Thursday, July 28, 2011

Campus Technology Conference 2011

On July 26th, a couple of my coworkers and I ventured down to the Campus Technology Conference, held at Boston's Seaport World Trade Center.  My job entails working with video, but the majority of my time is spent using projection and audio systems, as well as room control systems.  This is the first year I was able to attend the Campus Technology Conference, which is shocking when you consider the fact that it's only a 30 minute subway ride from my office.  We only attended the show floor (thanks to Crestron for the free tickets) since we didn't have the time or budget to commit to a few days of breakout sessions/classes.  Many of the breakout sessions looked interesting, but the majority of them were really geared toward academic IT departments, and not really academic AV support departments.  Since we didn't attend the InfoComm show this year in Orlando, I was interested in seeing some of the new products that were announced at that show.

The first booth we visited was ShareStream, which is a company started by a Harvard alum, David Weinstein.  David was in the booth, so the four of us had a nice conversation about the services they provide.  To use their words, ShareStream is "a turnkey system for creating, editing, storing, managing, and delivering rich media."  In short, it's used to deliver lecture video to students.  We work closely with our IT department for storing and delivering lecture video, so this is an area that we're interested in.  We're mainly responsible for the acquisition and editing of lecture and event video on campus, then the IT folks store and deliver it via streaming servers.  There's more to it, but that's a simplified version of our workflow.  So naturally ShareStream provides services that we were interested in hearing about.

We wandered in and out of various booths, but our next big stop was a visit with our friends at the Crestron booth.  We use many Crestron room control products on campus, so we're familiar with most of their offerings.  We were especially interested in discussing the new products they announced at the InfoComm Show in June.  The Crestron rep was pretty excited to tell us about their new Capture-HD system, which is used to capture and encode lecture video.  There are quite a few lecture capture systems on the market these days, so it will be interesting to get our hands on a demo unit and try Crestron's solution.  Crestron is making a big push for its DigitalMedia system that, in a nutshell, delivers video and audio signals around a room to multiple displays via CAT5 cable with Crestron switchers and signal processing equipment.  They're more than just room control systems these days.

Our next stop was at the Kaltura booth.  Kaltura is an online video platform that allows users to manager their online video content.  It's very flexible (open source) and seems to have a great staff working behind the scenes in support.  We had a nice conversation with one of the reps.

Wandering down the show floor aisle we came across another one of our good friends, Extron.  In addition to Crestron control systems on campus, we have many, many rooms using Extron control systems.  The first item I noticed in the Extron booth was a H.264 encoder that they introduced at InfoComm.  It has multiple inputs and seems like a simple solution for H.264 encoding.  We spent the rest of our time talking to the Extron reps about the new DVS 605 switcher.  This is a new seamless switching scaler that they introduced at InfoComm.  The key is that the switcher is DHCP compliant.  The exchange of DHCP keys between video sources, switchers/other processors in the signal flow, and ultimately the display can really slow down switching between sources.  When we're switching sources in a presentation setting, it needs to be seamless and fast, otherwise it looks very clunky and unprofessional.  It'll be very nice to get our hands on a demo unit of the DVS 605.

Next up was a presentation by the Wowza Media Systems CEO, David Stubenvoll.  David's talk was about implementing video stream, but of course he peppered it with information about the Wowza Media Server.  Wowza can take H.264 content and deliver it to almost any device that can playback video, in many different formats.  Flash, Silverlight, Apple HTTP, etc.  Davis really knows his stuff about viodeo streaming, and Wowza looks like a great product.  We later visited the Wowza booth, and this seems like another company that has a great support staff standing behind the product.

WolfVision VZ-9plus document camera

We visited many booths as we made our way down the aisles, but our last big stop was the WolfVision booth.  As far as document cameras go, WolfVision makes some exceptional products.  If you're not familiar with document cameras, think about the old overhead projectors, just with a camera pointing down at the material, and a VGA or DVI output that can be connected to a projector.  We have a few of their VZ-9plus document cameras already on campus, and I also use their EYE-12 camera to project live science demonstrations in the classroom on the projector.  WolfVision makes great products.  It's amazing how detailed the image is when you have the high res camera zoomed in all the way.  You can see details on a dollar bill that you can't see with the naked eye.  Great for the art department or some of our professors that use rare books in their teaching.

Even though the Campus Technology Conference is much smaller than the InfoComm show or NAB, they still offered a nice mix of exhibitors.  I can't speak to the quality of the breakout sessions/classes, since we didn't take any.  Maybe next year we'll have the time and budget to give them a try.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Boston Final Cut Pro User Group meeting recap: 7/21/11

The EP Levine store and location of this month's BOSFCPUG meeting

Last night's Boston Final Cut Pro User Group meeting was an enjoyable evening of guest speakers, product demos, and on a 95 degree day, robust air conditioning.  The event was held at EP Levine in Waltham.  EP Levine is a camera store with many goodies for still photographers and those that shoot video with DSLRs.  The also have a nice studio space, where the BOSFCPUG event was held.  My coworkers, Kevin and Geoff, enjoyed digging through the cases of used lenses.  Geoff couldn't pull the trigger on a tilt shift lens he was eyeing, but Kevin ended up making a purchase.  As he mentioned, EP Levine's prices were comparable to what he found online for the same lens, and he has the piece of mind of buying from a local retailer.

One piece of news jumped out at me:  Daniel Berube mentioned that the Boston SuperMeet is tentatively scheduled for October 20th, but the date may change to accommodate the schedule of a "special guest."  Who could it be?  Maybe Larry Jordan, or Kevin Smith (who was bumped from the Vegas SuperMeet), or maybe Apple executives begging us to stick with FCP X.  We shall see.  Last year's Boston SuperMeet was a very fun evening, as was this year's SuperMeet at NAB.

As usual, Daniel Berube worked very hard to put together another action packed evening for all of us.  The evening's speakers started with Jay Ignaszewski from AJA, then Charles Roberts from Fitchburg State University, followed by Gary Oberbrunner from GenArts, and Steve Martin wrapped up the speaking portion of the event.  The evening ended with a screening of DSLR shorts, and a raffle.  Unfortunately, my coworkers and I needed to duck out after Steve Martin's talk, so I have no details about the screening or raffle for you. 

Jay Ignaszewski started the evening with information about AJA's products interacting with Final Cut Pro X.  There was a good deal of concern from the other BOSFCPUG members about external monitoring and exporting out to tape.  This AJA document does a much better job than I can do of summing up what Jay talked about.

The next speaker was Charles Roberts, a faculty member at Fitchburg State University that teaches video production.  I found Charles to be a very engaging speaker, with lots of enthusiasm for teaching.  One comment that stuck with me is something that he stresses to his students:  don't lose out on jobs because you only know one piece of NLE software, or because you're fiercely loyal to using only one NLE.  Expand your knowledge so you're ready to step into any job and use any piece of video production software that they throw at you.  As he said, there's many ways to get the same job done, and most times you don't get to choose what tools you have to use.  The meat of Charles' talk focused on using FCP 7 to inject DSLR footage, send it to Avid Media Composer for edit, send it to Apple Color (with the help of an EDL) for grading, then complete the roundtrip back into FCP 7 for final export.  I personally couldn't imagine me having the need to do this, but it was interesting to see the process.  All in all, I hope to hear more from Charles at future BOSFCPUG meetings.

Next up was Gary Oberbrunner from GenArts demoing their Sapphire Edge effects package.  GenArts is located right down the road from me in Cambridge, MA.  They make some very impressive effects packages used by major film and video productions.  Gary focused on the Sapphire Edge plug-in package, which, as he described, is 15 transitions and 4 filters.  Even though that seems kind of limited, each transition and filter has numerous presets and settings that can be changed, giving you hundreds of pre-built looks.  I was very impressed with the effects Gary showed us.  Gary focused on using these Sapphire Edge plug-ins in FCP 7, because, as he showed us, they're still working out the kinks of integrating these plug-ins into FCP X.  He showed us how FCP X unexpectedly quits when some of the plug-ins are used, so it's still very much in the beta testing stage.  The Sapphire Edge package is $299 and includes a one year subscription to their FX Central website.

A crummy cell phone pic of Steve Martin presenting to all of us
The final speaker of the evening was the keynote speaker, Steve Martin.  Steve is an Apple Certified trainer, founder of Ripple Training, and was one of the first to get their hands on FCP X.  In addition to speaking this evening, he is also teaching an eight hour FCP X workshop on 7/22.  Sorry to say, if you're reading this recap, it's too missed it.  Since my employer doesn't have plans to switch to FCP X anytime soon, I opted to not attend the workshop.  Steve is an excellent trainer, so I'm sure that those attending the workshop are finding it valuable.  I was first introduced to Steve when I took Post Production World classes at the NAB Show this year.  I didn't take a full course from Steve, but he did pop into a couple of the classes I took to contribute.  He really knows his stuff and knows how to teach it, so if you have the chance to catch a talk or class from Steve, don't miss it.  I would love to see him back at a BOSFCPUG meeting very soon.

Steve's talk focused on common myths surrounding FCP X, but really just turned into a very helpful collection of tips and tricks to get us acclimated to the new interface and features.  Since I have yet to install and use FCP X, this was a nice way for me to get motivated to start using it.  I'll summarize some of the key points that stood out to me, but keep your eye on the BOSFCPUG webpage, since Daniel arranged to have Steve's entire talk recorded.  I'm sure they're editing the video and will post it ASAP.
  • FCP X and DSLR footage:  Steve showed us the process of transcoding DSLR footage to ProRes in the background as you work.  The "create optimized media" check box in the import window is your friend, if this is what you're looking to do.
  • Turn a stereo audio clip into two mono tracks:  control click on the stereo audio track and select "break apart clip items" to split into two mono tracks
  • Steve showed us FCP X's ability to edit sub frame audio
  • As goofy as the labeling is, Steve's demo of the "Ken Burns" button looks like a painless way to pan and zoom still images.  Just a more user friendly method than doing it with keyframes.
  • Steve showed us that when you paste effects in FCP X ("paste attributes" in FCP 7), you can't pick and choose which effects/attributes you do and don't want to paste.  That was a nice feature of older FCP versions that has been eliminated from FCP X.  You now just have to paste all the copied effects and turn off those you don't want in the inspector window.
  • During the Q&A portion of the evening, someone asked Steve about preserving Photoshop layers when you import into FCP X.  Unfortunately, the answer is that it won't do it.   You can do it in Motion, just not directly in FCP X.
  • Someone asked Steve about FCP X's multicam editing support, and he confirmed that even though it doesn't currently have that feature, it's something that Apple will integrate into a future update.  No word on when, though.  This is one of many reasons why we can't currently use FCP X for our projects.
  • Steve ended his talk by presenting the idea of using the AirDisplay app on your iPad to wirelessly create a second monitor with your iPad.  He said that there's a very slight, but hardly noticeable bit of lag on the iPad.
Since Steve's livelihood relies on people wanting to be trained on Apple software, he made sure to throw a few "don't give up on Final Cut" promos in his talk.  I don't think anyone denies the fact that FCP X has a bunch of great new or redesigned features.  It's just lacking features in some really key areas, and video professionals can't wait around for future updates to address those issues.  With Avid and Adobe offering discounts on Media Composer and Premiere, it'll be very interesting to see how all of this plays out.

As I mentioned, we weren't able to stick around for the screening and raffle at the end of the evening.  All in all, it was another informative and motivating BOSFCPUG meeting.  As usual, I look forward to next month's meeting!