I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve been busy. Being booked solid is a good thing for a freelancer. Being booked solid while having a number of real life issues… not as comfortable, but comes with the territory of home and family. Being booked solid and being paid somewhat indifferently. That is certainly… less good, but seems a function of the current uncertain economy. But that’s neither here nor there. I also promised a piece on data protection and backups and the like, but this is still fresh in the Studio. So hitting it while I can rant with good store of fierce.
A couple of months ago, one of my best and favorite clients approached me about a PowerPoint project that they were having some problems with. So I agreed to take a look at it. Some of the problems hinged on the destination of the presentation— a giant 40-inch plasma screen going into their freshly redesigned lobby. I did the specs on the actual LCD, and discovered that it’s native resolution was 1080i… yes, 1900 x 1080 pixels. Not huge by 300 dpi print standards. But HUMONGOUS at screen sizes. So I agreed to build the big graphics for the slides.
So far this is still straightforward. But was not destined to stay that way. The president of the company wanted some fairly upscale animation effects. And an animated title. So the project slipped into the Flash animation level. Recent versions of PowerPoint have the capability to display video on the slides, so I could export the Flash work to Quicktime or Flash Video files and embed them in the Flash Slides.
As things progressed. The client passed on another request. They want a scrolling type effect to run continuously at the bottom of the presentation, and have a picture-in-picture effect of CNN or something running in the bottom left corner of the screen.
This just became a Video Project.
Since it is going to an 1080i device, it has become a HIGH-DEFINITION Video Project.
To get this done, I have to get additional software. First off, the HD Version of iMovie. Then it was on to eBay to get a compatible–and discontinued (Power Mac G5) version of Final Cut Express that had the desired feature set. But that done I went back to work and built the project. A few rounds of drafts, corrections and tweaks I had a final version.
Whoops. No, I didn’t.
They were so happy with the overall look, they wanted not just their projects, but also their services and client testimonials, with differentiating graphics and more animation added.
Fine. Back to work and got the enhancements done. Of course this meant essentially a rewrite, rebuild and re-rendering of the video. The resulting product is not Pixar stuff by any means, but got the job done. Huzzah. The finished piece was just under 12 minutes long. Perfectly fine to keep a visitor in the lobby reasonably entertained and informed about my client’s company.
The Quicktime h.264 file was also nearly 8 GIGABYTES. Uh-Oh.
Logistics issues loom. The night before I was to leave for a family trip, (yes freelancers do try to get away once in a while) I attempted to upload the file to their servers. After a nearly five hour upload, the server hangs the connection at 87%. This is worse than just dropping. Most FTP server can resume a dropped or interrupted upload. But a hang is … “opps, I lost my mind there. So very sorry.” You have to cancel or force quit the file transfer and START OVER. There were tears, but in my defense it WAS late at night and I was very tired. In the end, I stuffed it onto a Dual layer DVD Disc and express mailed the file to the client from on the road. Families of freelancers are long suffering and tolerant. In other words, awesome.
But still no joy. For some reason, support for Qucktime Hi-Def on Windows, is at best grudgingly enabled by Microsoft. Sometimes works. Sometimes… THIS time, doesn’t. Could not play the file. Some of you have no doubt seen Windows Media, and Flash Video. Neither is ready for HD prime time either.
They want a “regular” DVD.
Okay. So we’ll make a DVD. Supposed to be easy, right? “Burn your own DVD Video’s!” all the software and computer flacks scream in an orgy of self-congratulatory marketing. There is a very healthy market for software that enables users to create and produce and add soundtracks and otherwise slice, dice and cuisinart their home (and amateur work ) camcorder and DVR video. And another busy market to rip, archive, burn and spit out CDs and DVDs. But the marriage is not all THAT happy. With so many variables in the process, there are plenty of places in the chain for things to go wrong.
When I dived back into iMovie HD, I discovered that there was NO HD Disc-Burning option, and iDVD did not support HD. The Disc created there was “kind of” Higher-definition standard Def., or about 720 Pixels tall. Looked like CRAP on the 40’ display. And they even looked crappy on our perfectly ordinary 24” television. Obviously NOT the answer.
In the process, burned a LOT of coasters. More on this later.
So it was back to the software store to get the most current update to Roxio’s Toast software package with an Blu-ray HD Option. [Roxio Toast 10 Pro] Since a blu-ray BURNER would be an expensive upgrade to my gear, I was also attracted by the option to burn HD-DVDs. This was Blu-Ray formatted HD content that would fit on a standard size DVD-R, up to about 30 min. of content in the smaller data space. So far so good.
After a few more coasters, had a disc. Which refused to play on the client’s player. Different discs – tried both +R and -R discs, both unsuccessful. I got a hold of the Sharp Aquos tech specs and discovered that almost NO recordables were compatible with the player. And further research revealed that recordables have VERY poor playback success on Blu-Ray players. The format is just too intricate and finicky and the tech is just too new. I heard from a friend that when her brother purchased a wide screen at Best Buy, the sales person advised him AGAINST the Blu-ray player option, as they were getting lots of complaints about Blu-ray DVD not playing consistently. He said to wait a year or so till the standard settled down.
Steve Jobs in 2008 called the Blu-ray format a “Bag of Hurt” when questioned about Bru-ray support in Mac OS X. and on that year’s versions of Apple Laptops. Apple’s approach has been to embrace streaming video delivered via the internet, specifically content via iTunes and have de-emphasized HD video DVD playback and burn support on the Mac. But times, and consumer tastes will eventually prevail.
And according to the Wikipedia summary of the format, that is part of the problem:
“the idea of using inexpensive DVD media became popular among individual users. A lower-capacity version of this format that uses single-layer 4.5GB DVD discs has been unofficially called BD5. Both formats (BD9 and BD5) are being used by individual users for recording high definition content onto recordable DVD media.
Despite that BD9 format has been adopted as part of the BD-ROM basic format, none of existing Blu-Ray player models supports it explicitly. As such, the discs recorded in BD9 and BD5 formats are not guaranteed to be played on standard Blu-Ray Disc players” — Wikipedia-Blu-Ray Disc
As it stands, typically NOT.
Furthermore, I’ve discovered that not all recordable media are created equal. A lot of users have had real problems with Memorex DVD Media. I have a stack of coasters to attest to that. The cost or brand of recordable media seem to have little to do with quality of the discs.
So at this point I am throwing up the hands, and like a professional that I am, sought the help of other pros. I started looking into Video Production Houses in my region to see about having my finished content authored into something playable on my client’s gear.
The trip was not over. One company’s web site looked promising, but after browsing I could find NO PHONE NUMBER, NO ADDRESS, NO E-MAIL ADDRESS or even a contact page. Well, what the FRAK is up with that? I was able to look them up with Google… but if they don’t want to be contacted. Fine with Me. And this could be a whole separate (less polite) rant.
Two other outfits that were quite sympathetic to my situation actually had to turn down my project. Blu-ray was too new, too finicky, and they just didn’t have the gear and the capability. One Helpful Local Outfit looked at my material was able to refer me to the Big Important Video Producer that could assist me.
Which was how I got an inkling of how difficult a format Blu-ray was. To create – encode and author a single disc would cost in the hundreds of dollars. Additional discs need to be individually encoded, over a hundred dollars EACH. Which may be one reason why the Studios chose Blu-Ray over HD-DVD – very difficult to duplicate.
After all this, the client and I agreed that the way to do it would be to connect a PC to the big lobby screen and run the Digital version of the video to the screen.
So while this digital drama plays out, and I wait to get paid, some observations. Amazing things have happened in the world of Digital Video, but we’re obviously not there yet. Eventually, the big tech players, The studios, gear manufacturers, computer makers and software developers will stop trying to STAB each other and get around the big table and decide what’s going to be what with Blu-ray. Equipment and software will become more capable and grow more affordable. Media compatibility hopefully will improve. As HD content, and consumer acceptance, gains traction, the demand for the ability to create and deliver HD content on the Personal Computer will only grow. And the tech companies will surely respond. At the end of the day, they can usually be relied on to try and follow the money.
Sometimes that works out for both content creators and consumers.
LINKS & RESOURCES
Blu-Ray Disc Format