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BBC newscasts

Recently, I upgraded to the latest generation plasma TV from Panasonic (probably last too).

I found that BBC news is one of the last bastions of low-rez programming (720p). Yet, I’m still hooked to their news reports and the Business section with Sally Bundock. Content is King.

Vidize Beta gear: web camera

Logitech Pro 9000Now that the Vidize is in beta, I plan to go over the list of recommended equipment.

I start with the absolute must-have – a Web camera.

A while back, there was a discussion about USB 1.1 vs USB 2.0 web cams. This discussion is mostly obsolete now as the majority of new web cameras are all USB 2.0. Keep in mind that being USB 2.0 doesn’t guarantee quality in any way. It simply means the camera can send more data to the computer (in theory).

Here’s what to look for in a Web camera:

  • Speed: Since we’re choosing a webcam to record video online, the speed is the most important factor. You need a webcam that will do at least 30 frames-per-second (30FPS) when the lighting is adequate.
  • Light sensitivity: The sensitivity to light is very important as most budget web cams give good results only in a VERY narrow window. It’s either too dark or too light for them.
  • Control: In addition to getting a camera that is sensitive to light, you absolutely need to be able to control it. Look for cam that has a control panel where you can adjust the speed, the gain, and the white balance (the color of light).
  • Pixels: As usual the more, the marrier but this is secondary to the points above. Anything over 640×480 is probably an overkill for web video at this time.

I have selected two different cameras that meet the requirements above. If you are not sure about a web cam you like, feel free to email me.

  • Logitech Pro 9000: This is the latest cam in Logitech’s Pro series. It’s probably a bit of an overkill but it does have everything you need. It also has a lot of stuff you probably don’t – like adding a moustache effect.

    The list price is $99 but you can find it for less.

  • Logitech Communicate STX: If you want a good budget web cam, the STX is an excellent choice. I own it myself and it does well even in low light.

    List price is $49 but you can find it for half that!

ITV blogs from Afghanistan

ITV has started blogging recently. You can find the individual blogs here.

Here’s a sample of the video blogging from Afghanistan:

Lighting web video

Lighting web videoPoor video lighting isn’t something you can only find on the web. Amateur videos of all sorts suffer from its effects.

I wrote a little article on three-point lighting at the Wikipedia that describes the most basic lighting setup.

The three point lighting setup may be simple but it’s useful in 80% of cases – or even close to 100% if you’re shooting talking heads.

Let me give you an example of a bad lighting setup (see the image on the right). Both shots come from interviews that Miranda July did for her indie movie.

As you can see there’s a remarkable difference when you go from top to bottom. Note: the second one was shot by iFilm.

So what are the guys at iFilm doing right? Here’s a short list for you:

  • Use soft light – a single large softbox is enough
  • Use a fill light – if you don’t have a large softbox
  • Use a back light – see that highlight on her hair, it creates much needed separation between subject and background
  • Use a background light – if you’re shooting talking heads, it’s best if you use a background light with a color filter (blue) to improve the separation between subject and background

Apart from lighting, it seems that a little make up and a soft filter complete the magic.

Some journalists and filmmakers have started using WebEx video conferencing to record HD videos. The same lessons apply here: light it well or at least take it outside. If you install WebEx for iOS on your iPhone, you should be able to find a suitable location and send video that’s well lighted. Just don’t pick up a spot in the sun, unless you are in Norway and it’s 10pm.

For portraits, I recommend Tiffen’s Warm Soft/FX lens filters. Just make sure you turn the auto-focus off because sometimes it will hunt attemting to focus on the small particles in the lens filter.

BBC’s Huge Archive plans

Ashley Highfield - BBC Director for New MediaThis is a follow up to BBC’s Ashley Highfield (he’s BBC Director for New Media) plan to move BBC beyond traditional media.

We’ve started using SharePoint with Jabber for real-time comms to store and manage documents. We even got people asking how we did it!

The BBC has more than one million hours of video and audio plus supporting notes and scripts. The archive trial—closed to 20,000 consumers—will launch in May and is expected to last up to six months. It’s meant to gather info to use in proposing a “public service on-demand archive” that will require approval by the BBC Trust and “to see where we should draw the line between a licence fee funded service and a commercial service.”

It will gauge interest in various old programs, how people want to see them and when—“‘lean-forward’ exploratory mode similar to web surfing, or as a scheduled experience more akin to TV viewing.” Highfield: “The BBC Archive would be an extension of the BBC’s seven-day catch-up on demand proposals, the BBC iPlayer.

As with that proposed service, the Archive journey has been, and will be, a long one. It’s a massive undertaking. Ensuring the right split between license fee funding and commercial funding will be complex.”

The statement comes from a planned presentation that Mr. Highfield is giving at the MipTV in Cannes. Note that BBC has already released a news archive online.

Politkovskaya killer “known”

“The killer of dissident reporter Anna Politkovskaya is known to Russian authorities but has not yet been charged…”. That’s the statement of the chief investigator on the case that appeared in an interview on Monday. Here’s a bit more from Reuters:

“We have so far not charged the killer but we know who he is,” Garibyan told Novaya Gazeta in an interview. Gabriyan did not say if the person was in custody, or why he had not yet been charged.

His comments are likely to strengthen suspicions among Politkovskaya’s family and colleagues that the case is not as close to being solved as Chaika had suggested.

They have accused the Prosecutor-General of rushing to trumpet a breakthrough to score political points. Since Chaika announced arrests in the case in August, two suspects have released for lack of evidence.

I’ll file that in the folder “Russian SNAFU”.

BBC website £36m over budget

Ashley Highfield - BBC Director for New MediaAccording to BBC’s Trust, the company has overspent its new media budget by an impressive margin. It looks like Ashley Highfield got carried away with his task to move BBC beyond traditional media.

According to Guardian.co.uk: A review of bbc.co.uk published today by the trust shows that the actual spend in the 12 months to the end of March 2008 on the corporation’s UK web operations was £110m – almost £36m, or 48%, above what had been budgeted.

Of course, heads have started falling starting with Ashley Highfield. He’ll be replaced by Erik Huggers as the new director of future media and technology. In addition, a controller will supervise spending on new social media and collaboration.

SurfaceMicrosoft is amidst a mid-life crisis when it comes to identity.

It takes a toll on Surface, which didn’t find the acceptance in business that everyone expected.

So when something sells poorly (less than a million units), you slash the price.

This is what Microsoft did and Windows tablets now start at just $349. Let’s see if Microsoft’s XBOX strategy works out for tablets as well. Strategy is called siphon money from profitable divisions to maintain the lowest price.

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Ira Glass is creator, host and executive producer of This American Life. Here’s a segment of his interview where he talks about the common pitfalls when doing a talk show for broadcast.

Update: You can view more videos on storytelling at current.tv

Great video with Youtube

Here’s a few tips from Cinetech on how to get better results from Youtube’s encoder.

1. Learn to shoot better quality videos for the Web.

2. Your source video needs to be ideally high resolution. For instance: MOV or AVI file, NTSC 720×480 or VGA 640×480.

3. You need to get a high quality video encoder. Keep in mind that most video editing programs such as Apple Final Cut Pro, iMovie, Adobe Premiere Pro, Windows Movie Maker or Sony Vegas, come with an encoding engine so you can export your videos directly from the timeline.

4. YouTube resizes your videos to 320×240 pixels, encodes them to Flash 7 at a data rate of approximately 250 kbps and compresses audio to mp3 (22.050 KHz, monophonic).

5. It’s very important that you keep an aspect ratio of 4:3, otherwise the quality of your video will be severely impaired.

6. YouTube recommended settings are:

* MPEG4 (Divx, Xvid) format
* 320×240 resolution
* MP3 audio
* 30 frames per second

Youtube should probably improve their side of the “equation” as well. They do have director accounts so maybe they could test the water by providing more encoding options for them and see what happens


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"Vidize" is a made-up word that's looking for the verb in video.
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