Video Resolutions and Pixel Dimensions

April 21st, 2009

I came across this helpful image of video pixel dimensions. It””s kind of cool to see the resolutions in a simple contrasting image.

Video Resolutions

Video resolutions

Old School Audio Ripping – Music to my ears

April 17th, 2009

There are a million reasons to want to record the audio off of your Mac when it doesn’t want you to do so. For example, sometimes I want to burn a CD of a podcast to listen to in my car that only has a CD player (and certainly doesn’t have an iPod jack). Audio books are also nice to burn for the same reason. There are countless times when iTunes gives me the error message “can not burn because you have reached my burn limit for that song.” But it doesn’t take into account that my last burns were mistakenly made from the wrong playlist. Sometimes I want to burn live streams to a file or CD, but Mac doesn’t make it easy.

And for years, I was able to easily burn any audio my computer was “hearing” using a freeware called WireTap. But that was in OS9. My Wiretap doesn’t work right anymore. There are lots of other applications that allow you to capture the audio from your Mac, but many of them cost money or are ultra buggy.

So I say, go old school. That’s right. Use the oldest, most analog trick in the book. Simply use the wire that goes from your computer to your speakers and stick the RCA (red and white) plugs into some kind of recording device. I like to use my MiniDV deck, but even a VHS deck has great audio quality and will do the job.  But with the MiniDV deck, I can easily recapture the audio to my Mac via firewire.

Then re-import the audio into your Mac and you will get a file that has no copy protection and no metadata issues. It’s a clean, unrestricted audio file that you use to your “fair use” clause’s delight.

Yeah, it may take real time to create the real file, but the quality sounds great. Don’t poo poo analog audio too quickly. For more than a hundred years, analog audio was fantastic for recording the greatest stars of stage, and screen. In fact, the only recordings we have of such legendary talent as Caruso, were recorded in analog.  The freakin’ Beatles recorded every single song in analog!

And now for the audiophile test.

1) Play a CD in your computer

2) Take the audio out of your speaker wires and plug them into a MiniDV recorder.

3) Digitize the resulting MiniDV videotape back into your Mac via firewire.

4) Now, in a blind test of your friends, play the MiniDV file using Quicktime player and then… compare it to the live CD playing on the same computer.

Nobody will be able to tell you which is which.  And even if, they are aurally gifted with uber hearing powers, they will say that both sources sound perfectly acceptable for feeling the mood of the music and for transporting you from the worries of your day.

Analog, baby. It’s the forgotten tool of yore!

Old Tapes deserve old equipment. Or, how my best gear came from a garage sale!

March 6th, 2009

OLD, REALLY OLD VHS Tapes that don’t play

Here’s one that just happened to me. A client came with a batch of really oldVHS tapes from the early 80’s They were shot on one of those big honkin’ 1st generation VHS camcorders, before VHS C – the smaller cassettes, were invented. Remember those camcorders? Most people shot their wedding or kids birth, then the cameras died and that was it. Or in some cases, those cameras lasted long enough to shoot the kid’s first day of kindergarten. But after that, it was clear that Hi-8 was the way to go.

Those tapes of precious memories went on the shelf and came out to be played every couple of years whenever their was a large family reunion. Someone would either pay for editing or they would hook up two VCRs together and make clones for their grandma’s present. Cool.

As the years rolled by, and finally the decades, the tape would be played on fewer and fewer occasions because new tapes were being shot of new babies in the family. The original stars of the VHS days have now lost their luster… kind of like when the talkies ruined plenty of giant silent stars’ careers. William S. Hart may have been a cowboy celebrity, but when sound came, he was forced to get out of Dodge.

Not to get too morbid here, but as life would have it, Uncle Frank’s health is rapidly deteriorating. As a birthday present, someone wants to make a tape of his late wife. But all the shots of her are on those old VHS tapes.

So the tapes came to me to be transferred to a Quicktime movie for editing in Final Cut Pro. I handled each tape like a Faberge egg, carefully tensioning the reels before putting them in the deck, dusting off all the edges, peeling off the half raised labels where the ancient adhesive had failed about 5 years back.  Then I rewound the tapes by hand to insure the least amount of tape wear on the heads and spindles. I got everything patched to Final Cut Pro and started capturing long before starting the tape, because there often isn’t a second chance to capture the footage once the tape deteriorates with a horrific sound in the machine.

Most of the tapes worked great. Once captured, I never rewound them.

But on one particular tape, when I hit “play” the thing showed no image except various screwy raster. Crap. That was the main tape of Aunt Barbara.  I carefully stopped the tape and ejected it.

It has been my experience that every VCR has different tensions and tolerances, especially old once. So I knew suspected another deck might yield a better playback.

I tried the same careful tape playing routine in another VCR. The results were more encouraging. The picture looked fair, but it only popped on in 10-15 second chunks, with the strange raster in between. At least I knew there was still something on the tape and that the oxide hadn’t all disintegrated off the tape.

I tried a 3rd VCR and had variations of the same results. But I was still encouraged because different images were popping up.  But I was out of VCRs. My next door neighbor had long since given their up for DVD.

Since it was Saturday, I decided to hit a couple garage sales and see if I could find a VCR that would play the tape. I know it sounds goofy, but hey… I also found a wetsuit hat I needed.  After about 20 minutes, I came back with a stack of 5 VCRs that cost… get this…a total of 11 dollars!!

When I got back to my Final Cut Studio, I was pretty deflated when decks one, two, and three, were a bomb. But on number 4… Bingo!   It was beautiful. I almost wept when I saw a healthy and …ahem… sexy Aunt Barbara from back in the day.

The tape was a winner all the way through. I captured her and still had one VCR to spare. Now I can have my own garage sale and get my $2 back.

The moral of the story is that old, very old tapes are as fickle as the old machines that are supposed to play them. So before freaking out and grieving over the loss of a certain old tape, be sure to try a few playback decks first.

So if your tape won’t play, the best technical advice I could give you is to hit the flea market for a new, old VCR. But you might not want to tell the client.

Please use tape on the set for actors marks!

January 21st, 2009


We have a lot of people out there who are shooting a short format project (commercial, short film, wrap-arounds, interstitials, etc.) and decide to go to the set without a firm storyboard because they supposedly have it all mapped out in their head. Cool. But even if you think  you have it all mapped out, PLEASE use tape on the floor for the actors’ marks. I just came off of a short film project where everything on the set was perfect: amazing locations, superlative actors, very strong script, good production value all around. But the crew forgot one little thing… to mark the actors’ places on the floor with tape. Of course, that seems like a trivial issue, but it is kind of like saying the O-rings on the solid rocket booster of the space shuttle are just little rubber things that don’t need to be thoroughly tested or inspected. Does the Challenger ring any bells?

If it weren’t for the magic of post production and lots and lots of coffee, this short film would have been the film version of the Challenger accident.

Now, why is it so important to mark the actors’ spots with tape?

Let’s say you’re at the end of the shooting day and the script supervisor points out that some critical lines weren’t covered and  you have to go back to an earlier set up to pick up the lines again.

As smart and self-assured as everyone is on the set, there is always a discussion about where the actor was actually standing and exactly what was in the background. Also, and most importantly, which way was the actor looking in relation to the camera? In the case of the short film I was working on, they argued on the set for a while about where the actress was looking and then committed to shooting it… the wrong way!!  On all the crucial pick up shots, the actress was looking the wrong way in relation to the camera. In other words, it looked like she had “crossed the line” of screen direction and appeared to be speaking to the back of the other character’s head. Crap.  So after hours and hours of elaborate compositing and flopping backgrounds, i was able to make it look somewhat passable. This was a totally unnecessary problem.

So in the future here are a couple steps to take to avoid driving your post team absolutely insane:

1) Mark each actor’s spot with tape.

2) Write an identifiying number on the tape that has a corresponding number in a log book. Then write all the scene numbers and takes that were shot at that mark.

2) Mark the camera locations and do the same logging system.


3) Avoid the first two steps and shoot everything the camera sees with a still camera.

In short, save an editor. Use actor marks.

Don’t buy into whiz bang gizmo hype!

October 3rd, 2008

Alright. I was working on a job at Universal Studios and asked for After Effects to be installed on my iMac work station so I could do some animation moves. But the IT guy (name withheld) tried to tell me that the After Effects won’t run on an iMac and he tried to get our show to upgrade to a Mac Intel 8-core!

WHAT THE… !!!?? So I told him that I sit on my couch at home 2 nights a week with my macbook G4 laptop  (the white one) and run After Effects all evening long while my wife watches reruns of Nip/Tuck from Netflix. Then I render my movies at bedtime and in the morning, dump the resulting files to a flash drive and bring my work in to impress the director and producer. The stuff looks amazing. Well, the files look perfect. But maybe the director isn’t always over-the-moon with my ideas. Never-the-less, After Effects works great on my little G4 laptop.

But the Universal IT guy says it’s impossible and it could never work. So I go deeper into exactly what I do with After Effects and he finally gets it… I’m only using it in “draft” mode for previewing and working with the content. Then I render it out in full HD.  The IT guy’s eyes finally light up: “Ohhhh, I get it.”


See, he was thinking I wanted to actually watch HD real-time rendering on my little macbook.  But if I didn’t speak up, our show would have had a kick-butt new 8-core mac… and the price tag to go with it. Then I would look like a bad line item in our budget and they would undoubtedly hire someone “cheaper” next time.


Cut to another day. We wanted to upgrade our offline Avids from (believe it or not) OS9!  So in the process of figuring out the requirements, the Avid vendor dude said we need Nitrus DX for $14,000. I said, “thanks, buddy, but we are only going to offline and the $3000 Mojo SDI (the pro-sumer version of the Nitrus) would be more than sufficient.  But no matter what I told him about our workflow and how we only want to OFFLINE, he would never get it! He kept saying that we would eventually, maybe down the road, want to online and we should make the right purchase the first time. Okay, so the guy is  a salesman. And some people might fall for that. But the fact is, if we are only offlining, then pro-sumer is more than fine, even for a big movie studio like Universal. 


I guess my point is… gadgets are really cool and fun to play with, but when money is an issue, there is absolutely no point in overkill.  Sure, there are times when I need a screaming, blazing, rocket ship piece of hardware…  and that’s the time when I should pay for it. At that point, it’s just the cost of doing business.

AAKK! My master tape snapped! How to deal with very old videotapes

September 25th, 2008

Here’s an important tip about playing back very old videotapes, be they BetaSP, BetaMax, 3/4″ U-Matic, digibeta, BetaSX, DVCAM, etc.

For whatever reason, some people don’t rewind their master tapes after working with them. Perhaps they are worried about additional tape wear. Or maybe they just got distracted or… are just plain lazy. If you are worried about tape wear, then at least fast-forward the videotape to the very end so that it is spooled tightly on the take-up reel in side the cassette shell.

If a tape has slack and is set on a shelf for 5-10 years,  the loose part of the tape will harden and become brittle in the air. Then then next time it is played, the tape will snap in two upon insert into the video deck. People often come to us with this problem.

The leaders on the tape at the head and tail are made of a sturdier plastic that can stand up to air, gravity, and the distress of time. But the actual oxide-covered videotape is much more sensitive and can deteriorate rapidly in the wrong conditions.

So if you do come upon an old tape, NEVER pop it right into the machine. Instead, first hand-wind the tape all the way to the end, even if it takes you forever and you have to sit down to watch the big game with the cassette in your hand.  (Just don’t eat Doritos until you’re done because salt and grease from your hands isn’t the best for the tape either.)  Once the tape is rewound, pop it in the deck and DON’T HIT PLAY. Instead, shuttle the tape all the way to the end using fast-forward and then rewind it to the very top. Now eject the tape and reinsert it so it gets a fresh spooling in the system.

Now, you’re all set to play the tape for duplication, digitizing or plain old entertainment.

Editing at the consumer and pro-sumer level

June 1st, 2008

Following is an actual email thread from one of our contacts who is mac-based.

Dear Kirk at BetaSPtoDVDcom,

Does final cut pro or final cut studio output to flash format for the web?

I have a client who wants a promo video to do double duty--display on the
web AND to play on DVD at trade shows and such.

But since I have yet to get the software, I thought you may know--maybe even
point me to pro vs. studio--vice versa--or even another video editing

I'm simply not happy with the image quality of iMovie.  I'm guessing the
slicker programs will produce TV-quality images.

Also, is it possible to grab footage from DVD movies and use them in Final
Cut?  Y'know--grab some war footage from Saving Private Ryan, or something?
Or a full moon shot from a Werewolf movie?

S'all fer now.  Enjoy the rest of the weekend.



Hi Joe,
First of all, iMovie is TOTALLY broadcast quality. If you are not 
getting great quality, then you either have low resolution source 
footage, have an old version of iMovie, or have are using some incorrect 
settings. In fact, iMovie even supports HD!!! So I wouldn't spend the 
money for Final Cut solely based on the broadcast quality issue.

Final Cut can make .FLC files, but it is not great at it and the files 
are usually bigger than they should be. For making Flash files, I sometimes use a 
program called Sorensen Squeeze and it works pretty well.

As for ripping footage from a copy protected DVD, you are going to need 
a DEMUXING program. Then you are going to need 
a DVD ripping program like Cinamatize. 
Cinematize is a great tool and we use it all the time. It can rip any DVD that is 
not copy protected. If the DVD is copy protected, then you have to start 
with the aforementioned demuxing application.

The other way is to do it analog style. Just patch cables from the dvd 
player though a professional video deck or TBC (timebase corrector). 
Those will strip off the copy protection in real time.

One word of caution though... we do not advocate using any copy-protected material unless you are legally allowed to do so!!

On the issue of Final Cut Studio vs. Final Cut Express, I would go Final 
Cut Express.  The Final Cut Studio has tons of stuff you will never use 
like heavy-duty motion graphics and pro sound editing. The learning curve 
on those tools is huge.

Anyway,  hope I helped a little.


Mini-DVDs are so adorable…until you try to play them!!

March 31st, 2008

I don’t know what it is about the universe, but somehow, we have been getting a lot of questions about Mini-DVDs these days. Perhaps the camcorders that made them have died and there is a desperation to save the material on these discs before their material is lost forever to the dreaded “incompatible format” message.

So what do you do with those little discs and how the hell do you get the material off of them safely?

Alright. It’s not as hard as it seems. There are two ways to do it…and one way to definitely NOT do it.

First of all, if you have a side-loading iMac, do not insert the mini-DVD into the CD slot or your computer (errr… and your life) will be seriously hosed. Instead, you’re going to need an external DVD drive that sits flat on the desk. Also, that drive must have the Mini-DVD imprint cut out in the tray to accommodate the small disc.

Then, stick the disc in the external drive. Once it loads, copy the entire disc to a folder on your computer. Eject the disc.

Next, open your burning software and burn all the contents of the folder to a new disc as a data dvd, not a playable DVD. This will include the VOB files. Burn the disc and you’re all done. Even the menus are copied and the disc will play perfectly on any DVD player if you use DVD-R media.

The second way to transfer the mini-disc to a standard DVD-R is to play the disc in a DVD player or camcorder that accommodates the format. Take the analog wires from the DVD player “Out” connectors and send it to a DVD-R recorder. Make sure to set your source DVD player as “play continuously through chapter stops,” or something that sounds like that. Then hit record on your DVD recorder and the video will copy. The only problem is, the menus won’t copy, but at least the video content will be preserved.

Finally, don’t buy into newfangled technology that is unproven in the marketplace for less than a year and a half. Seriously! People clamored for those adorable little mini DVDs the second they hit the shelves in stores without thinking of the fact that the format is inferior, holds insufficient amounts of video, overly compresses the footage, is next to impossible to playback on any other video or computer machine, and easily scratches and jams.

By the way, those discs are a freaking blast for teenagers to have “frisbee” fights with!

The sexiest video I have ever seen! HDCAM SR!!

March 17th, 2008

HDCAM SR leaves Pamela Anderson’s sex tape in the dust.

Just like the great format wars, Beta vs. VHS and Blu-Ray vs.  HD DVD, another video format has finally pushed its last pixel. Yes, the popular professional tape format D5 has finally been relegated to the digital wasteland of yore like its brethren, the Jazz Drive, Digital 8, and of course, its dark father, D2.

The giant studios like Universal and Disney have onlined many a show on the robust digital format of D5. But now, the majors have fallen in love with HDCAM SR, sexy young digital powerhouse of a tape format. This baby has 4K of the richest digital picture imaginable, and delivers full 4:4:4 at 440 Mbps. Yeah, this baby knows she’s hot.

Supporting 23.98/24/25/29.97/ 30PsF, 1080/50i/59.94/60i, and 720/59.94P, HDCAM SR was created to meet all common worldwide delivery requirements. It’s support the gamut of HD frame/line rates in both 4:4:4 and 4:2:2 formats using the highly efficient MPEG-4 Studio Profile compression scheme. The format supports 10 bit Log or linear, at 2.7:1 compression ratio in 4:2:2, and 4.2:1 compression ratio for 4:4:4. It can also run 12 channels of audio at 24-bit per sample resolution.  So yeah, this baby is about as sexy as they come.

But nobody said it’s cheap.  In fact, it’s painfully expensive and the studios are going to let years of  television disappear into the past without being archived on the HDCAM SR format because it is cost prohibitive unless the show was a hit.

So if you still have a couple  favorite shows on VHS tapes you recorded back in the day via your rabbit ears (also a relic of the past), you better transfer them to DVD yourself because that’s the best quality you will likely ever see again. But boy, that HDCAM SR is pretty damn sexy.

– Kirk

Size Matters! How to create a small Quicktime for pushing across the web

March 14th, 2008

There are so many codecs for digital movies out there that is becomes really confusing when you are trying to make a small file to place on Youtube, an ftp site or to email to everyone in your address book.  By the way, a codec is the formula used to compress and decompress a digital movie.  For example, you can compress your video clip using H263, H264, Animation, Sorensen, Cinepak, Animated GIF, DV, DV  Stream, MPEG-4, MPEG-2, M4V, FLC, SWF, and on and on.


You could literally test and play with settings and parameters for days and you will eventually drive yourself crazy trying to get the perfect file that is small enough to email but vivid and snappy enough to get you the recognition and accolades you deserve.


Here’s a fool proof, easy way to do it…


Buy Apple’s Quicktime Pro application for  around $40 bucks. Then open your big, uncompressed monster of a movie file, then say “EXPORT” in Quicktime Pro and choose “FOR iPOD.”


That’s it. Your file will be tiny and look amazing. Even though you ended up with merely an .M4V file that you could have done that yourself, you would never be able to compete with the genius eggheads at Apple who have spent hundreds of hours in R&D to have the perfect codec settings!


This is also a great file to upload to YouTube. Their upload robot LOVES this file. However, if you want to make it absolutely perfect for YouTube, you should create your original big file at 400×300 pixels, because otherwise YouTube will scale your file and cause it to lose some resolution. I understand that 400×300 is a non-standard aspect ration in computer land, but that’s what YouTube is, so you might as well create your original file that size. Be sure to make the file with those dimensions PRIOR to crunching down with the “EXPORT TO iPOD.”