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January 22, 2008

Wireless SuperCameras

Quick, what gadget won Best of Show awards at BOTH the Consumer Electronics Show and Macworld Expo this month? If you guessed some form of music player or high-def video equipment, you'd be forgiven, but the answer is Eye-Fi, a tiny little SD card that fits in most digital cameras and gives them wireless superpowers as well as 2GB of memory.

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With Eye-Fi, you can send photos directly to your Mac or PC, and to photo sharing sites like Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket, Webshots, Snapfish, Windows Live, TypePad and many more. There's no USB cable to remember or carry around. (How many times have you forgotten yours or had to buy a new one because you left it somewhere?) All you need is your camera and a Wi-Fi network, at your home, work or friends' house. You don't even need your laptop for uploading to the Web. Wi-Fi encryption passwords are supported, although not logins at places like Starbucks, where a Web browser would be needed to get online. At Macworld Expo Eye-Fi also announced support for direct iPhoto import.

Before Eye-Fi, there were a few cameras with built-in Wi-Fi, but with very limited features. For example, the Nikon CoolPix 550c lets you send pics from the camera to your PC without wires, but only supports Flickr and a special Nikon site for uploads. The Eye-Fi's ability to work with a wide variety of sites and any camera model that takes SD cards is liberating.

Even so, the Eye-Fi's success should push more camera vendors down the wireless route. Wireless photo transfer and uploading is just too good a feature to leave entirely to third parties. At CES, Sony was showing a camera with an entirely new wireless technology, dubbed TransferJet, that works simply by touching two TransferJet-enabled devices together. It runs at a peak speeds of 560Mbps and sustained throughput of 375Mbps, far faster than Wi-Fi, and comparable to USB 2.0 at 480Mbps or FireWire at 400Mbps. Sony envisions it being used in cameras, camcorders, cell phones and other portable devices, with data being transferred to your computer, media player or even TV for direct playback. Imagine touching your cell phone to your computer to download photos and video, or your camcorder to your TV to view your latest recording on the big screen. We can't wait.

April 10, 2008

Self-Help for TiVo Addicts

If you own a TiVo, you probably belong to the ranks of TiVo addicts (like me) who constantly struggle to watch their favorite shows before the hard drive fills up. That 80-hour box sounds like a lot until you start cluttering it up with movies and old episodes of “Ask This Old House” that show you how to build the deck you’ve been meaning to install for three years now...

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Ironically, since I bought the TiVo mainly because I travel a lot, I always end up madly cleaning it out just before going on a trip, to make sure that there is enough free space to record “Mystery” and “House” while I'm gone. It's become another item on my travel To Do list, along with packing and calling the petsitter. But there's not always time to zip through everything before I leave, and it's really painful to have to delete unwatched shows, or get rid of a favorite old movie.

So what's the solution for TiVo addiction and full hard drives? Assuming you have a networked Series 2, 3 or HD model, you can shell out big bucks for one of the new add-on hard disks that just came out, or you can buy a few blank DVDs, and use TiVoToGo and Roxio software to burn shows to disc or export them to your portable media player. Both Easy Media Creator 10 and Toast 9 have official TiVoToGo support.

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Now, instead of having to watch 10 shows before I leave on a trip, I can take them with me to view on my laptop, which is great for airplanes. And all those movies and shows I want to keep for posterity I can burn to DVD, instead of letting them use up hard drive space.

You can even use the editing tools in Toast and Creator to remove unwanted segments from your recordings. Usually I only want to keep one 10-minute portion of a "This Old House" episode, for example. With Creator or Toast, I can cherry-pick the good parts from lots of episodes and put them all on one DVD with a nice menu for navigation. My dream house may not be built yet, but I'll know exactly how to do it!

I just need to upgrade to an HD TiVo and I'll be in DVR heaven.

So what is your experience using TiVoToGo? Any tips? Let us know in the comments.

May 1, 2008

Taking Stock of Your Life

Don't worry, this article is not about justifying your existence! By "taking stock of your life," I quite literally mean making an inventory of your worldly goods, something I've been meaning to do for years for insurance purposes.

Living just two blocks from the Hayward Fault in Berkeley, and being subjected to ever-more strident headlines about how we are due for the next "big one" any moment now, insurance and earthquake preparedness are hot topics among my neighbors.

One has only to look at Hurricane Katrina, umpteen California brush fires (including the big Oakland Hills fire less than two miles from me), and various other floods, tornados and tsunamis to recognize the importance of a good home inventory and disaster plan. If a fire wiped out your home today, would you be able to remember everything in it and document ownership with receipts? Even if you have great insurance, it will be worthless without being able to prove your losses.

So how to get started? Creating an inventory for an entire house is a daunting task, especially if you have been living in it for many years. That's the main reason it's been on my To-Do list for nearly 10 years now. Searching the Web for inspiration, I found a great site created by the Insurance Information Institute that not only tells you exactly what to do, but provides the free software to do it, for both PCs and Macs.

Here's how it works: First, you set up the outline your home by naming all the rooms, including the basement, garage and attic. Then you go room by room adding items to the inventory. The software has spaces for importing pictures and receipts for each item, or you can store these separately.

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The Institute also recommends taking a video inventory. By simply going around each room opening drawers and cabinets and zooming in on each object, you can create an quick inventory without having to itemize a thing. While you'll still need to document purchase prices and values in the event of a loss, the video will at least remind you of what was there, and provide some proof that you owned it.

I plan to do the video inventory first, and then tackle the digital photos and software-based inventory room by room. VideoWave and PhotoSuite are perfect for editing the video and organizing the photos for this task, and once completed, I will store the inventory, video and photos on a DVD in my safe deposit box.

There, I feel better just having a plan! What's yours?

May 6, 2008

Taking the Blu-ray Recording Leap

With Toast 9's groundbreaking support for AVCHD and Blu-ray video disc burning, I decided it was finally time to hop on the Blu-ray bandwagon and spring for a recorder, even if Apple isn't yet building them into new equipment. Like a lot of video buffs, I have a spanking new HDTV and an AVCHD camcorder, and want to be able to show off new family movies in all their high-def glory...

So I started shopping around, and found several external Blu-ray recorder options (external drives will be required for all but Mac Pro owners, a complete list can be found on EmediaLive.com). But even the cheapest was $599, almost as much as my state-of-the-art camcorder. And media is expensive too, from $15 for a 25GB write-once disc, all the way up to $50 for a 50GB rewriteable. I started having second thoughts about how much I needed that Blu-ray recorder right this minute...maybe I should wait till prices come down more (which they will).

Imagine my delight, then, when I found out that with Toast 9 and the HD/BD Plug-in, you don't even need a Blu-ray recorder to burn high-definition AVCHD discs that will play right in your set-top Blu-ray player or PS3! Toast can burn HD video onto regular DVD media, with the DVD recorder you already have.

But just how much HD video can you fit on a DVD? After all, Blu-ray discs can hold up to 50GB, whereas dual-layer DVDs hold only 8.5GB. Fortunately, the AVCHD video compression format is pretty efficient, compared to the space-eating DV format used by standard-definition MiniDV tape camcorders. The highest quality AVCHD bit rates currently available in HD camcorders is about 17Mbps, or 8GB per hour. Most AVCHD camcorders record at lower bit rates. So you should be able to fit approximately an hour of home movies on a dual-layer DVD that will play in your Blu-ray player. That's plenty for your average home movie.

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Toast 9 makes importing video from your AVCHD camcorder "drag-and-drop" simple with its integrated Media Browser. You just drag and drop video from your camcorder to the Toast window and you’re done! You can also crop and trim your AVCHD clips, and arrange them in the order you'd like them viewed. You won't need to touch iMovie '08 unless you want transitions and special effects, so using Toast 9 greatly speeds up the time from camera to disc.

I'm off to try it all out right now, using the dual-layer DVD recorder already in my MacBook Pro. In the meantime, what are your experiences with AVCHD and Blu-ray?

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:

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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:

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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!

About Video

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to MyMoments in the Video category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Toast is the previous category.

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