HDMI cable talk

Yes, I’m on vacation, but RSS feeds never sleep.

I just wanted to link to this article, about HDMI cabling. The stuff about HDMI doesn’t really concern me, and I think they miss the real reason for doing HDMI versus HD-SDI in consumer gear (the signal processing is cheaper). I like it because it’s a really readable article about impedance and the other factors that go into cable design.

Don’t forget the travel blog either.

What I’m doing with Captioning

As is probably made clear by some recent posts, I’ve been working on bringing captioning to our web video delivery. Now that we’ve made it so simple to compress and publish your video to the web, we need to make it just as easy to be ADA compliant with that video. For many folks, that means captioning the video.

First the bad news – no matter which way you cut it, doing proper captioning is time consuming, expensive, or both.

The good news is that it doesn’t need to be quite as expensive or time consuming as you might think. Here’s a rundown of the options.

First off, you need a transcript of your video. You can type directly into captions, but that process is going to be pretty painful. Realistically, what you want is just a raw text transcript of your video – no special formatting needed. I like the free Express Scribe software for Windows or Mac. If you were doing a lot of this sort of thing, you’d definitely want to get a foot pedal of some sort as well. Or a grad student. Either will work.

Now that you’ve got your transcript, you need to time it to your video and generate your captions.

If you’re the do-it-yourself type, you can get an application like MAGPie and do your own captioning and timing. This is the most time consuming but least expensive option. MAGPie isn’t an incredibly intuitive application, but once you get a feel for it you’ll be able to produce perfectly acceptable captions. There’s also commercial captioning software, like CCaption, which provide more features (like direct embedding) at a pretty steep cost.

If that’s not your thing though, there’s a really cool service from a company called Automatic Sync Technologies which will take your video and your transcript and use text-to-speech to sync them up. I’ve been doing some testing with it and it seems really reliable. That’s what I used to time the captions for my demo. It’s not a free service, but the pricing is incredibly reasonable. If you don’t have a transcript, you can pay an additional fee to have them transcribe the video as well.

Once you’ve done the captioning, you’ll end up with a timed text file. Here’s a sample. This is in the DFXP format which is used by the new Flash CS3 captioning tool, as well as various other flash plugins. Other video formats have their own captioning formats. The new quicktime release (7.1.6) claims to add support for captioning, though I’m not clear on what that actually means yet.

My development site for Media Mill now supports taking these timed files as transcripts, which will automatically be displayed when viewing Flash videos. I’ll make this feature live once I’ve done some more cross-platform testing and finished up a few additional new features.

Anyways, that’s a quick rundown on the world of captioning, from my perspective. It’s really not that painful, and I strongly encourage you to check out the Automatic Sync Technologies website.

Sony Reader Rocks my World

If you listened to last week’s podcast (yes, we still do them), you heard me go on and on about the Sony Reader. If you didn’t listen though, here’s the gist.

 Images Sony-Reader

I stole this photo from the internet

The Sony Reader is a paperback-sized ebook reader (about 1/4″ thick) which uses E-ink technology to display text in a very paper-esq manner. The screen actually displays dots of ink which reflect light, just like normal paper. By using this technology, you get incredible battery life (7000 pages on a charge) and far less eyestrain than with a traditional digital display.

The Reader displays books purchased from the Sony Connect store or any PDF, TXT, RTF, JPG or GIF file. It can also play MP3s. There’s about 100 meg of internal storage, but the Reader has an SD/Memory Stick slot which allows for expansion. I just popped in an $8, 1gig SD card from NewEgg.

I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it. Reading from it is as comfortable (or perhaps more comfortable) than reading paper. It’s such a joy to constantly have a whole collection of books with you. You can easily mark as many pages as you want and jump to them as desired. Text can also be displayed in three different sizes, or rotated into landscape mode. There are multiple page turn buttons as well, to make it comfortable no matter how you hold it.

Downsides? Well, it’s spendy. $350 will get you the Reader, though it comes with $50 in credit at the Sony Connect store, along with another $100 towards “classic” books. The books from the Sony store are generally in the range of 20% cheaper than the dead-tree version, however some titles are closer to 50% off (and a few inexplicably cost more).

Another downside, for some folks at least, is that the screen goes through an odd flash when turning the page. This is because the e-ink has to clear the screen before drawing new text. It doesn’t bug me at all, as I just consider it akin to physically turning a page.

In any case, I love mine and look forward to showing other folks just how good it is. If you want to check one out in person (and you don’t see me on a routine basis), you can find them at some Borders bookstores.

Why I hate Flash (and why CS3 is a blessing and a curse)

Since Carla asked …

I don’t hate Flash the concept, or Flash the delivery platform, I just hate authoring Flash. Flash is hands down the best way to deliver video on the web, and I’m really exciting about Apollo and AMP.

However …

I just got Adobe Creative Suite 3, which includes Flash CS3. There’s just so much about Flash (the application) that drives me insane – the way the workspace seems to always need more desktop real-estate than you’ve got, the way palettes fade out, and a million other minor nit-picky things that make it unpleasant to work with.

That said, that’s not the reason for my comment yesterday. That was out of the frustration of learning that using their new FLVPlaybackCaptioning component (which lets you really easily add captioning to any FLVPlayback component) requires you to port the application to Actionscript 3. Realistically, it’s probably a good thing to port to AS3, because it’s actually a decent language, but I had hoped with something as important as closed captioning, they’d allow easy integration into existing applications.

Beyond that, they’ve changed the way FLVPlayback works such that it no longer loads FLV files from a URL if that URL includes a query string (download.php?video=1234). That makes dynamic video playback a bit of a pain – you need to move to a mod_rewrite solution (download.php/video/1234/.flv) on the server side to trick Flash into loading the video. Furthermore, they haven’t fixed the crashing-bug related to loading large (>200meg) FLV videos on Windows using FLVPlayback.

Anyways, to sum it up, I love the delivery side of Flash, hate the authoring side. That’s how it goes though.