Category Archives: Video

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 Record HD Video on OS X from a Webcam for Free

For quite some time, I’ve been spending time and money attempting to discover a way to record HD video with a webcam on the Mac. While it seems like a simple enough request, Logitech has repeatedly taken the stance that it can’t be done. Well, they were either incompetent or dishonest. I’ve long been a fan of Logitech webcams for their overall build and image quality. I currently use the C910 for its HD capability and image clarity. Their software, on the other hand, has been a dismal departure from anything that could be even remotely considered quality.

Thankfully, CamTwist has come to the rescue with a free solution that allows you to view your webcam in a preview window and set it at a desired size. Once the window is up, all you need to do is use screen capture software (Camtasia, Screenflow, etc.) to grab the video. If you’ve ever operated under the false assumption (portrayed by certain manufacturers) that you can’t capture HD video from a webcam, this is the workaround to make it happen for you.

What makes me most upset about the whole thing is the fact that I’m only one of many Logitech customers that have spent a considerable amount of time attempting to relay possible improvements in their software that would take their current product and make it outstanding. Unfortunately, each software update appears to do nothing more than further the point that their interest isn’t in providing software capable of filling basic requirements on the part of their customers.

Honestly Logitech, if you would just remove your software from the equation altogether and provide basic drivers to your customers, the user experience would improve ten-fold. Your hardware is good, and there isn’t a single reason why it shouldn’t be counted among the best in its class. The software has, unfortunately, been anything but.

Five Tips for Better Video

Video is a tricky subject that some spend their entire lives studying and never truly master. The technology behind compression and editing is constantly evolving and there are new things to learn every day. Fortunately for most budding video enthusiasts, there are plenty of easy-to-use video editing programs out there to make the job of mastering and publishing your work without a lot of knowledge in the technical aspects of video much easier. Here are five tips for better video:

White Balance
If there is one thing that any photographer or videographer can tell you, it’s that cameras aren’t nearly as good at adjusting to different lighting situations as the human eye is. Lighting is a constant hassle for photographers and a nightmare for anyone taking video in a constantly changing environment.

By white balancing your image either on the camera or in post (or both), you can create a more true representation of what it is you captured. This is especially important in cases where your image appears washed in a color such as yellow, blue, or green.

Use an Intermediate Codec when Editing
Without going into the technical aspects of codecs, the use of an intermediate codec your editing program works with natively can make a world of difference in the process. For example, Final Cut Pro requires you to render video each time you make an adjustment through editing if it doesn’t recognize the intermediate codec of the source. By encoding it in a lossless codec such as Apple Intermediate Codec, you can utilize all the features and functions of Final Cut Pro without having to wait for a render each time you make even the slightest change.

It’s recommended that the codec you use for editing be lossless rather than lossy so your final product does have two, or even three levels of encoding over it resulting in a degraded and potentially pixelated image.

Lighting
Lighting is key to good video. Without the right lighting, your source material can appear dark and unwieldy to the editor. If an image is captured too dark, you may not always be able to lighten it in post as the darkest darks will crunch together and become one big black pixelated mass upon brightening. The same goes for video that’s too bright. The digital camera will see objects lit too brightly as being the same as the white light behind it and create a giant white mass that can’t always be corrected in post. Someone’s alabaster skin (like me) will easily blend in to a white wall if lit too brightly.

In some cases, good lighting can actually improve a system’s ability to maintain a desired frame rate. This is what I discovered with the MacBook Pro as it dropped my frame rate down to 15 when the room wasn’t properly lit.

Framing
Frame your subject properly. Having a space above your head that’s larger than your head is never really a good thing, unless what you’re talking about is above you. Ideally, you want the top of your head to end with only a small sliver of space between it and the top of the frame. Should your video become newsworthy, news programs will often put a lower-third over your video to give you credit and describe what their audience is seeing. Making sure the lower-third of the screen doesn’t have anything necessary to the shot can be a big help in this case.

Focus
Focus the camera on your subject and lock the focus in place unless you have a cameraman. If you’re using a camcorder without a focus adjustment option, make sure that you’re the object in the shot making the most movement and taking up the most space. Some cameras focus on the center point of the frame, so you may want to test out various different ways of positioning yourself to make sure the autofocus is on you as much as possible.

Blurry video, especially during unboxings or other macro-specific shots can ruin the viewer’s experience. Make sure the camcorder you’re using is capable of handling an extremely close shot before depending on it to. The same goes for subjects far in the distance. Filming a runner going around the field can make a great establishment or action shot, but make sure you have the ability to maintain the focus on them all the way around the track.

Video is a tough subject to master, though by keeping a few key points in mind, you can achieve stunning results without all the technical know-how or high-end software. Some of the most popular video on the web is shot with $140 pocket camcorders and edited on free video editing software (such as iMovie and Windows Movie Maker).

How to Embed YouTube Video Without Related Videos

There are times when you don’t want related videos playing in a YouTube video embed. I know, because a few minutes ago I had that very need!

It’s actually quite simple to embed a YouTube video by way of their on-site forms these days – and they’re bound to change the options by the time I post this how to article. The good news is: if you’re having problems trying to get your YouTube video to embed without displaying any related links, please leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to respond with updated directions (and update this description, too).

Don’t worry – if you’ve already embedded the video, you can very easily turn off the related videos from showing up. This might be important if you only want a page’s visitor to see that single video. Take a look at the HTML code you copied from YouTube originally.

So, in essence, you’ll want the end of the video to look like this screen shot – giving the viewer no other option other than to replay without seeing related videos (from you or any other YouTube viewers):

You’ll see a couple of “youtube” URLs in there – the links which tell the web page which video needs to be played. To the end of these URLs, we need to add a simple parameter:

&rel=0

So, for example, if you see a URL like this:

http://www.youtube.com/v/X1Wn-iKadvE?version=3&hl=en_US

And turn it into this:

http://www.youtube.com/v/X1Wn-iKadvE?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0

This way, when someone goes to view the video, no related videos will show up. You can see a living example of this code in action on our current business services site. You could also click on the YouTube links above to see the differences between viewing a video with or without the related video option.

Good luck with your embedding. If you have any questions about YouTube, don’t hesitate to ask!

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.

Facebook Skype Calling vs. Google+ Hangouts

In a highly anticipated announcement today, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook is teaming up with Skype to introduce the ability for users to have video calls with each other. Unfortunately, this feature lacks some of the fundamental perks that makes Google+ Hangouts so interesting.

Jake Ludington, a member of the LockerGnome team, joined me for a quick test of this new feature. During the test we were almost immediately made aware of some flaws present in the service which Facebook will need to improve upon if they hope to make a strong case against Google+ Hangouts.

The first barrier to entry (for Mac users) is the required installation of a Java file (not JavaScript) that allows you to make a call. Windows users have a slightly more convenient executable file. Google’s integration requires an installation as well, but the process is almost completely automatic in comparison.

Video quality isn’t great at all, at least not during our test. Jake appeared extremely pixelated when his connection should be more than sufficient for clear video. This may be due to the heavy traffic on the service closely following the announcement, though there was no sign of this clearing up at any point throughout the call.

Audio fed back constantly. This is a common problem with Skype that is only solved by requiring both parties to wear headphones. Ideally, the program should duck anyone except the loudest speaker while they are talking, and this didn’t appear to be the case during the test.

It was nice to be able to move the video window around and place it in a location that didn’t immediately disturb any work you may be doing at the time of the call. The convenience of having it integrated with a social network 750 million users are already a part of is also a big potential draw for this service. Even as frustrating as the initial installation may have been, knowing that the majority of your contacts are more likely to be on Facebook than any of a dozen other social networks counts towards this system’s likelihood for success.

Overall, this new venture between Facebook and Skype doesn’t seem as impressive as Google Hangouts, especially given the lack of group conferencing and virtually echoless audio. If this is Facebook’s answer to Google+, I have a feeling they are facing a competitive and difficult road ahead.

Does YouTube Make Piracy Easier?

iTechnologyz, a member of the LockerGnome community, asked, “Do you think YouTube is causing piracy?

To me, the answer is both yes and no. It would be foolish of anyone to state that YouTube is either completely original or pirated content. Pirates will find a way around algorithms one way or another. YouTube has taken strong steps to combat piracy, though it is certainly not free of it quite yet.

It does, in the sense that YouTube has made it so simple to upload media to the web and share it with the world without any actual costs involved. This process is pretty simple, whether or not you actually own the content you’re sharing with the world. The ease of use, in terms of sharing this media, has certainly contributed to piracy.

Does this mean YouTube is causing piracy? People have been pirating media since the means of doing so have existed. Long before the days of digital bits and even the printing press, people have been copying other’s works and distributing the copies outside of the control of the content creator. YouTube isn’t the cause of piracy, but it does have a hand in making piracy easier to do.

Piracy, in this case, isn’t limited to content sold on retail shelves. This also includes someone downloading original content off one channel and uploading it to their own. This can lead to loss of income and control over something someone has created. For many content creators on YouTube and other content sharing sites, their work is their primary source of income. That income allows them to keep doing what they do.

Recently, YouTube has started allowing for Creative Commons licensing to be added to original content. This means that you can mark your videos as creative commons, which will allow other users the freedom of taking your content and reposting it on their channel.

If you would like to do something with our content, please feel free to drop me a line through my email address or you can contact me on Twitter, Facebook, and Empire Avenue. You’d be surprised at what we’ll say yes to, just as long as we know what you’d like to do.

Robert Rodriguez Talks Tech and Movies at AMD Event

Robert Rodriguez, an Austin-based filmmaker and founder of Troublemaker Studios is no stranger to technology. In fact, he makes a point of stretching the limits of his equipment on each film by utilizing as many features of the technology as possible. Recently, he sat down to talk technology and movie making at an AMD event.

He sat down for a surprise interview at an event held by AMD in Seattle, WA to launch their new APU (Accelerated Processing Units) line of processors, which combines a standard processor with a graphics processor on the same chip. As he explains in the interview, his partnership with AMD is based on a need for a “bigger gun” in the wild west known as the cloud.

Having the right amount of processing power in a movie studio is very important. As movies have evolved, so have the demands of the technology. Video encoding, rendering, and various other high-priority tasks need to be done as quickly as possible during the process of filmmaking. A clip is created, rendered, tested, and remade sometimes dozens of times over as the editor works towards that perfect take. As Rodriguez notes, everything he does has to work absolutely perfectly on a multitude of formats, and that takes a lot of testing. Faster and more powerful processing can make this process much easier.

On his first film, “Bedhead”, Rodriguez took a wind-up camera (obsolete by today’s standards) and thought of ways to use what may have been considered a downside of the technology as a feature in his film. The idea of introducing telekinesis to the film was the result.

To Rodriguez, technology is a tool (much like a paintbrush) that can be used creatively.

He attributes being based in Austin, as opposed to Los Angeles, for much of his ability to think outside the box. Being away from the bulk of the industry can appear to be a setback to some, but not to Rodriguez. This separation can give you more room to expand, and think outside the box. Where Hollywood has a tendency to be slow to adopt to new technologies, an independent filmmaker has the freedom to try things in their own way.

Robert Rodriguez was one of the pioneers of digital and 3D filmmaking. He promises to expand his technological and creative horizons even further with an upcoming film that features “4D”. What that will mean for the future of cinema, only time will tell.