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Sep
5

Hunting down an old codec (Avid AVRN) - implications for all of us

The issue of old digital footage being able to be retrieved years later came to the fore this weekend as I went to access some of my old journalism stories from when I worked at CNBC in the early noughties.

After a (relatively) short 7 years, the codec used to archive those stories was all but impossible to track down. I simply could not play back the files from disk no matter what I tried. And I'm pretty good at this stuff - usually.

I had tried a couple of times over the intervening 7 years to hunt down the pesky codec and had failed each and every time.

Fortunately this time round I succeeded, but it serves as a cautionary tale for anyone with video files stored on disk (i.e. all of us!).

For the benefit of those hunting for the same file, here is the Avid AVRN (aka AVDJ, aka M-JPEG) codec for PC which I'm RE-HOSTING so it doesn't disappear.

Avid AVRN codec for PC

Mac users will have to borrow the wife's PC (as I did), borrow somebody else's, or use emulation / Bootcamp to do it. I'm a Mac user and completely failed to find a Mac version of the codec, even though the original Media Composer Edit Suite where the stories were archived was all Mac based.

The average home user is unlikely to be faced with finding such an obscure 'broadcast' codec, but operating systems come and go, software companies go out of business, or, (in the case of Avid), fail to make available their old codecs adequately.

The lesson learned is that a digital 'audit' of all your precious video files should be something you do every 5 years at least. Try to play your video files back, be aware whether they're encoded with a codec that's going out of use (use tools like Gspot and MediaInfo Mac to know which codec you're using and do research) and consider re-encoding them to a currently popular codec that is widely available and unlikely to disappear. If you use something widely used like H264, you probably will never have to re-encode them again.

Feb
1

Review of Sky's First Live 3D Sports Broadcast

sky-3d-glasses.jpgIt was billed as "the world's first ever 3D broadcast of live sport". Nine pubs across the UK and Ireland kitted out with a special 3D television from LG, and with a mouthwatering clash between Arsenal and Manchester United to provide the excitement.

The location of the pubs was a closely guarded secret with Apple-like clandestineness and attention to detail. Even the power of Twitter and a concerted effort by many to find them was not enough. In the end only a few choice journalists and friends of the pubs in question got to see what was billed as a historic broadcast to the public.

Continue reading "Review of Sky's First Live 3D Sports Broadcast" »

Jul
5

An Introduction to Solid State Drives - A Speed Revolution

ssd-inside.jpgA new type of hard drive promises to revolutionize our interactions with computers in the very near future. The revolution is so dramatic, so different from what we are used to, that anyone who uses a computer is going to benefit in a profound way.

The biggest bottleneck in your computer right now is the hard drive. It's the only part of your computer that remembers anything when you turn it off, so it's kind of important, and unsurprisingly its something we use and rely on a lot. That's why most of us have had a painful experience with them in the past.

Well the good news is that a new type of hard drive promises to not only make them more reliable, but much much faster. So much faster in fact that a speed revolution in our interactions with computers is about to take place in 2010 and 2011.

Continue reading "An Introduction to Solid State Drives - A Speed Revolution" »

Jan
4

Apple TV Review (version 2.3)

appletv.jpgI recently dusted off my Apple TV to give it another chance whirl and see what goodness the latest system updates might have silently delivered. In summary, while there have been some improvements, overall the experience is still underwhelming, and there are major flaws that could easily be addressed.

Continue reading "Apple TV Review (version 2.3)" »

Dec
28

Cool Data Visualization Projects

This is a great blog post linking to some interesting data visualization projects. I particularly like the first example, Wordle, which I found myself spending quite a bit of time playing around with. The BBC videos are awesome too.

Dec
12

A long overdue upgrade to e-mail?

You can add a profile picture or avatar to just about any form of social interaction online - it can be discussion forums, Twitter, Social networking sites or Skype. In all cases you can set a picture or design to represent yourself, to the people you're communicating with.

It occurred to me tonight... why can't you do the same with e-mail?

It would be cool to see a picture of the person who's emailing me, even if it's someone I've never heard from before. It would be cool to choose a picture or design for myself, to send along with my outgoing e-mails.

I gave it some thought and figured out a possible way this could be implemented very easily. Decide on a standard where a profile picture is sent as a regular e-mail attachment, only with a standardized file name - say propic.jpg.

E-mail client programs like Outlook and webmail services like Gmail or Hotmail could add support for this feature in a future (and very trivial) update. They could display a person's profile picture wherever or however they like, alongside the e-mail.

The whole thing is not disimilar to how a standardized favicon file is used to represent the tiny logos next to web addresses in your browser.

I've not checked to see if anything like this has been proposed before but it seems like a simple idea to me!

Aug
6

Moving beyond High Definition video

ultrahighdefinitioncamera.jpgA revolution is quietly going on in the broadcast TV equipment industry and you'd be forgiven for not knowing anything about it. It's the remarkable move beyond High Definition video to ever increasing (and dizzying) resolutions.

While the rest of us are weighing up the pros and cons of upgrading our TV's to High Definition, and broadcasters are still struggling to upgrade their equipment to handle High Definition, companies that supply the TV industry with cameras are pushing ahead with remarkable innovations that have left cinematographers and directors like Steven Soderbergh and Peter Jackson in awe.

Continue reading "Moving beyond High Definition video" »

Jul
4

Keyboard access is coming for full screen Flash mode at last!

Wow, finally this juicy nugget in the release notes for Flash player 10...

Up until now, it has not been possible to have keyboard controls when running Flash in full screen mode (the mode where a video or game fills your whole screen). This means we've not been able to have keyboard control on WorldTV for such things as play/stop, forward, rewind on video controls, or for keyboard control of games like Free Tetris running full-screen.

Adobe has held off on this for a long time because they were worried hackers would start using Flash to imitate your computer's desktop in Flash, and get you to enter passwords or other sensitive data. It was a valid concern, and they've addressed it by only allowing keyboard access to certain 'non-printing' characters like the arrow keys, space bar, tab etc, starting with Flash 10. This is an excellent compromise... and welcomed!

Now we can see some super cool applications where Flash can take over your whole screen and allow keyboard control of the application, effectively bypass the OS, something I first dreamed about 10 years ago...

Here's the relevant text from Adobe...

"Limited Fullscreen Keyboard Access — In Flash Player 10, key events are supported for non-printing keys such as arrows, shift, enter, tab, space, etc. Limited access to the keyboard will allow fullScreen games and video controls with keyboard access in a secure way."

Jun
6

Watch online video on your TV - A Layman's Guide

convergence_blog_post.jpgFor years people have talked about the convergence between TV and the Internet. We'll watch the Internet on our TV's, we'll watch TV on the Internet.

Well the latter has arguably happened, although rights issues still hamper legitimate efforts to bring TV signals onto the web. The way the TV business has historically worked makes it highly difficult to broadcast TV stations on the Internet. That's another subject which I won't get into here, but suffice to say it's a mess, and is not likely to be resolved soon.

What I am interested in and what we spend a lot of time thinking about at WorldTV is how the Internet will come to the TV in our living room. It's clear that browsing the Internet on your television is not going to take off anytime soon, failed efforts such as WebTV demonstrate little demand for this service. If you've actually ever tried to browse the Internet on a TV, even a high-definition one, you quickly find that it's an unsatisfying and impractical experience. Not having a mouse is a big turnoff, and you need a TV the size of your wall to read a web page from your sofa. I've tried... and gone half-blind in the process.

Continue reading "Watch online video on your TV - A Layman's Guide" »

Mar
28

Why Google doesn't offer web hosting

google.jpgOne of the questions I frequently find myself pondering is why Google doesn't offer high grade web hosting, either traditional web hosting or in-the-cloud hosting like Amazon S3.

They certainly have the know-how, they would seemingly have the resources, you would think they could offer the lowest bandwidth prices with their size and scale. They also offer several web hosting-like services such as Google Web Applications and Blogger. For a video startup such as ours, we'd certainly like to have Google as an option for our hosting needs.

The answer is simple... they are having a very challenging time keeping up with their own internal demands for hosting, hardware and bandwidth, and the massive demands coming from the likes of YouTube and GMail. I postulate this from two separate conversations I've had with Google employees.

It makes sense - we are all used to the instant access availability and reliability that is manifested by all Google services. How many times have you not been able to reach Google's homepage or YouTube?

Only Google knows the true extent of this challenge and we can only ponder on the idea that... behind closed doors... Google is in a never ending fight to keep up with all the demand. One employee told me that there is often conflict internally over where to assign resources, and which services to promote (on the Google homepage). For some reason you just don't think this could be an issue.

So the next time you think... why doesn't Google do this? or that? The answer may just be... they need to build another data centre!

Feb
16

First significant Amazon S3 outage - major websites affected

Amazon S3 is a service that many websites use to host videos, pictures and other data. It's run by Amazon.com.

Until today it had a near spotless reputation for reliability. We are testing Amazon S3 at WorldTV for experimental future features.

Many sites we like such as Twitter and SmugMug, and any number of data backup sites, use Amazon S3 to run a large part of their service. Today at 12.31pm GMT one of three Amazon S3 datacenters went down completely, causing widespread hurt for many of these sites. Just over 2 hours later, Amazon had fixed most of the problem.

The failure is disheartening for many people involved in this business, including myself, because prior to today we had a nice touchy feeling about Amazon and their product. It offers smaller teams the ability to 'box with the big boys'.

Amazon are not the only one who do what they do, after today other 'in the cloud' operators are going to get much more of a look in. To operate 'in the cloud' is possible. But it's the old adage, 'you can't put all your eggs in one basket'. You can, but you have to figure your service will be down sometimes and you will be hopeless to do anything about it. Running a second backup with another operator is possible, but this adds complexity and precious time for developers who are making the next generation of web applications.

To their credit, Amazon have been quick to fix the problem, and made several pledges to improve matters for future in posts to the Amazon S3 forum.

Jan
15

AppleTV gets interesting

apple_tv.jpgToday was every Apple lover's birthday as Steve Jobs stood up in San Francisco to deliver his traditional post Christmas bag of goodies at MacWorld.

While his announcement of the 'thinnest notebook computer in the world', the MacBook Air, has been getting most of the press, the most significant announcement for me was a major upgrade to the AppleTV.

Perhaps the least known and least successful of Apple's recent consumer devices, the AppleTV was a product ahead of its time when it launched just under a year ago. It was hobbled by poor software and poor content offerings, complicated further by the now common geographic restrictions on content.

Well the geographic restrictions remain, but everything else is now fixed with today's announcement that all AppleTV users will get a free software upgrade in two weeks time, that will unveil a host of new and very cool features. For a start, the AppleTV will become your in home movie rental store. For $4.99 you'll be able to rent the latest movies from all the major movie studios in HIGH DEFINITION. (Bye bye Netflix and their clones, bye bye Blockbuster).

One of the big problems with version 1 of AppleTV was that you had to network it with another mac in your house to get access to music and video podcasts. It was a pain in the behind frankly even if you did get it connected, and my own AppleTV sat unused on a shelf for the past 10 months. With version 2 of AppleTV, you can now do everything directly from the AppleTV itself, as it should be.

The TV content selection still leaves a lot to be desired, but direct access to thousands of video podcasts, including high definition ones, means a host of free content on your living room wall. Access to Flickr and .Mac photos is pretty cool, but the killer app in my view is high def movie rentals, existing YouTube functionality, and HD video podcasts.

For more coverage, see the AppleTV page on Apple.com or watch Steve Job's keynote in full.

Jan
8

How to get your old VHS tapes into your computer easily

Launching at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this year is a new product which lets you get VHS tapes into your computer with ease. So new that Ion, the company which makes it, doesn't have it up on their website yet, (although they might by the time you read this).

Useful if you want to add some old footage to your WorldTV channel for example.

Check out the video

Sep
14

Interesting article about video advertising

Dan Rayburn has written an interesting article about some of the issues preventing the growth of the online video industry, and specifically video advertising.

Sep
7

Techcrunch UK Launch Party - the next morning

Alx Klive / Michael ArringtonRobert Loch's very cool rooftop pad in Chinatown provided the venue for the launch of the Techcrunch UK website. With the exit of former Editor Sam Sethi, a new editorial team headed up by Mike Butcher has been put into place for the redesigned site which went live this morning.

The party was a who's who of the European tech scene - Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström from Joost, Brent Hoberman (LastMinute.com), Alex Tew (Million Dollar Homepage), Celia and Mike from WeeMee, my good friends from YesNoMayb.com, and much of the UK VC scene were among those in attendance.

The party went late and I got out just as the hot tub started to get warmed up. In other words... before it got too crazy!

Thanks out to Mike Arrington and Heather from Techcrunch for a great party!

Jun
27

Online Video Editing - Does it make sense?

Online Video EditingOnline video editing is now possible in a similar way to how sites like Picknik offer online photo editing. You don't need any software, all the work can be done through your web browser.

Today's announcement about MySpaceTV and it's editing features courtesy of Flektor raise the question of whether online video editors actually make sense.

For the more technically inclined, online video editing seems at first like a bad idea. Editing video is one of the most processor intensive applications you can do on a computer, and trying to replicate that experience through a web browser seems like it would be an exercise in futility.

Nonetheless, several online video editor websites already exist, MySpaceTV notwithstanding, and with YouTube recently rolling out the YouTube remixer, this article takes a closer look at what's out there in this space, and whether you should give these online video editor sites a closer look.

Continue reading "Online Video Editing - Does it make sense?" »

Jun
14

New keyboard controlled news application

fastdigg.gifHere's a cool site which should appeal to lovers of user interfaces and technology nuts.

Fast Digg lets you scan the latest technology stories from popular site Digg.com, using only a keyboard for control, no mouse required. It's great if you fancy leaning back a little to take in a world of news - simply use the cursor keys to control, and an occasional CTRL-W.

It works best in Firefox for the PC and Safari for the Mac. Unfortunately Internet Explorer is hopeless as usual.

Fast Digg

Apr
16

Understanding high quality Flash Video

Flash video gets a bad rap.

Proponents of Quicktime, Windows Media and Java based video often point out the superior quality of those systems, and many in the industry still genuinely believe that Flash video has intrinsically poor picture quality.

This simply isn't true.

The reason this myth is perpetuated is due mainly to YouTube, the site that is the poster child for Flash video and unfortunately contains some very poor picture quality videos.

This isn't actually YouTube's fault, you can upload extremely high quality video to YouTube if you know what you are doing, but the vast majority of users don't do this.

It's simply the case that most videos uploaded to YouTube have been poorly converted from other formats, and YouTube's processing and file size limitations can get in the way too.

So what is the highest quality you can get with flash video?

In theory, there is no limit, Adobe can introduce new higher quality compression codecs whenever they like, and with infinite bitrate available in theory, you can have infinite quality. In practice however you are limited by two constraining factors - Internet bandwidth and computer processor power.

Continue reading "Understanding high quality Flash Video" »

Feb
22

Apple iPhone Behind the Scenes

Steve Jobs CaricatureApple's Steve Jobs turned the cellphone industry rule book on its head while negotiating a deal with wireless carrier Cingular.

For one, only three executives at Cingular got to see the phone, and then only after a deal had been struck. Secondly, the phone will carry no Cingular branding on the inside or outside and will only be available direct from Apple and Cingular (no 3rd party phone stores etc).

The iPhone was also developed under unprecedented secrecy, with network technicians having to test a dummy phone, that by the sounds of it only had the phone's electronics in it and no case.

While all this is perhaps unsurprising, it still makes for fascinating reading, and you can get the whole skinny from the Wall Street Journal here.

Way to go his Steveness!

Feb
21

Cool Technology Videos

Technology VideosIf your bag is tech, you could do a lot worse than head on over to MikeTV.

Hosted exclusively here on WorldTV, MikeTV is a daily dose of robot videos, gadget videos, technology videos and other geek friendly clips.

Mike scours the Internet for these videos so that you don't have to, and the first videos on the site include some really fascinating stuff.

There's the video of the four legged quadraped robot which survives being kicked in its side, a holographic television with the image hanging in mid-air, a multi-touch input screen with some mind altering demos (the same technology that's going to be in the iPhone), slow motion videos of a speeding bullet smashing through fruit, playing cards and drinks cans, a couple of fighting robot videos from Japan, a video of a water powered acetylene torch, and a video of the Da Vinci surgical robot that is revolutionising surgery procedures in hospitals.

Mike says his focus will be stuff that is 'real' but has not yet hit the mainstream or public conciousness, with the occasional irreverant or funny clip thrown in.

We love it!

Jan
25

Which US Network has the best High Def signal?

The lads over at Gizmodo put this question to the test during the recent State of the Union address by George Bush. Since each network (CBS, ABC, FOX etc) was brodcasting the address live, and using the same feed from the same high definition camera, it offered an excellent opportunity to compare apples to apples.

Which network do you think had the best high def signal?

Answers here

Jan
21

Google vs eBay 1-1

Skype superimposed on Google Ad

Came across this while surfing today. It's a Google ad which the Skype for Firefox extension has added a click-to-call link to. First time I've seen this.

It seems the Skype Firefox extension (which scans web pages for phone numbers to highlight them in this way) can pick phone numbers out of Google's javascript Adsense ads. This is different I feel from the 'happy' arrangement between Google and Skype's parent eBay last year where they were working together to test click-to-call links.

With the recent suggestions of a cooling in relations between the two companies, it may just be that this is a shot across the bow from the eBay camp.

Dec
27

Video Chat Avatars get interesting

A few months back I treated myself to a new Logitech webcam and poked around with its avatar and video effects features. Basically these let you overlay an animated face and other facial accessories such as a beard onto your real face during a video chat or web broadcast. The software based system uses facial recognition technology to figure out where your mouth, eyes and eyebrows are, and then adapts a 3D model (of a cartoon character for instance) to your features.

The whole thing works seamlessly so that other bits of software on your computer such as Skype receive the modifed video (I now doubt this, have been having problems - ED)

I recently updated the software and was pleasantly surprised to find that the entire package (Quickcam) has been overhauled significantly since the Summer. The avatars and video effects features have moved on leaps and bounds, and the facial recognition technology is much more impressive. Under very poor lighting conditions (see below), it picked out my features using a new 'training' wizard, overlaying dots onto my face similar to those found on a motion capture suit. Once calibrated, it picked out my movements very accurately, despite the poor lighting.

The physics engine in general seems to have been overhauled, and is now able to identify left, right, up, down, tilt left and tilt right head movements. It also picks out the opening and closing of your mouth and the blinking of your eyes. With the new 3D avatars supplied with the software and others available on Logitech's website (earlier versions were 2D only), the effects are really impressive.

I was surprised to find Logitech giving away additional avatars and facial accessories for free. I would probably have paid a couple of bucks for a package of new avatars or even individual ones if the payment system was fast and intuitive.

Avatars in general are going to be big business in my opinion. WeeMee, CrazyTalk, Klonies and Logitech's system show the current state of play.

Nov
25

Review of the Sony HDR-SR1 - The Practicalities of AVCHD

The Sony HDR-SR1 is the world's first high-definition, hard drive camcorder. It represents the start of a new era, and is a camera I've personally been waiting many years to see arrive.

When JVC introduced the Everio line of hard drive camcorders in late 2004, I figured it would only be a couple of months until they came up with a high definition version of the same. Prosumer high definition camcorders were already available at the time, so it seemed logical they would marry the two at the earliest opportunity.

The closest they came, was an optional hard drive attachment for the very sexy GY-HD100 . But Sony has caught up with JVC, and taken the lead in the consumer market, with this groundbreaking and reasonably priced camcorder.

I managed to get my hand on one of these when they were launched in the UK last month. I've now had a chance to put it through its paces...

(Please note this is not a full review of the HDR-SR1. You can find a comprehensive review here. Instead I focus on some of the practicalities of dealing with Sony's new file format AVCHD).

Continue reading "Review of the Sony HDR-SR1 - The Practicalities of AVCHD" »

Nov
18

VHS is dead - Variety

Industry rag Variety has officially called the death of VHS after 30 years of trusty service.

Sep
2

Pushing Flash Video to the max

A recent post on Jeff Pulver's blog and my own recent review of the DivX web video system got me thinking again about the future of video delivery on the Internet.

As Jeff points out, there are a lot of companies working on various proprietary systems for delivering video over the net. Each claims 'the best quality' or 'best platform’, and all are working hard to find buyers. In my personal opinion, all of these systems will ultimately fail.

The winner in this game will undoubtedly be Flash video.

There are only two factors that ultimately determine the quality of video you can watch over the Internet - the speed of your Internet connection, and the processing power of your computer. Everything else is just software, and fairly routine software these days.

Continue reading "Pushing Flash Video to the max" »

Aug
30

Video fingerprinting to combat copyright infringement

Philips has developed a system that can scan video files, comparing them to a database, in order to identify copyright infringing material, among other uses. This is similar to how music fingerprint service Shazam works.

Clearly there is interest among the more conscientious video sharing sites to automate this process, if only to stem the tide of work being generated by complaints from copyright holders. Just yesterday for instance, Microsoft acknowledged that it had asked YouTube to remove the Ricky Gervais Microsoft training video from its system, a video featured on the WorldTV charts. (At the time of writing it is still available on Google Video).

The challenge with these systems is being resilient to situations where the content is significantly altered, for instance adding a logo, re-encoding with a much lower quality compression scheme, cropping, etc. It's much easier to identify music, because music still has to sound the same to the end user, and there is less data to process, whereas video can be put into black and white, sytlized, have noise added, etc, without really affecting the user experience.

Philips claim the system can overcome these challenges and is pushing it as a solution to copyright infringement on video sharing sites and P2P networks. They also suggest that it can be used within broadcast environments for remote triggering of advertisement inserts etc. I can think of several other applications including media monitoring for businesses, video library organization, security applications and automated billing for stock footage usage.

No system like this is perfect, but it doesn't need to be. If it can flag content for manual review with just an 80 or 90% success rate, that makes a huge difference to labour costs. If it gains sufficient traction however, and is used on a wide range of sites, it will undoubtedly come under substantial attack from those wishing to subvert it.

May
30

Slingbox launches in the UK

If you've not seen this device before, it basically lets you rebroadcast your home television signal out over your Internet connection, allowing you (and only you) to view what's on your television, on a laptop or computer somewhere else. You can control the Slingbox remotely, and change the channels on your TV if you want. Great for people going on holiday, ex-pats, that kind of thing.

The only problem is the cost - a whopping £180 for something that should cost less than £50, based on the technologies and components involved.

I have the exact same system set up on my home TV system, and it cost me less than £30 to put together. I used free software (Windows Media Encoder), and a neat bit of kit called the Red Eye Serial, which basically lets you control a Sky set top box from your computer. A few lines of PHP code later, and I can now view and change channels on my TV set from anywhere in the world. I can even set Sky+ up to record and play back shows remotely.

If sufficient people are interested in how I did this, I'll write up a full tutorial. Drop me a line at the address listed on the contact page.

May
6

Video glasses step closer to reality

Little bit of a stretch this one but the technology is very cool.

An Israeli company is showing off its video glasses, that will one day be as common as iPods. They're a breakthrough in terms of their much lower weight, and the fact they use a single piece of optical plastic to host the twin stereo images needed to simulate a larger screen.

It's a given that one day we'll all be completely comfortable with the idea of people wearing video 'specs'. Just as it was weird when people first started wearing headphones in the 80's (but we later grew accustomed to it), so it will be the same with these puppies. You'll be sitting on the train, and the person sitting across from you will be wearing 'sunglasses', but will be watching a music concert or movie. Eventually we won't even know they're doing so.

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