Rein put some new songs on ESRAh’s website. Check them out under “Music”. I love Messing with the Rules.

Silhouette

Heikje HeksDe schatjes van jeugdtoneelgroep De Strontvliegen hebben weer hard gewerkt. Het regisseursduo dit jaar, mijn zus Lies en Nele Hoogendoorn, behoorden een decenium geleden tot de allereerste lichting acteurs. Ze zijn er onder meer verantwoordelijk voor de prachtige naam van de toneelgroep :-)

Komt allen kijken!

Winter in Lier, BelgiumFoggy night in Lier, Belgium

Day and night…

A year and a half ago, I wrote:

In the last year, a lot of cheap (or not so cheap) HD video cameras came onto the market. These cameras are targeted towards consumers or professional users at the bottom of the scale (”prosumers”).

This was ment to be the introduction to a detailed overview of all prosumer HD cameras. As you may have noticed, that overview never came around, mainly because I got bored with specs and prizes and endless internet discussions about pixels. However, people keep asking me what camera to buy. Well, based on Barry Green’s recent comparison between a Panasonic HVX200 and Canon XH-A1, I’d say that if you really need an HD camera buy the Canon XH-A1.

But, don’t take my word for it, try before you buy. You’d be amazed at what you will find out once you have the camera in your hands. I trotted along when Roeland was choosing a camera to record “Zonder Jou”. We tested the Sony Z1, JVC HD100, Panasonic HVX200 and Canon XL-H1. Here are the things that really suprised me (meaning I didn’t read about these things on the internet):

  • The JVC HD100 can’t focus closer that 1 meter, which may be a problem for extreme close-ups.
  • The lens control of the Canon XL-H1 is unbelievably awkward. You cannot reliably focus and zoom with the lens rings at all. It feels like you’re controlling a lens thousand miles away through a 56K connection.
  • The layout and controls of the menu system of the HVX200 are against my nature. I was frequently on the wrong page, pointing at the wrong item in the wrong menu. This has to do with the physical layout of the camera: the control buttons are positioned for someone standing besides the camera while in reality you’re standing behind it looking at the LCD screen.
  • Another thing about the HVX200 that Roeland found out much later: you can’t use it as a bridge connecting Final Cut Pro and an HD monitor, like you can with a cheap DV camera. One of the big selling points of the HVX200 is its use of DVCPro HD which makes editing a lot easier, almost DV cam alike. It would make sense that you could use the HVX200 to display a DVCPro HD stream on a decent HD monitor (good for basic color correction) but apparently you can’t: you have to buy an HD capture card like Blackmagic’s Decklink series or AJA’s Kona series just as you would for any other camera.

But the most remarkable thing is: they all looked pretty much alike. None of these cameras will blown any other out of the water, although the Sony Z1 was consistently the worst, mostly because it clips way too fast (not a lot of dynamic range). In the end the DP chose the HVX200 mostly because his prior experience with a DVX100.

Barry Green agrees:

The most telling thing, regarding image quality, was when I played about 20 minutes’ worth of footage back on my Sony XBR960 CRT HDTV. The Canon and the Panasonic both use the same component video cable, so I was able to cue both up to the same shot, and swap the cable back and forth. And frankly, folks, I think most people would be hard-pressed to tell the difference! They both put out an excellent high-def image. As viewed on my HDTV, from a viewing distance of about two feet, I found them extremely comparable. I asked for a backup set of eyes, which meant dragging my wife into the discussion, and she couldn’t really see a difference either. It got to the point where sometimes I’d forget which camera I was on – I’d go to fast-forward on the XHA1, and nothing would change on the screen, and I’d realize “oops – I’m plugged into the HVX instead.”

and

I’ve spent a lot of time testing the small HD camcorders, and organizing tests such as the original DV.COM six-way comparison test. And while we can demonstrate resolution charts and things like that, the simple fact that people don’t want to hear is: they all look about the same. There is no knockout winner among any of the 1/3” HD camcorders, and with the XHA1 the trend continues. They’re comparably sharp, and comparably noisy, with comparable dynamic range; the biggest difference between them was their rendering of color & gamma.

(BTW, my own notes on the original DV.com six-way test are here)

So, if they’re all about the same imagewise, why not buy the cheapest? The Sony FX1 is out because it is no longer sold (and its audio is lacking in all departments) but then this new Canon XH-A1 comes next.

But then, think again, do you really need a $4000 camera? This is the heart of the matter and the reason why I bothered to write this article at all. I bought my FX1 about 2 years ago when it was still the first HD camera and the Z1 wasn’t even in sight. Since then I made four or five short movies with it, filmed some concerts and a few other things, but I don’t believe I made any money on it. It’s possible that I would have been cheaper off if I had just hired a camera every time I needed one.

By renting, you may be able to film with a much better camera too: I was certainly surprised when I heard that the rental price for a Sony XDCam HD was only 30% more than an HVX200.

pretty picture of the Alps (1)pretty picture of the Alps (2)

Just some pictures to dream about. Both pictures were taken in Parc National Les Ecrins in the French Alps this summer. I spend more than an hour trying to cross the river in the first picture. It may not look very menacing but you tend to be more carefull with a two year old girl on your back. Anyway, memories of a good time…

Recently I had the pleasure to work on the final stages of postproduction for “Zonder jou”, a short movie by my buddy Roeland Vandebriel and Jeannice Adriaansens. “Zonder jou” is one of the few independent almost-no-budget shorts made in Belgium last year but IMHO it looks as good as any “professional” short. The movie came back from color correction as an HD image sequence on two FAT32 disks. I had to create a DVD and a subtitled HDV-master.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. FAT 32 may be the grail for cross-platform data transport but it ain’t holy. The trouble starts with creating the FAT32 partition: Windows 2000 or XP limit you to a 32 GB maximum size although FAT 32 has a maximum volume size of 8 TerraByte. You actually have to use Mac OS X if you want a larger partition than 32 GB.
  2. FAT 32 is not made for large numbers of files. Each directory can contain about 64,000 entries at most, but since each file can take as much as 3 to 10 entries, you can expect to the limit to be about 16,000 files in one directory. For “Zonder jou”, this meant that the 32,000 frame image sequence had to be split in two directories.
  3. Mac OS X’s Finder doesn’t like FAT 32 disks. It took about 10 to 15 minutes to show one of the 16,000 file directories in column view. The same directory on an HFS+ disk showed instantly.
  4. Final Cut Pro’s manual lists two ways to deal with image sequences. The first is: set the default still duration to 1 frame, import all stills into Final Cut Pro and drag them into the timeline. The second way is to use Quicktime Pro to create a movie out of the image sequence. You then use this movie inside Final Cut Pro.
  5. Final Cut Pro doesn’t like projects with 3000 items. It takes ages to open the project and memory consumption goes through the roof. I didn’t try with all 32,000 frames.
  6. Quicktime Pro is utterly unable to deal with long image sequences. Opening a 16,000 frame image sequence in Quicktime Pro took more than one hour, during which Quicktime remained unresponsive and was in fact “hung” according to Activity Monitor. Trying to paste both (see item 2) image sequences into one Quicktime movie was impossible.
  7. Don’t ever try to create a reference Quicktime movie out of 16,000 frames. Quicktime can do it, it will even save such a movie to a 6 MB file, but any attempt to access any frame of the resulting movie inside Quicktime or Final Cut Pro will result in a 15 minute or longer stall during which Quicktime does IDNTKW (I-don’t-know-what, also known as The Secret Innards of Quicktime).
  8. Don’t ever try to create an uncompressed movie out of 16,000 frames in Quicktime. Each access to a single frame takes the 15 minute Quicktime IDNTKW hit, meaning the movie will be ready only after the sun has exploded (theoretically).

In the end I ended up sacrificing one of the backup disks to create an HFS+ partition large enough to fit both image sequences. I used After Effects to create a single 8:2:2 uncompressed Quicktime movie. After Effects took 20 seconds to iterate through a single 16,000 frame image sequence. The final render took 8 hours though. I took the uncompressed file into Final Cut Pro and had the subtitled HDV master on tape about 3 hours later.

Of course, things could have been a lot easier. If I had the disk capacity and disk speed to deal with uncompressed HD and we had the money to hire on HDCAM deck (the color corrected movie was delivered in HDCAM too) everything would have been finished in half a day but in the end we managed. The movie was premiered from my HDV master…

The moral of the story is: don’t bother using Final Cut Pro or Quicktime with long image sequences.


This short by Spike Jonze is one of my all time favorite short movies but I like this IMDB user comment on it even more.

Mijn goede vriend Nick is gisteren samen met zijn vriendin Anja op halve wereldreis vertrokken, van Antwerpen naar Vladivostok. Ze reizen met het openbaar vervoer doorheen Bosnië-Hercegovina, Montenegro, Albanië, Macedonië, Griekenland, Turkije, Iran, Armenië, Georgië, Azerbeidzjan, Turkmenistan, Oezbekistan, Tadjikistan, Kirgizstan, Kazachstan, China (Xinjiang), Mongolië, China (Mantsjoerije), Rusland (Vladivostok-Moskou met de Transsiberische spoorweg) en Oekraïne.

Je kan hen volgen via Nick’s blog op site van Knack (of ga naar http://www2.knack.be/blog en klik op Weblog Nick Hannes.)

Langs deze weg wil ik Nick en Anja in ieder geval een fantastische reis toewensen!

Lexicon Omega Studio As promised, here’s another review of a piece of equipement, this time the Lexicon Omega Studio. This is a 4-channel USB audio interface with 2 mic inputs, 4 line inputs, MIDI in- and out and SPDIF in- and out. Other interfaces like the Tascam US-144, M-Audio 410 firewire interface or Digidesign MBox 2 do a similar job. However the Lexicon Omega Studio has a few nice features:

  1. It’s cheap.
  2. It doesn’t need a computer to run.
  3. It doesn’t need drivers on Mac OS X.

The first item won’t need any explanation. The second one is perhaps a bit strange: why would I need an audio interface when my computer is not running? Well, this comes in very handy for connecting my camera to my speakers without the sound passing through my computer. Other interfaces can do this as well — the feature is called zero-latency monitoring — but they need a software app to control the routing from input to output. The Lexicon unit doesn’t, it is in fact a pure hardware mixer — in a funky form factor — and an audio interface in one.

The third item is the most important to me. This interface is USB audio device compliant, which means that you can plug it in to your Mac and it works. No drivers necessary, everything is included in Mac OS X. The interface works out of the box with all Mac software including Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro, Logic, Audacity and everything else you want. The interface will keep working throughout Mac OS X updates. You won’t need to wait until M-Audio or somebody else provides a new driver for a new version of OS X.

Why is this “no drivers” thing so important? Well, 3rd party drivers are the first thing any knowledgeable computer technician will look after when faced with system instability. What’s more, the M-Audio 410 drivers on OS X 10.3.9 cause a multi-second delay when you change the master volume. That’s right, the volume knob on an M-Audio 410 is not some kind of potentiometer but a hardware front-end to a software program. Digidesign’s MBox 2 CoreAudio drivers limit you to 1 (one) active program at a time, no switching between Final Cut Pro and Soundtrack Pro.

So, after all this praise for Lexicon Omega Studio, what’s wrong with it?

It doesn’t have separate headphone volume control.

It doesn’t support ProTools — look at M-Audio and Digidesign for that — and the included version of Cubase LE is worthless for video since it can not import OMF files.

I’m not sure about the Mic preamps, but I don’t really need them as a video editor.

So after all, a cheap interface that works. What more could you want? A mixer, firewire audio interface and control surface all in one? Look at Tascams FW-1082 instead, but be prepared to install some drivers…