Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mac Mini and Home entertainment

Mac mini.....for 549...home entertainment at it's best, and toss in one of these...



converts mini displayport and toslink audio to HDMI...can you say...HOME THEATER...8-)


iMac or Monitor?

The new 27" iMac...a thing of beauty...if you can get to an Apple Store or Best Buy, you MUST take a look at these.....but here is the thing.....it doubles as a MONITOR!!.  Using the mini display port you can use it as a monitor for another computer (or anything that using mini display port)....



There is even talk of adaptors to convert HDMI and other formats to use this...who hooo


Server, we don't need no stinkin' server...

OK....Mac Mini Server ...WHOO HOOOO finally a cheap SUPPORTED server that I can use for testing....lets see...educational price of 2,004.00 which includes a 4 x 1TB external FW800 Promise Raid, and 2x 500GB internal drives.  Unlimited server (which is 1,000 alone).  EXCELLENT.

Read more about it here....


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Macs

Once again, a refresh of the Mac lines with a new Macbook, Mac Mini (with supported server config...yeahhhh) and new iMac.....one issue....Macbook is for education, it is the lowest priced laptop option...they removed firewire all together....THATS BAD....here is why...

We have lots of Firewire based camcorders in our K-12 buildings...kids and faculty do a lot of projects using Firewire to connect those pieces of equipment to the laptops....DOH!...Also, FIrewire Target Mode is priceless for recovering files off of messed up HD's....but wait...no firewire, no Target Mode hence you need to take the laptop apart....C'MON APPLE...if you are going to do that to us, at LEAST give use Target Mode via USB.....and btw...thank you for shooting us in the foot with the Firewire thing....at LEAST they could have made it a 4 pin Firewire connector to save space...and guess what...k-12...we aint buying Pro's just to get Firewire.....

   sigh...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Loggen and Support Documentation

The folks at University of Michigan have changed their site, so all links that I have come to to try and get the documentation for LOGGEN have gone bye bye.  I have downloaded and am making available the LOGGEN 2.2 DMG, as well as the LOGGEN Documentation.  Loggen 2.2 is from January '09 so it has been recently updated.

For those that do not know...this is a little utility that produces snapshots and diff files of your operating system.. Then there are utilites that can take these diff files and create root package directories for you to repackage the changes into an OSX Installer pkg file.  On our image, we always finish with a loggen initial scan, which we can then go back to and look at what has changed if need be.  If you google loggen you will see a few links on how to use it for the above purpose, but I just use it as a command line diff maker for trouble shooting.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wirecast - True Software Video Production and Streaming

Every now and then you come across a piece of software that is really incredible.  I was originally blown away when I first used a Video Toaster on an Amiga 2000 (OK, I know, that was hardware and software....but c'mon, it literally was the start of the desktop video revolution we all take for granted now) .  I also played around with the then free add-on tool called Lightwave.

Since my roots have always been in video production, I always am fascinated in how far software has come.  Enter Wirecast a little gem that is truly an incredible piece of software for those on the spot video production needs without having a huge video rig.

Wirecast allows you to connect multiple cameras via Firewire, mix in pictures and movies, apply lower third graphic overlays, manipulate sound and use some PIP effects and move seamlessly from one to another.  You can apply video effects and green screen.

The product is available for Windows and OSX and not only allows you to record locally as you live switch between all your composed "shots" but also STREAM the event live in Windows Media format (Windows Only), Flash and Quicktime.  You can do push or pull streaming and also stream to relay servers or outside services like Eastbay Media.

They also have a product for OSX called Video Cue, which basically allows you to create a running script (teleprompter style) then line up video shots (same type you can create in Wirecast) so as the script runs, you can read and record yourself and have the shots appear at designated times during the script.   I have used Wirecast on many occasions as a front end to video conferences and quickly apply lower thirds etc etc.

Eastbay Media

Kudos to Eastbay Media for an excellent streaming service and one of the most friendly services I have ever dealt with!

For those looking for a top notch media/streaming service you must take a look at Eastbay Media.  We use their service for Quicktime Streaming, Flash Streaming, Flash movies storage and serving for our website, and Windows Media Streaming.  They are a very fair and knowledgeable service with excellent support and great tolerance for working with our K-12 organization.  I highly recommend them for anyone that requires a reliable distributed streaming service.

And that CEO guy seems pretty cool too...Thank you Brad.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Video Furnace Channels and Workflow

So we have been lucky enough that Comcast has been really good with working with us.  We used to have a hardline (off the pole from outside) which is a much thicker/rigid coax cable that also carries high voltage to power amplifiers and such.  This hardline was tapped to run a standard coax cable to our eqiupment rack and then using a few splitters was split 22 ways.  We now have fiber and established a node directly in our facility.  We have 20 1u Dell Servers each with 2 encoder cards (VFLive).  The coax terminates at each card, and I can control and tune each card to the appropriate channel we wish to use.  I then setup the channel information inside Video Furnace software.  We also have 1 video on demand server (VFNow) and a license manager server.  We also have 5 in-house scheduled channels which run our Scala message board.  Channel 1 goes out to the community via Comcast and Verizon FIOS by feeding the associated equipment and encoders from the output of a set-top box.  We can then schedule any asset (recorded or live) to play on that channel for the community to view.  This is how we do things like school board meetings, and live graduation.

Video Furnace is now merged with Haivision who makes hardware encoders.  Previously (and in our current setup) Video Furnace only had the server based encoders, and portable encoders which were really just small form factor PC's with an encoder card inside.  They work, however often the unit needs to be opened and have the daughter card/PCI cards reseated from being jostled around.  HaiVision brings to the table a hardware encoder platform as well as a chassis based encoder farm instead of servers, which both are a welcomed addition.

So, for live events we feed directly into a portable encoder, and schedule that to be live at the times needed on either an in-house channel or the community channel.  Otherwise, we record our events using nNovia video hard drives and edit in Final Cut Pro.  We then use utilities like FFmpegX to convert to MPEG2 video and MPEG2 audio then ingest that into the system and schedule it to play  using some rather interesting free utilities listed here. I can also convert and ingest video directly from DVD's as well as other digital sources and video furnace also has a workstation with an encoder card that allows me to ingest directly from VHS or other analog video sources (you could, of course, just use a VCR and a portable encoder as well).

Just some points to consider....

1. live video switching with a product like the Sony Anycast is great because they offer both recording directly to a hard drive in AVI format and Firewire output to a device like a DV deck or nNovia HD recorder.  However, the Anycast only does basic switching and the AVI files are recorded onto a hard drive which is formated in a Linux (ext2) format which requires special software to access on both Windows and OSX. The OSX software is listed here which appears to not install on 10.6 at the moment.  Also, if using a product like Newtek Tricaster, make sure you record locally in a format like MPEG2.  If you use AVI, Newtek uses a custom video codec which is only available on Windows.  Only newer Tricaster units have this option.

2. Ripping from DVD requires program to Decrypt the CSS copy protection on the DVD.  Although this practice is considered illegal by many, it is sometimes your only choice other than actually playing the video and ingesting it in real time via an encoder (which sometimes a system called Macrovision will cause strobing or very dark video).  Please make sure you have the publishers permission to take the material and use it in this manner, as often it requires the purchasing of additional network rights.  I will not link to such utilites here, but you can find them on the internet if needed.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Video Furnace/HaiVision

When I was first hired at Lower Merion School District, one of my duties was to install a Video Distribution system.  At that time, multiple VCR's with cable multiplexers etc were to be the solution.  Each building would need it's own system/cable plant.  At that point, we were starting a Capital Improvement project of renovating all our schools.  Part of the renovation was to install coax cable to all rooms.  Our 2 high schools were networked but no coax was installed to the existing facilities.  So I was then tasked with trying to find a video system that could use CAT5 cable/Coax.  We started with IP Telephony at that same time.  I was not happy with any solutions we saw, mostly because they were not cross-platform compatible.  One vendor used Windows ME for their Set-Top-Box platform....are you serious???

Finally, I got the name "Video Furnace" through a sales rep. from another company we do business with.  The Video Furnace CEO and CTO came on-site and did a demo.  They had a switch, a smaller form factor encoder and a portable DVD player.  They showed us how the system was ENTIRELY IP and performed equally for both viewing and management on both OSX and Windows (as well as Linux).  ZERO footprint client (delivered from the web portal upon connection) with identical form and function.  I then connected my own laptop to their demo network and with the click of the mouse on a web portal page, had the system running on my laptop.  SOLD!

So we have 20 live channels that we now multicast through our facility as well as 5 scheduled channels (Community Cable Station, and 4 in house stations).  We purcahsed the system, the servers were drop shipped to Video Furnace site, they were configured and shipped to us.  Plug and Play!  The system was up and running immediately upon being plugged into the network.

Next up...the digital workflow.....getting live channels connected, and how we add our own content...

Email and VPN in OSX 10.6

I took a bold step and updated my work laptop (MacBook Pro) to 10.6 the other night.  Of course, mostly everything still worked but there were a few things...

1. Cisco VPN broke.....but hey...no big deal since it it possible to configure Cisco compatible VPN in the OS itself.  Open up the Network Preferance Pane and click the + at the bottom of the interface list, choose VPN then make sure it is set for Cisco (IPSec).  Then enter your username/password (or leave password blank to be prompted) and either your security cert info, or your group name and shared secret password.  Also at the bottom is a checkbox to put the VPN status in the menu bar.  DONE!  Works like a charm

2. Parallels 3.x does not function....well, this was known and well advertised on their site.  I decided to give VirtualBox a try.  WOW...not bad for free.  I only had to get my Parallels drive container over.  VirtualBox does not handle Parallels containers by default, but it DOES work with VMware containers.  Download and install a trial of VMware Fusion for OSX, then use the Importer application to convert the Parallels HD container to VMware.  Right click on VMware container and use the SHOW CONTENTS menu item and remove the .vmdk file and place it wherever you wish.  Make sure you de-select the "create 2 gig files" option in the importer before starting the conversion.  In VirtualBox, just point to this new .vmdk file and you are good to go.  Don't forget to install the VirtualBox host utilities after your initial boot.

3.  Exchange 2007 support.  You need at least Exchange SP 1 rollup 4 to use the ActiveSync capability of 10.6.

4. OSX Server Utilities.  Download and install the 10.6 Server Tools from Apple's support site, even if using 10.5.x servers.

That should be about it...the only other thing I noticed is that a login hook I had set was not working, so I created a launchd item using a program called Lingon.  Which allows you to either create user agents, or system daemons.  Since most loginhook's want to run as root, you need to use a Daemon...not a user agent, unless there is something that needs to run as the user, in which case a user agent would work nicely.

    -Mike

Sunday, October 4, 2009

FINALLY someone gets it...

The whole Palm Pre thing, with iTunes is just stupid and Palm refuses to do the right thing and just create their own music syncing app that uses Apples open and published XML file to give access to play lists and the music itself.  Why Palm can't do the same thing as many vendors over the years (even RIM has a media  sync app for Blackberry) is absolutely crazy.  They rely on underhanded (some may say illegal) means to spoof (aka HACK) their USB identity so that iTunes THINKS it is talking to an official Apple iPod.  Why don't they do the same thing for the Zune Marketplace....ohhh wait....

tsk tsk tsk Palm....

For a more in-depth explanation, check out this blog.

FINALLY, someone gets it.

    -Mike