Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Does anyone really need a Blu-ray burner nowadays???

We've come a long way in family video. I remember the days when I was obsessive about shooting video of my kids and then editing it with obscenely expensive and low quality analog gear. The number of days and nights and long weekends that I wasted on cutting and pasting and titling and adding music and all that, to achieve something I was pretty proud of at the time (we are talking late eighties early nineties folks)... you just don't wanna know. It's still fun to watch those low quality clips nowadays, now that we are all used to HD, and I often do quick captures of those oldies back to my Mac to then (iMovie) re-edit them, in order to freshen'em up a bit.

In the meantime, amateur video shooting has been galloping ahead, first with better resolution footages, but nevertheless far below the common broadcast quality as we know it on regular SDTV, with cameras shooting Super VHS and Hi8 video, a minor improvement really to the earlier amateur standards. Then, a few years later, into the new Millennium, progress advanced into digital video shooting with easy file transfer of resulting compressed files into PCs and Macs for further editing. Specialized software, featuring non-linear editing, effects, background sound music, transitions, titles, and even 3D effects that we are only used from professional network productions, added more pizazz to the video editing experience. All these suddenly came within the reach of relatively ignorant and computer illiterate consumers, who used to look up to the likes of Spielberg and get wet dreams at the thought of being a bit like His Masterness.

Then came HDTV. Initially came the flat screen plasma and LCD TVs with HDMI and component inputs and then came HDTV programming. More and more commercial channels were being added to the list, offering 720p live program resolutions, a marvel in the eye of the spectator. Then came two waves of optical disk players aiming at full HD resolutions (1080p) fighting for market domination, i.e. HD-DVD and Blu-ray. HD-DVD died prematurely and Blu-ray won but in the meantime it lost almost all its feathers from the cockfight and nobody knows weather it will ever properly get off the ground, feeling the hard competition from alternative content provision channels, like set-top boxes, media centers, PCs, live streaming, etc...

Between you and I, both 720p and 1080i/p standard HDTV resolutions are more than a man can ever desire. The higher resolution, currently only offered by Blu-ray players, is fine if you got a large monitor screen of more than 40 inches. For any other size less than that, Full HD is an overkill... but anyways!

In parallel, we have been overwhelmed the last few years by personal video shooting gear offering 1080i resolutions and progressive HD at 720p. These things are real small and cheap. I recently bought a Sony HDR-TG3 pocket video camera for less than 400 euros (incl. 100 euro rebate) that is the coolest gear an amateur video maker can ever desire. The picture quality of the raw footage connected to an HDTV via HDMI from a beauty like the TG3 is unbelievable! I mean it! Capturing that same footage on a PC or Mac and further editing with an editor like iMovie is simply the closest thing possible to an intellectual orgasm. Sharing the movies over the net or via Media Centers like Apple-TV is all what you further need to compete the act. However...

Full HD or even HD-Ready resolutions on recorded video are not as simple though. I mean, yes, you can read full HDTV resolution footage from amateur video cameras directly into Macs and PCs with a USB 2.0 connection, but how about reading from Set-top boxes that you use to record HD movies broadcasted by Cable suppliers? These morons maintain proprietary file formats and you cannot simply transfer your footage as a readable file into your PC or Mac. The signal way is the only way. Such boxes have normally HDMI and Component outputs for HDTV resolutions, and SCART or composite outputs for SDTV resolutions. Meaning, for HDTV resolution footage, that's a huge problem. Because, not many video capturing devices for PCs or Macs carry HDTV capable inputs (HDMI or component). Furthermore, even if you manage to capture a film or a camera footage within your PC or Mac, how do you output the result to a medium that can play it in High Definition? Excluding of course boxes like AppleTV as well those cheap purpose-fit appliances that interpret media content on attached hard disks and display it on TV monitors via their HDMI or component video outputs... you know what I mean, right?

Well, maybe most of you knew, but I only found out yesterday. Listen to this: It's perfectly possible to burn HDTV (Full-HD or HD-Ready) resolution clips on any optical disk (CD, DVD, DL-DVD and a BD) and then play it on a HD capable disk player, like PS3 or any Blu-ray player for that matter. Trust me, I just did that. HTF, you might ask?

Dead simple! True story! Captured footage with my TG3. Read the footage on the Mac (those with PCs do something similar). Edited the footage on iMovie by selecting good scenes, added transitions and cuts, sound and effects, incl. opening and closing titles. Saved (shared, exported) the result as an HDTV clip (HD-Ready or 720p is my preferred option). Then, used Titanium Toast 10.x to burn the clip on an optical disk of my liking. To enable that in Roxio's Ti-Toast I had to purchase a custom plugin that they charged me 20 bucks for. My target disks were writeable CDs, DVDs or DL-DVDs. I used plain vanilla CDR's and DVD+R's. I could also use BDs but I have no BD burner yet and, actually, since duration of my clips is typically measured in minutes rather than hours, who needs one anyway? It takes about 80 MB per running minute at 720p resolution, so do the math. How many minutes will you get out of a regular (cheap) DVD and how many out of the most expensive BD? Is it worth it? Nope. Trust me. BTW, an added bonus with the Ti-Toast is the fact that you can drop-in various clips to the disk's full rated capacity and you can also add simple menus for selecting those clips after you mounted the disk into your player. It's no Pro DVD production stuff but it works and is kinda nice to see.

So, the great news is that we now have simple and affordable ways to burn disks other than BDs for Blu-ray disk-player consumption and thus achieve HDTV resolutions. Megacool! The problem of shooting a video clip at 720p and burning it on a cheap writable CD or DVD to send to grandma for her to enjoy has been finally solved. And I just found out! However, I still hear many folks' complaining, as they're trying to store content permanently out of their Cable Supplier's Set-top boxes, like for instance the HD Digicorder from Telenet that many of us use in this country.

Actually there are two good solutions to this problem: One is IntensityPro from BlackMagic Design (a card with HDMI in and out that you can mount on your peripheral bus only in case you got a desktop PC or a Mac Pro) and HD-PVR from Hauppauge, a dedicated separate USB connectible box, like those TV boxes from Elgato, that accepts a component HD input (analog signal but still HD-Ready capable). Connect any of those two with your video source on one end (Digicorder, or any other) and your PC/Mac on the other end, and Bob's your uncle. You're good to go. The rest is chickenshit... Oh, yeah... rumor has it that the latter boxes, the Hauppauges I mean, are compatible with Elgato's latest version of EyeTV (3.1), which is by far my preferred package for handling TV signals on the Mac.

UPDATE: Despite what Ti-Toast sez, it's no good to burn clips on CDRs and try to fool a Blu-ray player. Won't do it! Not mine anyways. And it's a Sony. Meaning, only burn on DVDs your clips with HD-Ready resolution to be able to enjoy them on your living room BD player. And if you are loaded and got plenty of time too, then try messing with BD burners and disks if you feel like it! Also, always go for devices on the AVCHD capture standard (supporting the H.264 codec). Only then you can get them plain DVDs playing on Blu-ray players.

No comments: