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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.

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.

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.

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

I just stumbled upon an article marking the 75th anniversary of the BBC. About one third of it is based on Jeffrey Sachs’ Reith Lectures.

Here’s a few important points:

A terrorist shot in Sarajevo provided the pretext for German aggression which started World War I. 9/11 was used by the Bush Administration to launch the Iraq War. In both cases, trigger-happy leaders exploited the incidents for their own political purposes.

In both cases, the national media played along. The failures of the American media to slow or stop the descent into the Iraq War are the greatest media failures of our current era…

In short, almost all governments lie and lie relentlessly. Yet governments can be made to lie less frequently by being exposed and held to account by the professional media.

Jeffrey Sachs on freedom of speechHe does mention blogs (such as this one) and concludes: The problem with the internet, of course, is that it transmitted considerable flakiness alongside pithy truth telling. Blog sites, for good and ill, are unfiltered and unaccountable.

So what about getting the best of both worlds – the accountability and ethics of professional journalism AND the freedom of expression associated with the Internet (and blogs)?

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 media.

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!

Vidize Review

Nicolas Kayser-Bril has done a review of the Vidize beta (in French).

You can read it here although if French isn’t your first language, you can read a loose translation from Google.

Adobe has scheduled the beta test of the new Flash player 10 (codename Astro) for today.

There doesn’t seem to be any substantial improvements in the video department but here’s the feature list:

3D Effects – Easily transform and animate any display object through 3D space while retaining full interactivity. Fast, lightweight, and native 3D effects make motion that was previously reserved for expert users available to everyone. Complex effects are simple with APIs that extend what you already know.

Custom Filters and Effects – Create your own portable filters, blend modes, and fills using Adobe® Pixel Bender™, the same technology used for many After Effects CS3 filters. Shaders in Flash Player are about 1KB and can be scripted and animated at runtime.

Advanced Text Layout – A new, highly flexible text layout engine, co-existing with TextField, enables innovation in creating new text controls by providing low-level access to text offering right-to-left and vertical text layout, plus support for typographic elements like ligatures.

Enhanced Drawing API – Runtime drawing is easier and more powerful with re-styleable properties, 3D APIs, and a new way of drawing sophisticated shapes without having to code them line by line.

Visual Performance Improvements – Applications and videos will run smoother and faster with expanded use of hardware acceleration. By moving several visual processing tasks to the video card, the CPU is free to do more.

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

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


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"Vidize" is a made-up word that's looking for the verb in video.
In the coming weeks, we'll be working on adding more meaning to it. Stay tuned and be sure to join our mailing list.

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