Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Technological Endorsements

I received an e-mail recently asking for my opinion on several options for FVA lab equipment. The question pre-supposed that there is a "best" piece of equipment for video analysts, it's just a matter of finding it. Here's my round-about way of answering the question:

Jim Hoerricks - starting OT for the California Blue Knights (2005)

I've played American football since I was 6 years old. From the sandlot to college to the semi-pro Blue Knights, I've played every position on the offense and defensive lines. I've played the running game. I've played the passing game. I've played run and shoot and west coast style. I've played for old fashioned coaches and for innovative and risk taking ones as well.

I have been successful as a player wherever I was placed. Point me in a direction and I'll make a hole big enough to drive a bus through. I never let my man beat me and get to my quarterback. But, breaking it down further, where was I most successful?

At 6'7", most coaches first instinct was to put me at the end, OT or DE. But, I have flat feet and my first step is not as quick as most. One coach put me at center, but again ... rarely seeing a head's up match, that first step became an issue. At OG and DT was where I was truly in my element. I was guaranteed someone to hit and drive on every play. Same player, same game ... properly positioned I was the most successful. I was able to play to my strengths - power, strength, stamina, leverage, and vision. I could drive my man into several others, opening up massive pathways for the running game or stopping blitzes on the passing game. My weakness, that lack of quickness was mitigated.

So what does this have to do with lab gear? Everything.

I don't endorse "wonder products." (I can't officially endorse products - but I can share my experiences) There is no single piece of equipment that will do it all. Each piece of equipment, like me playing football, has strengths and weaknesses. The key is to know what those are and task the gear to play to the strengths. I've been in the art business for almost 2 decades and here's what I've found thus far:

I use Avid for analog tape based projects - projects where analog tape is the source media. Avid has been the standard for years and continues to be a stable editing platform. I've edited countless projects on the various Avids that I've had. Throw in their powerful breakout box, and you can input from just about any source (even HD and SDI now) and work on the uncompressed capture. The weak points of the Avid editor are: steep learning curve for non-editors, omfi files and file system is not intuitive, cost of gear, and cost of service.

For digital projects where the source is an odd-sized, odd-frame rate avi file, I use Sony Vegas. Nothing beats Vegas' ease of use. It thinks like an artist. I point the project creator at a file, and the projects settings are matched to the file's properties at the click of a button. It's support for Acid, SoundForge, and Cinescore are just icing on the cake. I can export to a variety of formats and even work with HD from start to finish. It doesn't cost much and it plays well with other programs. There really isn't a downside to Vegas that I've found.

For projects were the source is digital tape (digital 8, mini-dv, etc) I use Adobe Premier CS3. I like the capture tool in Premier (my preference) and it supports the many cameras and capture mechanisms that I have here. I also like that I can go straight to DVD from Premier if I want to. It's a little on the expensive side when purchased as part of the suite, but the suite offers some really cool programs - like OnLocation. OnLocation is quite the bonus. With it (used to be DV Rack), we can set up direct hard drive recording of long term surveillance ops, and OnLocation will manage the creation of the avi files on the fly (13gb/hour). I don't have to worry about flipping tapes and capturing later. Everything is handled for me. The suite is great value for the money.

With my newly purchased MacBook Pro, I plan on integrating Final Cut into my work flow. Many editors are using Final Cut and I look forward to putting it to the test and see what it's capable of.

For screen capture, I have Camtasia, Adobe's Captivate, Ocean's dvrDecorder, and will be working soon with Salient Stills' VideoFocus Pro v3. I'll wait until I've tested VF before I render a final opinion on these tools.

Notice that I haven't said anything about "correcting" video in any of these platforms yet. All of the above mentioned tools have correction functions built in or layered on. My choice depends on the source of the video, the case's parameters, and the final output requirements, not the effect I am trying to achieve. All of the various video editors have colour and light effects - so I'm not too worried.

When it comes down to it, just about everything ends up in Photoshop. That is the one program that I wholeheartedly recommend.

*Disclaimer: the opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any employer or client - either past or present.


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