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June 23, 2008

Table of Contents

The Moving Picture: Choosing Your Encoding Tool
New Noise Industries FXFactory Powered Fxpacks - Design Tools And Slate Tools - Now Available For Final Cut Users
Convergent Design Unveils nanoFlash
Bella Corporation Introduces its New Advantage Series Keyboard and Upgrade Kits, As Well As Special Summer Pricing
TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress Encoding Software Does AVCHD, Blu-ray, and HD MPEG-4/H.264 Formats
CineBags Introduces New CB-25 Revolution Backpack
Unleash the Power of Adobe Photoshop Using LightWave Rendition for Adobe Photoshop From NewTek

The Moving Picture: Choosing Your Encoding Tool

Once you’ve chosen a codec, you have to choose an encoding tool. In this column, I’ll outline the codec-specific and automation-related questions you should ask before using or buying an encoding tool, and then describe the three levels of encoding tools.

Let’s start with Flash. If you’re producing VP6 Flash files, there are two levels of encoding. Specifically, On2’s Flix Pro and Flix Exporter can produce 2-pass variable bit rate (VBR) files. In contrast, all Adobe Flash-encoding tools can only produce 1-pass constant bit rate (CBR). If you’re looking for absolute top quality, you’ll need 2-pass VBR, though for most producers, 1-pass CBR should be fine, and it’s a lot faster to encode.

If you go the 2-pass VBR route, note that there are now two levels of VP6 encoding: VP6-E, for top quality; and VP6-S, for an easier to decode stream. VP6-E should be your default; use VP6-S only when producing for hand-held devices or when rendering at 720p or higher resolutions. In addition, On2 recently announced a codec upgrade that’s supposed to improve quality by as much as 40%. As of June 2008, On2 hadn’t announced a release date, but if you’re buying a new encoding tool ask if it includes the new codec, and if not, when the company plans to add it and how much it will cost. Obviously, you should ask the latter question for any VP6 encoding tools that you’re currently using.

If you’re producing H.264 for either QuickTime or Flash distribution, the most important question is which H.264 codec the encoding tool uses. Most tools (Adobe, Sorenson Squeeze 5, Rhozet Carbon Coder) use the MainConcept codec, which delivers the best quality. Apple’s codec (available in Compressor, ProCoder, and Sorenson Squeeze versions before 5) was the former quality king, but has slipped to last place. In the middle is the Dicas codec, which is available in Telestream’s Episode Pro.

If you’re producing for QuickTime distribution, make sure the encoding tool can "hint" for streaming, which is required for streaming from a QuickTime server. It should also support the Fast Start option for progressive download; otherwise, your file must completely download before it starts playing. There are no Flash-specific encoding parameters required for the Flash Media Server or Flash Player, though I prefer encoders that produce H.264 files with an F4V extension.

If you’re producing Windows Media output, you’ll want an encoder with both VC-1-specific presets and the ability to "tweak" deep encoding settings such as DQuant and B-frame options to produce optimal quality. Currently, the only tool less than $5,000 that offers both is Microsoft’s own Expression Encoder 2. If you’re encoding on a Windows computer, you can adjust the same options by using Microsoft’s command line encoder or the VC-1 PowerToy, though Expression Encoder makes it much easier. If you’re encoding on a Mac, you’re out of luck.

For higher-volume and shared-use applications, you should also understand the potential universe of automation options available in today’s encoders. First is batch encoding, or the ability to queue up and produce multiple files, a basic feature that the Adobe Media Encoder doesn’t currently have. Second is the ability to create "watch folders" that the encoding program watches, automatically encoding any files saved there to the selected set of encoding parameters. Watch folders are a great encoder-sharing feature since any user with access to that particular folder, say over a network, can access the encoder.

Common delivery and notification options include the ability to encode and then FTP a video file to a remote site. Rhozet’s Carbon Coder can "watch" remote FTP locations, retrieve files placed there, encode the retrieved file, and then FTP the results somewhere else, while sending email notifications to interested parties at every step.

Finally, you should also consider the options for accelerating encoding. For example, Apple Compressor lets you share encoding tasks among other computers on a network, as does Sony Vegas, while several higher-end tools offer full-blown server farm capabilities that can mass-produce multiple files faster than real time.

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Batch encoding tools at the next level cost between $249 and $1,000. Some are single-format, such as Flix Pro (Flash VP6) and Expression Encoder 2 (WMV); the others are multiformat: Telestream Episode Pro (Mac-only), Sorenson Squeeze (Mac/Windows), and Canopus ProCoder (Windows-only). While these tools offer batch encoding and watch folders, they typically can’t operate over render farms, a limiting factor in very high-volume environments.

For server farm operation, you’ll need to step up to the next level of encoding tool, which includes Rhozet Carbon Coder (Windows) and Telestream Episode Engine (Mac). These solutions start at around $3,000. Other products in this class include Inlet Technologies’ Fathom, Anystream Agility, and Digital Rapids’ line of Stream Software products.

For more information, I surveyed most batch encoding tools, Compressor, and the Adobe Media Encoder for StreamingMedia.com. You can check out my findings in The 2008 Encoder Shootout. I’ve also looked at Carbon Coder and Digital-Rapids StreamZ; both these reviews are available on the StreamingMedia.com website

Jan Ozer (jan at doceo.com) is the author of Critical Skills for Streaming Producers, a mixed media DVD published by StreamingMedia.com.

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New Noise Industries FXFactory Powered Fxpacks - Design Tools And Slate Tools - Now Available For Final Cut Users

Noise Industries, developer of visual effects tools for the postproduction and broadcast markets, today announced that development partner SUGARfx (www.sugarqc.com) has released the FxFactory powered FxPacks Design Tools and Slate Tools; time saving workflow plug-ins for Apple Final Cut Studio 2.0 and Apple Final Cut Express 4.0 applications.

The new Design Tools and Slate Tools FxPacks can be used daily to ensure time-consuming tasks such as slate generation, color management, and precise object placement can be done quickly and with exact precision. SUGARfx created the Design Tools and Slate Tools FxPacks using the Noise Industries FxFactory Pro Plug-in Manager.

"These two releases come as part of the SUGARfx Design Tools series, plug-ins purpose-built for easing the pain points across the editing workflow. Daily tasks such as managing the position of elements, maintaining color accuracy and video slates are easily facilitated through Design Tools and Slate Tools FxPacks," said Niclas Bahn, director of business development, Noise Industries. "The new SUGARfx plug-ins are something that all designers can appreciate the moment they load them and more importantly benefit every day they open their editing application."

Design Tools FxPack Feature Highlights
The Design Tools FxPack provides users color perfect layouts and a wide range of guides to position elements accurately for every project. Plug-in highlights include the following:

  • Design Checker Guides automatically tell editors whether or not their projects will work with 35mm film, iPod formats, HD, SD and the other standards. Close-up previews visually show editors how their work may need to be cropped or changed in order to fit the final format.
  • Design Color Palette ensures colors remain true to specifications throughout entire projects. Users can create their own color palette presets and share them with other editors; maintaining color consistency throughout the production process.
  • Design Proportional Guides is an assistant type feature used for creating well-balanced layouts. The Design Custom Guides helps editors position everything and anything on the screen accurately over time. This plug-in is ideal for logo placement or titling, or menu layouts that need to be done more than once. Editors can save and share presets.
  • The Preview Player plug-in previews media in mobile media formats. The preview allows editors to view elements as they would be displayed in final format - enabling them to make the necessary adjustments for optimum viewing prior to finishing.
Slate Tools FxPack Feature Highlights
The Slate Tools FxPack automates slate production. Plug-in highlights include the following:
  • The Slate Master plug-in automates the building of commonly used slates. The feature includes 4 styles with comprehensive controls for adjusting slate parameters and 21 pre-set slate templates. Editors can increase productivity and creativity by focusing on more creative aspects of the production, as opposed to slate production.
  • The Slate Warning plug-in provides a simple solution for automating the creation of copyright warnings and disclaimer notices. Users can animate scrolling, add custom logos, and adjust color and other slate effects elements. Editors can save their presets and share with other users increasing overall collaboration

www.noiseindustries.com

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Convergent Design Unveils nanoFlash

Convergent Design announced today the nanoFlash, the second product in their line of portable HD Recorder / Player products. nanoFlash records video, audio and time-code from an HD-SDI stream onto CompactFlash(c) (CF) cards, employing the high-quality Sony 4:2:2 MPEG2 CODEC for compression. Boasting the smallest size, (4.2x3.7x1.4", 106x94x36mm) and lowest power (<10W active, <2W standby), nanoFlash is poised to revolutionize the industry with an MSRP of US $3495 coupled with low-cost CompactFlash Media.

The camera-mountable nanoFlash, a miniaturized version of the award winning Flash XDR, has two CF card slots and embedded audio support only (see Flash XDR for analog audio I/O + four CF slots). nanoFlash can be powered from a camcorder battery (6.5 to 20V) and records 1080i60/50, 1080p30/25/24 or 720p60/50 at full-raster (1920x1080i/p and 1280x720p) 4:2:2 MPEG2 at 50/100 Mbps (Long-GOP) or 100/160 Mbps (I-Frame only). As both a recorder and player, nanoFlash sports HD-SDI I/O as well as LTC-in, RS-232/485 (remote control) and a power/start/tally-light connector. High-quality MPEG2 video and up to eight-channels of embedded audio and time-code can be stored in the MXF format using the FAT32 file system. nanoFlash seamlessly records and plays back across the two CompactFlash cards.

32GB Compact Flash cards, available for US $135 each (about 1/10 the cost of other professional video cards), enable 140/70 minutes of record time of high-quality 50/100Mbps 4:2:2 footage (per load of two cards). (Note: bit-rates above 100Mbps require the 300X 16GB CF cards for US$216 each). Unlike Firewire based hard-disk recorders, which merely copy the native camera video quality, nanoFlash can encode a live camera’s "never-compressed" HD-SDI output to a much higher quality - higher bit-rate with less compression, eliminating most of the mosquito noise and blurring artifacts. Full-raster 1920x1080 (as opposed to 1440x1080 or 1280x1080) processing, coupled with 4:2:2 color (instead of 4:2:0), greatly improves horizontal resolution as well as keying and compositing operations.

Unique features such as 24p pull-down removal, image flip, time-lapse recording and RAID1 redundant recording capability (automatic backup) further enhance the workflow.

nanoFlash eliminates the need for costly tape decks. A daisy-chain of up to four stackable Lexar Firewire-800 UDMA CompactFlash readers (total cost = US $240) is the only "deck" required. Editors now have direct access to up to 280 minutes of 50 Mbps 4:2:2 footage (four CF cards) from their NLE timeline, without copying to their hard-drive. High performance (330 Mbps read-speed), coupled with very low access times (0.4 mS) enable up to four streams of 50 Mbps playback from the NLE timeline.

"nanoFlash is a fantastic addition to virtually all HD-SDI based cameras, offering high-quality recording / playback and enabling a tapeless workflow on low-cost CompactFlash media," noted Mike Schell President of Convergent Design. Additionally, finished projects can be archived by recording back to nanoFlash via the HD-SDI out from an NLE. The file(s) can then be copied from CF cards to a Blu-ray Disc for long-term storage (a 50GB Blu-ray Disc at US$35 holds 60 minutes of visually lossless 100 Mbps 4:2:2 Long-GOP video).

nanoFlash includes a special +5V output tap for powering HDMI → HD-SDI (nanoConnect) or HD-SDI → HDMI (nanoView) converters. These converters can be mounted on the backside of nanoFlash enabling recording from HDMI based cameras or playback to HDMI/DVI monitors and projectors for presentations, museums, and client review, etc.

nanoFlash can be further enhanced with an ASI I/O firmware upgrade (pricing TBD). ASI I/O (MPEG2 TS) enables use of nanoFlash in HD ENG/EFP (live news coverage) and video over IP applications. Programmable bit-rates from 17.5 to 100 Mbps easily support microwave and satellite transmissions.

nanoFlash is priced at US $3495 and is targeted to ship in September, 2008. More information and ordering form is available at http://www.convergent-design.com.

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Bella Corporation Introduces its New Advantage Series Keyboard and Upgrade Kits, As Well As Special Summer Pricing

Bella Corporation, a leading supplier of video solutions, has announced the immediate availability of their exclusive Avid Media Composer Advantage Series keyboards. In addition, new upgrade kits for their Avid Xpress series keyboards have also been announced.

NEW ADVANTAGE SERIES 2.0 KEYBOARD
To coincide with the release of Avid Media Composer 3.0, Bella has announced an expansion to its highly economic Advantage Series keyboard. The new model number 7203 Advantage Series for Media Composer comes with color and icon-coded keycaps, two USB 2.0 ports, pre-programmed multimedia keys for many common applications, and the unique Hybrid technology making it fully compatible with both the Mac and PC versions of Media Composer software. The Media Composer edition, as well as all other Advantage Series 2.0 keyboards, have a MSRP of $69.95 .

NEW UPGRADE KITS FROM XPRESS TO MEDIA COMPOSER
Bella is now shipping their new upgrade kits for both the 5200 Professional Series and 7200 Advantage Series keyboards. These new keycap sets will transform any previous Avid Xpress model keyboard into a fully functional Avid Media Composer keyboard and list for only $19.95. For current Avid Xpress users thinking of upgrading to Media Composer anytime soon, there's no need to purchase a whole new keyboard, simply order the upgrade kit and they're ready to go!

Bella has further stated that all existing inventory of Avid Xpress model 5200 keyboards now ship with the Media Composer upgrade kits free of charge (while supplies last).

SPECIAL SUMMER DISCOUNTS
In celebration of the official start of summer, Bella has reduced the price on all Professional Series keyboards by $20.00, including those for Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, Avid Media Composer, Liquid Edition and Sony Vegas. The sales starts June 20 and will continue through August 28.

The Professional Series 3.0 is the only keyboard with a built-in jog/shuttle controller on the market, giving you the ultimate control over your audio and video clips. With programmable Specialty and Multimedia Keys also being implemented into every Pro Series, your hands will never have to leave the keyboard. Combine the color coded-keycaps, the programmable multimedia keys, the jog/shuttle controller and the ever handy NeoLite, the Pro Series is the ultimate editing device.

www.Bella-USA.com

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TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress Encoding Software Does AVCHD, Blu-ray, and HD MPEG-4/H.264 Formats

TMPG, Inc. (www.tmpg-inc.com), the company that makes digital video easy, is introducing an updated version of its popular video encoding software TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress. Due to user demand TMPG, Inc. has now added input support for AVCHD, AAC in an MPEG-2 stream and embedded MPEG-4 input support. The new update also provides output support for High Definition MPEG-4 video and Blu-ray BDAV/BDMV templates. The software upgrade will be available at the end of June at www.tmpg-inc.com and will be free for current TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress users. New users may purchase the updated software for $99.95 per license.

"We have had many requests for these particular high definition video and Blu-ray upgrades and we are pleased to now offer them to our customers," stated Kimi Matsuki, TMPG Inc. CEO. "As always, we will continue to keep TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress relevant and up to date with support for the latest formats for our customers." Following are the new input/output features for the TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress upgrade:

  • AVCHD Format - Input Support: This is a feature that has been heavily requested by TMPGEnc users. AVCHD is a HD tapeless video format used in many of today's HD camcorders (such as Sony, Panasonic, and Canon). With AVCHD input support, TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress users can now cut-edit, apply filters and convert AVCHD footage into a video format of choice.
  • HD MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 - Output Support: Users can now output video in the MPEG-4 AVC format at high definition. This will allow users to take advantage of the format's high compression rates at high definition resolutions.
  • Embedded MPEG-4 Video Input Support: MPEG-4 video input support is now embedded into TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress without the help of QuickTime.
  • AAC Audio Input Support in MPEG-2 Transport Stream: The popular AAC audio format can now be used as an audio source in MPEG-2 transport streams.
  • Blu-ray BDAV/BDMV MPEG-2 Output Template: Users can now output to the increasingly popular Blu-ray video format.
  • TMPG now offers AVI color space settings for each DirectShow codec

www.tmpg-inc.com

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CineBags Introduces New CB-25 Revolution Backpack

CineBags releases its new CB-25 Revolution Camera Backpack. The backpack is significantly bigger that the previous CB-22 HD Backpack. It is designed to hold larger cameras such as the new EX1 from Sony, the HVX200 and the RED One camera, but also accommodates cameras such as the Z1U, DVX, G1, FX1 with plenty of space for accessories such as a matte box or follow focus.

The backpack also accommodates a 17" laptop such as the MacBook Pro. CineBags' new Thermo layer keeps the equipment well-protected and insolated on the inside the bag.

Other features include the following:

  • a pullout rain cover that encloses the entire backpack
  • customizable interior
  • earphone outlet
  • waterproof material
  • heavy duty shoulder harness
  • heavy duty padding
  • and the very popular CineBags "Remove before Filming" keychain.

MSRP is $239 and the CB-25 starts shipping in July.

The CB-25 is also available in Digital Camo as a limited edition (shown in the picture). The CB-25 is available through the CineBags dealer network as well as at www.cinebags.com.

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Unleash the Power of Adobe Photoshop Using LightWave Rendition for Adobe Photoshop From NewTek

NewTek, Inc., manufacturer of industry-leading 3D animation and video products today announced the release of LightWave Rendition™ for Adobe® Photoshop® CS3 Extended. Based upon the rendering engine of Emmy® Award-winning LightWave 3D®, LightWave Rendition™ for Adobe® Photoshop® gives creative artists the capability to render models imported into Photoshop® CS3 Extended™ with the ability to deliver the richness of detail, textures and lighting attributes found in the original 3D artwork. The resulting output delivers a high-quality, photo-realistic image, all from within the Photoshop Extended environment.

"For us, LightWave Rendition for Adobe Photoshop is working great and saves us crazy amounts of time between conveying comps to agencies and being used in the real work place for print," said Robert Calandriello Graphic Communications Manager Cordis Corporation, a Johnson & Johnson Company. "Either way, I'm a huge fan because it makes my life here so much easier. I don’t have to rework a 3D scene for someone; I just send them my 3D model and textures, and they can go from there in Photoshop."

LightWave Rendition ships with sample projects and a library of 3D model art. The product also includes support for 3D models from a variety of applications, including LightWave 3D, Google™ SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse or many readily available 3D formats. LightWave Rendition™ for Adobe® Photoshop® CS3 Extended includes the following:

  • Slider Controls for Render and Anti-Alias Quality, allowing for quick preview renders up to photo-quality images.
  • Material Presets for the option to apply a preset material or any selected Photoshop materials to the surface of your 3D object for complete flexibility in design.
  • Light Environments open the use of the default Photoshop Extended lighting environment or users can add to the power of LightWave
  • Rendition for Adobe Photoshop by using any 2D layer as a light map for complete control of the final light environment.

Pricing and Availability
LightWave Rendition for Adobe Photoshop is available for $149US by download in the U.S. For more information or to purchase, please visit the NewTek Store.

www.newtek.com

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