Sunday, December 27, 2009

Santa was here!! YEAHHHH!

Well, I have finally made it into the present in technology...yeah I know, you figure since I work with technology that I would be on top of it.  I have had Verizon FIOS for a couple years now, 2 flatscreen HD TV's (Vizio and Samsung) and have had TIVO since they first came out.  Now the FIOS DVR replaces the TIVO (well it is substituted for the TIVO, it will never replace it) and last Christmas I received a Sony up-scaling DVD player which has worked beautifully.  This Christmas I was upgraded (thank you Santa) to a Blu-Ray player.  I have not jumped on the Blu-Ray HD bandwagon, as far as DVD's go.  I do have to admit, it is beautiful.

The player I received was a Samsung BD-P1590.  It comes with a multi-function remote to control the TV, however it does not fully support the features of the Vizio.  It gives me on/off, volume, mute, channel control but NOT source selection.  With that aside, the player itself has a couple of nifty added features.

It has built in Pandora and NetFlix player capability as well as players for YouTube and Blockbuster.  Pandora is a music playing service that allows you to type in an artist or song and it will automatically select similar music and play it for you like a personalized radio station.  With the Blu-Ray player you get a free subscription to Pandora.  Once you create your account you can then tune into the Pandora website from your computer, or log in from the Blu-Ray player and listen to your music "channels".  Netflix (as you may or may not know) is a DVD mailer service that allows you to queue up DVD titles that are sent to you in the mail with a return mailer.  You can take as long as you need to watch the DVD then mail it back and upon return you will receive the next DVD in your queue.  NetFlix has since added streaming "on demand" services which can stream to either a computer or a dedicate player device.

Once you create your NetFlix account (the cheapest service is 8.99 a month for one DVD at a time service, online content included), you login from the Blu-Ray player and can then see your "instant queue" material and it start playing your selections..  What was the first video I watched you ask?  It was "Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century" TV series of course.

The Samsung BD-P1590 connects to the internet using a Ethernet connection, or a USB wireless adaptor.  I opted for Ethernet since my FIOS router is located in my entertainment system as well.  One of the first things you should do is go into the player settings and make sure everything is set correctly and have it do a firmware check to make sure you have the latest firmware.  Mine had to be updated even though it was a brand new player.

The one other device that I received was a set of Sony rechargeable IR headphones.

I used to have a model about 10 years ago that broke a few years back.  These are much better in that they are much more sturdy headphones.  They recharge when sitting in their base-station and use IR to communicate.  One nice feature is a silencer when you wander out of the IR path (like to the kitchen for a cup of Green Mountain coffee from my Keurig coffe machine 8-)...) so you dont hear static.  I have my TV audio out going to my home stereo, and the Tape recording out going to the headphones.  As long as I have the stereo on, I can turn the TV and Stereo volume all the way down and hear the audio of whatever is on my TV (TV, DVR, Blu-Ray, Wii etc etc) in the headphones.  They also function on a single AAA battery if needed.

There, I am all caught up.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies Live again!!!

For all you former Amiga heads....remember Pinball Dreams...then the sequel Pinball Fantasies?  Remember playing until your hands hurt from clutching the keyboard....remember cranking the awesome soundtrack and enjoying the smooth and quite accurate ball physics?

Well, if you own an iPod Touch, or an iPhone....You get both again...ported over and I would say almost 100% accurate and true to the original....YEAHHHHH....

Here are the reviews for them at

Review for Pinball Dreams....

Review for Pinball Fantasies....

Works well and brings back memories....I hope more old Amiga games come over....two of my old favrites....Roller Ball, and Battle Squadron.....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Video Hard Drive recording

We often look for ways to streamline our video production workflow.  There are some very time consuming parts to digital video production, mainly around getting your source video into the computer.  This usually involves using a VTR connected via FireWire to your computer and "ingesting" the video.  The problem is that if you have 4 hours of video, it takes at least 4 hours to ingest it.

One way to reduce this time, is to record directly to some other media that makes it easy to get your material on the computer.  Newer camcorders now record to SD cards in H.264 (Mpeg 4) files.  You can literally drag and drop those files into your editing program.

A few years ago we started using a device called the nNovia QuickCapture A2D.

This device works just like a VTR with controls to play, record, rewind and fast-forward.  You can connect a camera directly via FireWire, or using the analog "dongle" that provides Composite/S-Video inputs/outputs and audio.  This unit has the added benefit that it transcodes from FireWire to Analog and the other way too.  We would use a Sony Anycast and connect the FireWire output to the QuickCapture to record.

Once you have your material recorded, you can put the unit into FireWire Hard Drive mode, and connect it to your computer.  It can record either Quicktime MOV files or Windows compatible AVI files.  You can simply drag and drop these files onto your computer and start editing.  We love them.

Recently nNovia was purchased by DataVideo and a few new models were introduced, including a removable HD model that allows you to pop out the HD module and connect it directly to your computer via a USB cable.  We plan on using a 1U version of this in our new Video system.  You can also purchase additional "sleds" to put HD's into giving you a great amount of storage.

There are other versions of this type of product, such as the Firestore made by Focus, but after using a few products, the ease of use, reliability and the ability to monitor your recording using standard analog monitors is fantastic.

Mobile Video Production

Every now and then a product comes along that makes people in a certain industry sit up and pay attentions.  Back in the 90's it was NewTek with the Video Toaster for the Commodore Amiga Platform.

Back in the day, I was involved with using the Amiga in video production when it was given to the cable TV studio I worked for as a grant project.  We received it along with a genlock (used to sync the computer video to the same timing of an incoming video signal and overlay graphics on top of that video signal) and some basic titling software.  One of the first titling products that we worked with was called Scala, which is now one of the defacto digital signage products available.  A local PBS station installed an Amiga in their studio and they were having issues integrating it.  They received my name from Commodore and called me to come in and look at it.  With my video editing and engineering background, I ended up staying and working with them editing show packages and eventually getting an FCC broadcast license and operate the transmitter.

This station then received an ALPHA unit of a new product called a Video Toaster.  It was a hardware/software combination that gave you 3-4 video inputs and allowed you to do real-time video switching, with 3D effects and add titling. The cost of this total product was FAR below the cost of any comparable video switching unit at the time.  Along with this product came an extra add-on of a 3D rendering program called Lightwave 3D.  I do believe I was the first person to use a Toaster in on-air broadcast use on the East Coast of the US.

NewTek continues to produce the Toaster now, as well as introducing a new product line called the Tricaster which was basically a video switcher, web streamer, graphics and video editor in a self contained small form factor (ala Shuttle PC) box, running Windows XP.

This box originally had 3 analog composite/S-Video inputs as well as audio line and Mic inputs as well as Composite/S-Video output with line level audio outputs.  It allows you to mix 3 live video sources, pre-recorded video and graphics using 3D video effects as well as having a downstream keyer for lower thirds and other overlay graphics.  The box also has the ability to use a network connected computer as a video source by running a special program on the client, which then shows up as a "VGA" source. Not only does it scale that VGA input for video, but you can then use the DVI output to display a clean unscaled version of the VGA input to a monitor or projector.  This works great for still slides, but not good for anything with moving video.

The interface is controlled with standard keyboard and mouse, however, NewTek offers a a usb attached control surface with a standard "T" bar as well as input buttons ala a standard video switcher interface.

There have been new models of the TriCaster introduced recently which included models with more inputs, Component inputs, SDI input support and a recently introduced HD model.

The latest models also support the newer control surface shown above, as well as an external DDR controller (controls the built in "VCR" features) as well as LiveType which is an external CG program to allow a second person to update and create title graphics on the fly.

One other neat feature of this box is that it supports the "Virtual Set" feature, which allows you to sit in front of a green screen and look like you are sitting in the middle of professional studio, including shadows, reflections and multiple cam angles.

So all in all, this box is literally a TV studio in a box..with video editing features and streaming (Flash and Windows Media) this box is bang for the buck.  We are currently working on purchasing a self contained video production system that contains a Tricaster, wireless microphones, Sony DV tape deck, and a DataVideo video hard drive recorder.  Pictures will follow when the unit is complete and delivered.