Thursday, September 29, 2005

My four biggest beefs with Avid
  • Digi002, ExpressPro Studio, and eight channel audio.
    To get eight channels in and out of a Digi002 console you need to use ADAT 'light-pipe' which necessitates a converter of some sort. Quite why a "pro" product relies on a domestic-style interface for multi-channel work is another topic (not too many VTRs, multi-track tapes or disks come with ADAT, but still). The thing that has really bitten us in the backside is that neither of the models Avid recommend work reliably with the Digi002 (the Fostex UC-8 and the Dua2) and the one gadget that does work (the Alesis A14) only works on short ADAT cables (this is a single-mode fibre - in any industrial grade application you'd expect it to work over kilometres, not be limited to three metres!). This flies in the face of Avid's advice - "you can run long ADAT fibres, but don't try and extend the FireWire between the workstation and the Digi002" - well, precisely the reverse is true! Big shout to my colleague Chris Bailey for figuring this all out and to Joel and Rhys who I worked late with last night out in the sticks in Hertforshire testing this (amongst other things).
  • Mojo analogue video performance - still bad, noisy when in component mode (yet Avid claim it's broadcast quality - where, precisely?!). See a previous post here.
  • Adrenaline and NTSC reference - when using Adrenaline in 525 mode it has to have a proper Sc-H consistent sync source - this is fine, but by letting people get away with a cheap'n'cheerful black & burst generator in PAL mode you give clients the expectation that they've gotten away with additional expense - if you're going to lower the bar then do it consistently or not at all.
  • This pinched from the Avid-L today
    Almost as shocking as the actually time code problem is that Avid refuses to comment on it or address it. Pretty shameful.
    How about if I say that we're aware of it and committed to fix it? Would that be enough? Sincerely, Jeremy Kezer
    (Jeremy is Avid's principle engineer)
Still, compared to Final Cut Pro and Decklink these are mere annoyances!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Technologists always get it wrong!
I was going over some old BBC training manuals recently and inside the front cover of one was a quote from the chief engineer of the Beeb from the mid-50's - In relation to VERA (the BBC's experimental video recorder that pre-dated 2" Quadraplex - loads of stuff online if you're interested) he said some thing along the lines of;
we'll never need more than three VTRs because even with the second network (what was to become BBC2) we'd only need one per network and a spare
How wrong can you be! Anyhow - he's in good company as a quick trip around famous quotes relating to predicating the future of technology indicates;
There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.
Ken Olson, Digital Equipment Corporation (1977)

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
Thomas Watson, IBM (1943)

640k ought to be enough for anybody.
Bill Gates, Microsoft Corporation (1981)

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.
Popular Mechanics (1949)

Why does it prove so hard to be realistic about the future? I think (in part) people find the implications of Moore's Law hard to believe - but it's been good for nearly half a century. In five years we will have the following;
  • More than a terrabyte of storage in the PC you buy from PC World
  • More than ten gigs of RAM in that PC
  • A graphics card that can manipulate cinema resolution images in realtime
  • 100BaseT internet connection at home
  • An OS that crashes more often, requires ten times the resources of today and lets you word-process at roughly the level of efficiency as you could in the early nineties under Windows 3 on a '486!
How is it that the hardware guys give us so much more but the software boys don't do it better? What Mr Intel giveth Mr Microsoft taketh

Sunday, September 25, 2005

More on power-over-ethernet
I was keeping my eye on the IEE802.2 spec for POE (see a previous post here) and was a tad bemused for the reasons I'd mentioned in April - however, the new 802.2af version is now out and is a specification that embraces gigabit and hence putting the packets as a carrier on a DC voltage - each of the four pairs can supply 13W at an operating potential of 45v. It's a similair arrangement to how your Sky LNB works or how power is sent down a camera triax. Better than this though, and for legacy compatability, a network switch must first "test the water" by measuring the impedance of each pair, and if the device at the other end looks as if it's POE compliant it can start ramping a voltage. It has to test a few more times before it can lift it up to the 45v level and so should never wind up frying old 100baseT NICs or even other deives that are using the structured cabling (telephones etc.) - a few more details on the excellent Power over Ethernet website.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Me on German television!

Last year I did a little piece to camera for a documentary - see my previous post here and download a little clip of the finished thing here - it's DivX.

I kinda like myself in German!
My hair has got a lot more grey in the year since this was shot.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

How technology is helping out charity efforts
Sarah and I did a little presentation at church last night for our friends who are away living in Thailand and working on the Burma boarder with refugees and orphans. Hand in Hand For Asia is the charity that Sarah works for (see the link in the right-hand side bar) and supports their efforts and I'd really encourage you to check out that site and consider if there is any help you can offer.
Anyhow - I was going over in my mind how much we make use of the internet in that area - we do all our communication over Skype (what a cost-saver!) and then there's the website. We get photos and video back from them and we're about to turn the (modest) merchandise section of the website (see here) into a full e-commerce venture. It's even turned Sarah into a web designer!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Podcasting and all that - I'm amazed by how much I like Adam Curry's Daily Source Code given it had quite a Mac emphasis and also seems to have no post-production. He does it live like a trad radio show which seems to fly in the face of podcasting and it's anti-radio paradigm. It is a good listen though.
I did reflect on my MP3 listening habits over the last couple of years that really started in 2001 with Chris Parillo's radio show "Call for help" that used to come out of a station in Des Moine. Someone (I don't recall who) who lived in the area used to snag the audio and make it available as an MP3. He put me onto Total Recorder that I've been using ever since to grab internet radio streams (in effect creating PodCasts from anything that streams).
In closing I'm also really enjoying my friend Kevin Cade's cast First Person Show - he interviews interesting people - that's it!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Phil's IBC report on groovy new cable types!

Some of the most interesting stuff for me was checking out some of the new cable types that Belden have launched. If you click on the data sheet you can see the performance - in the photo the top cable is a sample of their DigiTruck 179DT coax - very similar in form to old-style BBC PSF1/7 but apparently good for 64 metres at single-link HD. I think I'll have to try that before I believe it!
The next cable down in the photo is their new 7731A co-ax - just like a garden hose but supposedly good for 165 metres.
The next one down is a sample of Belden "NanoTwist" cat5 cable - optimized for video-type applications rather than network traffic. The degree of twist difference between the four pairs is minimised w.r.t. normal cat5. I'll be trying this - particularly to see if I can get a Scene Double extender to go any further.
The last piece is called "banana peel" multi-coax. It is intended for A/V applications and can be much more easily terminated than multi SD01.

The thing that disappointed me was that on the fibre front all the cable suppliers were concentrating on the old-school single-mode IP type applications and not the kind of SAN applications we're cabling for.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Possible fuel protests here in the UK

This letter to the Independent seemed to summarize my thoughts exactly - the futility of short-termism. Also - farmers - I wish I could buy fuel for 38p a litre! Yet another example of agriculture being subsidized by the tax-payer - is there any area of farming that doesn't expect to have it's costs covered by other people? I wish my industry could benefit thus.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Mukka Express Coffee Maker

Coffee is one of the things I really enjoy - decent cappaccino or cafe latte - it's all good with me! Sarah got me one of these for my birthday and I have to say it is a superb gadget - really well made. The top and bottom section are both single-piece castings and the screw sections are well machined with proper inset-gaskets. I predict I'll be enjoying a brew out of this bad boy for years to come. The kids like it because it looks like a cow!

Friday, September 09, 2005

The continuing success of the iPod is something I don't really understand - I was chatting with a friend at the weekend who made the observation that people like integrated services and style more than things you can actually measure as being better or more valuable. I personally don't think that caring (as I do) about music, the musicians who make it and the quality of what I listen to that I could EVER own an iPod.

I've bought a couple of these puppies for folks and I am so impressed - £23 for a 256meg flash MP3 player - they also do a 512 & 1gig version.

Ways they score over the iPod Shuffle:

Regular USB storage device - plug it into any Windows/Linux/Mac and it appears as a drive that you can drag tunes onto. You don't have to install iTunes and then lock your music player to a specific computer,
It has a screen - you can see what tune's up next and navigate the very easy to use menus,
Third of the price!
No embarrassing white headphones!
Just the thing for listening to spoken content that hasn't come from iTunes,
Uses replaceable batteries - normal or rechargable - none of that sending it back to Apple when the batteries die (and evey iPod owner I know moans about that!),
Sound quality comparable (or better) than an iPod,

Ways an iPod scores over this:

"It's a design classic, darling"

Now, the thing I really don't get is the new Apple iPod 'phone - a very crippled version of an iPod Shuffle integrated into a mobile handset that didn't win any prizes when it came out! It seems you either want a vanilla handset to make calls and text OR you want something with a bit of grunt - I've been enjoying the Orange SPV series of Windows smart 'phones for two and a half years now (Ben, my colleague who looks after the 'phone contracts at work tells me we're all about to be upgraded to the M500) and they are superb. It seems I ask myself the question every time a new Apple product comes out - why would you want it? It's expensive and under-powered and represents yet another attempt to dumb-down the technology.
I suppose that in the end free-markets always gravitate towards mediocrity - The Sun, The Ford Escort, Westlife, McDonalds, the iPod.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Marconi 2LO transmitter
I saw this at the new BBC Broadcast Center - they donated it to Science Museum a couple of years ago but have it back on loan. It is the Beeb's very first transmitter and could kick out a whopping 1.5kW of radiated power! On the right-hand side of the picture you can see four triodes (made by Osram - not just light-bulbs for those boys!) which I'm assuming makes up a dual-darlington type output stage. Aside from that I couldn't remember enough transmitter theory and valve configurations to guess at which bits did what. There is another good page on the BBC's history site.
I noticed that the transmitter was housed at Savoy Hill House on The Strand - a building now occupied by the IIE, my institute.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

MTV desks

Today I had a quick trip to Peckham to look at the first of the fifty-odd desks for the MTV install we're currently working on. My main concern was that we could run the fibres through the rear leg without bending them too much - it's all good. I'll post pics of the them when they're all in Hawley Crescent.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Wow - what a horror! I'm linking to! This is a systems design and install we did for Molinare over the summer for the Tour De France. Rupert and Graham fettled the SAN configuration with Tony and I doing the fibres. See it all here.
However - don't believe what you read on manufacturer's websites!
“All the systems worked incredibly well. We had a few glitches to begin with but, thanks to the support of Root6, these were fixed very quickly. Reliability wasn’t an issue — we had very few issues with FCP during the three weeks and Xsan performed fantastically”.
It wasn't all that!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, co-operate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialisation is for Insects" - Robert A Heinlein

I've tried to take this view of broadcast engineering - a competent engineer should be able to re-head a VTR, rack a studio camera, install the OS & software so as to make an Avid work, repair & colour balance a monitor, line-up an audio compressor and be able to drive AutoCAD.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Firestreamer is software that allows you to use your Digital Video camcorder or VCR as a reliable computer data storage device. You can store up to 15 Gigabytes of files and folders to a Mini-DV cassette, or more with the built-in compression enabled. Firestreamer makes your DV recorder appear as a regular tape drive to other applications running on your computer, so that you can use Windows Backup Utility (NTBackup) to back up and restore your files and folders to and from videotape. The backup and restore are fully automated, as with a normal tape drive. You only need to change tape cassettes when prompted.
This is a great idea - you see videotape used as a backup medium in television systems - currently Avid's DS-Nitris machine can backup onto tape (but you can watch the tape back and recognise the images and keys etc.) but way back when (in the eighties!) Quantel had a backup system that used UMatic tape. If you had a DLS6001 or a pre-version 5 Paintbox you could use cheap low-band tape as a data tape. If you watched the recording back it looked like VITC all the way down the picture. Very clever (although I seem to remember taking nearly a day once at Lime Grove to get the alignment of the Schmitt trigger right so that it worked!).

Friday, September 02, 2005

I received and email from my old chum Tim Taylor;
Phil - your blog is the absolute business - always a great read - even if some of the tech details are way beyond me (or beyond my interests).

Today I was reminded of some pics you posted when they craned the Resolutions mobile in to the Fame Academy house on Highgate hill a few years ago. You can see the connection with my pics above - a crane would have been great today.

Tim is an OB engineer and sent me some pics of a company he works for sometimes and a bit of bother they got into moving a truck - the details shall remain secret!
Anyhow - here are some pics from an occasion I had to move a truck I'd built for Resolution - over the wall into the Fame Academy in Highgate, North London. £1 million in the air!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

This week's reason for hating Decklink cards! - I have just got back from a client who was complaining about colour variation between component and SDi outputs of a Decklink Pro card. No trouble I thought - align the monitor so I'm happy that the reason is upstream and attack the ProcAmp settings. When you get there you can only tweak the U & V components together and they don't track!
So, I put up a PLUGE signal (so no colour, only luminance), cranked up the gain on the (digital) vectorscope and looked at the colour-in-the-noise (as if you were doing a quick colour balance on a studio camera looking at a chip chart). Tweak the chroma gain on the G5 and the colour caste shifts!. I hate those cards - they are so domestic! Now - the DeckLink defenders will say "but you can unlock the colour components and tweak them separately" - try it - one effects the other terribly - as with their analogue and digital stages they have used some half-arsed implementation that goes to prove that even in 2005 $895 doesn't buy you a broadcast-capable interface card.
So, you can really only use the analogue component output if you don't care about the colour balance (and presumably if you don't want to lay back to analogue tape) - and don't even think about using it at the same time as the SDi.

Catch up with previous reasons why I hate them here and here.