November 26, 2017

Holiday Tech Talks 2017 -- Smart Home for the Holidays

It's Holiday Tech season again -- And this year I'm focusing on the "Smart Home" -- including using wireless speakers to jingle bells around the house, digital assistants to remotely deck the hall lights, and wireless cameras to record video of any late-night visitors that come down the chimney with a bound.

However, you better watch out -- these devices can see you when you're sleeping, and know when you're awake. So you do need to think about whether they are bad or good -- whether watching you in the living room, or listening in the bedroom, or conversing in the kid's room.

So come on over the river and through the woods to one of my local talks, to check out this year's winter wonderland of tech gadgets in action, so you can make your own list of what's naughty or nice:

- Princeton PC Users Group (PPCUG)
     Tues., Nov. 28, 2017, 7 pm
     Mercer County Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville

- Princeton Public Library
     Fri., Dec. 1, 2017, 7 pm
     Newsroom / Discovery Center (2nd floor), 65 Witherspoon St, Princeton

- Computer Learning Center at Ewing
     Tues., Dec. 5, 2017, 2 pm
     Ewing Township Community Center, 999 Lower Ferry Road, Ewing

- Hopewell Public Library
     Wed., Dec. 6, 2017, 7 pm
     Hopewell Train Station, 3 Railroad Place, Hopewell

For more, see:

Associated U.S.1 Newspaper article (in three parts):

October 18, 2017

Halloween "Digital Decorations" from AtmosFX

Haloween is happy pumpkins and candy -- but also scary witches and ghosts and creepy crawlies -- oh my!

And now you can have them all in your home, with AtmosFX "Digital Decorations" -- animated video vignettes that you can project on your window or wall, or show on a video display hanging like a window or portrait on your wall.

AtmosFX has built 18-some packs of Halloween clips, including that scary list above, plus skeletons and zombies and movie monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man), plus more lighthearted singing pumpkins and skeletons that dance, play music and perform silly slapstick vignettes.

Each pack then contains multiple clips, formatted to display in different modes, full-color and silhouettes, horizontal and vertical (for portraits and windows):

  • TV/Monitor - Hang on a wall, or position in a window to play outside. Great for animated portraits, or overlay the display with window panes so that it looks like a window to another room
  • Wall - Project directly on surfaces including walls, ceilings, doors, or floors. Great for creepy crawlies or zombies that appear to burst out of the surface. You even can project animated faces directly onto pumpkins.

  • Window - Rear project onto translucent material (curtains or sheet) for viewing outside. Great for short vignettes with silhouettes of monsters in the house.

  • Hollusion - Project onto a semi-transparent mesh material for the illusion of characters that hover in mid-air, in your doorway, archway or yard. Great for ghosts and other spectral creatures.

  • Doorway - Project onto a closed door or open doorway to create the illusion that something is going to appear.

  • Prop - Project a character video onto a draped human form, so the body comes alive, including hand gestures.

Whew! If you need more inspiration, check out the AtmosFX how-to videos and blog with fun examples from customers.

And did I mention that AtmosFX has additional (albeit smaller) collections for other holidays and events -- including Halloween, Christmas, Easter, New Year's, Valentine's Day, Fourth of July, Birthdays, and Football.

You can buy the packs with collections of some 3 to 11 clips for $19.99 to $39.99, or individual scenes for $5.99 to $9.99. They are available as immediate digital downloads, with some also available on DVD or SD card.

You then can play the clips from a computer, or DVD player, or from a projector that can play from a SD card or USB drive, or from a portable device like a tablet.

Some collections also include buffer clips with black or background lighting, to set the scene and build tension before the action starts. You then can build a playlist of multiple clips that loop and repeat. (The clips are typically under 1 minute, with some story clips running up to 2 1/2 minutes.)

AtmosFX also sells Window Projection Material ($24.99 - $39.99), an inflatable 3DFX Form for Prop display mode ($59.99), and a media player box with motion detection ($69.99).

So turn your home into a movie special effects showcase. Inside you can have portraits that come alive, ghosts haunting the hallways, and zombies bursting through the ceiling. And outside you can see monsters silhouetted in the windows, animated pumpkins, and blood dripping down the house. Eeek!

October 13, 2017

Pike Trail - Pocket Blanket

Here's a simple product that just makes sense -- the Pike Trail Pocket Blanket.

The Pike Trail is an outdoor picnic / beach mat that's big enough for 2 to 4 people (60 x 56 in.), but is also thin and light and portable -- folding down into its pocket-size pouch (~ 5 x 4 1/2 x 2 in.).

It's durable, made from reinforced rip stop nylon that is puncture resistant to sticks and rocks. And it's waterproof and easy to clean, since it does not absorb water.

You can use it for a ground cover, for a shelter, or even to build a solar still. You also can anchor it in windy conditions with the sand pockets and stake loops at each corner.

Even better, it's inexpensive -- around $19 -- and available in two color combinations, gray/orange or yellow/blue.

We even play tested the Pike Trail Pocket Blanket with kids, wrapping up and rolling on the ground and flying in the wind, and it stood up well, was easy to wipe clean, and then packed up easily by folding and stuffing back into the pouch. It's a nice holiday stocking stuffer.

Find the Pike Trail Pocket Blanket on

September 21, 2017

CyberLink Director Suite 6 Goes All-In on 360 Video

360-degree video is looking more and more interesting. You can shoot an event with just one camera, and capture the full spherical environment -- for example, a party from the center of the table, or an event from in front of the stage.

Then you can share the result, and explore the full scene by looking around as the video plays, or edit it down into a traditional video in which you choose the views to show.

If this sounds interesting, check out the new release of CyberLink Director Suite 6. CyberLink has a strong reputation for providing advanced produces in consumer-friendly (and consumer-priced) products.

The last release of Director Suite 6 added end-to-end support for importing, editing, and exporting 360 videos (see earlier post). This release now has gone all-in with 360 video, so you can edit 360 video with basically the full capabilities of a traditional editor, with round-trip video, audio, photo, and color editing.

- Use the PowerDirector 16 video editor to do traditional editing, with effects. Then add un-distorted video titles into the scene, along with images, on a motion path. Plus, it now does stabilization for 360 cameras -- particularly useful if you are shooting from an action cam.

- Use the AudioDirector 8 audio editor to directly import 360 videos for audio mixing, cleaning, and enhancement.

- Use the PhotoDirector 9 photo editor for 360 photo editing and adjustment, including straightening 360 photos and turning 360 photos into panoramas.

- Use the ColorDirector 6 color grader to import 360 video directly to color grade, preview, and export.

The new Director Suite 6 also supports "Little Planet" visualizations for videos and photos -- wrapping the 360 scene into a donut, with the option of having either the top or the bottom of the video squeezed into the center, with the scene then radiating out to the edges.

This is a fun way to do a group portrait or capture a full scene to the horizon in one square image (see CyberLink video tutorial).

CyberLink makes these tools available collected in suites, and individually -- and as single-purchase or for rental plans.

  • The full Director Suite 6 with all 4 tools is $269, or $99 per year.
  • The Ultimate Suite with the 3 video tools is $249.
  • PowerDirector 16 & PhotoDirector 9 together are $139.
  • For video editing, the full PowerDirector 16 Ultimate is $129
    with premium content packs, and the full PowerDirector 16 Ultra is $99.
  • For photo editing, the full PhotoDirector 9 Ultra is $99,
    and the basic PhotoDirector 9 Deluxe is $59.
  • The other two tools, AudioDirector 8 and ColorDirector 6, are $129 each.

CyberLink's new tools provide powerful technology in accessible tools for getting experience with editing 360-degree videos. These are quite reasonably priced, at around $100 each, and each is a powerful editor in its own right, even ignoring the 360 video support.

For example, the new PowerDirector has added automated color matching and audio ducking, AudioDirector adds automated ambient noise generation and duration adjustment, ColorDirector adds automated tone adjustment and haze removal, and PhotoDirector adds motion stills (photos with sections in motion).

See the CyberLink site for extensive product information, tutorial videos, and free 30-day trial versions of the individual tools or the full Director Suite 6 to download and try out for yourself.

See earlier post for examples and links for 360-degree videos.

Find Cyberlink Director Suite 5 (previous version) on

September 3, 2017

AMD Ryzen Processors Have Multi-Processing Power For Video

AMD is back in high-performance processors! And that's good news for video editors.

At a New York event this week, AMD introduced an extension of if its impressive new AMD Ryzen processor line, extending from consumer products to the Ryzen PRO for commercial systems.

What does this mean for your next video editing system?

For example, AMD showed a live demonstration using Adobe Premiere Pro to transcode a 60 second H.264 clip from 4K to 720p. The transcode ran around 30 percent faster on the 16-thread Ryzen PRO 7 than on a comparable Intel Core i7 system with 8 threads (finishing in 73 seconds compared to 107 seconds).

The Ryzen processors are focused on multi-threading performance, so you can be working on multiple activities at the same time, or bring all the resources to bear on a big job like encoding video in parallel. The new AMD "Zen" microarchitecture offers more processing (up to 8 parallel cores and 16 co-processing threads), and more fast data access (up to 20MB L2+L3 low latency cache).

Dell, HP, and Lenovo also have announced new professional workstation systems based on Ryzen PRO chips: the Dell OptiPlex 5055, HP EliteDesk 705 G3, and Lenovo ThinkCenter M715.

As a result, the competition is heating up in high-performance processors, which means that you will have exciting new choices when you start to think about upgrading to a new video system, whether a high-end workstation or a mobile notebook.

See full article at -- AMD Ryzen Processors Bring More Performance to Video Workstations

August 16, 2017

Pinnacle Studio 21 Ultimate

Corel has shipped Pinnacle Studio 21 Ultimate, the latest version of its consumer-priced video editor with impressively powerful features (see post on the previous version) -- with technology including motion-tracking, multi-cam editing, and support for 3D and 4K and 360 degree video.

But the big news in Studio 21 is not just all the sexy new technology -- there's also a streamlined user interface that makes tasks both easier to get to and easier to perform.

You first click between the three major modes: Organize, Edit, and Author. Then in the Edit step, Pinnacle has consolidated all the controls in the one pane for direct access. You choose the type of action (Properties, Corrections, Effect, Pan and Zoom, Transition In / Out, or Time Remapping), and then see all the properties that you can control.

And now each individual property can be keyframed separately, for really precise control.

Similarly, the Author step has added the clever simplification of selecting the output format by file extension -- all the video format and compression options can then default. Another nice improvement is support for detachable windows, especially for working on multiple monitors.

And, of course there are an array of new features of interest:

  • Paint Effects for storybook-like motion animation, stylized with cartoon or watercolor looks.
  • Morph Transition between scenes, assisted by drawing a horizontal guide line at a natural cut point.
  • Wide Angle Lens Correction to straighten out distortion, especially for action cameras.
  • 3D Title Editor with robust controls for color / materials, effects, and motion paths.
The new Studio also includes newer features from the Studio 20.5 update earlier this year, with Split Screen video, Save file as Template to reuse, and enhanced 360 video editing.

Pinnacle Studio is available in three versions: Studio 21 for 6-track HD editing at $59.95, Studio 21 Plus for 24-track editing with additional pro-level features including 3D and motion tracking at $99.95, and the full-up Studio 21 Ultimate for unlimited-track editing up to 4K with all this technology, plus an additional 2,000+ effects, titles and templates.

Pinnacle Studio 21 Ultimate is a powerful tool packed with cutting-edge features, but with a clean and accessible interface -- and with very consumer-friendly pricing. And with the Studio Ultimate upgrade price at $89.95, this should be an easy decision to step up to the improved interface and new features.

Find Pinnacle Studio 21 Ultimate on

May 19, 2017

Jan Ozer's Encoding Updates from Streaming Media East

Jan Ozer has posted his presentations from this week's Streaming Media East conference. As in previous years, Ozer continues to kindly share his extensive experience and research, providing great updates on the state of video streaming technology, and especially on video codecs.

You can find these -- and much more -- on his Streaming Learning Center site --

- Since live video streaming is such a solved problem (sorta), it's time to look at distributing live video via multiple outlets. In Technologies for Live Streaming to Multiple Platforms, Ozer covers options, trade-offs, and pricing for approaches including hardware devices, software, live streaming platforms, distribution platforms, web conferencing, and production platforms -- plus Facebook Live.

- The uncertainty around new codecs to step up from H.264 continues, with the new HEVC codec providing substantially better performance than baseline H.264. In Comparing and Choosing The Best HEVC Codec, Ozer provides extensive evaluations of competing HEVC codecs, and also reports similar performance for VP9 and sees promise in the new AV1 developments.

- For more on understanding encoding and the glorious future of HEVC, VP9, and MPEG-DASH see Ozer's exhaustive (159 page) presentation on Codecs & Packaging for PCs, Mobile & OTT/STB/Smart TVs.

- Ozer also recently posted a follow-up to his earlier discussion on the growing royalties required for HEVC, and the resulting development of the alternative AOM AV1 open royalty-free codec (see earlier post). The bottom line is clear in his title -- AV1 Gets Closer, HEVC Gets More Expensive. (For more on the status of AV1, also see his Streaming Media article, Bitmovin Pushes AV1 Forward, Joins Alliance for Open Media.)

Finally, I should reinterate my plug for Ozer's recent book, Video Encoding by the Numbers: Eliminate the Guesswork from Your Streaming Video (see earlier post). This is a wonderful resource for anyone doing video compression, covering the basics of encoding, details of the latest technologies, and the application of objective quality metrics to analyze the video and report its visual quality.

Find Video Encoding by the Numbers on

April 23, 2017

Sony Alpha 9 Full-Frame Interchangeable Lens Camera

Sony has announced the latest version of its Alpha line of digital cameras -- the α9 full-frame interchangeable lens camera for the the professional imaging market.

As a mirrorless electronic camera, the Alpha 9's technological advancements include:
- high-speed continuous shooting at up to 20 fps (for up to 362 JPEG or 241 RAW images),
- continuous AF/AE tracking at 60 calculations per second, and
- a maximum shutter speed of up to 1/32,000 second.

      Sony α9 full-frame interchangeable lens camera
      with Sony G Master FE 100-400mm super telephoto zoom lens

It also shoots silently, with a vibration free, fully electronic, completely silent anti-distortion shutter, with no noise from a mechanical mirror or shutter.

Plus the electronic viewfinder has no blackout when the shutter is released while shooting stills, providing a seamless live view of the subject at all times.

Sony also has added pro features including an Ethernet port for file transfer, dual SD card slots for split storage or backup, and extended (2X) battery life.

The Alpha 9 is relatively compact at 5 x 3 7/8 x 2 1/2 inches and 1 lb., 7.7 oz. It ships in May for about $4,500 US.

Sony also announced its furthest reaching E-mount lens, the Sony G Master FE 100-400mm super telephoto zoom lens.

The lens features a double motor system that allows rapid AF lens movement. It is lighter, smaller and more portable at 49.3 ounces. It will ship ship this July for about $2,500 US.

See full news post at Videomaker Magazine -- Sony Reveals New a9 Full Frame 4K Mirrorless Camera.

March 19, 2017

Perennials: Fitbit Zip & Fitbit One

I've covered the Fitbit line of fitness trackers back to at least 2012. And I've carried a Fitbit tracker for that long as well.

However, Fitbit has been struggling recently, since it focused (like many others) on the exciting potential of the "wearables" market (see, for example, CNN).

Apparently there is a limit to the number of people who want to strap sometimes-clunky smart watches and sensors on their wrists. Plus there is still plenty of competition, including big names like Apple and Samsung and potentially Google, although others like Microsoft and Pebble have come and gone.

But meanwhile the basic idea of tracking your movement throughout the day still makes a lot of sense, simply to help encourage you to keep on moving.

And while Fitbit has a large and evolving line of sexy wearable wristbands and watches, it also has two other simpler "pocket trackers" -- the Fitbit One (shown here) and the Fitbit Zip.

You can clip these on, or just carry them in your pocket, and then record the basics with no fuss -- including steps taken, miles walked, calories burned, minutes active, stairs climbed and and even sleep quality.

I carried the Fitbit Zip ($59) for years, and recently upgraded to the Fitbit One ($99), which adds tracking for stairs climbed and sleep quality.

These are tiny -- the One is only 1.89 x 0.76 x 0.38 inches -- and come with a silicon case with attached clip for more carrying options. The Zip uses a replacable battery, and the One needs to be recharged every week or so.

You can press a button on the device to cycle the display through the current readings for the day, including a built-in clock. Or you can sync wirelessly to the Fitbit App (iOS, Android, and Windows) to check your activity, history, and progress towards your personal goals.

Fitbit also has a social connection, so you can compare activity among a circle of friends, receive badges for achieving milestones (such as walking the equivalent of the length of New Zealand), and connect with others online.

But these perennial devices are most valuable for the basics -- They help keep you focused on making sure you keep moving, every day. And they help you measure and feel good about those especially good days when you took a long walk instead of driving, and climbed the stairs instead of taking an elevator. It's just about keeping track so you keep moving.

See my Holiday 2016 coverage for an overview of the Fitbit line and Fitbit app.

Find the Fitbit One and Fitbit Zip on

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January 19, 2017

Video Encoding by the Numbers by Jan Ozer

Jan Ozer's new book, Video Encoding by the Numbers: Eliminate the Guesswork from Your Streaming Video, is a wonderful resource for anyone doing video compression, from beginner to advanced.

The book packages up Ozer's deep knowledge and experience into a comprehensive review, with special emphasis on the latest technologies, including H.264, HEVC / H.265, and adaptive bitrate streaming.

That in itself would make this book tremendously valuable, but Ozer has augmented the text in two important ways -- by providing extensive examples of using FFmpeg to batch process videos, and by demonstrating the application of objective quality metrics to analyze the video and report its visual quality.

For too long, video compression has seemed to be a form of alchemy, with extensive folklore of mystic incantations required to produce video gold. Even if you could successfully penetrate the basic secrets (including formats and codecs and rates, CBR vs VBR, kbps vs bpp), you would only discover even more obscure deeper levels of parameters (including GOP structure, I-B-P, IDR, and adaptive streaming).

And even if you get the formula correct, how can you then package it up for use, and verify that it's working properly? Video Encoding by the Numbers attacks all these issues, end to end.

First, Ozer covers the basics of video compression and associated tools. He does not just provide advice, he backs it up by discussing the results of his extensive testing of compression tools and options with real-world videos. This work is based on his background in video shooting and production, in reviewing and testing video tools, in consulting to build real-world solutions for compression pipelines, and then sharing his discoveries -- in articles, talks, on his Streaming Learning Center website, and in his books.

Then, to package up the compression process, Ozer demonstrates how to use the free cross-platform FFmpeg tool to perform batch compression, providing example scripts with each technical chapter, again tempered with discussions of his experience in experimenting with the various options.

And most importantly, Ozer grounds the compression process in science by applying objective quality metrics that analyze the video and report its visual quality. This is a huge advance driven by new metrics and tools, moving from simple PSNR to newer metrics including VQM and SSIM. Now you no longer need to sit and watch each compressed video you produce in order to check them (which obviously becomes impossible with multiple output formats and resolutions). Instead, Ozer shows how to use these tools to look for anomalies, and then focus in on the trouble spots.

As a further example of the exhaustive coverage in this book, the final section covers scaling up to streaming delivery, exploring adaptive bitrate approaches, discussing setting up your "encoding ladder" for streaming formats and resolutions, and then concluding by discussing the importance of per-title encoding, using these tools and metrics to find the best solution for each individual video.

It's hard to overstate the usefulness of this book -- as a reference for understanding compression technology and trade-offs, as a checklist for best practices, as a guide to more efficient batch compression, and as a path forward to a more scientific and objective approach to video compression.

In my case, Jan kindly provided an electronic copy of the book for review (available in PDF format), and I quickly purchased two more paper copies, one to keep and one to share. The book is available for $49.95, and the PDF download is $39.95. It's 330 pages with extensive discussion, tables of test results, screenshots of tools, and, of course, example video frames. Now you too can transform your video clips into compressed gold.

See more on the book at Ozer's site.

Find Video Encoding by the Numbers on

Contents ...

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