Arri accessories for smallish HD cameras

Freshdv pointed me to an video about some of Arri’s new accessories for small form factor HD cameras. The video shows off their new matte box, follow focus and support rails, all mounted to a Sony XDCam EX1. I hadn’t realized Arri was so enthusiastic about this space – some of the off-brand matte units have been pretty cheesy, so it’s nice to see them raising the standards a bit.

Build your own Perian

Perian 1.1.1 came out today, with fixes for flash video playback and a number of other things. This gives me a good chance to mention something we do when using Perian with Media Mill.

Because Perian doesn’t always play nice with other codecs on your system, I was long hesitant to add it to the codec pack we use for the media mill cluster. But, a few months back I realized I could do a custom build of perian that just had the codecs I wanted. It’s not very hard at all. Here’s the deal.

First, get Xcode 3.1 – you’ll need to sign up for a free apple developer account.

Next, open up your terminal, move to a directory you want to work in, and type “svn co” which will give you the most recent Perian source.

Picture 2-1

Next, browse to that folder in Finder and double click the xcode project file. Find the FFusionCodec.r file and double click it.

It’s a fairly readable file, with sections for each codec. Just comment out or delete the codecs you don’t want. In my case, I kept just a few.

Picture 3-1

When you’re done, hit the project setting dropdown and switch to deployment, then press the big ‘build and go’ button. A while later, it’ll finish, and you can find the “build” folder in the same place you found the xcode project. In there, find the deployment folder, and in there, find your nice shiny new Perian.component. Drop it in your /Library/Quicktime folder and you’re done.

If you want to double check that you’ve gotten rid of the codecs you don’t want, grab a copy of Fiendishthngs and run it before and after installing.

I’m in love with Skitch

Skitch was an application I really didn’t understand at first – why would you need anything more than the built in OS X screenshot utility? Boy, was I wrong.

Skitch combines a very flexible screenshot tool with good annotation and drawing tools, plus one click posting to the web. It fully supports tablets for drawing on your screenshots, and gives you simple ways to get your images out of Skitch and into an email, instant message, etc.

So, if you’re an OS X user that occasionally needs to send people screengrabs to explain something, it’s definitely worth a look. You can follow my skitch feed here, or just download Skitch for free and give it a try.

PVC review of the Panasonic HPX-170

ProVideoCoalition has a review of the new Panasonic HPX-170. Think of it as an HVX-200 without the tape drive, and with some improved capabilities. It seems like many of the controls and interface options have been refined, and some of the imaging features have been enhanced.

If you weren’t previously considering an HVX-200, this probably isn’t of interest to you. Interestingly, it looks to be hitting the street for almost exactly the same price as the HVX-200 – right around $5200. If you were looking for an HVX though, you might enjoy the slimmer form factor, HD-SDI outputs and revised feature set.

Ag-Hpx170 Side Lowres

ATSC adopts AVC for future DTV broadcasts

NAB sent me some spam today saying that the ATSC group has adopted AVC (H.264) as a format for future DTV broadcasts. Currently, ATSC DTV transmissions use the MPEG-2 format.

The primary target is those markets that don’t currently have any DTV transmission technology in place yet. Implementing AVC in the US domestic market would be a bit of a challenge, give the number of MPEG-2 decoding tuners already in place, or on their way to market. Essentially, we’d need another round of “we’re going to break all your TVs on this date” in order for AVC support to happen at this point, and it’s probably not worth the trouble.

Focus Enhancements files Chapter 11

Focus Enhancements, manufacturers of the Firestore line of products, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy today. It was pretty clear that it was coming – they haven’t had a profitable quarter for quite a while, the stock has been delisted from the NASDAQ and the market for harddisk recorders is eroding.

Too bad for their employees, but hopefully someone will buy them cheap (their market capitalization was under $5million yesterday) and refocus (excuse the pun) the company around a core set of products. Many folks don’t realize that besides the Firestores, Focus makes video switchers, digital asset management tools, conversion software, digital signage tools and semiconductors. Maybe it’s time to just do one of those things well…

On2 VP8 – better codec, same issues

On2 has announced VP8, the latest in their line of video codecs. Most folks are familiar with VP6, which was the standard Flash Video format prior to the adoption of H.264.

On2 is claiming that they can achieve H.264 performance at half the bitrate. I don’t doubt that there are instances in which that’s true, though with any codec comparison, there’s lots of room to fudge the issue. Keep in mind that H.264 was initially approved in 2003, so it doesn’t surprise me that On2 has been able to make improvements, though similarly in that time there have been many improvements to the H.264 standard which have not yet made it into mainstream software.

I think the time of proprietary, single source codecs like VP8, VP6, or Real (or even Sorenson) have passed. VP6 was a great stopgap which allowed Flash to deliver decent quality video in the browser, but it was always a pain to work with, with limited encoding options and non-standard tools. On2 is advertising VP8 as an alternative to the mucky patent world of the MPEG licensing association, but that process isn’t nearly as difficult to traverse as they imply, and I doubt the costs to get a license for H.264 are significantly different than the costs to license VP8.

The great benefit of ISO standards like VC-1 and H.264 is that anyone can go get a reference encoder or reference decoder, with the full source code, and hack on their own product. When it times come to ship, they just send the MPEG-LA a dollar (or whatever) for each copy and everyone is happy.

Ok, that’s enough rambling.