SYTOC workshop highlights & DVD

In the last month, one of the projects I’ve been working on is a highlights video and full DVD recording of a systems thinking workshop held by SYTOC at the University of Derby. If you don’t know what systems thinking is, don’t worry – the highlights are still lots of fun! Take a look:

I enjoyed the challenge of working with both the DVD and highlights in mind, and was particularly pleased with some of the lighting effects that I achieved to make the flat lecture theatre light more interesting!

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Obama’s Bin Ladin announcement – 5 reasons it was great

I expect most of you will have watched this already, but it’s worth another look:

Obama's Bin Laden announcement

(Click to watch)

It’s a masterclass of understated, powerful video. One shot, nine minutes long, with almost no camera movement. Just one man, doing a talking head, for nine minutes. And yet, it’s utterly compelling.

What makes it a good video? Here are 5 reasons:

5. Depth of field

The video is shot with a shallow depth of field, which blurs out the background. Since this is a technique more commonly used in movies than TV news broadcasts, it lends a distinctive epicness to the scene.

4. Lighting

This works very much in tandem with the depth of field – again, whereas TV news has traditionally had bright, flat lighting (although this has been changing in the last few years), the understated, atmospheric lighting here adds a sense of weight and solemn importance to the video.

3. Delivery

A great part of why the video works is Obama’s delivery. He’s a natural speechmaker, having a great command of pacing, tone, pausing and eyecontact. This draws us into what he’s saying, and emphasises key points.

2. Sound quality

This is a really critical one in making a video watchable. The sound is perfect – good levels, with no discernable background noise – and even a slight atmospheric reverb from the room, again lending gravitas to the speech.

1. Content

But this – this is the most important thing which makes this video watchable – the content. What Obama says has massive importance for the whole world, being perhaps a culmination of ten years of world politics, since the start of the War On Terror after 9/11. Thus, because we’re deeply interested in what this powerful man has to say, we stay and watch a locked-off shot of him talking for nine minutes. Because the content is compelling, the video confounds the 1-2 minute attention span of the internet.

So, if you want your videos to get viewers, remember – content is the number one concern. As the saying goes, Content is King!

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Red Bead Experiment – highlights

I’ve recently completed another video project for Outside In Management, a highlights video of the Red Bead Experiment:

As you can see from the video, it was a fun day with a great atmosphere. Recording the experiment was a challenge, covering all the angles handheld for a couple of hours – especially with both the weighty wide angle adaptor AND a wireless receiver on the front of the Z1! But I was very happy with the results.

Using a couple of Redheads to light up the far side of the room worked particularly well – although next time, I think I’ll use Full CT Blue gels, rather than half, as the light was still looking rather yellow.

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Video problems? Have less cookies!

Here’s a quick helpful video hint for you all.

If you’re having technical problems playing back videos on Youtube, with symptoms like occasional audio stutters, the “replay” screen coming up several seconds before the video has ended, or even the video freezing while the audio plays as normal (when changing quality), I have a diagnosis for you. Too many cookies!

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about eating less biscuits, I mean the little computer files made by your browser that are also called cookies. Internet sites use them to remember tiny chunks of information about you, like which pages you’ve clicked on, and if you’re logged in.

In Youtube’s case, it seems these cookies can become corrupted somehow, and will produce symptoms like the ones I’ve mentioned. If you’re experiencing something similar, try deleting Youtube’s cookies.

In Firefox, this means clicking on Tools -> Options -> Privacy -> Remove individual cookies, then deleting all of the cookies with Youtube in their name. In Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari et al, it’s also likely to be a pretty simple operation – try Googling it.

Don’t worry, it won’t harm your computer to delete any or all of your cookies. You might just need to re-log in to the websites you use. So, make sure you know your passwords first!

Hope you found that useful – it certainly was to me. With thanks to dmv5 on the Youtube discussion forums, who I learnt this tip from.

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Whytube? – 9 reasons to host your business videos on Youtube

For Colour Surge’s clients, I recommend that they host their new videos on Youtube. But why Youtube? Surely it’s the go-to site for hilarious ten second clips of people injuring themselves, and unending cat videos? Is it really the place for serious business video?

I say yes, and here are 9 great reasons why:

1. Cost

Hosting video on Youtube is free. Totally free. And you can’t argue with free! Whereas competing hosting sites like Vimeo have paid-for premium packages to get their full features, and with bespoke unbranded video streaming services you generally don’t get anything for free.

Of course, choosing a free service means there are certain restrictions – the most notable one for Youtube being the 15-minute video length limit – but generally a snappy, to-the-point business video needs to be much shorter than that anyway, to keep viewers’ attention. So, for a business on a budget, Youtube’s completely free service is a big plus.

2. Stream speed

When your potential client clicks to watch your video, what is the MOST crucial thing? Yes, it’s that the video starts playing quickly, and doesn’t get “stuck” midway through buffering. Otherwise, it may only take a few seconds of waiting before they become frustrated, click the Back button and head to one of your competitors’ sites.

Now, video buffering does depend in part on the user’s internet connection. You may have the fastest video streaming server on the net, but if your viewer’s sharing a network with someone downloading five movies at once and using up all the bandwidth, they’re going to be kept waiting for a long time before they can watch the whole video. But that’s not something we have control over. What we can do is make sure that the video is being streamed from the server as fast as possible, minimising the risk of slow buffering.

So, why Youtube? After all, won’t you get faster streaming if you pay for a bespoke service? Well, that depends on how much you are willing to spend – typical prices can be several hundred pounds a month! And don’t be tempted by the cheap options that are “hosted on your own webspace” – unless you have a very robust (and expensive!) website package, you won’t have the bandwidth and the speed to host video properly. I’ve seen very glossy websites that look great – but when I clicked to play their unbranded videos, the stream spluttered and struggled to play. This failure obviously reflected back onto the company concerned.

Compare this with Youtube, which has phenomenal bandwidth – it is the internet’s third most visited site, after Google and Facebook. It serves more than two billion videos a day!

But why do these bespoke services cost so much? Well, actually, that’s what streaming video costs – it’s very bandwidth hungry, and bandwidth is expensive! It just so happens that Youtube’s owners Google are, in effect, paying this fee for you. Why? More on that later, in point 4.

To sum up, unless you have a large enough budget to pay for expensive bespoke streaming solutions, Youtube is the best choice for a fast stream.

3. Integration with Google search

Youtube is officially the world’s second largest search engine (and the largest video site on the internet) – as long ago as December 2009, there were 2,905,000,000 Youtube search queries in a single month – and it has only kept growing. And because Google owns Youtube (since 2006), all the videos on Youtube are indexed by Google and pop up in search results. Just try searching for Colour Surge Media, and you’ll see my Youtube videos right there on page one, a few results down.

If you decided on a bespoke video solution, is it available in a format that Google’s bots will see and index? With Youtube, that’s not a concern – it’s always included.

4. Constant improvements

As mentioned in point 3, Youtube is the largest video site on the internet. And Google owns Youtube – Google, the world’s number one website, the internet powerhouse who have fingers in almost every pie – Google Apps, Gmail, Google Streetview, Google Earth – and so on. Google wants to be at the forefront of every aspect of the internet – just look at the recent successes of the browser they launched, Google Chrome.

Google is so determined to stay in the driving seat of online video, that they have been running Youtube at a loss ever since they bought it! Even now, it’s estimated that Youtube costs Google $1 million a day to run.

But this determination of Google’s pays off for users. In the last few years, Google has repeatedly upgraded the quality of its videos, first adding “High Quality” mode, then 720p, and more recently adding full 1080p HD playback. Despite these improvements in resolution, bitrate is also important. As recently as this time last year, Vimeo had a clear advantage in bitrate and thus quality over Youtube – but then Youtube raised their game once more, improved the bitrate of all their streams (even 360p and 480p started looking great!), and removed the advantage of hosting with their competitors.

And as things stand, it looks like Google will continue this march of progress and continual upgrades, making hosting your videos on their site a sound future investment – all for free.

5. Resolutions and transcoding

Youtube now has a great range of playback resolutions – three variants on SD – 240p, 360p, 480p – and two HD, 720p and 1080p (if you want to know what the difference is between SD and HD, check out this blogpost).

This means that, as long as you upload your content at a high enough resolution (720p or 1080p), viewers can choose between up to five different resolutions – they can control the quality of the stream. If they’re on a low bandwidth connection or a small screen, like you’d find on a mobile, they can stream your video fast at 240p. If they’re viewing it on a large computer screen or TV, with a high speed connection, they can choose to watch in HD. This variety of resolution options is unequalled in Youtube’s competitors.

And what’s more, Youtube does this all automatically for you. I’ve seen bespoke video providers talking about which format you provide them with, and choosing one delivery format. With Youtube, you don’t need to worry – simply give them a high quality original file, and Youtube’s servers automatically transcode it into multiple different resolutions, and even different formats – Flash, HTML5, h264 or WebM. Youtube worry about standards and delivery methods, so you don’t have to.

6. Statistics

Another brilliant tool Youtube offers you for free will seem familiar to anyone who’s used Google analytics. If you’re logged into a Youtube account, and have clicked on the “View comments, related videos, and more” link under the video, you’ll see a little graph button by the bit of text telling you the video’s number of views. Click it, and you’re presented with a wealth of information, telling you statistics about who has watched your video, what link they came from, and even what age demographic they’re in and where they’re from!

These tools can be invaluable to tell where your views are coming from, and so how worthwhile the various avenues that you’ve been promoting your video on are. And here’s the main point – they’re all provided for free, whereas to get tools like this on Vimeo, you have to have a paid account.

7. Upload limits

This is a simple one. Youtube has no account upload limits – you can host as many videos as you want, and upload them as fast as you want. The only limit is a per-video 2GB cap – but unless you’re trying to upload a full fifteen minutes of DV or HDV footage without compressing it to something more sensible (say, h.264 or WMV) that limit’s not going to be a problem.

With Vimeo, a free account gets you just 500MB a week of uploads – and only one of those can be an HD video! Even with a paid account, you’re limited to 5GB of uploads a week.

And with bespoke video streaming solutions, there may not be limits on uploads, but there are often limits on how much streaming bandwidth you can use per month. And again, you’ll be paying for it.

Once again, Youtube comes out clearly ahead, providing a superior service free when its competitors charge for less.

8. Social networking tools

Youtube also features basic social networking tools – viewers can subscribe to your videos, leave you comments or even become “friends” with you. Subscriptions are especially worthwhile – when you post new videos, subscribers can be emailed or notified on their Youtube front page, encouraging them to keep engaging with your content (and hopefully acting on whatever your “call to action” is).

Similar tools are featured on Vimeo, but being a more niche site, people are less likely to have heard of it and want to sign up. And with bespoke streaming solutions, there are no social networking tools, cutting out another way for viewers to connect with your company.

9. Easy embedding

Finally, point nine. It’s very, very easy to embed a Youtube video on your website, on a forum post or signature, and almost anywhere else. Simply click on the Embed button under the video, copy and paste it (making sure that whatever editor you’re using is in HTML mode). That’s it!

 

So, between all nine of these points, I hope you can see that Youtube really is a great choice to host your webvideos on!

If you want to start getting videos of your business up on the web and featured on your website, I include setting up a channel and uploading your video in my £100 starter package. For more details, please get in contact.

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The Wizard of Oz

I’ve just updated the Events page with this new highlights video, from Showstoppers’ production of The Wizard of Oz. It was performed at the Cleckheaton Town Hall in December 2010.

It was the first ever pantomime I’ve videoed, and it was a lot of fun! It was also the first theatrical event recorded with my new Z1, making it lovely HD 16:9 goodness. Enjoy!

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What is HD?

Hello and welcome to the first of a series of guide blogs by Colour Surge Media, explaining aspects of video production. Today, we look into HD, and what it means.

What is HD

HD. It’s everywhere – it’s pretty much impossible to buy a new TV nowadays that’s not HD. Buy a camcorder, it’ll record HD. Even the iPhone does HD!

But do you know what HD is? Do you understand the difference between 1080i and 720p? If not, read on – this basic guide is for you! (NB. – if you’re a video professional, you will notice that I’m using simplifications in order to explain things better)

First of all, HD stands for High Definition. It is the TV industry’s successor to SD (Standard Definition), and is soon itself to be replaced by 3D, if the industry can convince us all to upgrade again! But to understand HD and SD, and the difference between them, you have to understand the pixel. Buckle up, we’re going in…

A pixel (picture element) is a very small block of colour, like this one here (greatly enlarged): a single pixel.

Put it together with some other pixels, and it makes up a colour area: a few pixels.

Put them with some more pixels, and you can start to see a pattern a pattern of pixels

Put those with lots more pixels, and you start to see an image pixels making up an eye

And here’s the full image, with a bunch more pixels. I’ve coloured our original pixel red. It’s so small now as to be almost invisible. eye image.

Pixels work in exactly the same way as a mosaic. Viewed from far enough away, the tiny blocks of colour merge into solid areas of colour. But instead of a few hundred pieces of pottery, most digital photographs are made up of MILLIONS of pixels. You know the “megapixel” rating of your camera? One megapixel is one million pixels.

Most computer images you’ll come across are made of pixels – and the same is true of video. And here lies the big difference between SD and HD – the number of pixels in each frame of the video.

NB. – a frame is one of the sequence of still pictures that make up video or film. Video is made up of either 25 or 30 frames per second (fps), while film is 24 fps.

Standard definition video comes in several formats – PAL (used in the UK), NTSC (USA) and SECAM (France). They all have similar resolutions – PAL is 720 horizontal pixels by 576 vertical pixels, giving a total of just over 400,000 pixels per frame, and NTSC is around 350,000. That sounds like a lot, but if you think that a typical compact digital camera takes 12 megapixel images (12,000,000 pixels) you’ll see that it isn’t in comparison to digital photographs.

The problem with standard definition video is that when you stretch it out over a large enough screen, this low pixel count becomes visible – fine detail is lost, and diagonal lines show evidence of “stair stepping”. And so, as home users were buying bigger televisions, standard definition started showing its age. That’s where High Definition comes in.

There are a number of different HD formats. They are differentiated by the vertical resolution – so 1080i means 1080 vertical pixels, with 1920 horizontal pixels. 720p is 720 vertical pixels, with 1280 horizontal pixels.

Thus, 1080i has just over 2 million pixels per frame (2,073,600) and 720p has just under 1 million (921,600). Clearly, both of these are much better than SD’s 400,000 pixels – every frame will have a lot more pixels, and thus a lot more detail for you to see on your HDTV.

Note: If you’re wondering what the i and p stand for, they refer to whether the video is interlaced (i) or progressive (p). I’ll cover interlacing in a later post, as it’s complicated enough to need its own standalone guide.

To finish up, I’m going to demonstrate the difference between an SD video and an HD video. Here’s a still from a film I’ve been working on recently (which was recorded in HD). barbed wire film still

To see the difference, we’re going to focus in on one part of the barbed wire.

Here’s the HD version barbed wire HD

And here’s the same footage, “downconverted” to standard definition barbed wire SD

As you can see, in SD there’s a lot of fine detail lost, because of the much reduced pixelcount. This is an extreme example, as it’s full of high contrast and diagonal lines, but the lower resolution of SD will always result in some picture degradation.

So, to recap – HD is better than SD, because there are way more pixels (tiny blocks of colour) making up the images. And the HD number specified (either 1080 or 720) determines the vertical number of pixels – the more the better.

Hope that’s been informative for you. Thanks for tuning in! Do leave any comments below. If you need help with any aspect of video production in Leeds or anywhere in West Yorkshire, please feel free to get in contact.

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New showreel – and some red beads…!

Hi everyone!

I’ve just updated the site with a new, freshly completed showreel of recent projects. It shows the mix of corporate and event projects that Colour Surge specialises in – and there are some shots from the documentary I’ve been working on since January too!

Also new in the Corporate section is a video I did recently for Peter Cruikshanks of Outside In Management, advertising his Red Beads experiment. The video was actually produced in three similar versions, the first two mentioning specific times and places that you can experience the red beads. Here’s the second video:

That’s all for now, see you later!

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The new blog

Well, here it is. Colour Surge Media has finally joined the blogosphere! Hello, one and all!

2011 is going fast – it’s nearly spring already. I’ve been getting good use out of the Sony Z1 I acquired at the end of last year – I’ve been working hard for the last month on a short documentary for Bradford homelessness charity Hope Housing. The film is about Central and Eastern European migrants (hot topic!) experiencing homelessness in the city. The test screenings are coming up, and I’m looking forward to seeing people’s reactions! The film is due to be launched at an event some time in March/April.

There are several other things in the pipeline, which I’ll be blogging about in due course – and I’ll also be posting issues breakdowns, to demystifying various aspects of video production. With increasing amounts of small business owners using phones and handycams to upload video to Youtube, I’ll explain some of the pitfalls to avoid.

Okay, that’s it for now. See you soon!

T

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Hello world!

New Colour Surge Media blog coming soon. Stay tuned!

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