Category Archives: Audio

Five Audio Mistakes Made by Vloggers and Podcasters

Whether you’re doing a video or audio podcast (or vlog), the importance of good quality audio remains throughout. Your production value is absolutely determined by the ability of the audience to hear and understand the message conveyed in your content. Here are my top five audio mistakes frequently made by vloggers and podcasters…

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Analog VGA Vs. Digital HDMI and DVI Video Connections

VGA has been an active video standard for personal computers for a very long time. DVI and HDMI (along with the newer display port standard) are making a tough case for the aging analog port, though you might be surprised to find out that VGA is still superior in some ways…

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Why are Commercials Louder than the Television Show?

Have you ever been watching television and suddenly the commercials come on and you’re jostled by the booming voice of someone trying to sell you something? Why do commercials sound louder than the television show?

Advertising is typically talking head (one or two speakers and not a lot of music or sound effects) content that benefits from audio compression. Bringing everything to an even tone allows to speaker to sound consistent and avoids imbalance between two speakers that use their voice at varying volumes.

Audio present during television shows has more dynamic range, and rightfully so. Dramatic pauses, sudden surprises, and hushed whispers all need to have varying volume levels in order to draw the viewer in and keep their attention. If audio is compressed during a dramatic show, it’s done at varying degrees.

The audio levels between a television show and a commercial are actually matched as they’re sent over the airwaves (or cables) to your television. This is part of a limit required by law (at least in the US). The change in volume you notice is actually a perceived volume difference because where a television show saves the higher volume levels for action scenes, the commercial maintains that level constantly throughout the program. It does this thanks in part to compression present in the audio channel.

Here’s where your television comes in. Automatic gain controls and other nifty little tools allow the television to unintentionally do the advertiser’s work for them by automatically boosting a signal to a high point if it appears to be hitting a ceiling below the expected line. Your television will actually take audio levels that are set to the average amount of the television show and boost it all by itself.

While the FCC is flooded with complains from people claiming that the network is boosting commercials intentionally, this is actually the result of some clever engineering by the makers of the commercial and an unfortunate side effect of television technology intended to make everything sound even.

Sewell 2 Port 1×2 Powered HDMI Splitter Review

Taking one HDMI signal and bringing it to two screens sounds difficult, but it isn’t very hard if you have the right splitter. Sewell makes a self-powered 2 port HDMI splitter that allows you to successfully split a HDCP signal and send it to two destinations, simultaneously.

The difference between a splitter and a switch in relation to HDMI is based on whether you’re using it to split an output or double an input. A switch will allow you to go between two sources going in to a single destination, as mentioned in a previous blog post. A splitter, on the other hand, gives you the ability to take a single source and feed it to two destinations. The 2 port HDMI splitter made by Sewell is HDMI standard 1.3b compliant and capable of feeding both audio and video of up to 1440p resolution to two places.

Because the hub is powered by its own 5v power supply, the standard 16 meter HDMI cable barrier between source and destination is thrown out the window. Sewell’s site features a video boasting a 100-foot range from source to screen while feeding the same HD signal to another screen at 56 feet, without the aid of a separate booster. Whether or not this is a typical occurrence is yet to be seen.

The metal enclosure appears solid enough to withstand anything normal home usage would entail. In professional environments where use and abuse are part of everyday life, this may work in a fix, but a more professional-grade solution would be in order.

Because the splitter is HDCP compliant, both devices need to be HDCP compliant as well in order for it to work. Reviews at Amazon have indicated that standard definition signals require a little tweaking on the monitors to get right. This splitter can carry a 3D signal up to 24 FPS, so it doesn’t work with all 3D content.

Overall, the Sewell 2 Port 1×2 Powered HDMI Splitter is a standard HDMI splitter at a reasonable price. Available for under $25, it should be capable of filling the needs of any home user that would like to have two televisions carry the same audio and video. If you’re looking for something a bit bigger, you might want to look in to their 1×4 model.

Pelican HDMI Quick Switch Review

So, you’ve got two devices with HDMI out and only one HDMI in port on your projector or television. What do you do? You could go out and buy a new TV, but that isn’t very practical. It could also be a pain in the neck to have to unplug one device and connect another each time you switch between them. Fortunately, you don’t have to.

The Pelican HDMI Quick Switch allows you to plug both devices in to a single HDMI input at the same time by splitting the connection. The Quick Switch automatically detects which device is giving a signal and switches between them. A manual switch allows you to direct the signal to one device or the other should they both be on at the same time.

Unlike more expensive alternatives, the HDMI Quick Split is a simple 2-1 solution (compared to common 4-1 switches) targeted to gamers. You can find them at retail outlets including Best Buy and Game Stop.

Signal quality is clean, delivering great audio and video with little to no noticeable signal loss. Everything from 480p to 1080p can be fed to each input and the result should match appropriately.

One bonus included with purchase is an extra 3-foot HDMI cable that allows you to quickly connect your extra device without having to make another run to the electronics store should you forget to pick up that extra cable.

Overall, the Pelican HDMI Quick Switch gets the job done and doesn’t bother you with any hassle or complications. At $49.99, this cable can put a dent in your monthly entertainment budget, but it certainly wouldn’t make it one of the more overpriced solutions in its class. In any case, it certainly beats having to fiddle with various cables each time you want to play on your Xbox.

How to Make Money with Your Voice Online

Do you have a decent microphone and a unique voice? Have you considered possibly giving voiceover work a try? There are many ways to make money with your voice online, and most of them don’t even require you to leave your home at all.

First, this isn’t a good idea for everyone. It is harder than it looks to master the vocal tone required to grab the interest of the audience and accomplish whatever it is your voice is needed to accomplish. Voiceover actors rarely make big bucks (though they certainly can) doing contract work here and there. If you’re dedicated, and your voice has a quality that casting agents are looking for – you may be able to make money on the side as a voiceover actor (or actress).

You also need to invest in some decent recording equipment. A standard USB microphone might not be enough to capture the rich tones and create a true representation of your natural voice. The WAV files you send in need to be as clear as possible of any background noise or distortion cheaper setups can create. A prosumer or professional-grade condenser microphone, USB or FireWire interface, and sometimes a mixer should be considered to allow you to capture rich, vibrant sounds.

Alright, so you’ve got your equipment in place and you’re ready to start getting jobs? Well, you could find a talent manager and pay them to manage your career (maybe getting you a job, or maybe not). You could also start working now and build up your resume through a few methods online.

oDesk
oDesk is a service offered online to help people find freelance workers in a hurry to fill certain business needs. Companies or individuals needing help with a website, businesses looking for extra members of a remote development team, data entry services, content-driven sites, and agencies looking for voice talent regularly use oDesk to find the right person for the job, quickly. You can post your resume, portfolio, and link to some samples of your voice as you apply for various positions posted on the site. Once hired, your time and/or fees are all paid through oDesk which, in turn, pays you. This service is a quick way to find work, but it does have its downsides. For one, you aren’t likely to find long-term jobs here. This is primarily a site that helps companies find people to work on specific tasks for short periods of time. If you happen across the right employer, you may have further opportunities, but that isn’t the norm.

Classifieds
Another way to find voiceover work online is through a more traditional online classified system such as Craigslist. This can be a great way to find local employers and increase your chances of finding long-term employment. Radio stations, advertising agencies, and other media-related companies are often looking for voiceover talent.

Volunteer
Do you know of a podcast or show that could use some voiceover work for a frequent segment? Voiceover actors and jingle writers often submit free content to high-profile podcasts on the off chance that they might start using the contributed work. This is one way to build your portfolio without having to go through the frustrating process of tireless interviews and low-profile jobs. This shouldn’t be a primary strategy, but it could help you on your way to something great. Believe it or not, some of the best-known podcasts on the web are using jingles and voiceovers they picked up from emerging artists using this very strategy. Who knows, they may pay you to for more content down the line themselves.

HDMI or DVI: Which is Better?

Should you go with HDMI or DVI when connecting to your television and/or monitor? Recently, Brandon Wirtz of LockerGnome sat down with me to go over a multitude of video cable solutions to determine how to solve many problems facing users as they consider connecting their computer to the television in their living room. Having a media center PC as part of your home theater can be a great thing, especially if you enjoy online video services such as Hulu and Netflix. So, HDMI vs. DVI; which is better?

A lot of this depends on what your video card supports. The original specification of DVI did not include audio, however, that has since changed and audio is available through many modern video cards allowing you to connect your computer to your television (or some compatible speakered monitors) with a single cable.

The downside to HDMI is that you don’t have the ability to secure the connection with screws available on the DVI standard. These screws allow you to move the computer and screen without having to worry about the cable slipping out. For this reason, connecting a computer to a monitor where sound is not needing to be transferred from one to the other is best done through a secured DVI cable.

HDMI and DVI are compatible in that they are both basically the same connection with a different form factor. Until recently, DVI ports did not support audio. Now, with the help of a special DVI to HDMI connector and supported graphics card, you can actually transfer both audio and video to your television with a single cable from the DVI port.

In terms of versatility, HDMI is probably the best option as both the cable and the ports generally support both audio and video with no additional adapters needed.

How do you connect your computer to your monitor? How about to your television?

How to Find the Right HDMI Cable

The cable industry is a racket. Some manufacturers charge a reasonable price for their products while others boost their price to the moon while boasting qualities that just don’t make sense considering the very nature of digital cables. So, which HDMI cable should you get?

HDMI cables range in price from a few bucks up to well over $100. The differences between a cheap HDMI cable and an expensive one is based on a combination of variables including materials, brand, and marketing. Thankfully, the difference in actual overall quality of signal is pretty much a non-issue.

Digital signals are very different from their analog counterparts. A digital video signal is either present or absent with no significant range in quality in between. You may notices some flaws in the signal if your HDMI cable is defective or going out, but the vast majority of cables should deliver a perceivably perfect image no matter what the actual build materials may be.

Plating your connectors in gold doesn’t do anything to improve the quality of a digital signal. It can act as a barrier against oxydation, but at the premium price you could buy a handful of non-gold cables to replace a single premium cable with gold plating and still have money left over.

Snag protection and thicker coating can be useful in applications where your wires being used in a way that requires movement. For the vast majority of consumer uses where the cable will connect two devices and not be in frequent motion, pretty much any cheap HDMI cable will work just fine. If you’re in a professional environment where your cables are being connected and disconnected on a near-daily basis and/or transported from place to place, an investment in a cable with better protection against knotting or snagging may come in handy.

Interference isn’t much of an issue with digital signals. Any marketing you see that targets interference should be regarded with suspicion as the real benefit to thicker coating is in avoiding damage to the delicate wires within the cable during twisting and/or wrapping.

Finding the right HDMI cable is a matter of looking past the marketing terms and finding a solution that transfers information from one port to the other. My best advice would be to find the cable that is the length you need and a price you’re comfortable paying. Cables should never ever cost more than the equipment you’re connecting them to.

Music Services I Use: Rhapsody Vs. Rdio Vs. Spotify Vs. Pandora

So Spotify is allegedly (finally) coming to the US.

I, for one, welcome our new music overlords. Rhapsody pulled a fast one on me yesterday, after years of loyal service with them (dating all the way back to when Windows Media / MTV’s Urge was enveloped). They told me I needed to up my plan. I’m basically giving them an “up yours” and likely switching to Spotify when it’s available. There’s also Grooveshark, but it’s not available in the iTunes app store (which makes it a non-option for me).

How did Rhapsody offend me? They’ve switched their plans, rendering the standing $10 a month option only viable if you have one mobile device. I happen to have two mobile devices (plus Sonos), which would push me into their $15 a month plan – and that’s a bit steep, considering the active alternative: Rdio.

For $10 a month on Rdio, you get unlimited web AND mobile access. While the library on Rdio may not be the same as what’s on Rhapsody, I can’t see Rhapsody giving that much more value for the additional $5 I’d spend with them every month. I was given a trial with Rdio but didn’t renew it. I’m waiting to see what Spotify will have to offer me (in terms of pricing and features) before I spend money with Rdio.

I’m also considering downgrading my Pandora premium account when it’s up for renewal this September — not because I don’t use Pandora prolifically, but because it’s not delivering insane value for the money I’ve spent (and higher quality audio and fewer commercials doesn’t cut it for me). Not to mention: who still uses Flash for Web services?

The good news is: I can easily float between these music subscriptions without fearing I’ve lost much. I can still get access to most (if not all) of the music I love, and not have to worry about buying tracks ala carte or going through the nightmare of managing media in any way. That, and… at least I’m trying to play along with the industry.

Tell me I’m not alone with these music subscription service woes!