Category Archives: Media

50 YouTube (and Online Video) Tips and Tricks

Given that this is the 8,000th post to my blog, and I just passed 50,000 YouTube subscribers last night, I wanted to make this post something special. With any luck, the content herein is just the beginning of a series of suggestions that could turn into something more (either here, or in an eBook). People ask me how I do what I do all the time, especially when it comes to live video or my videos on YouTube.

It’s a numbers game. YouTube is now 25% of the Internet’s search traffic, and if you’re not doing something on YouTube, you’re… crazy. Yes, you can still place your videos on a variety of other video hosting services – but if you’re not putting them on YouTube, you’re missing a HUGE opportunity.

Video is easy to “do” these days. You actually have to go out of your way to screw things up. You no longer need to go through some video editing guru to get something done – and you don’t need to spend much money to get going. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you already had everything you needed to be placed on the path to YouTube success.

You’ve been thinking about recording and uploading videos for some time now, but you just didn’t know where to start. You were afraid to start? If I can be of any assistance, then I’m more than happy to do so. Welcome to the first version of my “50 YouTube (and Online Video) Tips and Tricks” list. I did my best to stay away from the obvious, or at least spend a bit of time explaining WHY these semi-obvious points are worth making.

I’m also hoping that the rest of the community will extend this series of tips and tricks – and help make it their own…

  1. Success is relative. For me, success was reaching 50,000 subscribers (which is currently more than Oprah has). For you, success might be something completely different – and that’s perfect. If you start judging your own level of success by somebody else’s metrics, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Have goals, but let them be YOUR goals. Set your own bar, and then set out to jump it.
  2. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what video is worth. You’ll be enhancing, not undermining, your other Internet endeavors if you push your efforts to YouTube. If given a choice between watching something or reading about it, I’ll readily admit that I’d rather sit back in my chair and view a video than scan notes for more information. If you’re going to put a series of videos on YouTube, regular ol’ still-shot sequences are… yesterday’s news. Nothing demonstrates a product better than an actual demonstration.
  3. Buy good cameras. This point should go without saying, but I’m surprised at just how many videos I’ve seen (on YouTube or beyond) that just weren’t watchable. Heck, even I’ve uploaded videos that I’d consider sub-par! I’ve experimented with a variety of devices, and am continuously looking at newer, better solutions for my efforts. Make the best with what you’ve got, but if you can get better – go better. In some cases, a regular ol’ Webcam will be sufficient. How does it look to YOU? Now, how does it look to OTHERS? Let me put it to you this way: nobody has ever complained about a video looking too good.
  4. High resolution = higher quality. While it’s okay to record in a standard 4:3 format, 16:9 (widescreen) is not going away anytime soon. If you can record your videos in high definition, do it. 1280×720 pixels is the “HD” resolution that YouTube will host for you. The good news is that you can record in this size without spending much more than a couple hundred dollars these days – it’s quite affordable, and the results should speak for themselves.
  5. What hue are you? Every camera should be color calibrated – be wary of any kind of automatic settings! It’s not likely that your webcam has a “white balance” feature in the software controls. If you’re using a camcorder, digital camera, et al, then there should be a “white balance” setting somewhere.
  6. Buy a good microphone. I’ve made countless recommendations in the past (and will continue to do so), and few of them have cost more than $100. You don’t need to go all-out when it comes to basic audio equipment, and you won’t need much more than a USB port to use one that’s worth using. Sometimes, capturing good audio is impossible (because you’re limited by mobile recording devices, or something beyond your control), but make bad audio an exception – not the rule. We’ve got coupons for just about every USB mic available.
  7. Lighting. If you are doing a product review or demonstration, your lighting is even more important than ever. People need to see what it is you are showing them. While you don’t necessarily need stage lighting, using sufficient light to project the details within your scene is crucial to producing a good video. The more light, the better. Having more than one light source will help alleviate any kind of shadows. You don’t want people reaching for their brightness controls when your face graces their screen. If they have to squint to see what you’re trying to show them, either you didn’t frame the shot well enough or it wasn’t well lit.
  8. Create a scene. Think about what’s sitting behind you before you hit the record button. It’s very difficult to take someone seriously if behind them is a completely unmade bed, and junk scattered all over their dresser or desk. Yes, this may be your “lifestyle,” but it’s distracting to viewers. Just because you’re creating amateur content for the Web doesn’t mean you have to look unprofessional when doing it. There are going to be times when scene contents are a bit beyond your control, but do your best to remain cognizant that a video is much more than just you or the scene.
  9. Find your voice. If you don’t have much of a personality on camera, you might as well not record. Let the real you shine through, and if you’re not very energetic… consider sticking to the written form of communication (assuming you can write well). Just because you can record video doesn’t mean you’re worth watching for longer than fifteen seconds. That’s about how much time you have to get someone’s attention.
  10. Be yourself. If you’re using YouTube to catalyze discussions around your interests, then the worst thing you could do is come across as disingenuous. There are going to be people who will accuse you of being the worst human being on earth, but that doesn’t make it any less so if you’re… yourself.
  11. Practice. You’re never going to get better by watching other people. Try recording some samples and upload them as private videos. Send the links to your friends and family, and ask them for feedback. Realize that you will learn from mistakes, and keep at it. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to show the world what you have to offer. If you’re unsure about how you’re doing, record the same segment three times. Watch every one of your takes, and select the one you like most. Will it take more time to do? Yes, but there’s nothing wrong with inching your way towards perfection.
  12. Consider live streaming. Not only is it good practice, but people in your community may record your stream “behind the scenes” and post those clips on their own YouTube account, to which you are able to embed in your own blog, link to from your YouTube account, etc. This could help build your community and establish your brand. I don’t use or recommend live video services that don’t enable the user to capture (on demand) and download the recorded segment to upload elsewhere. I’ve also had to sacrifice a bit of overall video quality just so I could capture my community’s chat in many of my videos – that’s important to me. DISCLAIMER: I sit on Ustream.tv’s advisory board, but I was using their service and providing feedback before being invited.
  13. Keep it simple. If your effort is overwhelming you, it’s not going to be fun – and if it’s not fun, then you’re not likely to stick with it for long. Some people get so caught up in having the most expensive camera, the most expensive microphone, the most expensive props, etc. Sometimes, all you need is… something, anything. Start small, then expand from there. Don’t make something more complex than it needs to be, especially when trying to communicate with other people. Keep It Simple, Smarty!
  14. Value-add. What are you doing that’s different from everybody else? Your brand is a given, but what else are you doing that nobody else is doing? What’s that ONE thing that makes your videos stand out? It is important to find a niche that nobdy else is in. This helps provide perspective that others wouldn’t have thought of, and further establish your brand past your name, avatar, or Web address.
  15. Have a hook. Start out differently with every video if you can. Draw people into what you’re going to share with them.
  16. Stay on topic. Even I tend to ramble if I’m interested in a topic, but I do my best to at least keep the ramblings relevant to the reason I’m recording a video. Think of your YouTube videos as segments inside a larger show. If you need to refer to notes, then please rely on notes. If you like to improv, by all means – roll with the punches. Just keep ‘er flowing and going.
  17. Don’t put people to sleep with your screencasts. If you have no energy in your voice, you’re not going to keep people listening for long. Unless there’s an absolute need to do a direct walkthru of software, you’re better off referring to it on a screen that’s facing the camera (with you as the subject of the scene). Not to mention, if your mouse isn’t moving within a screencast – the video is completely static. If you’re into editing videos, you could always switch to a screencast mid-video and then back out to you for the close. Keep that video lively!
  18. Use humor. Funny is good, especially when it’s unexpected. If your sense of timing is off, the “funny moment” translates into an “excruciatingly painful experience.” You won’t be able to hear people laugh on the other side of the screen, sadly – and a random LOL doesn’t mean much. Funny, much like success, is relative – just don’t push it. If you can take a less-than-serious approach to your subject, go for it (lightheartedness breaks down barriers). A controled amount of silliness is oft preferred to a recorded display of i-ate-too-much-sugar-itis (a very fine line to walk, indeed).
  19. Short is good. YouTube will limit (most) producers to 10 minutes, so it’s important that you use those 10 minutes wisely. Most people will tune out after the first minute, anyway. Doesn’t bode well for me, as most of the videos I record are closer to the 7 minute mark – but somehow, I’m able to make it work. The community doesn’t seem to mind, so I don’t mind either.
  20. Give people something to look forward to. If you stick to a schedule, people will look forward to it. Like my webcam giveaway on Fridays – people are in the live chat waiting anxiously for the giveaway, and it is something that they look forward to every single week. This doesn’t mean you need to create your own giveaways, but it does mean that you need to have a routine people can put on their calendar and make a habit out of.
  21. Give people a reason to send your video links to their friends. Many people don’t use YouTube’s search tool, but rely on the opinions of others. If someone comes across your video and finds it interesting, helpful, or funny, your chances of having them send it to someone they know increases. Likewise, if you are creating useful content, you can expect others to “Favorite” your videos, embed them in their blogs or social profiles, or share your creations with their friends via instant messages or email.
  22. Stick with a signature. Assuming they make it through the entire video, give ’em a familiar sign-off. For me, it’s saying something along the lines of: “We’ll ‘e’ ya later!” I started doing that back when I had a show on WHO Radio back in the day, and I took that signature with me when I began hosting a television show – adding a “three finger salute” to the mix. That’s what geeks used to call the CTRL+ALT+DEL keyboard shortcut.
  23. Don’t let them go without knowing where you are. The Web thrives on links. Assuming these videos can and will be extracted and embedded throughout the Web, everything you want to convey must be within the video itself. Don’t rely on descriptions and tags for everything (other than for discovery on YouTube itself).
  24. Ask questions of your audience. You’re presenting a call-to-action in every video. Ask for feedback. The feedback may or may not be what you are looking for (remember the trolls), so be prepared for both positive and negative remarks.
  25. Treat each one of your videos as though it were the only video that someone might watch. Each video should stand alone, even if it’s a part of a series. It should be complete, from stem to stern. Leave no stone unturned, even if you realize that your audience has heard the same thing before (like your signature sign-off).
  26. Don’t be afraid to try something new every once in a while. If you usually record by yourself, consider having your girlfriend, spouse, children, or even your parents into a video. Change the view, change the tone, change the expectations of your viewers – who knows? Experiment. Try something extremely short-form if you’re used to doing long-form – or vice versa.
  27. Stamp information on every one of your videos. When you upload something to the Internet, anybody can take that content and use it as their own – without necessarily giving you credit. For this reason, and this reason alone, I always take the extra step to add one of my domains (as a text overlay) to videos. Watermarking them with some kind of URL is going to make it more difficult for another person to use that video elsewhere without having them first jump through the hoops of eliminating my stamp. This text is made to be a part of the video itself. Yes, people have still ripped me off without keeping credit, but at least I’ve given casual users a hurdle to overcome before cheating me. This is also one of the reasons I refuse to use any third-party service to upload directly to YouTube (before being able to stamp my own information onto the video). Any software video editor should be able to help you do this.
  28. If you want to use somebody else’s music, be sure to get the rights. Why risk a take-down? Find the appropriately Creative Commons licensed music or get permission. If you’re intent on using music in your video, and you’re unsure of licencing, then (once your video is uploaded) use the “AudioSwap” tool that is one click away from any video on your My Videos page.
  29. Don’t get hung up on title screens or post-roll credits. They’re necessary for television shows, but you’re not creating a television show – are you? If anything, rely on your production routine to add “lower thirds” (graphics or text that might run along the bottom of your video).
  30. Use annotations! When YouTube added the annotations feature, I wasn’t sure what to make of them. However, after realizing I could place an annotation over the entire length of the video to tease people to related videos that I had recorded (or to community videos / responses), I started to integrate them into all of my videos. You’ll find the “Edit Video” button on any one of your pages. There, you’ll see the “Annotations” feature – and you can use this to place call outs or hyperlinks to any other page on YouTube. They’ll display over your videos on YouTube and in all embeds – all the more reason to use the “note” annotation, which allows for the insertion of YouTube URLs.
  31. Use the bulk upload tool. If you’ve recorded more than one video to be added to your account, or if one of your videos is over 100 megabytes in size, then this tool will come in handy. No matter, this is my preferred method of uploading directly to YouTube, if only because it’s the only one that gives you a percentage upload indicator. You can upload higher-quality videos with ease!
  32. You don’t need to edit video to make great videos. I do everything “live-to-tape” because editing video is a pain in the AVID. Yes, I sometimes have to shoot take after take after take – but I also don’t have to edit video when I’m finished! They say that it takes one hour of video editing time to produce one minute of footage. That’s not a stretch. I might get through 90% of my effort before stopping and starting over again – because I know I could do it better, or if I wasn’t energetic enough. This may take practice, but it will also (potentially) save you mountains of time in the short and long-run. At most, with this approach, all you should ever need to remove is space at the beginning or end of a recording.
  33. Capture attention with your title. Keep it relevant to your topic, and make it something that people would be drawn to click. This information field is also indexable, so you REALLY need to be sure it is relevant to the content you’ve produced. It will show up in the “Related Videos” sidebar widget as well. Be succinct, pithy, and lead people into watching and subsequently commenting or fowarding your creation.
  34. Lead with a link in your description. One of the few places that YouTube allows you to pass along a live hyperlink is in your video’s description field. Just be sure you write it like it might appear in your browser’s address bar. For example: http://geeks.pirillo.com/ – just like that (and yes, I recommend always using a trailing slash with URLs). This will be the first thing people see when they go to read the description for your video. Make it something actionable!
  35. Use tags, profusely. People will likely find your videos through search – and using relevant tags are key for discovery. Tags are nothing more than keywords, linking people to videos which also contain the same tags. Not only will this help you attain more views from YouTube searches, it’ll also help categorize your own videos on YouTube (in an ad hoc manner).
  36. Put extended show notes somewhere. Today, most search engines can’t index the audio found within videos – nor is any given video thumbnail information-dense. Without a fair amount of corresponding text, few will ever discover what you’ve recorded. At least, the option is there to read and/or watch and/or listen. Video without separate text notes is like corn flakes without the milk.
  37. Bring people elsewhere. Chances are, you have your own Web site – so why not let people know about it? They can’t read your mind, and they likely won’t research it on their own. Mention a site, potentially, at the beginning of your video – most certainly at the end. If you don’t have your own site, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t run out and get one ASAP. Tease people back to your blog, to a service that can benefit their specific needs, or to a community that you’ve set up for them. They may never come, but they certainly won’t if you don’t invite them or give them a reason to look. Don’t be afraid to share the addresses to your social profiles on the Internet (Twitter and the like).
  38. Get your community involved. If you’re not engaging your audience, you’ll find growth to be a tremendous challenge. Don’t assume that your community consists only of close friends and family. If your videos are public, it will make sense to expect others to find them. Your content will have a great role in these people subscribing to you and expecting more.
  39. Don’t feed the trolls. This should come to no surprise, but the level of intelligence found in most YouTube comment threads borders between “insane” and “inane.” It’s perfectly fine to respond to feedback in a clear fashion, so long as you keep your own wits about you – realizing that YOU are in control of what stays and what goes there. Constructive criticism should never be ignored, but addressed (and that’s not to be confused with outright flames).
  40. “Viral” isn’t a marketing strategy. Viral means contagious, and that people can’t get enough of it. This is a good thing, and something you should keep in mind when recording your videos. It’s also something you can’t expect, even if your video is incredibly creative. The more important question to ask yourself is: are you creating good videos, or fluffy / unimportant things that nobody cares about?
  41. It’s less about the defined (read: subscribed) audience, and more about the audience that will continue to discover your videos through keyword searches and established content discovery mechanisms. When Google started to intersperse YouTube videos with their organic search results, it suddenly became very important that you start uploading videos to YouTube. The trends are moving in an upward direction.
  42. Embed elsewhere. If you have your own blog (and you should), you should be driving traffic back into your YouTube profile in every way possible. Link to your videos wherever you can, but be sure that they are relevant. Don’t be afraid to share your YouTube URLs with your Twitter followers, friends on Facebook, etc.
  43. Not every video will be a hit. Spikes will come from runaway video hits (or seasonal videos). If you’re getting dozens of views over an extended period of time for most of your videos, it could be for a variety of reasons – none of which may be related to the value (or quality) of the video itself. It might be time to re-evaluate your strategy, or to look into other ways of generating genuine interest (NOT spamming).
  44. Publish with regularity. You don’t necessarily need to stick to a daily, weekly, or monthly routine – but if you let too much time lapse between videos, your community will lose interest and forget about you. Stay on their minds. If you’re running out of material, DON’T repeat yourself – spend some time creating unique video responses for friends’ videos, possibly.
  45. Post bulletins to your subscribers. You can attach one video thumbnail to each bulletin, so you might as well take the opportunity to let people know that you’ve done something YOU believe is worth watching. Hyperlinks will not come through as clickable, so don’t expect much traffic from them. Still, this is another piece of the YouTube puzzle.
  46. Use one of your videos to respond to others (either your own, or someone else’s – hopefully, someone who knows who you are). You’ll find a “Post a Video Response” link on every video page – click it, then select the video you want to use as a response. Remember, you can respond to your own videos. The chances of someone watching a related video are rather high.
  47. Make playlists. These will help you link your related content together, and make it easier for your community to find videos on specific topics. This will also help them stay on your YouTube page, and increase your video views. Moreover, you can add your own community members’ videos within the same playlist – further extending the interpersonal connection.
  48. “Favorite” videos that your community makes. This will show your fellowship that you are doing your best to promote their creations, thereby (theoretically) increasing their visiblity (and highlighting their participation). This action will also show people that you are truly interested in what they have to share, potentially bringing you more viewers.
  49. Complete your profile. Tell visitors about yourself – and if you haven’t already written a bio, there’s no time like the present to do so. If your list of credentials isn’t outstanding, start thinking about what you can do to further establish authority. Why would someone want to subscribe to you? Sell yourself, because you simply can’t expect that anybody else will. Remember, be yourself – and be honest. You can add or remove elements from your profile page at will, understanding that turning on profile comments is pretty much welcoming nothing but spam.
  50. Support your most prolific supporters. If you notice that someone is consistently responding to you, following up with videos, sharing resources with you, etc. – give credit where credit is due. This will not only enhance their experience, but (believe it or not) it will increase your value to them – and hopefully, vice versa. Your supporters will continue to recommend your efforts, aiding your growth and viability.
  51. Strive to be consistently complete and insightful rather than a flash-in-the-pan. If you’re deluded enough to believe that everything you upload will be a hit, you’re in for mind-numbing disappointment. It’s better to see a long string of pseudo-successes than it is to be a one-hit wonder.
  52. If you’re going to focus your video on a product or service, if at all possible, have it in your hands (or somewhere near you). There are certainly going to be times when a discussion without product is warranted, but don’t feel obligated to share your opinion about an object that you’ve never touched. Your two cents may make more sense when you’re referring to something that you have sitting in front of you. People usually don’t want to hear why you think a product or service is great if you don’t have it.

Now, I’ve been thinking about fleshing out some of these points (as well as adding others) to compile a “YouTube eBook.” Is that something that might interest you?

Are there any other tips I may have left out? What are you doing to find your success on YouTube?

What YouTube Tools can You Recommend?

Add to iTunes | Add to YouTube | Add to Google | RSS Feed

Rumor has it that when you reach 50,000 subscribers on YouTube, you are presented with 72 virgins. I’m not sure if that happens, but I’ll find out soon! If you want an easy way of turning any YouTube channel into a podcast, then there’s a website you need to check out. At YT Podcaster, you can convert YouTube videos into a Podcast to play on your iPod, Zune and more.

Simply enter a YouTube username to create a Video Podcast from their 20 most recent YouTube videos. Or alternately, enter the URL to a single YouTube video to download the MP4 file. That’s all you need to do! You’re one click away from subscribing to any YouTube channel, and being able to listen to your favorite videos on the go.

YT Podcaster is an easy way for you to change a regular old YouTube channel into a Podcast feed, completely with MP4 video enclosures. If you want a more convenient way to convert a YouTube video into MP4 format, you can also check this out. Type the word kick before the video URL. For example: http://www.kickyoutube.com/watch?v=WqQZQfD6jsk.

Instead of just the video, I now have a cool header above it. It gives me options to download the same video into nearly any format you can imagine. This is just another tool you may want to use to enhance your video watching experience.

What tools do you use for YouTube?

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Are You Still Using a VCR for VHS Tapes?

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So what do all the cool kids want for Christmas this year? They want a VCR, of course! It’s such a hot product, since it’s been running for awhile. A VCR can play VHS tapes, you know! Thank goodness I finally have a VCR of my own! I have here the new Ion USB VCR from the folks at ThinkGeek!

EZ VHS Converter software lets you burn your videos to DVD, watch on your PSP, iPod or laptop computer. Exported MPEG4 video is compatible with select mobile phones and portable multimedia devices. Connect your VHS, VHS-C, or 8MM camcorder to the front panel jacks to backup your camcorder videos. When you’re finished archiving your videos to your computer, VCR 2 PC is the perfect VHS player for any room in the house. Some of the main features include:

  • Connects to Windows XP and Vista machines via USB 2.0 port.
  • Capture video at resolutions up to 720 x 480 (NTSC) or 720 x 576 (PAL).
  • Sends video uncompressed over the USB cable.
  • Burn Video to DVD Export video to iPod or PSP format.
  • Plug and play USB computer connection Standard RCA and composite outputs for connection to any TV or home theater system.
  • Standard RCA inputs for connecting video cameras.
  • Auto-tracking, variable speed slow motion, playback, and rewind.
  • Soft-touch, backlit buttons.

The Ion VCR is an excellent device. How else can you turn any of your old VHS movies into something you can watch on today’s technology? It’s so easy to use! If you’re planning to get a VCR anyway, make sure you pick this up to turn your VHS tapes into something more useful.

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Why I’m Switching from iPod to Zune

Geek!This is Commander Lock’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

WARNING: There are opinions in this article which critique popular products under the Apple brand. This warning is for your own consideration. Though everything in this article is for entertainment purposes, all the opinions stated below are my own, and if you want to try and convince me otherwise, please do, as I appreciate other’s opinions. And please, hold the virtual tomatoes until the end. Thank you, and enjoy.

  1. The way Apple ported iTunes for Windows was done quite poorly. It loads slow, takes up lots of resources, and is a pain in general. The store is nice, and I’ve bought songs and games from it, but the software itself is not getting high marks for performance or looks. ITunes has one color, no customization of appearances, and when not in its native OS X environment, it looks drab and a bit out of place. This is not to say it’s a bad-looking application, as I’m sure in OS X it looks fantastic with everything else having the same “Aqua” style – but in Windows OSes, specifically Vista and its Aero interface, it looks cut-and-paste from the OS X version, with little effort used in the transition. Performance of iTunes in Windows OSes has been pretty dismal for me, too. It takes a while to load up, pretty slow at importing songs and ripping CDs (sounds weird, but compared to the Zune, iTunes ripping is slow as molasses on a cold February morning), and so on.
  2. The Zune device itself, specifically the 16GB 3rd-gen Flash model, is pretty appealing right now. On Amazon, this model costs only $165.51 without shipping & handling rates, and I will admit I am a sucker for low prices. Getting back to the device itself, I have used Zunes in passing before, when the Flash models came out. The touch features are pretty easy to get used to and the interface makes sense, since things are no longer “buried” beneath menus like in iPods; it is much more “fluid” and smoother than the iPod’s “Aqua” style overall.
  3. The much-touted Wi-Fi features of the Zune is something of a big slap with a massive fish to Apple’s R&D team as it just makes sense – why the need to plug in your device just to put on a few songs or update a podcast? This is especially cool with the new “Marketplace through Wi-Fi” features on the device itself – all Zunes get this with software updates. So yeah, pretty cool device by itself. Missing an audio recorder, but I have yet to see one on an MP3 player that’s actually good. Automatic playlists, you may say… I like knowing what I’m going to listen to next. It’s like a movie theater making you pay $8 for a random movie. I don’t want to end up watching what some algorithm says I want to listen to.
  4. The Marketplace on the Zune software is impressive – it works well with barely a hitch, and same with the on-device Marketplace over Wi-Fi. In iTunes, the Store is in stark contrast with the style of iTunes – blue background, squares for all the art, and it is a bit slow in comparison. The “Mixview” feature of the Zune Marketplace is awesome – it shows the artist you’re looking at, surrounded by suggestions and why they were selected, like influences / inspiration of other artists, related, similar genre, etc. The “Social” aspect of the Zune software is integrated nicely, and since I already have an Xbox Live account to link it to, getting it up and running was easy. Microsoft is really pushing the Social part of this franchise, but I’m only in it for tech support on their forums if I ever need it. The “Microsoft Points” system used on both Marketplaces (Live and Zune) was a good idea – leftover points from purchases on Live can be used on Zune, and vice versa. Granted, I’d still have to buy the bundles of points, but I’m used to that.
  5. Of course, buying off the Zune site allows for custom artwork, something the iPod (as far as I can predict) will never do, as to invade the iPod’s serene blankness that looks all too bleak and boring to me. A Zune with the artwork and text would be unique to me, unlike the millions of identical iPods, skins or without skins. It is all still the same recognizable shape and design, including the iPhone /iPod Touch. I want to be more than the average – dare I say it – sheepish iPod user. I can honestly say that most of my friends who have MP3 players of some sort have an iPod or want an iPod, thinking of it to be in this magical, higher echelon of technology and grant passage into the grandest heights of their social ladder on Facebook. In short, I don’t give two *bleeps* about the social ladder and the iPod hasn’t gotten me any girls, so I guess it’s too widespread to have its “you got an iPod?!” charm anymore.
  6. Zunes are no longer the oddball player in the MP3 Player market, which by now is more like the “Who will make the iPod Killer” market. The Zune is, as it turns out, getting closest to being the iPod’s main contender. Though certainly the iPod’s appeal as an already “established” device will be very hard to overcome for Microsoft, let alone the rest of the companies like Archos, Sansa, Samsung, Sony, and many others that have quality MP3 players in their product line-up but seem to fade away when in the same store aisle as the iPod. I think if more people bought these “iPod contenders,” we would see the fruits of healthy competition arise; better quality products, more bang for the buck, and hoping for brand-making features, like the fantastic feature of the 4th Generation iPod Nano to… well… shake and bake shuffle? Apple needs to think beyond gimmicks and really get some innovation going on here. I think it’s ironic how Apple’s motto used to be “Think Different” while the majority of MP4 players are iPods. By me, “thinking different,” I’m seeking to ditch the iPod, iTunes, and getting their rival’s player instead. It is a funny world we live in, isn’t it?

The Best Christmas Music CDs You Need to Buy

Geek!This is Scott Crews’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

(1) Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas

  • Why You Aren’t Listening to It: Sufjan Stevens hasn’t had any mainstream attention (no matter how much his fans think he should).
  • Why You Should Listen to It: If you’ve never heard of Sufjan Stevens, it’s almost impossible to compare him to anyone else. “Sufjan Stevens: Songs for Christmas” is full of creative instrumentation, laid back tempos, and vocal harmonies, but it doesn’t have a lot of “over-production” that most albums suffer from these days. There are a few traditional Christmas songs on the disc. And it gives a lot of bang for your buck: he made the album into 5 CDs (over two hours of continuous music), and he doesn’t just do Christmas songs. It is a fantastic collection of music to get you in the Christmas spirit.

(2) MercyMe – The Christmas Sessions

  • Why You Aren’t Listening to It: Because when your top 40 radio station got done playing “I Can Only Imagine,” you were okay with it.
  • Why You Should Be Listening to It: Because what made “I Can Only Imagine” a hit makes MercyMe a great band, and it isn’t their fault that your radio station played that song into the ground. The Christmas Sessions contains all the Christmas classics with new arrangements and amazing vocals. Tracks to check out: “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” and “Joesph’s Lullaby.”

(3) Mariah Carey – Merry Christmas

  • Why You Aren’t Listening to It: Because geeky guys don’t listen to Mariah Carey.
  • Why You Should Be Listening to It: Because there’s a reason it’s a top selling Christmas CD every year. It’s really, really good. It is important to realize that “Merry Christmas” is from back in the day when Mariah Carey was still making REAL music, and not the booty-pop garbage that her producers are pumping out now. It is possible to like this CD and completely preserve one’s manliness. Tracks to check out: “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” NOTE: On iTunes, there are two editions of this CD – one is 7.99 and one is 9.90. From what I can tell, there is no difference… so save two bucks if you can!

(4) Andy Williams – The Andy Williams Christmas Album

  • Why You Aren’t Listening to It: Because if you’re under 30 years old, you’ve probably never heard of him.
  • Why You Should Be Listening to It: Because Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra are good… and Andy Williams is just as good (or probably even better). Sure, listen to Frank the rest of the year when you want big, smooth, classic vocals. But for Christmas, Andy Williams hits a home run. Check out “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” and “The Christmas Song.”

(5) Relient K – Let It Snow Baby… Let it Reindeer

  • Why You Aren’t Listening to It: Because either you’ve never heard of them or you don’t like pop/punk at Christmas.
  • Why You Should Be Listening to It: There are two reasons to listen. The first is if you like pop/punk music (surging drum beats, driving guitars, vocal harmony). The second is if you like phenomenal Christmas music. If that is you, don’t go buy the entire CD. But DO go buy the two tracks “I Celebrate the Day” and “Silent Night / Away In A Manger.” They sound nothing like the rest of the CD, and “I Celebrate the Day” is a beautiful Jimmy Eat World-esque piano ballad… and literally the greatest song ever written about Christmas. Don’t go another Christmas without this song – you’re only doing yourself a disservice.

Okay, there you go. What do you think? What albums did I leave off? Remember: it’s the music that we AREN’T listening to… so, “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” is NOT eligible!

Singing about Modular Musical Instruments

I received an email from Ziv bar ilan, founder and designer of Zoybar.net. Zoybar is a modular hardware platform for creating custom electric string instruments and effects. The basic Zoybar kits enable you to assemble a variety of electric string instruments that could be mounted with different sound effects. Get this: he was inspired by the open source movement. Ziv explains further:

In the virtual world of software production, every individual programmer can be a powerful autonomous production unit (provided with a web connection and a computer) whereas in the physical world materials, energy, production lines, storage and marketing takes much more time, money and risks to become a reality.

The Zoybar components provide research and development tools as a sustainable, playable prototype platform. The same modular parts can be assembled as different instruments, can be changed during the performance and also be mounted with numerous special effects, just by adding and changing their position across the profile groves.

My vision is to found an open music instruments hardware community. Every new effect or feature that would be created by an independent developer could become relevant to the whole Zoybar users and community.

So, what might one of these magical instruments look like? Take a gander:

Ziv continues:

Almost any application can be easily attached to the Zoybar platform, just by adding and changing its position across the profile groves with common bolts and screws. This design approach creates great flexibility to produce a high variety of low demand products, while maintaining the high productivity of large scale production. It also helps locating problems and to eliminate overproduction by only producing items when they are needed. Every component and future development would have the same attachment method. This means that all of the parts are also spare parts regardless of their version or manufacturer, keeping them relevant, rather then dumping them as useless waste as soon as a new version has been released.

Keep an eye on Zoybar, folks.

Who are the Internet's Top Video Producers?

I’ve been recording media for Internet distribution since… ever since I could with one of Sony’s first Mavicas (the FD7, which recorded images on a floppy disk). In fact, one of my Gnomies found and published my first webcam recording (which I’ll never live down). I’ve been streaming live video for well over a year now, and I’ll get to those statistics later in this post.

I first mentioned TubeMogul in this blog when it was nothing more than a project it was interesting, but not really what I needed at the time. As I started to produce a regular array of videos, their “sneezing” service evolved enabling me to distribute a single video to several networks without having to encode / upload / tag / describe / name it more than once. Today, TubeMogul released their first Top 40 list – and with 30,000 other publishers, I’m in good company:

  1. Next New Networks
  2. Chris Pirillo
  3. Howcast
  4. For Your Imagination
  5. Tornante
  6. WatchMojo
  7. iJustine
  8. Nalts
  9. MyDamnChannel
  10. Ford Models
  11. CBS Interactive
  12. HBO
  13. Rocketboom
  14. FUNimation Productions
  15. National Lampoon
  16. Big Pictures
  17. Sub Pop Records
  18. Rhett and Link
  19. PopCrunch Media
  20. PBS
  21. Independent Comedy TV
  22. Billboard.com
  23. The Movie Preview Critic
  24. IPC Media
  25. Hayden Black / Evil Global Corp
  26. Century Media Records
  27. Tango Media
  28. DailyIdea
  29. Effinfunny
  30. Newsbusters
  31. Katr Pictures
  32. Young Hollywood
  33. Warner Bros
  34. Fox
  35. Vlaze Media Networks
  36. Gagfilms
  37. Click for Lessons
  38. EMI
  39. Nike
  40. Sony Pictures

You read that right: I’m #2 this month, though I don’t know how long I’ll remain in the top 10 (with competition like HBO, PBS, CBS, iJustine, Warner Bros, and Sony Pictures). Understand, too, that these numbers only reflect the videos that were being tracked through TubeMogul – not my independent uploads to either YouTube or my iTunes podcast feed.

In my humble opinion, our live video stats are even more impressive: over 5 million unique live video viewers watched me do my “thing” in 2007 – a total of 2+ million LIVE viewer hours with an average viewing time of 25 minutes per visitor. Imagine what could happen if I worked with a larger media brand for both live and produced videos?

I guess, for me, the idea of being back “on television” is kinda… over.

Flip Video Camcorder Tip: Get One

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If you buy only one new tech gadget this year, you really should look at getting a Flip Video camera. This thing is literally plug-and-play. It doesn’t matter if you have a PC or a Mac. If you have a USB port, you can use this camcorder. Simply point the camera at what you want to video, push the button, and voila! It records. It truly is that simple.

The one that I bought holds about 60 minutes’ worth of video. I actually bought two of these, one for me and one for my Dad. I wanted to see if it really is as simple to use as it claims to be. Within ten minutes, my Dad had opened it, set it up and recorded his first video. That just goes to prove the ease of use for this little device. Just shoot, plug it in, and share your work.

Even for a Techie, this is a great little device. The upload to YouTube feature is very simple, but the audio compression is not great, in my opinion. Keep in mind, when you plug in the camera, the computer will recognize it as a USB device. You can simply browse on your system to find the device, and locate your video files. You don’t have to use the software that comes with it, nor upload directly to YouTube. You can take your .avi files and do what it is you need to do with them.

This little camcorder definitely gets the job done. The price is unbeatable for what you’re getting. There simply isn’t a comparable device on the market right now, when you consider price, ease-of-use, and quality.

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Open Source Media Player Alternatives

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This live call involved a gentleman asking me for a good free alternative to Windows Media Player. He’s had a lot of trouble using WMP, and doesn’t really like it.

The chat room immediately went nuts on this request, yelling (typing, of course) out names of various media players. Everyone has their favorites, it seems. My first suggestion is VLC, and the other one is MPlayer. Both of them are free, and work very well. In fact, the new Google Video player is based on VLC.

MPlayer is a movie player which runs on many systems. It plays most MPEG/VOB, AVI, Ogg/OGM, VIVO, ASF/WMA/WMV, QT/MOV/MP4, RealMedia, Matroska, NUT, NuppelVideo, FLI, YUV4MPEG, FILM, RoQ, PVA files, supported by many native, XAnim, and Win32 DLL codecs. You can watch VideoCD, SVCD, DVD, 3ivx, DivX 3/4/5 and even WMV movies.

VLC media player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, mp3, ogg, …) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. It can also be used as a server to stream in unicast or multicast in IPv4 or IPv6 on a high-bandwidth network.

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How to Buy an MP4 Player

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One community member wrote in to say: “Over the last few years I have come full circle when it comes to MP4 players. So here are the 5 steps to choosing the right player for you.”

  • What do you need it for? If you want your MP4 player for listening to music and taking your favorite video clips with you to watch when you have a minute, you’ll probably be looking for a small screen player with 2 – 8 GB storage. Or if you’re looking for a device to use on the train to watch that TV show you missed last night or on an airplane to watch a movie or two, you’ll be looking for a larger screen player so you don’t strain your eyes with between 10 and 120 GB of storage.
  • Choose Your Brand! I’m sure I’m not the first to notice this but whenever Apple comes out with a new iPod, Creative will come out with something a month or so later that does just the same thing, looks a lot uglier but costs a lot less too. So if you’re a big apple fan with no budget, go for the iPod. If you’re not bothered either way, save some money and take the creative. Alternatively, if you’re just going to use it for watching videos, get an Archos.
  • Chose Your Model! With each different model you get a different screen size. If you’d rather have a small player, you’ll be looking at the new iPod nano with its sleek design and versatile storage, the new Creative Zen MP4 player with between 4 and 16 GB of storage, or the new Archos 105. If you prefer the larger player, you’ll be looking at the Apple iPod Classic, iPod Touch or the iPhone, the Creative Zen Vision M or W or the Archos 406, 506 or 706.
  • Protection. As with all small consumer electronic products, you’d be a fool not to buy a case. The Archos is the only device that comes with a half decent case. The others just come with those pouches to keep away dust and scratches. These are no good if you knock or drop the product so invest in a hard wearing case. It might also be worth looking into extended warranties and accidental damage cover. These things are expensive don’t forget.
  • Get the most out of your product! Now that you know what you want, look into the extra features and see how they will benefit you. You’d be surprised what features are on these devices. Wifi and internet browsers, card readers, AV input/output ports, docking stations, TV recording features… There’s a lot more than meets the eye to these players and most people don’t realize it!

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