably because they were damaged).

Totally without drama.

And now I’m left with my old hard drive. It still works. Maybe not trustworthy as a day to day drive, and in its post upgrade state, pretty useless.

Aha! No! Buy, for about a tenner (maybe £15 in your local store), a USB-2 enclosure for a SATA 2.5 inch drive. Pop it open, snap in your old hard drive, plug in a USB cable, and…

No, don’t format it. This is far more exciting:

Shut down your MacBook Pro. Restart with the option key down. Your old hard disk and your new hard disk appear to boot from. Select your USB drive, and lo – your Mac boots from it. Everything functions as it did.

That excites anyone who has faced the nightmare scenario of working on-site and your main machine develops a fault – I’ve had PCs get killer viruses, hard disks fail, machines get dropped, stolen, soaked – and the time involved to ressurect a sick machine, reinstall OS and software, iron out the problems make for stomach churning stuff.

So should you need to bring in a backup machine in a hurry, your little magic drive enables you to imprint it with your apps, documents and plug-ins and work as before – if a little more slowly – until you can make more permanent arrangements.

And I hope I NEVER have to use it.

PS: Update – the MacBook Pro feels a bit snappier and alert – like it’s had the second cup of coffee in the morning. A combination of 7200RPM and having 15-20% free space has improved the general responsiveness of launching apps, working with big files, system stuff and so on. However, I still work with external 7200RPM drives for all footage, assets, project files and renders.

In the future, I will order MacBook Pros with 7200RPM internal disks. And I’ll clone the drives to bootable externals too.

A Case of Upgrader’s Remorse

FCS3Final Cut Studio ‘new’ is out. It’s been two years since the last major update, and we’ve been waiting for some pretty spectacular new features. Personally, I’ve been waiting for some pretty spectacular fixes, but that’s a different story.

Cut to the chase: should a Final Cut Pro user upgrade? Is it worth £250?

Short answer: sort of.

The speed tools (ramping from slomo to fastmo) are welcomed. The markers that move when the edits under them move are welcomed but frankly should have been there from the get-go. The new codecs are great if you know how to use them (and I reckon 70% won’t touch them), and there were little irritations – inconsistencies and pseudo-bugs – that have disappeared.

Motion’s got better, though still no preset for anamorphic PAL. Color is almost usable by mortals. Hopefully, SoundTrack Pro is stable enough to be relied upon to get something useful done by the deadline. LiveType’s gone.

But in its stead is a nasty ‘auto’ fashion, the auto-everything – auto export, auto burn, auto voice levels, that’s not necessarily what a pro app wants or needs. And then there’s simple stuff. The FCP text tools are STILL broken, so certain fonts aren’t selectable. The FCP lower third can’t do multi-line text – not because it can’t, but because FCP developers have chosen not to. No, the answer isn’t ‘do it in Motion’. The 16:9 action and title safe are not industry standard, just a 10% 20% rule of thumb. Thank goodness for developers like Martin at Digital Heaven and Alex at Alex4d, who leverage the latent power of FCP and get the little things right.

Bells and whistles? None of my clients, nor my colleagues’ clients have or want iChat – we use Skype’s screen share instead. Not everyone has a use for AVCIntra. The BluRay discs that Compressor burns are only ‘screeners’ – nothing wrong with that, but it’s hardly ‘authoring’.

And you really know when Apple’s casting around when features such as ‘tick marks’ for SD get big billing in the features, when 4:3 crop marks would be more useful but aren’t supported.

The community is pretty unanimous in declaring themselves Underwhelmed. Good word. Sums it up. As much as I love Apple products, it’s as if the company has done the bare minimum – the absolute minimum – to get us to shell out for an upgrade. The FCS3 upgrade feels like the recent MacBook Pro upgrade where we got a nice machine, nice screen, but lost the PCIe slot in favour of an SDHC slot.

There’s repairs to the facia – thanks for that. But many users are thinking ‘how is this going to change my work? What will my clients notice after I’ve upgraded?’ and the answer is ‘nowt’. Which is a pity, because there’s lots of little things that are a great step forward for the platform. Which is why this should have been FCS 2.5 and FCP 6.5, not a full revision. After all, Compressor’s just got a .5, and DVD Studio Pro hasn’t been upped at all.

It’s a classic case of Buyer’s Remorse, that awful trough of disillusionment we often go through having just purchased something but can’t quite get immediate gratification.

Give it a couple of months, and there will be no way I could work with FCS2. Just in time for the Snow Leopard upgrade and we’ll do it all over again.

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.

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.