Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tektronix - why they really are STILL the best! pt.1

I often say that customers only ever avoid buying Tek because they can't afford them - nobody ever says "...I need a Hamlet/VideoTek/Leader etc." because it's the best solution, rather it's cheaper than Tek. However - in the last year they've had the WVR/WFM 5000 range which puts pay to even that.

Anyway - last week I went to their Vision '09 day - a kind of pre-NAB training day for users and dealers. They ran four sessions.

Upgrades to WVR/WFM-series 'scopes

  • ANC data - the HD-SDi ancilliary data stream can now encompass user-defined type. So, you could make a new ANC-type called whatever you like and as long as you know the pre-amble values you can have the Session Data page watch for those packets. Very useful if you wanted to individually mark the output of encoders and then check to see which machine made an HD-SDi stream. I suggested it to Root6's Dev team for Content Agent.
  • Dolby information - On the Audio Session tile you can now see the values for the DolbyE metadata - Dialogue Normalisation, Dynamic range and Downmix. You can also check the the guardband figure to see if the embedded DolbyE data is locked to video.
  • Black/Frozen - this is a new parameter in the video QC section - previously you could check for extended periods of silence on the audio but now the instrument can check for frozen or extended periods of black - it's window'able as well so you can check if the lower-third financial ticker (for example) has frozen despite the studio video continuing.
  • Infinite Persistence - you can turn any display into a storage 'scope - useful for checking for those extreme events that occur rarely.
  • AFD - a few more vertical-interval signals (although they're now rolled in with the ANC data) can be detected - widescreen flag, V-chip, etc.
Overall a superb set of features which come for free (just download the updater) - WFMs can do it off the USB socket on the front, WVR machines over the network. This will all be available after NAB.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why I'm an engineer

I don't know if it's due to my being well and truly into my forties, more grey hair or the fact that I (nearly) have three teenagers but the last few months have found me pondering where my career is going and what's it all about. A couple of things caught my attention this week that really affirmed to me the importance of engineering in it's many forms.

1. G.K.Chesterton - a couple of years ago I banged on about one of my favorite books - The Man Who Was Thursday. Here is a fragment from chapter one where the hero Syme makes his first stand against the anarchism of Gregory;
Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me read a time table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw, who commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!"
"I tell you," went on Syme with passion, "that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hairbreadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word 'Victoria,' it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed 'Victoria'; it is the victory of Adam."

2. Marc Koska - In 1984 Koska read a newspaper article predicting the transmission of HIV through the reuse of needles and syringes. Koska was fascinated by the problem and vowed to do something about it. He studied how drug addicts used syringes in the UK, went to Geneva to learn about Public Health Policy, visited several syringe factories, studied plastic injection moulding, and read everything available on the transmission of viruses like HIV.
After a year of intense study, he concluded that syringe manufacture was the key to the problem. Koska designed a syringe (K1) that could be made on existing equipment with a small modification. It was made from the same materials and could be used in the same way as a normal syringe so that healthcare professionals would not have to retrain. K1 syringes cannot be used again so the next patient will also have a sterile and safe injection.

There is a very good interview with Koska on Radio 4's Saturday Live - you can catch it one the iPlayer.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Schmap is a map/travel website that gives you a bit more with recommended walks and tourist information - it's very well done and works on mobile devices.
Oh, and they used one of my photos from Glastonbury (taken last Boxing Day!) - click the title link.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Expensive HDMI cables are a scam!

If you ever spend more than £15 on an HDMI cable you have wasted your money - the above story (on Engadget) isn't just true in the states, I've seen the same 'demo' of Monster cables on Tottenham Court Road.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Root6 offering training.....

...and I'm doing it!

See the link for details - I'm bemused that someone has labeled me an industry legend!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Double-insulated (class 2) mains equipment

A Class II or double insulated electrical appliance is one which has been designed in such a way that it does not require a safety connection to electrical earth.
The basic requirement is that no single failure can result in dangerous voltage becoming exposed so that it might cause an electric shock and that this is achieved without relying on an earthed metal casing. This is usually achieved at least in part by having two layers of insulating material surrounding live parts or by using reinforced insulation. The IEEE regs say that one of the layers can be an air gap and so as long as the chassis is predominantly made of plastic it's not hard to get class 2 certification for a piece of equipment (you'll see the sign on your DVD and probably even your TV). Now then, read the article linked (above) - it's possible to get residual voltage on the screens of video and audio cables, but once connected to other equipment (particularly broadcast VTRs which are class 1 - proper mains earth) you'll not even be able to measure them as they have no current carrying capacity.
Today I had to go to a facility where folks were getting shocks off the audio jackfields and at the edit desk monitor power supplies were blowing. I traced the fault to the DVD recorder AND the VHS machine - both were dumping around 90 volts onto the screen of the signal connectors.
I thought i was missing something fundamental - my first action was to PAT test all of the bay and desk mains and it all checked out. In the end it really was those two domestic machines. I got another DVD machine off the client which didn't have the problem and so I can only assume that some event in the past has compromised the internal isolation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Counting Crows 'do a Radiohead'

I've liked the Crows since the early nineties - I've seen them a few times (most recently at the O2 Wireless Festival last summer). They are going label-free;

...the internet opens a world of limitless possibility, where the only boundaries are the boundaries of your own imagination. We want a chance to push those boundaries back as far as we can. Unfortunately, the directions we want to go and the opportunities we want to pursue are often things that our label is simply not allowed to do. We've been friends for a long time and we've worked together for a long time so they understand the direction we need to go in and we understand why they can't always go there with us. We all want what’s best for everyone which is why we've decided to part ways.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The world has gone mad

Despite the lack of clinical evidence, homeopathy remains one of the most popular complementary therapies in the UK.

That's because Joe-public isn't as good at making medical descisions as the people who trained for many years! What is it with the NHS giving us 'choices' in treatment - I am not medically qualified and I certainly don't want a doctor shirking his/her responsibility by letting me make choices on a subject I know little about. The whole reason I go to the doctor is because they know better than I do!
That's a very dark road to go down - before we know it hospitals will be offering quack unproven remedies because they appeal to a lot of people. Oh, wait....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ZFS - modern filesystem

I've banged on about Isilon in the past and it still seems like the best commercial solution for people who need large storage pools that are 110% reliable with predictable/scalable performance and a single mount-point (if necessary) that can grow dynamically without impacting the end users.
Given that NTFS and HFS are both looking a bit elderly now (and NTFS in Vista even more so) and the world needs a contemporary file-system that goes beyond what we needed back in the days of FAT16. The good news is that ZFS is supported fully in OS-X 10.6 server and so it may be the case that we see very Isilon-like storage pools built from more commodity hardware. If you're interested then the Wikipedia article (link in the title) gives a good overview of ZFS's zpools (their virtual volume construct) - they are analogous to Isilon's nodes.
Anyway - a superb into is to be had with this podcast featuring the guys from Sun.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Future framerates for TV and Film

Rupert emailed me a blog entry by Stuart Maschwitz - he prefaced the message with "he is the ying to your yang" which amused me - given my love of interlaced pictures and the smooth motion they protray; television engineers and home theater nerds with nothing better to do, please stop trying to find ways to make movies more like reality. As you can see from this year's cinematography Oscar winner, film is at its best when it is unmistakeably unreal.

Ignoring the guy's dislike of engineers (hey, film and TV are still both inherently technical processes) - I felt I had to respond.
This chap confuses the container from the contents - of course film makers should be able to make whatever film they like - fast motion or stuttered low-frame rates. However - is he saying that other kinds of look aren't valid? Convergence means cinemas will be re-purposed for big sporting and cultural events. Who wants to see football or operas crippled to 24P? 50P looks better than 50i and both render motion better than 25P. What other aspect of image acquisition should be subject to this 'less is more' fascism? Would he be happy with black & white film and mono audio that rolls off at 8Khz? My two favorite films of all time were shot thus and I'm very happy that modern 1080/50P displays can render them accurately.

The same argument was fashionable with vinyl audio - a CD can encapsulate faithfully everything audiophiles like about the sound of vinyl. I've tried it - I've dubbed vinyl - DAT and audiophile friends identify it as vinyl and gush about the warmth of the sound until you show them it's a digital recording.

I think we need media containers that can faithfully render whatever material the film director/TV producer wants to show. Make the container as good as it can be and then put whatever contents you like in it.

As if to vindicate me I came across this BBC whitepaper that talks about how good pictures can look at high framerates (300fps and greater) - and even how good normal-framerate stuff looks when aquired at 300fps.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

New technology - commodity hardware

AJA FS1 is a 1u gadget that sells itself as an everything-everything format/standards converter. At only a grand and a half there is no way it can compete with a broadcast-quality convertor from the likes of Snell & Wilcox but for most uses (A-D conversion etc) it looks superb. I had a few minutes to play with it and the really cute feature is that all of the functionality is available over a web interface. I think it's a good competitor to the Leith X75.

BBC Ingex is an open-source project to allow multi-cameras ingest to Avid & FCP codecs on commodity hardware. It runs under OpenSUSE 10.3 (and this because it needs the XFS file system). It can capture four streams of SD or two streams of HD in mildly compressed (typ. 2:1) for the online and 20:1 for the offline. For multi-camera studio shoots it seems like and excellent idea. Anyhow - we have a DVS box (the hardware of a Pronto with two Centurus cards) running it in the workshop and are trying to get familiar enough with it to re-install from scratch (including configuring the XFS RAID) and compiling the source - they are promising an RPM package!