Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Color Accurate Monitors for Digital Artists

Problem: you are James Cameron working on an HD trailer of Avatar; you need to be 200% confident in the picture and color quality before posting it online: it's got to be just spectacular to uphold the Titanic reputation of Mr. Cameron. What monitor(s) do you need to use to be absolutely sure the picture is color accurate?

If you find out - let me know. Given the $230m budget of Avatar, it's probably the very best of the top-shelf equipment, with some stuff custom-developed specifically for the movie, along with special equipment to verify that the picture quality is adequate. $20K for a set would not be outlandish.

For the rest of us - photographers, videographers, digital artists on a budget: what display monitors would do a good job ensuring that we don't miss a bad spot, a discoloration or an artifact? Photographers and Red camera users working with raw 10-, 12- and 14-bit images rather than 8-bit JPEGs and MPEGs, the issue is rather huge: the banding artifacts we are seeing on a computer monitor - are they just on the monitor, or in the actual file? How can I be sure before sending them to the publisher? The only way to get a better idea is to get a monitor that is capable of bit depth higher than 8. Enter IPS panels and 30-bit (3x 10-bit) displays such as HP DreamColor LP2480zx and Dell U2410.

Being a complete noob with respect to critical color applications and color calibration, I set out to do what I do best: go through specifications and manuals, google around and try to figure out the differences between two popular displays that both claim fantastic color accuracy. Do not expect a lot of depth from this article (but do expect a little): it's merely an attempt to figure out the basics based on a 45-minute research. It did turn out to be a 6-hour research - but nobody's perfect.

We'll skip highly specialized - and expensive - color-accurate displays from Eizo and Lacie, and focus on two top models from HP and Dell. Both are 24-inch IPS (In-Plane Switching) LCD monitors with 1920x1200 maximum resolution and a host of usual inputs such as DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, component and composite video. One is listed at almost $3K (street prices around $2,000), the other one - $600. Which one should I get?

Dell UltraSharp U2410 24-inch Monitor, $599 SRP
- 1920x1200 resolution
- IPS panel type
- Contrast ratio: 1000:1 (typ), 80,000:1 (Max, Dynamic Contrast on)
- 400 cd/m2 typical brightness
- 6ms Typical Response Time (gray to gray)
- 178/178º Max Viewing Angle (vertical/horizontal)
- 1.07 billion colors
- 110% (CIE 1976) Color Gamut
- 12-bit Internal Processing
- AdobeRGB - 96% Coverage
- sRGB emulates 72% of NTSC Color (100% Coverage)
- xvYCC Compatibility
- DVI-D, DisplayPort(DP), HDMI, VGA, Component, Composite inputs included

Pros: value. IPS-type monitors display a much wider color range than the prevalent TN-type ones, yet have lower brightness and contrast, and cost more. At $599 SRP, Dell U2410 is a great value with decent brightness and contrast on a par with the best monitors from other manufacturers.

  • Unlike HP LP2480zx, U2410 is not a 30-bit (10 bits per color component) monitor, according to UK reviewer TFT Central. Sadly, Dell misleads in its specifications by saying that the display is capable of over a billion colors. Dell conveniently forgets to mention that these colors are not all available at the same time. Only 16.7 million colors can displayed at any given time, a feature of most 24-bit displays (8 bits per color component).
  • Dell calibrates this monitor at the factory but does not offer any other means to color-calibrate it. Certainly, there are 3rd party color-calibration tools you can use for this monitor, but unlike HP, Dell not only does not offer any of them, it does not mention even a possibility of it.
  • Dell also engages in the usual and often misleading specifications game listing only the most advantageous items: the dynamic contract ratio of 80K:1 is utterly useless while a typical one of 1,000:1 can only be found in the manual.
  • Same goes for 6ms response time that only applies to gray-to-gray transition while the more realistic full black-to-white-to-black number is not listed at all. HP lists all these numbers up front as if saying, we've got nothing to hide.

Verdict: Dell U2410 is a great quality IPS monitor with 24-bit color. It is not however a professional tool for color-critical applications, and is comparable to HP LP2475w rather than DreamColor LP2480zx.

HP DreamColor LP2480zx Professional Display, $2,899 SRP
(in green are the specifications where HP either trumps Dell, or that Dell does not list)
- 1920x1200 resolution
- IPS panel type
- 1,000:1 Typical Contrast Ratio
- 250 cd/m2 typical brightness (maximum white luminance)
- 6ms Typical Response Time (gray to gray), 12 ms (rise+fall, full black-to-white-to-black)
- 178/178º Viewing Angle (vertical/horizontal)
- Over 1 billion colors in native mode
- Backlight Life (to half brightness): 50K hours
- Backlight Type: RGB LEDs
- Gamma/Tone Response: Programmable from "gamma" value of 1.0 to 3.0.
- Color Gamut: Native gamut approx. 133% NTSC (in CIE 1976 u'v' space)
- Adobe RGB Coverage: 100%
- sRGB Coverage: 100%
- Lookup Table: 12 bits per entry, 1024 entries per table
- Internal Processing: Min. 10 bits/color throughout video processing pipeline.
- Color Space Presets: 7 color space presets; 1 user-programmable plus six factory programmed: sRGB, Rec. 709, Rec. 601, Adobe® RGB, DCI-P3 emulation (97%), full gamut

  • HP LP2480zx specs show better color gamut (133% vs. 110% NTSC) and Adobe RGB coverage (100% vs. 96%), as well more presets and full programmability of its LUTs (Look-Up Tables) - essential for professional color applications. I'd venture that the better gamut and coverage do matter for very critical color grading applications.
  • HP offers HP DreamColor Advanced Profiling Solution for $349 on its web site, to calibrate the monitor, validate and trend its performance. No such thing at dell.com.
  • HP published a "mini white paper" about LP2480zx, "Understanding the HP DreamColor LP2480zx Professional Display’s 30-bit panel" where it explains what a 30-bit color is, and why it is better than 24- or even 18-bit color of mainstream monitor. Dell's mentions 1 billion colors on U2410, which is directly related to a 30-bit color (30 bits represent a number of a little over a billion), however UK's TFT Central in its U2410 review says that the screen "utilises an 8-bit H-IPS panel, capable of producing 16.7 million colours".
  • HP describes the 30-bit workflow and how to ensure that your computer configuration is fully 30-bit, from your application through the graphics card and its driver, to the cable (gotta use DisplayPort 1.1 or HDMI 1.3 for 30-bit - standard DVI is limited to 24-bit), to the monitor.
  • According to HP, they developed the LP2480zx in "close collaboration with DreamWorks Animation", for their color-critical applications. See PDF brochure on HP website.
  • HP "DreamColor and HP DreamColor LP2480zx Professional Display - Frequently Asked Questions" talks about various color spaces and the monitor's compatibility with them, the importance of low black levels, dimmability and tone response and its ability to synchronize to standard video frame rates.
Cons: lower brightness of 250 vs. 400 cd/m2; price.

Verdict: if you are James Cameron checking out biolumenance scenes of the Avatar HD trailer, you certainly need HP DreamColor LP2480zx, at the very least. In other words, if you utilize professional color grading applications requiring 100% color accuracy, this monitor fits the bill.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Windows 7's XP mode

Let's get something out of the way: Windows 7's XP mode will not help running add-on PCI, PCIe or PCI-X cards that don't have Windows 7 drivers. Examples: Matrox DigiSuite (LE, DTV, etc.), RT.X100, Pinnacle Targa 3000, etc. If you have a working system with one of these cards, do not upgrade to Windows 7.

Put it simply: any hardware that doesn't have drivers for Vista or 7, still will not run in "XP Mode" on Windows 7. The "XP Mode" is a virtual machine, a whole "virtual computer" that tricks Windows XP into thinking it runs on physical hardware. It can only access devices that have Windows 7 drivers. So the "XP Mode" is primarily for software that doesn't like running on Windows Vista or 7, and insists on running on Windows XP.

That's not to say XP Mode isn't cool: it is. It's been there in various incarnations for quite some time, and on Windows 7, it adds a few perks that make it even better:
  • Access to USB devices, such as flash drives.
  • Direct access to Windows 7 hard drives.
  • Access "XP Mode" applications directly from Windows 7 desktop.
If you have applications that require Windows XP, such as Intuit QuickBooks 2003, Windows 7' XP Mode is for you.

See TechRepublic's video on the subject:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

DV411 Ships a Media Composer 4.0 System to US Navy

DV411 shipped an Avid-qualified Media Composer 4.0 system to US Navy last week. The workstation is based on an HP Z800 model that since its introduction earlier this year won accolades for its tool-less and compartmentalized design with efficient air-flow, expandability unmatched by any other Tier 1 system manufacturer, and performance. The system shipped with dual Intel® Xeon® X5570 2.93GHz Quad-Core Processors, 12GB RAM, NVIDIA Quadro FX4800 1.5GB PCIe graphics adapter and a 4.5TB internal storage array configured for transfer rates of over 300MB/s.

The system was configured to strict guidelines published by Avid, to ensure its smooth performance with Media Composer 4.0 editing application.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Avid Media Composer version 4.0 announced

Along with the new version (4.0) of Media Composer™ software, Avid yesterday announced new versions of their Symphony™ (4.0), and NewsCutter® (8.0) professional editing software solutions.

What's new?
  • Mix and match SD and HD formats, frame rates, and resolutions all within the same timeline
  • Allow Pro Tools editors to sync with Mac-based Media Composer systems through Video Satellite
  • Encode and deliver final masters in Panasonic AVC-Intra format, and let projects remain in their native format from acquisition to final delivery
  • Instantly access and edit GFCAM 50- and 100 Mb-formatted media through AMA
  • Be more creative and productive with new updates to the included Production Suite: new versions of Boris Continuum Complete, Sorenson Squeeze and SmartSound SonicFire Pro.
  • Improved Stereoscopic 3D editing: Enables customers to view 3D material side by side in addition to over/under - ensuring greater accuracy of editing decisions and a wider choice of cost-effective monitors for stereoscopic viewing.
  • Monitoring HD and SD cross-and-down converted formats from 1080p24 masters: Enables customers using Mojo DX or Nitris® DX hardware to view HD material on an SD monitor, eliminating the need to incur additional hardware costs.
Pricing remains at US $2,495 box, $2,295 download, $295 students. Upgrades: TBD, but probably the same: $295-$495.

Availability: September 30, 2009.

Note: Avid Media Composer v3.5, Avid Symphony v3.5 and Avid NewsCutter v7.5 will no longer be available for purchase starting on September 10, 2009. All orders accepted after this date will ship Avid Media Composer v4.0, Avid Symphony v4.0 and Avid NewsCutter v8.0.

Customers who purchased current software after September 1, 2009, are entitled to a free upgrade to the new version. Contact avid.com/protect for more info.

DV411 ProEdit systems currently qualified for Avid solutions, are expected to remain qualified with the new versions. Please visit our Avid-qualified systems page for more info.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

4U 67TB Server

BackBlaze is an online backup service company that, not unlike Google, builds their own data centers. Their recent breakthrough: a 4U storage 67TB RAID6 server that they designed themselves and graciously posted online. 67TB in just 4U isn't easy because most readily available 4U storage boxes house 16 drives, with very few accommodating 32. This one houses 45, along with a motherboard and two power supplies. With 2TB 7200rpm drives now shipping, a 90TB version can't be too far away.

The server's two power supplies aren't redundant; if one fails, the system is down until it is replaced - however this is version one. The interface is standard vanilla Gigabit Ethernet - which works well for BackBlaze because that's all they need. For uncompressed HD or 4K, you would still need something faster, like 4Gbit Fiber or 12Gbit Mini-SAS. Still, this design is good news for video editors: BackBlaze shows that it is possible to build huge storage boxes on a budget, and maybe one of these days, there will be an affordable online backup service geared toward large media files.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Secure Your Wireless Router

Another one of wireless encryption techniques can be broken: WPA/TKIP. The other one, long considered insecure, is WEP. While the weakness of WPA/TKIP does not directly affect the majority of users, another vulnerability does: few wireless routers are properly secured with wireless encryption and strong passwords.

The recipe is simple:
  1. Set a strong administrative password
  2. Enable WPA2 or WPA/AES encryption
  3. Change your SSID and disable its broadcast
  4. Disable remote administration
  5. Record the password, WPA pass phrase, and the SSID in at least two safe places. If the router is used in a business, add a "wireless settings" page to the network/server documentation and record the information there.
These steps will easily close 99% of the router's attack surface: make it harder to find by strangers, virtually impossible to listen in to, or gain access to the administrative settings.

Wireless routers are common attack targets for the simple reason that you don't have to have physical access to the device in order to probe its defenses. On top of it, most wireless routers are shipped in insecure and vulnerable configurations: easily guessable administrative passwords, easily discoverable, no encryption. Securing a wireless router is important not only to protect your sensitive data, but also to protect it against potential infection where your network and computers can be used to to launch attacks at others.

Monday, August 17, 2009

RAID5/6 performance and reliability impact

I know you don't want to hear it, but a fact is a fact: the number one reason for loss of electronic data is user error. Inadvertent deletion, accidental formatting, hot coffee spilled on your laptop, the dog ate the homework, etc. Spilled coffee and accidental formatting happen way more often than hard disk crashes, at least where I hang out. (Why is there a "dental" in "accidental formatting"? It can't be a coincidence with the two of them causing most of the world's pain.)

There is really no foolproof 100% protection from user errors. Users are just too imaginative and sneaky. No matter how well their computers try to protect themselves against their owners, the owners find these inconceivably spectacular ways to lose their baby photos and tax records. Yes, tax records fall victim to more hard disk crashes than there are hard disks in existence, and the IRS is investigating this matter. The dogs are planning a class action suit, too.

There actually is a way to protect against user error: frequent backups. Do it yourself with utter frequency and consistency. Also, backup to the cloud.

The number two reason: hardware error, such as hard disk failure, or some sort of a crash that mangles or destroys your data. Here, there are two ways to protect yourself: automatic data redundancy and backups. The first option will not save you from user error; only from hardware errors and crashes - and even then - not always. The latter option is the only relatively foolproof to protect your data. Backup your data and backup often.

Now that I am done with the Computer Consultant's Number One Mantra, I will concentrate on data redundancy in the form of RAID or Redundant Array of Independent Disks.

This is going to be boring.

The two most common desktop RAID levels are 0 and 1 where The Zero isn't redundant at all and I have no clue why it is still called "redundant" but it's a long running tradition and I like to follow traditions with the exception of popcorn at the movies. I neither understand nor follow this strange tradition of drowning the 24-speaker surround sound exquisitely crafted by Hollywood, with popcorn crunching right between your ears. You do? Write a comment.

With RAID levels 0 and 1 being the most common, there is a growing trend of RAID levels 5 and 6 taking ground on home computers used for storing photos and videos. The reason is simple: 0 and 1 are not good enough: 0 is not protected, 1 isn't very efficient. 0 simply distributes bytes onto several drives storing only one copy of each byte. This makes the set faster but completely unprotected: one disk fails and your entire data stored on the set is gone. Not only Zero is unprotected, it puts your data at a higher risk than a single drive. The Mantra above is especially important with the Zero, please repeat after me:

Backup your data and backup often.

I warned you it was going to be boring.

RAID level 1 puts each byte onto two drives simultaneously. Each byte is stored twice, so if one drive fails, there is still a copy on the other drive. The data is protected right up until one of the drives fails. Once it fails, and eventually, they all do, the data is not protected until the RAID1 set is rebuilt again, i.e. the failed drive is replaced with a new one, and the set is restored to the "healthy" status. Which means RAID1 not only takes two drives to protect one, it is also not a 100% protection against drive failure. (Repeat after me...) In the end, the cost of protection is 50% of the total capacity: in a RAID Level 1 set of two 1TB disks, the total usable capacity of 1TB is half of the total capacity of 2TB.

With gigabytes and terabytes getting cheaper, lighter and physically smaller, it's not far-fetched to put 4 or 5 of them in a computer and try to protect them against a failure of one. Or two. Enter RAID levels 5 and 6: that's exactly what they do. Level 5 protects against a failure of a single hard disk in any RAID5 set, and Level 6 - against two. The cost of this protection is in a loss of a capacity of one or two disks, respectively. In other words, a RAID Level 5 set of five 1TB disks will have a usable capacity of 4TB, and a RAID Level 6 - 3TB. This is more efficient than RAID Level 1 as the usable capacity is more than 50%. There are also other RAID levels we will not touch in this article, as they are far less common than 0, 1, 5 and 6.

That said, RAID Levels 5 and 6 put a much heavier load on individual hard disks compared to other levels, notably 0 and 1, and heavier duty (enterprise level) hard disks are recommended for these configurations. Individual hard disks in RAID5 and RAID6 arrays have two parts: data and parity. Each individual write operation to an array will consist of two resultant write operations to each hard disk: to its data portion, and to its parity portion. The potential performance penalty is significant and can range from 10-15% to 90%, depending on an application, drive and controller characteristics. While disk and controller caches often reduce the penalty and improve RAID5/6 write performance, the fact that each drive has to do a double duty for each write operation, still remains. It is thus recommended to use heavy duty hard drives with longer MTBF numbers, designed for enterprise applications, in RAID5 and RAID6 arrays, and their derivatives.

Examples of "lighter duty" desktop drives not recommended for RAID5/6 arrays with moderate to heavy performance loads:
Examples of "heavy duty" enterprise hard disks recommended for high performance RAID5/6 applications:
Note: I am not including enterprise class hard drives with 10,000rpm or higher rotational speeds, or SSD models, because they are still quite a bit more expensive than their 7200rpm counterparts, and are usually cost-prohibitive for mainstream video editing applications.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Liquid Cooling Goes Mainstream with HP Z800

Quietly and without much fanfare, Hewlett Packard began offering liquid cooling on its Z-series workstations. Liquid cooling kits have been around for years, usually as after-market options for overclockers. With HP offering it as a standard item, liquid cooling becomes less of "living on the edge" gaming affair, and more of a mainstream option, albeit for expensive top shelf models of their workstations.

While there seem to be no pre-configured models with liquid cooling kits installed, the Z800 "configure your own model" page has two options under "Thermal Kit": "HP Air Cooling Solution [Add $1], and "HP Liquid Cooling Solution [Add $250]". The latter is only supported with "High Power" processors, Intel models W5580 (3.2GHz) and W5590 (3.33GHz).

A brief trip to Google uncovered a great article on ComputerWorld that was just posted yesterday. Besides reducing power-sapping heat, liquid cooling serves another purpose that is critical for workstations: reducing fan noise. According to the article, the noise is cut down by 8 dB under heavy load (from 38 to 30 dB), and this is a big deal for those of us who don't enjoy monotonous and often annoying fan humming.

A well configured base liquid-cooled Z800 workstation will only run you $10,698.00. Peanuts for those of us who appreciate quietness. Here are the specs:

HP Z800 Workstation FF825AV-PR800
• Genuine Windows Vista® Business 64-bit
• HP Z800 1110W 89% Efficient Chassis
• 2 Intel® Xeon® W5580 3.20GHz 8MB/1333 QC CPUs
• HP Liquid Cooling Solution
• HP 24GB (12x2GB) DDR3-1333 ECC RAM (Dual Processor)
• HP NVIDIA Quadro FX3800 1GB Graphics
• HP 300GB SAS 15K 1st HDD
• HP SATA Blu-Ray Writer
• HP 3 year standard warranty
$10,698.00 (buy it from DV411)

Availability: HP usually ships "configure your own" models within 1-2 weeks.

Additional information:

Thursday, August 6, 2009

HP Z800: The BMW M6 of Workstations

Under the hood, Z800 looks just like BMW M6 10-cyl 500hp GT cruiser: you can see the oil dipstick, everything else is shiny plastic and metal. To access slots, drives, memory and CPU, just lift off plastic panels: no tools required. The workstation can be taken apart and put back together in seconds with bare hands.

Speaking of bare hands, the workstation now features case handles. Unboxing, boxing, and simply moving the rather heavy system (45 lbs net) suddenly became so much easier. Unlike IBM designs, Z800 has two handles, and unlike Mac Pros, the handles are cylindrical and will not cut your hands.

Even the "high power" models (3.2GHz and up) are nearly silent. The fans kick up just a bit under full CPU load, yet it's quieter than xw8600 under load - and much, much faster.

Up to six SAS or SATA 3.5" drives can be fit inside, 4 in pluggable drive cages, 2 more - in optical bays, using special "optical bay mounting kits". All installed without a single screw.

My favorite configuration for a top-of-the line video editing system: 300GB 10K rpm SAS system drive, five 2TB 7200rpm SATA drives in RAID0 mode on the LSI controller, which gives a total of 10TB capacity and about 500MB/s transfer rates, enough for realtime uncompressed HD and 2K editing and previewing.

Fast, quiet, stable, well designed, easily expandable and upgradeable - what more can one ask for? It's the best workstation HP has come up with.

Eager to get one configured for video editing or visualization applications? See Z800 on DV411.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The broadband water for your business

They say, a person can live just a few days without water. How long will our business live without broadband Internet service? Today, I found out: not long. AT&T DSL had an area outage, and we were without Internet for three hours. No email. No web access. Not even a phone service: we have VoIP.

The business stops dead in its tracks, without Internet access. I spent two hours on my cell phone calling AT&T technical support. I even spoke to the Tier 2 Tech Support people (gasp!). They are notoriously great yet usually impossible to get to, thanks to the lovely AT&T hold music. They all suspected that the problem was on my side. Three hours later, the service is back on, and I find out that it was an area-wide outage. Knowing that three hours earlier would have been helpful - but thanks anyway, AT&T.

If I wasn't too motivated to order a backup broadband service before, I sure was now. Time to call my old friends at LaunchNet, Inc., who installed and serviced two broadband connections for us in the past, and did it quicker and less expensively than their major telecom siblings.

AT&T's best "business DSL" offer for our location is a 6Mbs/768Kbs service with 8 static IPs, for $70 a month plus taxes and fees. LaunchNet offers the same for $59.95 a month, with a choice of two DSL modems. One is a "bridge" that has very little IQ to it, and simply acts as an adapter between the DSL service and your existing router. The other choice is Zoom X6 DSL modem and wireless router, with many more configuration, diagnostics and monitoring features, and this is the one I ordered.

In short, over the two years that we have been using LaunchNet as our broadband service provider, it proved to do the same as primary telecoms like AT&T, Covad and Verizon, only for less money and with much, much better customer service.

If broadband to your business is like water to a human being, it makes sense to have a reliable supplier. For us, it's LaunchNet:

Unless, of course, AT&T hold music tickles you pink. :)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Security Tips from the Dark Side

Never, ever, connect strange computers to your network. I did, and however briefly, involuntarily became a spammer. While our network is well protected and safe, the client's heavily infested box managed to fire a salvo or two of spam out of it. Since then, we've taken extra measures to ensure this never happens again, and even if it does, to ensure no spam ever comes out of our domain - by closing the standard SMTP port to anyone except the server. Still, this incident clearly demonstrated the importance of basic protection measures.
  1. Do not connect strange computers to your network. Fire them up first and scan them for malware. If the computer is infected especially badly, consider taking its hard disks out and scaning them on a separate, well protected machine.
  2. Scan them regularly with a good anti-malware agent. We use AVG, Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool, and now testing Microsoft Security Essentials, an amazingly lightweight anti-malware agent.
  3. Do not use unknown anti-malware tools. Do not click on "free virus scan" ads the web is peppered with. Use only well-known tools from the likes of Microsoft, AVG, Symantec, etc.
  4. Make sure your administrative accounts are password-protected. If the administrator account has no password, make one and do it now. Even if it's just two characters, this is the very first step in protecting your computer and saving yourself from embarrassment. Better yet, make it a 6-8 character password that has lower case letters and capitals, as well as a digit or two, and a special character like "{" or "$". Having a password in plain view on a stickie on your monitor is bad, but way better than having no password at all.

    Why: an infested computer will commonly try to infest other computers on a network by probing open shares. If your computer has an "open" (no password) administrative account, the chances of getting infested are much higher.

    How: in most Windows versions, log into your administrative account, hit Ctrl-Alt-Del, click on "change password". In XP and Vista, you may have to go to Control Panel, User Accounts, and change password(s) that way. Go through all user accounts with administrative privileges and ensure they all have passwords.

  5. Quit using your "administrator" account. After you created a decent password for your "administrator" account, quit using it. Administrative accounts are primarily for administrative tasks: major software and hardware installations, other users' password resets, joining and disjoining domains and workgroups, diagnostics and trouble-shooting. Do not use them for general and day-to-day tasks.

    How: create a new account, call it "Hugo" (if that's your name), assign it administrative privileges if you must, set a decent password. Thank you. You just made my life, or a life of your "computer guy" much easier. He will thank you, but most importantly, you will thank yourself later, more than once.

  6. Never ever under any circumstances share a whole drive, and specifically, your "Windows" or "Program Files" folders. XP, Vista and Windows 7 already have "Shared Documents" or "Public Folders" that are shared among users on the same computer, and can also be shared on the network. It is a good practice to only use that folder for shared docs and files.

  7. Have a knowledgeable computer person check your computer every few months. Ensure it's patched, virus-free, lint and dust-free inside (saves electricity - serious!), junk-free: old temporary files - purged, applications you no longer use - uninstalled.

These simple steps, together with regular maintenance, will make your computers and network much less vulnerable to malware, and nearly eliminate the chances of becoming an involuntary spammer.

Happy Friday! :)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NAB and other news I think is cool!

NAB News

Lets start with today's good news on the Apple front. As many of you share my frustration with apple's hardware shortsightedness over the years, the latest graphics cards choices of "Crap and Crappier" were offered with the latest "Nehalem" systems in late march. I am now happy to say that Nvidia will be releasing a Mac version of the Quadro 4800! probably available in May or June. All you guys who bought the new Mac Pro and found your AFX/Shake/Color performance wanting will be very happy with this model. It's going to be expensive, but far less than the 5600 that apple offered with it's "Harperetown" systems, I am thinking around $2K.

Head over to the Nvidia website for specs and yummyness.

As you all know, I was working in the AJA booth at NAB this year which was quite an experience. Crazy is the best term to describe it. I heard rumors and garnered some hints about what was coming but I was abjectly refused an NDA no matter how much I begged. So literally a day before the show I head over to the booth to find out what I'll be talking about for the next week hoping I won't make a fool of myself to the masses. When I got there all I could say was "AWWWW YEAAHHHH" (obviously I'm talking about the Ki Pro DDR; the other new products are good but... come on!) From the mind of John Thorn comes this little recorder that really covers almost every production problem I have ever encountered. Right, I need a new paragraph.

OK let me start with the problems my clients have always encountered when shooting. There are 80 million different cameras with different acquisition codecs that are all equally a pain in the ass to edit. From high quality long GOP formats to low bitrate anamorphic crap, no matter what.. you were crashing if you tried to edit the stuff natively. One always had to convert it to something while usually destroying it's initial quality. One of everyone's' favorites being Prores HQ. Now 2 years ago I had my worries about it, and who could blame me... seriously 10-bit 4:2:2 codec at about 220 Mb/s in 1080p (not to mention my variable bit rate transcoding worries). However 2 years later, most of my worries have been unfounded. Enough on that, and on to the mind of Thorn and the very very talented engineering team at AJA.

So the KI Pro is essentially a DDR that bridges the gap between production and post, all in an easy to use lightweight low power kind of way. In a nutshell, you have every input source you can currently use (HD/SD SDI with embedded audio, HDMI v1.3, Component, XLR, etc.) and every output source (those plus Composite SD and Headphones) with hardware up/down/cross conversion. This means "In" from any camera and "out" to any monitor, so no matter what camera(s) you have this unit will work with it. Add the optional (and also lightweight)
Exo-skeleton surrounding chassis, to mount the Ki Pro between a camera and a tripod, and rod kits and you're good for virtually any tripod/steadicam/handheld setup.

On to recording. The Ki Pro records data into ProRes or ProRes HQ (around 100 and 220 Mb/s respectively) onto 250GB magazines (which will be priced around $300, more for the SSD version out later). This means not matter what camera you use, from your $500 AVCHD b-roll camera to your F35, you are going to instantly access a 4:2:2 10-bit file that you can edit frame accurately and in full raster and frame rate (up to 1080p 50/60) right then and there. The magazines are as easy to remove and replace as tapes and have a FireWire-800 port on the back so you can plug them right into you laptop (they will auto mount like any regular disk).

And the really cool part! You an control it wirelessly for anything that can open a webpage. It come with a built-in wireless Ethernet. All you have to do is connect it to your router by typing in your WEP or WPA password (your router dooes have a real wireless password, doesn't it?), then watch it shows up among your network devices, click on it, and up pop all your controls. You can even do it from your i-Phone you mac hungry gadget heads!

Right, it's time to go home and I'm rambling. There is soooooo much more cool stuff you can do with the Ki Pro that I'm not getting in here. Read up on it at the AJA website.

More NAB news tomorrow... Maybe the next day.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Optimizing HD uploads for YouTube

YouTube has become a very popular video sharing site, and recently, it started to let users upload HD videos. While these HD videos won't match Blu-ray or Dish HD quality, they still look fantastic compared to standard YouTube videos, which, to be honest, look crappy at best.

The questions often comes up, how to best save an HD video, to upload it to YouTube?

While YouTube's "Optimizing your video uploads" help article does recommend a resolution of 1280x720 for 16x9 HD videos, and lists recommended codecs (H.264, MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 preferred), it does not recommend a specific bitrate. What's a man to do, when a 5-minute video can be as big as 700MB in HDV format, and take many hours to upload?

Experimenting with various bitrates and types of encoding helped me narrow down the optimum settings for YouTube's HD videos.

YouTube re-compresses the videos anyway, so bigger files will not always produce better quality. I.e. uploading raw HDV videos (at 19-25Mbs) will be horrendously slow over a standard DSL connection, and the quality will not be visibly higher vs. videos encoded at 3Mbs H.264.

Certainly, a 25Mbs video will look better than a 3Mbs one, before it's uploaded to YouTube. Once it's uploaded, however, YouTube will "process" it, making it as small as possible while trying to maintain its quality, and once processed, a 25Mbs video is unlikely to look any better than a 3Mbs one.

I did a number of test encodes and uploads, starting at 500Kbs and ending at 7Mbs. After a 3Mbs "sweet spot", all tests looked very similar on YourTube, in HD mode. There were still barely noticeable differences between a 3Mbs and a 4Mbs test videos, but they were insignificant to my eye, and I did look really hard in full screen mode, on a 30" professional LCD monitor. After 4Mbs, these differences disappeared altogether. In other words, a 7Mbs video looked exactly the same as a 4Mbs one.

The encoding was done with a Adobe Media Encoder (part of Adobe Premiere Pro CS3), using Mpeg4 H.264 codec, single pass VBR (Variable Bit Recording).

To summarize, 3Mbs Mpeg4 (H.264) VBR (Variable Bit Recording) seems to be the optimum setting for most videos, to encode for YouTube HD. Any higher, and it's unlikely that YouTube HD viewers will feel it. At 2Mbs, it's not bad but you will see more compression artifacts than at 3Mbs, and 1.5Mbs will make YouTube think it's HD, but the quality will not be that great.

The resultant files are not exactly small, about 22MB per minute of video, but still far smaller than raw HDV, which is 142 to 187MB per minute. At 3Mbs, a 5-minute video will be about 110MB in size, and take about 25 minutes to upload over a 3Mb/768Kb DSL connection. A similar HDV video will take close to 3 hours to upload.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Vista 64 Upgrade Tips for Video Editing Systems

So it's getting to be that time for Windows OS 64 bit upgrades. God I remember (though I'd prefer not to), months of utter frustration for me and my clients, upgrading Windows 2K to XP Pro. So I figure I'd share a few hints to make everything go a little bit smoother.

First off let me say that these tips are specifically for DV411 systems and the like: editing, special effects, color correction and other task oriented systems. For general computing you'll probably not want to do any of these.


Update your system BIOS, preferably before you even put in the upgrade CD or DVD. For the majority of our systems this should be relatively painless, most you can do from XP using a utility provided by the OEM or motherboard manufacturer. Disable any devices in the BIOS that you are not using (e.g. SAS controllers, parallel ports etc.).

Now take a look at your device manager, make a note of all the devices in your system and make sure there are 64-bit drivers and if so download the to a flash drive or burn them to a CD. The easiest to forget are the chipset and drivers. If you have any question about which ones you need, check your '_archive' folder (that we install on our systems) and you'll find the 32 bit drivers in there. Also be sure to get the HDD controller driver, you may need this to even install the new OS.

Now I am going to recommend everyone start with a new system drive, keep your XP drive with all your software just in case some catastrophe happens and nothing works. At least you don't have to worry about being down for any length of time. I will add as far as drives go the faster the better as always.

Some recommendations

  • New solid state drives are writing 80 to 100 MB/s and reading over 150 MB/s with capacities up to 250GB. I'm not quite ready to say grab one right away, but if your in the mood to experiment, well why not.
  • WD raptor 10K SATA drives are around 50 to 70 read/write
  • Any 7200 RPM 32MB cache drive (most of you will use this) is around 30 to 40 MB/s read/write
As always I recommend getting the smallest (in GB's not form factor) that you can get away with. The bigger the drive the more likely you are going to be lax on system maintenance and the more likely you are going to save stuff you shouldn't, to the system drive. Bear in mind your system drive is the hardest working drive and the most likely to fail. So plan on keeping it to software only if possible.

Right, so I guess we're ready to begin.


Remove unnecessary devices:

  • First, disconnect any peripherals, printers, HDD arrays and the like.
  • Next lets unplug any internal hard drives, including the current system drive, however if possible, leave it in there. No need to spend time un-mounting the old system drive if for whatever reason we have to use it.
  • Secondly and only if you are comfortable doing this lets remove every card in the system save the graphics card. Pay special attention to the second PCIe 16x slot, sometimes the retention lever is hidden by the card. Do not apply excessive force to remove or adjust anything.
  • Ok, let's just pull the power and sata/pata connection from your current system drive and put it on the new one.

Now lets take a step back and check out what we have. You should have only the system drive, DVD-ROM or other optical drive, and the graphics card connected to power. If so, we are ready to go.

So I am just going to assume the initial installation, until you need to install drivers, went smoothly and you have that annoying Vista screen in front of you. Let's plug in that flash drive
or CD and get your graphic card drivers in there first. After you reboot, lets get to a working resolution (display setting are accessed the same way as XP).

Let's bring up the device manager (Control Panel | System and Maintenance | System | Device Manager); hopefully the list of yellow is not too bad. You should have everything on your flash drive. I would start with the motherboard and onboard device drivers first e.g. Ethernet, audio, etc. You can go ahead and install any cards besides your I/O such as Fiber cards, eSATA and the like. And repeat the driver installs until you run out of yellow warnings.

The Tweaks

Now, I have a few tweaks for you before you start installing software:

  1. Disable Windows indexing - another one of those unneeded resource cloggers. If your system is incredibly fast you can keep it on. Essentially it caches files so you can search them faster, this feature will kill older systems. Go to the properties of the C: drive and uncheck “index drive for faster searching” and the check “include subfolders and files”.
  2. Turn of window search. Open a shell (start menu/run) and type Msconfig. In the services tab you'll see windows search. Uncheck it and hit OK.
  3. Turn off UAC (this feature made me want to kill people).
    This is the function that makes you confirm every bloody keystroke in the belief that it will magically prevent viruses. Click on Start and then click on your username picture top right of the start menu, then click on 'Turn User Account Control on or off',
    uncheck (or check) User Account Control, select ok and restart.
  4. Next let's get rid of a few things you'll never use. Press Start/Control Panel/Classic View and select Programs and Features, Choose 'Turn Windows Features On and Off. You can safely unselect 'Indexing Service', 'Windows DFS Replication Service', 'Windows Fax & Scan' (unless you use Fax through a modem), Windows Meeting Space, Games, 'Subsystem for UNIX-based Applications'.
There are a bunch of other things you can do to remove process bloat, but I think this much will get us started. As well there are things like disabling autoplay and going to a more classic GUI scheme, but those don't matter much with the powerful graphics cards these days. Anyway it's all matter of your comfort level with the interface.

At this point we should power down and reconnect any internal drives and mount the new system drive in the place of the old one. Just pop the old drive into a static bag and find a nice shelf for the old guy. Lets reconnect any fiber or SCSI arrays at this time. If you have large arrays we will want to plan on reformatting them, but let's not get into that now.

Lets go back to the device manager and make sure everything you just connected shows up and has drivers. Also check if any drives need to be reactivated or imported.

Software Installation

Now the fun part - installing your software. Just get it all in there, I usually do the Adobe suites first. And don't forget to run any updates that are available. Also make sure any plugin's you have are 64 bit compatible. I have a feeling this is going to be our biggest problem. But I am going to assume it went fine. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Right, let's shut down and install your I/O card (AJA, BMD, Matrox, etc.). You might want to send me an e-mail, I sure there will be some card specific tweaks for each manufacturer that we'll have to deal with. I can't write about them yet mostly, because no one is giving me any yet :).

Last but not least, lets install these new fangled I/O card drivers! I'm hoping they're painless and easy (again at the time of this writing, I ain't got ‘em). Testing protocols will be different for each type of card (and each client). The first thing to check is your output plugins. The easiest is to load up After Effects, set the preview settings to the card and make sure you are getting some output. I recommend a standard test pattern. Don't forget to test both digital and analog. Next test capture, this is going to vary depending on what camera/deck you have. As well, try importing footage captured from your previous version. Now lets import a couple of your CS3 projects/comps.

So that's basically it. This little article Is not complete at all mind you, I just wanted to give you all a heads up with what you're in for. As time passes I will have a much better idea of what specific hardware/software configurations work best. Stay tuned! Get it, like tune up…You know puns used to be the highest form of comedy *sigh*.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Grass Valley up for sale

A well informed colleague of mine tipped me off that Grass Valley is up for sale as its parent Thomson has to shed weight in order to stay in business, according Thomson's yesterday's press release, and to an article on Television and Broadcast site. Says Thomson:
"The Board of Directors has approved the Chief Executive Officer’s proposal to divest its non-strategic operations. These assets, which include Grass Valley and PRN, accounted for approximately 1 billion euros of sales in 2008."
Grass Valley started in 1958 (wiki), merged with Tektronix in 1974 and has become one of the most recognizable brands in the television broadcast industry. It was acquired by Thomson SA in 2002.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

WD puts out a 2TB drive

Hard disk makers manage to squeeze more and more stuff into smaller and smaller spaces. Wish they'd do the same with my girlfriend's closet.

Only yesterday, a 1.5TB drive was big news, and today, a 2GB one makes a big splash. Enter "WD Caviar® Green" WD20EADS.

At first, the "green" part sounds like a gimmick, and yet the drive, according to Western Digital, is the "the coolest and quietest in its class", which is indeed green, and there is a lot of power consumption related information on the drive's page. Well done Western Digital.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Component to FireWire conversion?

Q: How do I convert from component video to FireWire?

A: You need a converter, and there is a number of them, ranging from $140 to $3,000. All of these units can work with NTSC or PAL signals.
  • Grass Valley (formerly Canopus) ADVC-700, approx. $2,000: a 1U rackmountable box that does a great job converting, plus additional features: balanced or unbalanced audio, RS-422 (aka Sony 9-pin VTR control), LTC.
    Pros: compatible with nearly any FireWire-equipped device on Planet Earth, clean conversion that Canopus and Grass Valley are famous for, deck control, XLR/balanced audio, renowned brand.
    Cons: not exactly cheap
    Bottom line: if you need XLR, RS422 or LTC, take this one.
  • Data Video DAC-15, about $800: Component to DV/FireWire and back, RS422, unbalanced audio only.
    Pros: robust industrial unit from a well established manufacturer of broadcast appliances, large buttons to switch between inputs and outputs, mostly BNC connectors (a good thing).
    Cons: no balanced audio (XLR) I/O.
    Bottom line: need a decent quality professional converter? This is the one.
  • ADS Pyro AV/Link, (also: Google shopping search) about $140: RCA connectors, quality and reliability maybe so-so compared to ADVC-700, and the quality of its component input may not be that much better than S-Video. And if S-Video is good enough for you, I'd recommend ADVC-110, for the same reasons as ADVC-700: compatibility, reliability, quality. No RS422, balanced audio or LTC, of course.
ADVC-700 and DAC-15 units are bi-directional, i.e. convert from component video (YUV) to FireWire/DV and back, while Pyro AV/Link has component input only, but not output.

Vista 64 upgrades

So it’s getting to be that time for Windows OS 64 bit upgrades. God I remember the windows 2K to XP pro months (though I’d prefer not to) as a time of utter frustration for us and our clients. So in the next few days I figure I’ll give you all a few hints to make everything go a little bit smoother. I'll be posting here and of course the full "to do" on the DV411 website.
We are all looking forward to February when 64 bit drivers are expected for most third party I/O hardware. Lets hope they accomplish this feat!

The magic link: changing the administrative email address in PayPal

Do you have a PayPal account? Ever tried to change the administrative email address on it? How was it? For me, it was horrendours: 5 years of dismal failures - until today. And today is the day when I said to myself, once again: kudos to the powers of Google. I worship you. You helped me find the answer.

Aided by Google, I ran across a blog article about the same issue, posted by the incredibly nice folks at Tez and Dro. Their instructions worked like a charm:
  1. Log in to your account at https://www.paypal.com/.
  2. Copy and paste the following magic link, https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_profile-logins-change-admin in to the address bar.
  3. Select an existing email address from the drop down menu that you want to make the new administrative email address, and click "Continue". You are done! The email address you selected will now be the administrative email address.
Why is it a big deal? Because nowhere on PayPal site, you can find this information, and you cannot do it yourself without knowing that magic link above. Your attempts to contact PayPal Customer Service or Support will be futile. They will send you useless instructions without the magic link. They will promise to update your account themselves, only to never do it. They will ignore your requests. I have had at least five incredibly frustrating email exchanges with PayPal, over the past five years.

I honestly don't know why this is such a big deal, but regardless: thank you Tez and Dro!

Friday, January 9, 2009

SSDs are coming. No, really.

Sandisk announced a new line of SSDs on Jan 8 (thanks for the tip ZDnet!) that take a step closer to the tipping point where regular, spinning hard disks no longer make sense for some people. People for whom pure capacity per dollar is less of a priority vs. power consumption, reliability, or speed.

A 240GB G3 series SSD drive from Sandisk will sell for $499, and will come in either 1.8" or 2.5" versions. Its main advantage is speed - 200MBs read and 140MBs write speeds - about 4 times faster than those of a 7200rpm desktop drive.

Put 5 of these babies on a fast RAID0 controller, and there you have 1.2TB array with a theoretical bandwidth of 1GBs, for under $3K. While that may be still expensive, the kicker is that it is fast enough to pull two streams of 10-bit 1080/60p, which normally requires a stack of 20 desktop or server drives in an array requiring lots of power and cooling.

We are getting to a point where uncompressed HD editing can be done on a laptop in a Starbucks shop.

DV411 Digital Signage Solutions