Monday, October 31, 2005

Chris's Thai Border Journal - here is a pal who I've known since before he could walk! Chris is a very capable and passionate young man who is currently in Thailand working in cooperation with Hand in hand for Asia (the charity my Sarah works for). Do check out his blog and find out a bit more of what's going on in that part of the world.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I've just watched the first episode of the BBC's new drama "Bleak House" which for the most part was superb. The sets, costumes, acting and especially the music made me even more thankful that we have a BBC. Visually I was appalled - the amount of bad hand-held footage outweighed the locked-off shots, the framing of many shots was terrible and the whole thing looked like it had been graded by a colour-blind person on acid! It seems that big-budget productions want a visual style that immitates video (the whole PD150 hand-held look) but don't have the courage to shoot it on interlaced video - actually this one was shot on HDCam but with a progressive "film look" (sic). The colour-style changed from scene to scene with absolutely no detail in the blacks (I know this is the modern fashion). Now below are several frame-grabs from my DVB card so between the DigiBeta master and these JPEGs there is no analogue paths (only a shed-load of compression, but that doesn't alter the colourimetry) and so it should give you an idea of the relative grading-styles and the poor nature of the framing on some of the shots.

Bit of blue for the dads!"

Looks a bit like Fujifilm from the 1970's - green cast on everything (like all my childhood photos!)

Do you think they told them camera operators that they shouldn't let the actors see them! A bit like those shows where they trap dodgy plumbers with a PD150 hidden in a rucksack!
For me it really spoils the enjoyment because it puts something in the way, I can't help feeling like it's shot on a sound stage and is somehow less honest than it could have been.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Jornada 820 and why my hatred for NAV is growing!

I was around a friend's place yesterday - very nice meal Victoria, thanks! Anyhow - They'd had a Jornada 820 sitting in the cupboard from ages ago and I remembered I had THE ONLY wireless card that had a CE2.11 driver for it - The Lucent WaveLan Silver. I used to have a Jornada back in 1999/2000 and lived with it for more than a year and loved it. It booted in under a second and the battery lasted all day (and the following day as well!). I wish I still had it as folks ported Linux to it. I might start trawling eBay.
So, I loaded up the driver and got the machine working on their wireless network. It really was a capable little sub-laptop - a bit long in the tooth (the version of pocket IE works with very few modern websites) but fast (no hard drive - everything is in memory). Pocket Office still opens current versions of Word and Excel files too.

Norton Internet Security Suite is the worst bit of software ever! Bob had it installed on three of his machines in the hope that all the things it promised (freedom from Spam, Viruses and other nasties) were real. Two of the machines had the LDN Trojan which tries to open up an SMTP route through your internet connection and four minutes after boot it attempts to send out a shed-load of spam. Now the Norton firewall detected that activity but rather than temporarily blocking port 23 and telling you it pops several hundred windows that you can't close quick enough. I ended up having to tug the mains and re-boot. The bundled version of Anti-virus (even after an update) wasn't able to catch the nasty. So - after removing Norton and replacing it with AVG Free (and making sure the Windows firewall was on and working) Bob's comments was "wow this feels like a new computer - applications launch quickly and it feels like there is a 3Ghz processor under the covers!". Norton was letting him down similarly on all three machines! AVG had no problem catching the trojan and killing it.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Burnt in timecode on VHS feeds - I like configuring VHS bays so that on all the machines in a bay can select clean on AV1 and burnt-in on AV2 - it might save the poor old tape op an hour at the end of the shift if he doesn't have to do it in two passes. In an Avid facility I like to use a Sellman Timecode Wizzard which allows you to derive the burnt-in characters from the Avid timeline (over RS422) or indeed from VTR's remote. In FCP applications a good alternative is a MurrayPro TCR300 which makes the burnt-in from the vertical interval code. In MTV's new area I had to make analogue video and audio for the VHS stack from an SDi feed - The Crystal Vision Demon seemed like the clear choice (I love Crystal gear - great support). However, the Demon puts a big pedestal on the VBI and leaves the VITC unreadable by the TCR300. I gave Andrew at Crystal a call and he fess'ed up to the fact that they'd known for a while that the card knackers the vertical interval. He kindly lent me a better encoder - a DDAA132 - which did the trick. Apparently they're fixing it in the new version of the Demon.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Nerd TV is a great place to see interviews with influential industry people. I've just watched the Dave Winer interview which was very engaging. He's such an interesting guy and has some real insights. If you download the clip spin through to fifty minutes in and get his take on the iPod!
D'ya think?!
I saw this sign in Cafe Nero, Camden Town. It really does say
Hazelnuts, chocolate, contains nuts
I shall think twice about buying coffee from there again! Maybe the coffee contains caffeine!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Wow - small world ("..but I wouldn't want to paint it!" - Woody Allen). I got an email from an old colleague, Martin Baker of Digital Heaven;
Hi Phil
So here I am checking out who's linking to our Lynn Parsons podcast page and your blog pops up! Freaky. I'm the producer of the show and I might perhaps play a couple of the characters but obviously I can't give too many secrets away!

If you've pretty much given up on conventional radio (like I have - bar The Today Programme) then check out Lynn's podcast - see the right-hand bar.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

MTV is nearly finished!

The annual big job at Hawley Crescent is nearly finished! I think
we'll be out of here by the end of today. It has been a funny job by comparison
with the Post Rooms (the one we did last year - see here).
We didn't project manage the whole of this one, rather we were the cabling and
equipment contractor and so a few of the decisions were taken out of our hands.
They have a big network of G5s running the usual assortment of FCP, After
Effects and Photoshop and the intention is that (eventually) they will all hang
off the SAN - it was to be a Terrablock but quite late in the day became an
Apple XSAN. I'm not sure that was a great choice but there you go!

Monday, October 17, 2005

My new DVB capture card, part 2 - It's working out well but there are a couple of issues worth noting;
  • The card has to have a unique IRQ assigned to it. Now with the machine I put it in the P&P BIOS insisted on giving it the same interrupt as at least one other card. I tried all the tricks and eventually (in the last PCI slot - why is it always the last?!) managed to get it hogging the same interrupt as the onboard USB. I could do without USB so disabled it and we were nearly there.
  • The card is demanding when capturing from the Freeview feed (why? it isn't having to decode/re-encode any video, just file away the MPEG2 stream as delivered) - I suppose extracting a stream from the 38meg MUX is a pretty clever thing to do.
  • I get much better TiVO-style live TV pause when driving the display at 16 bit colour rather than 32 bit (millions of colours). The resolution seems irrelevant as does driving the video overlay surface directly or via DirectDraw - that confused me.
  • On the AMD Athlon XP1700 chip there is just enough poke - if I hit that machine over the network for either file transfer or VNC while it's recording it drops frames. I've got a couple of bids on eBay for XP1900 chips at the moment!
  • Media Portal looks like a good alternative to Compro's app (which is fine) - Saul has good things to say about Media Portal (even going as far as saying it's better than Windows MediaCentre!). Two of the things they recommend is starting from a fresh XP install and using a different drive for capturing to that where your Windows swap-partition is located. I think I'll give those recommendations a go.
So - I have captured a few things (including four hours of french tuition programmes on BBC2) with success but I feel I sailing a bit close to the wind performance wise - gotta defrag that partition again!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Dancing" Dave Beach and my new DVB capture card

I pushed the boat out to replace my old Hauppauge PVR250 card. The Hauppauge was good but it suffered from only having an analogue UHF tuner. Because it has an MPEG2 encoder on board you can capture high bit-rate (12mBits long-GOP) streams without burdening the processor. In it's place I'd got a VideoMate DVB-T200 which has both analogue and DVB capture. The quality of the Freeview stations is superb and after having to monkey around with the BIOS to for it the assign a unique IRQ to the card it performs well (but on my 1.7Ghz media PC it does hammer the processor).
Download a clip from last week's Scrapheap Challenge to see what I mean - captured on the card and then compressed to DivX (plus a bit of de-interlacing and re-sizing for square pixels) using VirtualDub.

Oh, but the important part of the post was to see my old mate Dave Beach on the show - Dave had called me to let me know a couple of weeks back. I used to work with him at Resolution - he is the best wedding DJ in the world and all round good guy and it was good to hear from him again - he's currently editing for Formula One.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Why we need the BBC and why the license fee is a good thing
Despite the whinging of the Murdock-controlled tabloid-media(see below) we do need a strong BBC. A couple of days back the Beeb revealed the increase they expect to see in the license fee. Who else is pushing digital terrestrial TV in the country? Who else is pushing radio (and soon TV)-on-demand? Who else will offer a decent archive of publicly accessible content? Not ITV, that's for sure. The Beeb have a long history of technical innovation in content delivery and we can't afford to loose that. Freeview would have disappeared but for the Beeb's intervention (much to the chagrin of Sky).
I watched a couple of BBC3 shows this week - Tiny Tearaways is their child behavior meets Big Brother show. That makes it sound awful but in the face of the kind of thing ITV offers - Children out of control or somesuch (probably with "from hell" in the title!) it is a joy - really life-affirming and offering good and practical instruction to parents (and my chum Martin Begley works on that show).
Spendaholics documents the profligate behavior of young adults and the stupid financial choices they make. Most of the show is taken up with realistic financial and psychological advise putting this week's subject back on track to being solvent. Again, the things I've seen on ITV offer no way out and glorify the choices of the chav generation.
The BBC offers remarkable value for money when compared to Sky and the ITV network. If you compare the £140 per annum cost of the BBC license fee with the cost of even the most modest Sky package or the £350 that the cost of ITV-based advertising places on the average family's annual grocery bill then you realise that the license fee is less of a tax than having to fund ITV. I have a choice if I pay the license fee - I do because I value the Beeb but I have several friends who don't have a TV in the house and so don't have to pay for the BBC but they do have to pay for ITV regardless.

footnote - The article in The Sun I linked to describes some BBC staff going to the IBC conference in Amsterdam. It is the biggest trade show for the industry outside of NAB in Vegas and the BBC would be remiss if they didn't send a few people to it. Root6 sent about a dozen folks this year as we feel it's important to stay ahead of the game. You gotta hate The Sun and all the lies it peddles.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Funny things in fibre!
Stuart was doing a fibre job today and emailed me this picture that he took on his 'phone. What you can see is the view down the microscope as seen by the little video camera we have as part of our Tritec fusion splicer - the fibre on the left is a normal 62.5 micron core from a piece of loose tube cable, cleaved and ready for the laser. On the right is a pig-tail end that Stuart said "was hard to prepare"(!) - quite a gross manufacturing fault, me thinks! I shall take this up with our supplier.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rupert bounced me an email from the Avid L requesting a bit of info on tech mains, balanced/unbalanced audio etc. Here is the thread;
I've been having an ongoing discussion with a co-worker this last week about audio wiring. More specifically about lifting the ground. To define, it's when you don't connect the ground wire in a balanced, hot/cold/ground, connection. Now I personally have firm opinions on wiring based on what I have been taught and what has worked for me for years, but I am no expert by any leniency of definition. And I thought it would be informative for all on the list to hear a discussion on some of these issues so that they can evaluate what work is done when they hire an installer. I'm going to ask a few questions that will hopefully not display my personal opinions but open the topic up for discussion. This discussion is more than welcome to cover not only Avid editing bays, but also portable field systems and audio mix stages. I'm also interested in knowing if a clean electrical supply for the building makes a difference in how you decided to wire.
Nine times out of ten you "get away with it" using the same supply throughout a building. The BBC really set the standard in the UK for segregating domestic (aka "cooking" mains) from technical power supply and the reasons have now largely changed because of the move from linear power supplies to switch-mode supplies in pro-equipment. Pre the eighties pretty much everything had a linear supply and so a clean mains supply was essential and so it was common to segregate the mains for the production chain from the sockets used to plug in vacuum cleaners etc. Since then we see a lot more switch-mode supplies which tend to be more immune to mains-bourne noise but the concern now is the large potential difference that can occur between different earth feeds. The worst case is plugging a bit of kit in one room on the technical supply (and hence the tech earth) and connecting it via tie lines to another device that is powered by the domestic supply. Since both devices will (probably) have a common signal and chassis earth an potential difference between the earths will be effectively dumped onto the signal screen - depending on how the receiving bit of kit terminates the feed you get mains hum of the audio and hum-bars on any analogue video. Digital signals are effected in that you're more likely to get transmission errors - splats on the AES audio.
When would you, or would you ever, lift the ground on an analogue audio signal in a deck and mixer configuration? At what point would you lift the ground if you were too (deck or mixer)?
As a "get me out of gaol quick" I'd lift the earth in situation I'd described - I'd make sure I fixed the mains supply problem first though. Loosing the electrostatic shielding that the screen gives you probably looses you six dBs of noise performance as well.
When would you, or would you ever, lift the ground on an analogue audio signal in a configuration where all of the audio passes through a half or full norm patch bay? At what point would you lift the ground if you were too (patchbay or device)? Would you tie/strap/buss (the practice of using a wire to connect all the grounds of all the jacks to one another and then connect to the rack) the grounds together on either the half or full norm patchbay?
The modern practise is to take signal-earth through the jackfield on each position and terminate in ABS krone blocks. If you view your jackfields as a re-assignable resource then you should make them AES capable and that pretty much dictates earth integrity. By having individual screens you also avoid the problem of dumping mains hum onto every feed on a jackfield if the problem I described (above) happens.
When would you, or would you ever, lift the ground on an AES audio signal in a deck and mixer configuration? At what point would you lift the ground if you were too (deck or mixer)?
I'd never lift AES earths! ISTR that when AES was starting to hit in the late eighties the spec document said you should take the shield all the way to the krone block and segregate it with a 10pF capacitor if you had earth mismatch problems - again, you really should get your tech earth sorted! AES is so unreliable an interface (1.4mBits over 110ohm twisted pair cable!) that I tend to put it over 75ohm co-ax whenever possible - see an article on my blog
When would you, or would you ever, lift the ground on an AES audio signal in a configuration where all of the audio passes through a full norm patch bay? At what point would you lift the ground if you were too (patchbay or device)?
Previous answer
When building a cable for analogue audio that goes from balanced to unbalanced do you wire [T/T R/S S/S], [T/T R/T S/S], [T/T R/x S/S], [T/T R/S S/x]? And why that way? (and yes, I do know that one should actually use a matchbox or something, but indulge me please) (T=tip, R=ring, S=sleeve, x=not connected) (balanced is TRS, unbalanced is TS)
With the proviso that you DON'T mix balanced and unbalanced on a jackfield - you run the risk of unbalancing the whole facility and hence destroy any noise immunity that common-mode rejection is bringing you - I take the view that tieing the cold and screen together is no longer a good way to go as most kit now terminates feeds in op-amps rather than a rep-coil. Loosing six dBs of level seems a reasonable trade-off compared to slowly burning out the receiving stage in the DA, etc.

I've designed/supervised the install of many small and large facilities/studios/OB trucks over the last decade and without exception I've never had to deal with induced mains hum or noisy audio because of balanced/unbalanced problems by following the principles above. Rep-coils (passive match-packs) are a superb way of isolating audio feeds that may have induced mains hum.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

We're getting new fibre!
We're having a new network connection at the office and Sohonet is our new provider. I was talking to an old colleague, John Ferguy who is now technical director with them and he was telling me a bit about single mode fibre. They do everything down nine micron fibres (which are many times smaller than the 62.5 micron multi-mode pipes we use). With much finer launch-angles and glass that is optimised around a single frequency they can get 10 gigabits over fifty kilometres. In this case they run in a blow-tube and when they're ready they send down the fibre with compressed air - very cool.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"I have seen the future of rock and roll, and it's name is Bruce Springsteen" - Jon Landau, Rolling Stone Magazine, 1974
But in this instance it was a new style of high definition TFT-based display. Bightside have a range of displays that aren't rear-illuminated with fluorescent tubes but with an array of hi-bright LEDs that are modulated with the luminance of the image being displayed. The array of LEDs is much lower-res than the 1920x1080 pixel matrix and so the real image (as displayed on the LCD) is modified with a masking signal to get the illumination to the correct resolution and the results are superb. A dynamic range of near 100dBs (that's fourteen stops to the cinematographers) and a maximum light output of 3000 cd/m² (you line-up a monitor for TV grading with peak white at 80 cd/m²!). I couldn't vouch for the colourimetry but it did look pretty close to illumninant-D. The detail in the blacks was astonishing and next to a Sony GDM monitor (which a lot of people use for grading!) the pictures looked remarkable. It was like a light-box with a moving transparency on it! I hope our friends at Filmlight implement a Truelight LUT for this device and I think that you'll see these in film grading suites really soon.

Interestingly there were a couple of facilities engineers and MDs there and they didn't seem to get it - the one quote I'll remember for a while was "we could use one in reception..."! I suppose when folks first looked at colour TV, stereo audio, digital video etc etc there were folks who couldn't see how to make it fit into their workflow and therefore couldn't see any value in it. I was blown away, however.

They also had a very cool compression system for reducing the data-load on 32-bit high dynamic range images.

Monday, October 03, 2005

OS-X on Intel read-me was given to me by Joel last week - we've got a pal who's got it working on his PC and Joel has pulled the ISO so we can try it here. I'll report back on it but there are a couple of things that peaked my interest. Firstly John Dvorak's column on;
There is no question that this would be a boneheaded move, and as I see more and more chitchat about the possibilities, I'm now convinced that this is all a publicity stunt and the Apple community is being used—once again—by the company's marketing department.
That said, I will admit that the possibility does exist that Apple doesn't want its OS in the wild, since it could potentially hurt hardware sales. At least that's the way the company might see it. This assertion does assume that the Apple marketing department is brain-dead....
The implication is that it slipped out of Cuppertino far too easily. This is stealth alpha-testing by Apple!
The other article I saw was in PCW and something there rang true;
.....forthcoming Intel-based Mac OSX operating system on a non-Apple PC. They say on some PCs it appears to run faster than the version on current G5 Macs
This seems to be borne out by Avid who have always maintained it's easier optimise for PC compared to G5 - see a previous blog entry here.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Isla Guagalupe, Mexico, part 3
Channel Five have started their new show - the pre-production title was Shark Watch but it started transmission this evening as Killer Shark Live and I have to say I'm really disappointed - very tabloid and totally lacking in any real science. They used lots of reality footage of people getting munched by sharks and totally avoided engaging the viewer with anything approaching intelligence. It seems like Endemol's MO - I had high hopes for the show given the fantastic location. You can see details of my recce here and here.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Living in London, making space

This isn't at all technical but I caught a couple of nice pics of my eldest boys on my 'phone - Joe is in the cellar doing his Warhammer on a bench I built him (complete with spot lights and speakers hanging off our media server). Dan is in his under-bed studio where he composes and generally makes a racket - cabin beds are a boon when you live and work in London and wind up in a house (or flat) that is a bit smaller than you'd really like.