This is just a place where I keep info I find of interest and want to be able to access wherever I am…
books to buy/read
Stuart Woods “Stone Barrington” Series:
- New York Dead (1991) -d- Read Aug 2008
- Dirt (1996) -d- Read Nov 2009
- Dead in The Water (1997) -d- Read Nov 2009
- Swimming to Catalina (1998) -d- Read Nov 2009
- Worst Fears Realized (1999) -d- read Dec 2009
- L.A. Dead (2000) – read Dec 2009
- Cold Paradise (2001) – read Dec 2009
- The Short Forever (2002) – read Dec 2009
- Dirty Work (2003) – read Jan 2010
- Reckless Abandon (2004) – read Feb 2010
- Two-Dollar Bill (2005) – read Nov 2010
- Dark Harbor (2006) – read March 2010
- Fresh Disasters (2007) – read March 2010
- Shoot Him If He Runs (2007) – read at some point
- Hot Mahogany (2008) – read March 2011
- Loitering with Intent – read Dec 2012
- Kisser – read Nov 2010
- Lucid Intervals – read March 2013
- Strategic Moves – read Dec 2012
- Bel-Air Dead – read April 2013
- Son of Stone – read April 2013
- DC Dead
- Unnatural Acts
- Severe Clear
- Collateral Damage
Stuart Woods “Holly Barker” Series:
- Orchid Beach – read Nov 2010
- Orchid Blues – read Dec 2010
- Blood Orchid – read March 2011
- Iron Orchid – read March 2011
- Hothouse Orchid read April 2011
Stuart MacBryde Logan McRae Novels
- 2005 – Cold Granite – read March 2010
- 2006 – Dying Light – read Jan 2010
- 2007 – Broken Skin – read April 2010
- 2008 – Flesh House – read Aug 2010
- 2009 – Blind Eye – read Aug 2010
- 2010 – Dark Blood – read March 2013
- 2011 – Shatter The Bones
- 2012 – Partners In Crime (Two Logan And Steel Short Stories: Bad Heir Day and Stramash)
- 2013 – Close To The Bone
Terry Pratchett Novels:
(got this list somewhere so not sure it is up to date – the numbers are the published order)
‘young adult’ and graphic novels aren’t listed here,
This is a place where I will copy video related articles that I have found of use. Copy rather than link as they often disappear after a given time.
- Always ‘condition’ new tapes prior to use by recording from start to end with the camcorder lens cap on. This will apply a continual timecode to the tape making finding a particular frame easy. Also it re-tensions the tape, reducing the possibility of tape jitter.
- As well as using the ‘save’ tab to keep recorded footage safe mark tapes which are new-conditioned or that can be taped over with a ‘ready to use’ sticker of some kind. The aim is to have everything ready when a sudden opertunity comes up.
- Labeling each tape with a unique number will make life easier, particularly when using an editing programs smart capture feature
- Keep fully charged batteries ready to use at all times (you never know)
- The battery’s charge will expire much sooner when being used in cold conditions, for example outdoors in winter. Also recharge times need to be extended in such conditions
- Number the backs of batteries and turn dead batteries bottom up in your bag.
- Wait for the camera to finish a cycle, listen for motors to stop before removing battery or power.
- When taking a camcorder from a very cold to a warmer place be aware of the risk of dew forming on the video head drum. Allow time for it to warm up to room temperature before using. Leave for 20 to 30 minutes with the cassette door open and tape removed to speed up this process.
- To tell the difference between dirt on the front element (lense or filter) and in the viewfinder
1. Change viewfinder focus and watch for dust at a different focus distance than the image pixels.
2. Zoom all the way wide and manually focus as close as possible. You are now seeing focus on the front element. Look at a plain background such as white paper to see dust. As you move the paper away from the lens dust will go out of focus. If the specks stay in focus, they are in the viewfinder. Compare with dust seen by focusing the viewfinder. Remember, the viewfinder resolution is much less than what the camera picks up. The camera will record more flaws that you can see. Keep the lens very clean! Use the same procedure with wide-angle adapters.
- Buy a head-cleaning tape , and run it every 50 hours.
- You can never check your white balance too often. It’s very easy to end up with purple people. Outside, you are fairly safe with the preset color balance, but indoors take the time to reset your camera.
- Switch it on. In most cases this will improve your shots and it is better on than not, even given the two cases below which encourage you to turn this feature off, I would still recomend leaving it on.
- However ideally you should switch it off for video PANs or simmilar movement where this feature will fight against the move you are trying to achieve.
- Some say that the image stabilizer function uses up power -switch of to extend battery life.
Good lighting produces good footage, poor lighting will produce poor footage. A camcorder set to auto exposure will do it’s best to adjust to the prevailing lighting conditions, but cannot perform miracles. An average room lit by a 150 watt bulb will be around 300 lux. Outdoors on a cloudy day will average 10,000 lux. A bright sunny day is around 35,000 lux.
You can see from these examples that it is expecting a little too much to ask a camcorder to automatically cope by altering it’s shutter speed and aperture across such a varying range of lighting conditions and still provide acceptable footage. Using additional lighting when filming indoors or in low light conditions, combined of course with a tripod, will greatly help to improve picture quality. This also holds true when using slow shutter speed and wide aperture settings to compensate for low light conditions.
Be prepared for the sun to move and other lighting changes that might happen during the interview, such as, the sun goes down or the sun hits a piece of background or the sun hits the interviewee or a weird colored wall.
Changing the camera angle will change the viewers perception of the subject. A downward angle will belittle the subject, whereas an upward angle will add emphasis to its size.
Try filming at the same height from the ground as your subject. For example, when small children feature in your footage lower your camcorder to their headheight. When videoing small animals try some footage on their level.
Don’t! The eye does not follow zooms very well when used for effect within a clip or scene. If this cannot be avoided zoom slowly – very very slowly. Fotage that is constantly zooming in and out (or paning or moving in any way too fast) is usually unusable in the finished product. Use your camcorders zoom function for framing the shot you want, then leave it alone.
Always, always find some support when shooting. Use a tripod. Use a monopod. Use a shoulder brace. Lean against a tree, wall, car, anything stable. There is no excusing wobbly waivering video clips. O.K. we have all done it, but then we improved. Didn’t we?
When you get to editing, to make an interesting program, you will need lots of cut-a-ways. They are easiest to get while you are there. Shoot as many as you can and for as many projects as you might ever need. Carefully label your tapes so that you know there are useful cut aways on that tape – or archive them to a single source.
Occasional video problems can sometimes be repaired with cut-a-ways. Bad sound is usually not as repairable. Wind is often a problem and built in mics pick up motor sound from the camera.
Cameras can’t hear as well as our ears. Our brain filters out extraneous sound, but the camera mike records it all. The general rule is the closer and louder the better. In a noisy location try shouting questions at people to encourage them to speak up.
- If you use a microphone input to the camera it is easy to have this mini jack only partially in resulting in no sound from the external or built in microphone.
- Most camcorders have minijack mike inputs. The plugs aren’t very secure-a slight tug can easily pull the jack out enough to cut the mike input, but not enough to make the camera-mike cut in. Always leave a tension loop, enough extra cable so that a tug on the microphone won’t disconnect it. I alway wrap the cable around the hand strap before pluging it in.
Monitor the Audio
Check that you are recording audio as well as video. It sounds obvious but the jack could be faulty, the mic could have an off switch, the mic could be in the wrong place. Check rather than re-shoot.
You can monitor sound with EAR BUD phones, which exclude some of outside sounds and are unobtrusive. However, for better quality try to use fully enclosed headphones to monitor recorded sound.
Cover all the mike with fur fabric and / or open-cell foam to reduce or eliminate the effect of the wind on it
Ambient sound called “room tone” is often useful in editing. This is sound in the location with no one talking. Record stock background sound while you are on location, whether this is room tone, passing traffic, bird sounds, etc. Record long audio takes to match possible edited sequences. Voice label the take as “background sound” or mark it on screen (i.e. apear in shot speaking to the camera) so that when grabbing and editing this shot will not look like the camera was on by mistake.
A good stereo mic. would be useful. Move the camera or accessory mics. during stock sound recording appropriate to what the video might see in the edit. Don’t be stingy with stock sound.
Lavelier Mics (Tie Clip Mic)
Get lavaliere mics within 6 or 8 inches of mouth. Too high on the collar can be in the shadow of the chin. For two people discussing with one another, one lav. on one shoulder is a possible compromise. Place the mic. on the person with softer voice. Consider mounting a small lavaliere on a person’s eyeglass frame on the non-camera or darker side. The mouth to mic. distance is constant and very close.
Avoid attaching a lav. where clothes or jewelry will rustle. A few noises are tolerable, but if noise gets bad, move the mike or repair the situation. Some silks and light fabrics are difficult to attach to and they can also rustle.
As with all accessories pluged into your camera wrap the cable from the mic around the hand strap or other fixed part of the camera before pluggin in the jack. This should prefent the jack connection from being pulled by acident and damaging the conector.
unsorted tips below…
Looking down into the finder reduces likelihood that people are aware of you recording them. Sit, face away from them and look down into viewfinder sideways. Consider the ethics of shooting people without their permission.
Even though you probably won’t be seen in your tape, what you are wearing can make a very big difference. Think about what you want to record. If you want to be up on a platform with the press, go under cover. There is nothing like a suit to get you past a police barricade. On the other hand, if you want to mingle with the crowd at a demonstration, you don’t need to look like you are from the Wall Street Journal. When we wear our nifty Paper Tiger T-shirts, we are not just making a fashion statement, we’re proclaiming our nonnetwork status. We can also be easily identified by people we’re meeting and by each other. Of course, you should wear something comfortable that has lots of pockets.
Sort tapes at night. Put completely exposed tapes in one place. Hand carry exposed tapes and not in your luggage where they have more chance to be lost or exposed to larger security radiation.
Put fresh tape and partly used tapes in one place. Label amount still unrecorded on edge of partly used tape case visible in your bag.
For easier editing, record stock shots, interviewer reactions and cut-a-ways on separate tapes. Keep a stock shot tape always handy, always in its plastic tape case. Start interviews, new projects and long programs on new tapes.
ALWAYS keep bag pockets zipped closed, especially the lid.
Always have a fresh tape unwrapped ready for instant use.
Newer tape instructions say to rewind tape immediately and store vertically. They don’t say why, it may prevent dropout. YES, DROP OUT. Some camera instructions say to remove tape after shooting. How long after shooting, minutes, hours, days????
Vibration in small planes and in vehicles can damage cameras. Packing with lots of clothes helps. In a bag on your lap is best. I suggest LIVING with YOUR CAMERA. Never let others such as porters help you with your camera bag. Keep it over your shoulder or in sight at all times.
Make sure camera is securely on tripod head before letting go. Lock tilt and make sure sun cannot get into the lens or viewfinder.
Tighten tripod legs before letting go.
Video images for professional use should be stable unless a MTV effect is desired. Every tripod is a compromise. To make smooth pans at telephoto lens sizes a $1000 head tripod on sturdy legs is necessary. Such a tripod weighs a lot and defeats the whole idea of a small unobtrusive camera. A $100 “fluid head” tripod will maintain your tourist look and not burden you. I prefer the next step up, a Bogan 3011 Tripod with a Bogan 3130 Head with a quick release that is safe if you always make sure it locks on.
Don’t let go of the camera until sure the camera is locked on. This tripod allows moderate tele pans and a stable shot in moderate wind. It is cumbersome and fitting into a backpack is not easy. For large moves, start in an uncomfortable position and end in the more comfortable one.
I like a top load bag that is easy to access and provided moderate, shock, rain, and visibility protection. A camera in hand or around your neck can detract from some photo possibilities that can be promoted with a little diplomacy. Tourists blatantly treading upon people’s privacy have made people camera shy. Most people have pride in their lives and many will share it if not taken without asking. Keeping the camera covered at first can improve your chances. Have your guide or contact ask. People often expect you to want a posed picture. Maybe take photos and show them, thank them, and then hang around while they go back to work. You might then get something more natural. Fancy custom cases don’t hold extra accessories and say, “Steal me”.
Having hands free makes grabbing video and PHOTO shots possible as occasions arise. A backpack can carry your tripod, water, warmies, snacks to share, umbrella, even lights and small purchases. The backpack and/or tripod can be left in the vehicle when hand held will do.
THE BEAN BAG
When a tripod is not available or the time to set it up, and some support is needed for a VIDEO shot, a bean bag under the camera will do rested on a surface. A sock HALF filled with small beans, rice or wheat berries will allow a stable shot on the ground or and uneven surface. It can even help between the camera and a vertical post or wall. A hiker’s water bottle bag can carry it conveniently on your belt.
BACKGROUNDS. Often there is limited time to control the background and lighting, but the “feeling” of the shot is important. A background should compliment the interviewee. I carry pieces of 4 by 6 foot (minimum) pieces of light weight patterned cloth that can be taped to the wall behind people or to cover objectionable things. Select patterns appropriate to the culture. 2 inch drafting tape does not remove paint and double stick tape ON TOP OF the drafting tape allows getting fabric right up to an edge. Remove the tape before storing the cloth.
Darker backgrounds are usually better, avoid bright windows behind people. If you encounter an important person with their back to a window and can’t change that, try working from the side so the window is not seen or shoot so tight there is no window in the shot.
An accessory microphone must be closer to the interviewee’s mouth to reduce camera noise and ambient noise. A lavaliere works best 6 or 8 inches from a person’s mouth. It should be attached with care to avoid rustling clothing and jewelry. The mic. cable should be looped under the mic. clip and the wire or power supply placed so that the interviewee doesn’t tangle with the wire when gesturing. This also reduces noise transmitted to the mic. from movement of the cable. Putting the wire under a shirt is best, but may seem impolite to non-media savvy people. Seeing the wire is better than bad sound. A second mic. clip or alligator clip can be used to anchor the mic. cable. Mic. placement takes time.
Whether to interrupt an interview to adjust a noisy microphone or other reason is always a dilemma. It breaks the flow and reminds the interviewee that it is not just a conversation.
I like to get the camera at least 6 feet, better 10 or 12 feet away from the interviewee. It makes the camera less intrusive to the interviewee and softens and reduces the size of background that needs to be controlled. The interviewee will also be less likely to look at camera. A down side to camera at a distance is moves and focusing are more critical. I suggest using the auto focus to get focus and go to manual unless there is a need to refocus such as the interviewee leaning back or forward. The auto focus can be engaged and for just a few seconds and back to manual.
Make the interviewee and everyone comfortable in quiet non-swivel chairs. Set up before and test everything if possible. The interviewer should engage the interviewee in SMALL TALK, not important matters before the camera, background, mics. and lighting is ready. The crew should NOT engage in the conversation. They and the camera will soon be forgotten. When the cameraperson is ready, a subtle cue to the interviewer will let her know to get into more relevant questions. Listen for good times to change tapes. Try not to run out on great parts.
Whatever changes you have to make during an interview, make sure that the interviewee thinks that they are doing a terrific job. Don’t ask them to not gesture or stay in a certain position for the light etc. That is acting and few people can act AND also be natural. Move them out of the light or change the light, just don’t require them to have to worry about your problems.
Frame size. For a person with an interesting face, zoom in. For a person that moves a lot, zoom wider to keep them in frame. If they don’t quite leave frame and return to a better position that is OK. But don’t get so wide that you don’t feel intimate. For people that gesture, zoom back enough to include most of their hands. Try to avoid hands resting 1/2 in and 1/2 out of the frame. As people get more intense, zoom in. Keep zooms to a minimum and zoom ONLY for a reason. (Creep out to include hand gestures or creep in to get more intimate.)
As a cameraperson I relay any of my requests and question through the interviewer. This will lessen the change of them relating to the camera.
For close ups, keeping the nose in the middle of the frame works until you zoom back enough and must tilt down to avoid too much head room. Always leave “talking space” in front of the person. Don’t worry about headroom on close ups. Nose in the middle.
A separate monitor viewfinder prevents operator fatigue, reduce the “being on camera” feel for the interviewee and gives the operator something to hide behind.
There is another side to this coin. If you want the interview to seem more “professional”, big earphones would be in order and an explanation by the interviewer that this small camera is the latest state of the art and not a tourist toy. “The CBC bought a 100 of them.” Professional lighting gear would also increase your “professional” appearance.
We have found that, when there is time, that personal questions about ones childhood and family upbringing loosen people up. A good second question is “What events and/or people have brought you to your thinking and actions today?”
For interviews, hands of the interviewee at their waist or shots of the interviewer listening will help when cutting out dialogue.
“Always be prepared.”
Most of your kit can be left set-up, except for the batteries, which will lose their charge over time so they need to be checked occasionally.
Don’t leave your batteries on the charger too long- they’ll cook!
Come up with a system for marking which batteries are charged, and stick with it. I like to have three charged at any time, which gives me between 60 and 90 minutes of tape time. If you need more, consider getting a battery belt or external pack.
While you’re checking the batteries, run the camera through some tests to make sure the camera is recording and playing back picture and sound cleanly. Take the time to practice those smooth moves you’ve been thinking about. It’s not easy to shoot from the hip, get people’s heads in frame, and look casual. Interview yourself in the mirror, take a macro-zoom look at the morning paper, or stalk your pets. Then playback the tape to see where you need more practice.
Never take more equipment with you than you can comfortably handle.
NEVER leave your equipment unattended.
Video is a great team activity. I have noticed that when I have to scout locations, keep in touch with what’s going on, and interview people all by myself, my camerawork sucks. I like to have someone else find and conduct interviews, freeing me to worry about sound and picture. A second person can watch your back, look for interesting people to talk to, help carry things and if necessary bail you out of jail.
Compared to human eyes, video cameras are very limited. They can handle only a small amount of contrast. If you are shooting a dark person against a white wall or a bright sky, the person will be silhouetted. That white wall can be very handy, though, because it reflects light. Put yourself against the wall and show the area behind your subject. This way you will not only get a better exposure, but will also add more depth to the frame and give a sense of location. When outside, try to minimize the amount of sky in your picture: climb on a trash can, get on someone’s shoulders or hold the camera above your head (practice this one first). If there is not enough light and it’s impractical to change your frame, zoom in and the camera should open up. When using a sungun, try bouncing your light off a wall or a piece of white card to avoid the “deer in the headlight” effect.
Everyone has those moments when they think they’re rolling and they’re not and vice versa.
Every time you point your camera at something, ask yourself:
1) Is the record light on in the viewfinder,
2) am I white balanced,
3) am I in focus,
4) is there sound,
5) what will my next shot be?
Stop occasionally and check playback.
If you realize you’ve been rolling when you don’t want to be and you won’t miss a great moment, rewind and record over your mistake. It’s also a good habit to set up your shot before you start recording. It saves tape, batteries and editing time.
A lot of the best camcorder work is hand-held. Often lugging a tripod is just impractical and the time it takes to set up on sticks will lose the moment. However, shaky camera work can be hard to watch. I always find myself watching the camera movement and ignoring the content. No one can hold a shot steady at the full telephoto position. So don’t stand at the back of the crowd and zoom in-get up as close as you can.
It is easy to get so involved in what’s happening on the little screen in the viewfinder that we forget there’s a whole world out there. While you’re capturing a cutaway, that quintessential moment you were hoping for might be happening right beside you. Try to be aware of what’s going on outside the frame. If you are with someone else, have them keep you informed. Ask them not to grab or yell at you, they’ll probably wreck the shot you’ve been working on for five minutes. A gentle touch on the shoulder and a whisper in the ear will usually do it.
The advent of camcorders has made editing more important, because we all shoot so much. Editing can be made a whole lot easier by the addition of a few careful cutaways. A cutaway is a shot used to cover an edit, or illustrate a point. An appropriate cutaway can add meaning to your show, where a jumpcut would be just distracting. An establishing shot of the entire situation is also very helpful, giving the audience a feeling for the event. Use the internal key of the camera to bring up titles or superimpose images. There are a lot of great effects that you can do while you’re shooting. If you want to do an in-camera effect later, you can try rescanning, that is, shooting the image off a monitor while adding the effect.
It’s tempting to turn on the camera, snatch an image and immediately move on to the next shot- until you watch it back in the editing room. The space you want to cover is always a different length than what you have to fill it. Try moves at two or three different speeds and hold on static shots; it is a lot easier to make a shot shorter while editing than to lengthen it. Editing machines need five seconds to rev up so let the camera roll for at least that long before you start any move. Holding on a shot before doing the next move will also prevent your audience from suffering the seasick effect caused by constant zooming in and out, flash pans and tilts. Avoid autofocus; the camera will never make up its mind and will continually readjust the picture. Very annoying.
When you have finished shooting a tape, always label it immediately with the subject, date, and tape number. A second person can easily take care of this task and that of marking the batteries when they die. If you plan to edit your material, transfer it right away. Every time you play it, the tape will wear out a little and will soon have visible dropouts (white spots on the picture). Even if you are not going to use it, watch the tape and ask yourself what you did well and what needs work. Make your footage available to other camcorder commandos, because the more we share, the more visible we become, the more engaging our tapes, and the stronger our message.
Wide-angle and telephoto converter lenses are available to change the range of focal lengths available from a lens. Shorter focal length = wider angle, longer focal length gives greater telephoto.
Macro Add On Lens
Use a ‘+diopter’ add on lens for macro recording. They are available in varying degrees of magnifying power (+2, +3, and so on). Can be added together i.e. a +2 and a +3 gives the same as a +5. Also, using a +diopter lens means the zoom function is still available to frame the subject.
Cuts down haze, and also protects the (bloomed) lens from damage (fingermarks, dust, grit, grime, sand etc.) Fit it permanently. Much cheaper to replace than your camcorders lens
Used to reduce or eliminate reflections (from glass and water etc.) Will also make the sky appear more blue. Ideal for those holiday videos.
Use a lens hood to prevent unwanted light entering the lens from above, below or from the side. Also provides some protection for the lens
MPEG-4: The 4th Codec
by Joe McCleskeyIf you are at all familiar with digital video and audio technology, you’ve probably heard or read the term MPEG (emm-peg) by now. This acronym, which stands for Moving Picture Experts Group, refers to a set of standards agreed upon by an international group of top-notch audio/video technicians for creating and playing digital video and sound. The MPEG set of standards has worked its way into our everyday lives: DVD, digital satellite television, digital cable and Internet music all make use of the MPEG standards.
In this article, we’ll take a look at one of the newest and most promising of these standards: MPEG-4. We’ll examine what makes MPEG-4 so interesting and how you can expect to make use of MPEG-4 in your future video creations. By the time you’re finished with the article, we hope you’ll be as excited as we are about the possibilities that this technology presents to videographers, audio specialists and digital content creators of all stripes.
What It Is
All of the members of the MPEG family of standards are codecs or COmpression-DECompression schemes. The primary task of a codec is to reduce the size of a digital media file and thus reduce the bandwidth, or data rate, necessary to play the file. If you find this confusing, don’t worry; we’re going to break it down a bit more.
The first issue, file size, is especially important for video storage. Uncompressed video takes a huge amount of storage space, regardless of whether you’re storing it on a hard drive, DVD or digital tape. To imagine how much space is required, consider that a typical uncompressed still frame of video, at the quality most of us are used to viewing, requires just under one megabyte to store. Video in the United States typically plays at 30 frames per second. This means that your typical uncompressed video might occupy 27 megabytes per second to store. Do a little more math, and you’ll soon discover that the new 80 gigabyte hard drive that came with your computer will only store about 50 minutes of raw, uncompressed video – and that’s before you add the audio into the equation. Do one more calculation and you’ll see that a DVD disc (at 4.5GB) can hold less than three minutes. Clearly, we need some form of digital compression to reduce that file size.
The second issue is so closely related to the first that it’s really the same problem viewed from another angle. Imagine you have an uncompressed VHS-quality video file sitting on a hard drive, ready to play. In order to provide smooth playback, your hard drive would have to dump data to your computer at a sustained 27 megabytes per second (or, as an engineer would think: 216 megabits per second [27 x 8 bits/byte]). Storage systems are available that can hit these speeds, but they’re very expensive. Now consider that you want to deliver that same video to the masses, via the Internet. Whatever technology you use, the speed of that technology (bandwidth) would have to match that 27 megabytes per second, without fail.
MPEG 1, 2, 3
Enter the MPEG family of codecs, which compress the file size down to a manageable level, then decompress the moving images and sound as you watch them on the fly.
MPEG-1, the first standard agreed upon by the group, is widely used for small Web video, CD-ROM video and VCDs, which were popular in Asia. It’s also the most (in)famous format for compressing songs on the Internet, swapped using file-sharing services. MP3 is not MPEG-3 and actually stands for MPEG-1, Layer 3. MPEG-1 video and audio is fairly highly compressed, but the more compression you use, the worse the image appears. It’s possible to achieve a compression ratio of 200:1 with MPEG-1, thus reducing the file size to about one megabyte per six seconds of full-sized video, but the resulting image is very difficult to watch at that point. Most MPEG videos use 50:1 or less.
MPEG-2 has gained wide-spread use in home DVDs and digital television broadcasts. Much more advanced and efficient than MPEG-1, MPEG-2 video achieves a very stable and watchable picture at around a 40:1 compression ratio. “More advanced” also means “more computationally intensive”, therefore, MPEG-2 video requires a faster computer than MPEG-1 video.
MPEG-3 was originally developed for use in HDTV broadcasts, but the advances made under the MPEG-3 name were eventually incorporated into MPEG-2. For this reason, MPEG-3 is a dead codec, one that served its purpose and is now no longer a separate standard.
This brings us to MPEG-4. MPEG-4 takes advantage of the experience gained by the development of MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 and goes one step further by adding in elements such as 3D objects, interactive sprites, text, digital photos and other media types. In other words, you can watch a video program, press a button to bring up some text navigation buttons, scroll through options, make a selection to move to another scene or even make a purchase. “But I can do this already,” you say. Sure, you can, however, when you do this now, the interactivity usually comes from the television or the DVD player or some other proprietary set-top box. With MPEG-4, the interactivity is embedded within the video itself. This means content creators will have total control over how that interactivity appears and plays out for the viewer, regardless of the device or medium used to play the MPEG-4 file.
This sounds interesting, doesn’t it? It’s even a little intimidating for the home videographer. But even if you never intend to bring this kind of interactivity to your videos, MPEG-4 still represents one of the most advanced codecs available for simple digital video and audio capture, storage and delivery of video content.
Why it Matters
MPEG-4 really shines in the areas of efficiency, scalability and industry support.
Efficiency – Because it represents a refinement of earlier advances in MPEG compression and decompression technology, MPEG-4 promises to deliver higher quality video and audio at smaller data rates and file sizes. Yes, you heard that right: better video, smaller files and thus lower bandwidth (data rate). Of course this means you’ll also need a faster computer.
Scalability – Scalability just means that MPEG-4 is designed to deliver video and audio content at nearly any data rate, over any network, whether it’s connected by high-speed fiber optics or dial-up modems. This is an advance over MPEG-2, which is limited primarily to DVD-quality video.
Industry support – MPEG-4 is currently supported by just about every major player in the media world, including Apple, Microsoft, Sun, Dolby, AOL Time-Warner, Lucent and Sony (among others). MPEG-4 content is already in use in a huge number of media and communications devices, from televisions and home video players to mobile phones and, yes, camcorders.
So how can you make MPEG-4 work for you? Pretty simple, really. Because Apple’s QuickTime technology has already fully embraced the MPEG-4 standard, any product that currently supports the latest version of QuickTime will allow you to export your videos using MPEG-4 compression. These products include, but are not limited to, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, Discreet Cleaner and many others. Microsoft, too, has embraced MPEG-4 as a standard, and all Microsoft products (including XP’s free Movie Maker 2 software) support it via the Windows Media 9 Series technology. It’s worth noting, however, that the ISO (International Standards Organization) has chosen QuickTime as the standard for MPEG-4 delivery.
See for Yourself
Don’t take our word for it: investigate the MPEG-4 phenomenon for yourself. Apple’s MPEG-4 pages (www.apple.com/mpeg4/) are loaded with information about how QuickTime has embraced the standard and numerous sample MPEG-4 files are available for viewing. Tech-heads will find a wealth of information at the MPEG-4 industry forum (www.mp4i1f.com). Of course, this research is only necessary if you explicitly want to watch MPEG-4 video for the sake of watching MPEG-4. The technology is so pervasive at this time that just by browsing around the Web for video, perhaps to watch the latest movie trailer, you’ll eventually run into a QT or a WMV file that uses MPEG-4.
At the time of this writing, MPEG-4 is primarily used for small, easily transportable Web videos and, unfortunately, pirating Hollywood feature films. Keep your eye on this standard, however: it’s mainly interesting not for how it’s being used today, but for how it could potentially be used in the future. Within MPEG-4 lies the ability to create a whole new generation of devices, delivery systems, educational titles, corporate training objects, games, higher-quality music files, better disc-based interactivity and higher-quality video. All it takes is for people to dream about the possibilities.