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August 2008 Archives

August 8, 2008

Making Digital Connections

When I first joined Sonic it was easy to stay connected to my peers. We were a small, centrally located team, with a very narrow business focus. Key discussions were made face to face, in meeting rooms, hallways, and even the break room.

Over a decade later, the company has changed a great deal -- moving beyond our focus in pro-level audio tools, to create products ranging from professional authoring systems to consumer software and services.

We also now have a far larger team with staff working on multiple continents. This makes it infinitely more difficult to stay connected. As with many organizations, Sonic uses technology to shorten the distance and encourage collaboration. Systems like instant messaging, video conferencing, intranets, and wikis have now replaced a good number of the face-to-face discussions that used to happen.

Of course, as Sonic is well aware, using technology to stay connected is not confined to the office. Technology is now playing a far greater role within our own personal network of friends and family. Often crunched for time and separated by miles, it has become increasingly difficult to stay up-to-date on the major events and happenings in the lives of the people we care about most. Emailing a short message and a few digital pictures may help reinforce the bonds and shorten the miles of separation, but it’s not all that compelling and certainly can’t convey a complete story.

While we may not have totally solved the issue, we believe that the launch of Roxio Online with its PhotoShow capabilities is a solid step in the right direction. Easy and quick to create, PhotoShows are able to convey far more than a few static photos and lines of text. Within minutes PhotoShow lets you turn your personal digital photos and videos into a highly entertaining digital “story” that is sure to delight your community of friends and family.

As we neared completion of the Roxio Online service, I created a PhotoShow for myself and then challenged my executive staff senior team to do the same (a great way to test the whole creative ease theory!). I asked the team to make a show that would reveal something about them that other staff might be surprised to discover (like a hobby or dream profession).

The results, which were really quite impressive, not only proved the theory that we’ve made digital storytelling easy for anyone to master, but also that PhotoShows can really help reinforce a sense of community – even within a group as large as Sonic.

Here are a couple of staff favorites from the challenge, as well as my own; I hope you enjoy them.


Created by Chris Loeper, VP of Worldwide Sales, Roxio:


Created by Pete Bouton, VP of Engineering, Sonic:


Created by Dave Habiger, President & CEO, Sonic:

August 9, 2008

Changing the world one video at a time...

If you've been keeping up with my articles, admittedly sporadically posted as of late, you know that despite falling well outside of the established "target audience" I am in fact a digital media enthusiast. Since my last post, I've uncovered a few more neat tips, tricks and apps.

Inspired yet again by a YouTube contest, this time sponsored by Timberland (outdoor gear not the producer/rapper spelled slightly differently in case you were confused), I was urged to create an entry in support of making the world a more sustainable, "green" place to live. It just so happens this is something I've been paying closer and closer attention to lately...in addition to volunteering for a very cool, very forward-thinking "green production" company in the Bay Area, I've also been inspired by our very own CEO here at Sonic who has thrown his hat into the green arena by building electric cars in his spare time! Go Dave!

Blah, blah, blah too much background information and I'm probably losing your attention fast, right? Well, here's where things get interesting. I wanted to create a video using what's known as "green screen" technology (or blue screen but since we're trying to be green here I'll go with that). This is a technique by which one can extract oneself from a setting by using a green backdrop during video capture and then swapping in a background of choice during post-production (mountains, the beach, a busy street, you get the idea). My thought was to illustrate the different ways in which our world is being steadily depleted of its natural resources by inserting myself into those scenarios.

My first attempt to create a green screen failed. I picked up some yellow-green wrapping paper at a local Paper Source and lined my bedroom wall with it. When I took the footage against this paper and reviewed it afterward I realized the color was totally off (too much yellow would make it difficult to extract the background and not the pigmentation from my skin) plus the paper was too shiny. Sigh.

Example of baaaad green screen:

badgreenscreen.bmp

Then, on a whim, I took this ratty old green blanket that I bought at the Buena Vista several years ago (after one too many Irish coffees) and draped it over my sofa. I planted myself in front of it, took the video footage again and to my amazement was able to use what is known as "keying" to extract myself from the background, ultimately rendering a silhouette that could be placed anywhere!

Example of good (albeit cheap) green screen:

bettergreenscreen.bmp

Here's what it looks like when I swap out the green blanket for a cool background:

EKsnapshotrev.bmp

Having never done something like this before I had to quickly teach myself to use Adobe After Affects, a pro product that is not cheap and not easy to use. I was determined however, and I dedicated an entire weekend to learning it well enough to get the video I needed. I had written a "green song" and composed a music bed for it (using an application similar to GarageBand but for the PC). Here's the catch: After Affects does not support audio and the audio app I used does not support video. Hmm. Can you see where I'm going with this? Enter Easy Media Creator stage right.

After much ado getting my keying and backgrounds all lined up in After Affects I was able to output a video file that I could then easily import into Videowave (built into Creator). From there I added my original song to the project, created start and end screens and tightened up the transitions a bit so the track and the video were better aligned.

Let me just interrupt my own technical blather for a moment to say that I generally don't have the patience to do my own laundry, however, faced with this triumverate of digital media challenges I didn't even notice day turning into night then turning into day again. I was a mad scientist in my very own video lab. Waaahaaaahaaaa! (Evil laugh. Did I need to tell you that?)

I was one of only a few who entered this EarthKeeper contest (definitely the only music video). I think most might have been scared off by the prospect of trying to save the world. But on my whiteboard at work there is a two-columned matrix entitled "Carrie v The World." My colleague put that up there as a joke because I am always out to fight the good fight. Interestingly, with this latest venture, I think I'll have to add a column that reads "Carrie Saves The World!"

Check out my efforts below and let me know what you think. I can give you even more information about every painstaking point in the production process but ONLY if you ask.

Helpful hints:
1. Use that nifty tool "Paint" that hides under "Start menu, All Programs, Accessories" to modify, enhance or edit images for your production. It's easy to use and super helpful.
2. Don't forget about Lynda.com - an excellent resource for learning the latest tools and techniques in digital media, design, and development - all at your own pace.
3. Check out a super cool app called CamStudio. It's free and it will capture a video file of anything - other video files, an interesting web page, a cool banner ad you want to show someone else, etc. I used it for another project but I'll save that for my next article!
4. Most importantly, don't forget to have fun!

August 26, 2008

Turbocharge Your iPhone Video Conversions

I thought I was being smart by waiting for nearly a month after the iPhone 3G came out to buy one. Surely by then I could just waltz in at any time of day, and leave 10 minutes later with my shiny new toy?

Alas, that was not to be, so I joined about 25 other ihopefuls in a line outside the Emeryville, CA Apple Store at 7am on a sunny Saturday in early August. At 10:15, the deed was done, and I had my prize.

Of course, the first thing I did was rush home to copy over some music, photos and videos, so I could be prepared to show off pictures and movies of my five darling nephews to everyone I meet.

I also wanted to set up Roxio Streamer to send shows copied from my TiVo to my iPhone in real time. (Streamer runs on your broadband-connected Mac at home, and can automatically convert your latest TiVo recordings for streaming to your laptop or iPhone while you are on the road. It also works with any video you convert to the H.264 format, including home movies. Read all about it here.)

And then I hit the proverbial brick wall. While I have a fast Intel Core 2 Duo machine, converting all this video stopped my Mac in its tracks--it was good for pretty much nothing else while it was encoding. And since I work on the computer all day, that means that any encoding had to be set up at night and left to run while I was sleeping.

So I went back to the Apple Store and picked up a gadget I had heard about before, the Elgato Turbo.264, and decided to give it a whirl. No waiting in line this time! The Turbo.264 is a USB device the size of a thumb drive that essentially offloads the video conversion to its on-board processor, and relieves your Mac of the task. It works right within Toast. As long as the Turbo is plugged in, Toast will take advantage of it when converting video to send to Streamer or to iTunes.

After a quick software install, I plugged in the Turbo, opened Toast 9 and started converting a 15-minute video of my sister and twin nephews at the hospital when they were born. Presto! Aside from the progress bar telling me the conversion was happening, there was no slowdown, no CPU-hogging of my computer, and I could work as normal while the video processed in the background. Even better, the temperature in my MacBook Pro stayed down in the comfy 125F range, rather than the motherboard-melting and finger-burning 175F it usually reaches when encoding video.

Toast even tells you when the Turbo.264 is being used, right in the progress bar:

Turbo.264.jpg

The Turbo.264 worked exactly as advertised, relieving my MacBook of the processing chore and letting me continue to do other things while it worked. The one thing it did not do, since I have a fast 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo machine, is speed up the job. Encoding actually took a few extra minutes with the Turbo. Those with older or slower Macs (especially PowerPCs) will see serious speed increases, however.

After it's finished encoding, Toast sends your videos to iTunes for syncing to your iPhone or iPod. Here, my baby movies were placed in the TV shows folder:

Turbo.2642.jpg

Since I bought the Turbo, encoding has been painless and I don't have to worry about scheduling it during downtimes. That convenience also results in a lot more video getting converted that it would otherwise, which makes for one happy Auntie.

So next time you see me in the street, be sure to ask to see my iPhone, and all its contents!

August 29, 2008

Creating Winning Panoramas

In last month's Roxio email newsletter,* Creator user Rod Sellers answered our call for stories about how you are using Roxio products in your digital life, and won an iPod Nano for his efforts! Here’s what he had to say:

“I’ve used Creator to make slideshows of trips to China, Russia and Europe, complete with local music. But what I enjoy most is being able to create panoramic shots of interesting sites with PhotoSuite’s stitching feature. In June, we took a family trip to Germany for my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. My wife and I took over 1,700 pictures, and our two sons took a couple hundred more!”

Many of these were panoramas. Rod says he and his wife staged several scenes so that the family appears multiple times: once in each picture that forms part of the panorama, as in the below scene from Trier.

TrierGardena.jpg

You can see his group at the left, middle and right of the picture. Imagine the fun your kids could have with this idea, putting themselves in various locations in a panorama of Disneyland's Main Street, for example, or hanging out every window of your house at the same time.

Below are a couple more of Rod's panoramas from the trip, all stitched together using PhotoSuite:

MarketSquarePanoa.jpg

RhineRiverPano2a.jpg

Want to make your own travel or landscape photos more exciting? Or simply provide more compelling pictures of your house for sale? Here's how to create perfect panoramas:

• Use a tripod to keep the horizontal planes level, and to make it easy to turn the camera on one spot. Or find a handy rock or table to rest it on. For pro results, a special panorama head can eliminate parallax.
• Start taking pictures at one side of the scene, and gradually turn the camera so that each picture overlaps about 30 to 50 percent with the previous one. The more overlap, the better.
• Make sure you are not positioned too close to any large object that would fill the frame as you turn toward it. Also keep the main subject off-center, so it doesn’t focus your eye on the middle.
• You can stop whenever you want, anywhere up to 360 degrees, although circular panoramas work best with special viewing software.
Panoguide.com has more great tips, and examples of great panoramas.

Want to win your own iPod? Tell us how your family uses Roxio software. Just email your story to userstory@roxio.com by midnight, Sept. 15, 2008. Include a picture or video clip from your production as an attachment or Web link. Click here for official rules and entry guidelines. No purchase necessary to win.

* In case you're not yet receiving the newsletter, which contains all sorts of handy tips and articles on getting more out of your Roxio software, just sign in to your account, then click the link at the bottom of the page to edit your email subscription preferences.

About August 2008

This page contains all entries posted to MyMoments in August 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2008 is the previous archive.

September 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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