Tagged: mac pro

iMovie needs batch export

Since I was a teenager, I have been fascinated by the process of video production but purely from the technical point of view. The complexity of capturing video, editing (the process not the artistic element), video effects, etc. drove my curiosity. A few years ago I worked with someone who also really into video as well. He captured videos for lots of family events and learnt to use professional tools and techniques. While I get really excited as I discussed the ins and outs of the equipment and setup my friend has, I was definitively unable to find a reason to take video for personal use. Capturing family memory is great but who actually would sit down and watch hours upon hours of family videos, apart from the family themselves?

It all changed when I started organising the NY ALT.NET events last September. We decided that we would video tape each meeting so members who were unable to attend would have a chance to participate, albeit in a passive form. As a result, I started learning to use iMovie ’08 as a tool to process approximately 2 hours of video from each monthly meeting.

When Apple rebuilt iMovie from the ground up for the ’08 version, lots of complains were raised because many features from iMovie ’06 were dropped. What the user gained, however, was a much simpler user interface that makes editing movies a snap. Without any preparation and little learning time, I was able to import, pick video clips, add title and transition, and export videos within minutes. Literally. And the new version iMovie ’09 added new features that were missing from iMovie ’06, such as Precision Editor, themes, more transitions, etc. I especially love the Precision Editor because I can easily control the entry and exit points of each clip with ease.

But, and there’s always a but, all these great time-saving features come to nothing when I need to export the video for people to consume. Because Apple is targeting the consumer market with iMovie (Final Cut Express for prosumer, and Final Cut Studio for pros), there is no facility to batch up video export.

Why is it important? Let’s look at the typical time I spent working on videos for a monthly meeting:

  1. ~2-2.5 hours importing from camcorder. This is fixed time because it is a MiniDV tape camcorder and the only way to get from tape to hard disk is to replay all the footage in realtime.
  2. ~20-30 minutes editing each part. I break down the 2 hours meeting into around 30 minutes parts (actual length depends on the nature stopping point of the conversation). I then change the opening credit, make some adjustment to the audio (boast volume) and video (colour correction).
  3. ~2 hours exporting each final video to hard disk for uploading. This result in a 640×480 H.264 QuickTime video file around 550MB.
  4. ~1 hours uploading to Vimeo.

Now, there is no way for me to multi-task step #1. There is only one camcorder and thus I can only do one import at a time. Not a big problem as I can do other things once the import has started.

Step #4 is a background process. Once I kicked it off in the browser, I can do other things on the computer. For example, step #2.

The problem is with step #3. iMovie does not have the ability to export video in the background. What it means is that once the exporting process has started, I can’t use iMovie to work on my next clip and thus save time. It would not be that bad if iMovie uses all the CPU power my computer has. My Mac Pro has two CPUs, each CPU has two cores, making it a total of four cores. That’s a lot of computing power. But iMovie can only take advantage of one CPU at a time! So instead of a reasonable export time of around an hour, I have to wait for two before I can work on the next clip.

Now, if iMovie is able to export in the background, then at least I can work on the next clip using one CPU while exporting uses the other CPU. Alternatively, if iMovie has the facility to batch up videos for export in a queue, then I can work on editing all the clips and export them in a single batch while I sleep, or do whatever. But iMovie has neither and so the process of producing four 30 minutes video clips basically takes up most of my weekend instead of a few hours. Granted most of the time is spent waiting but still…

Of course one can argue that background or batch exporting is a pro feature and I agree. But when should I sacrifice the ease of use of iMovie, learn a completely different editing paradigm (arguably more difficult to use), just so I can save a few hours each months when my hardware is more than capable? I am more than willing to pay extra for iMoviePlus or plug-ins to achieve what I need but unfortunately I don’t think either would be available any time soon.

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Windy tennis

My Flip Video (I have the 2GB/60 min, black) arrived last week and I finally got the chance to play with it today. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate. Dan and I had to deal with 15-20 mph wind while trying to film our tennis swings. You can hear the wind noise in the background, it's kind of hard to miss! Here is a short clip of what we did:

You can see the full version (17:07) on Vimeo.
Transferring the video clips from the Flip to my Mac was a breeze. The Flip appears as a USB drive when plugged in so I can just copy the files across to my hard drive. Editing is a little tricky. The Flip uses a DivX MP4 encoder so the video files are not recognized by iMovie '08. After some Googling and experimentation, I decided to fork out some hard earned cash and got a license for QuickTime Pro. QTPro exports the clip to standard MP4 easily and quickly, utilizing all 4 of my MacPro cores. And editing in iMovie '08 pretty easy too. I was able to put this short clip together in about 5 minutes, even though I have no prior experience with iMovie '08 or video editing. It would be perfect if Apple fixes iMovie so that in the future it would just recognize the Flip video without any transcoding.

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Apple TV and why I want one

I causally mentioned to my friend at work who is also an Apple user that I may get the Apple TV when it is finally out. His reaction was, "What? Why would you want to watch video blow up?"

I explained to him that I want to watch my video podcasts on the TV instead of in front of my computer, despite the fact I have a very nice 24" LCD monitor. My friend just rephrased his question and wanted to know why I would want to watch low resolutions video on my 46" HDTV.

Then I realised that he thought all the video podcasts on iTunes are sized for the video iPod. He did not know some video podcasts are in hi-def, such as MacBreak which is in glorious 1080p. Others such as Diggnation and Merlin Show are in decent quality 480p which should scale OK on the big screen. But the most important of all are the TV shows that we've bought from iTunes: Smith, NOVA, etc. which we would not watch unless it is easy to put onto the big TV.

Yes, there are cheaper ways to get video from our macs to the TV but Apple TV takes the hassle out of the whole equation. Do I really want to figure out how to stream video from my Mac Pro to my PowerBook (probably using VLC), then onto the TV using S-Video (i.e. no HD)? How would I control the playback? Certainly not through a remote control and an onscreen display that Apple TV would provide. Do all these worth $299? To me definitely, probably not for most of you geeks out there. But then, I just want to watch video from my computer on my HDTV, not doing my annual geek certification exam.

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Frenzic

I don't play that much games on my Mac Pro. Most of my game playing is now on Xbox, especially Halo 2 on Xbox Live. But last week Iconfactory and ARTIS released Frenzic, a cross between the classic Tetris and Bejeweled. I paid for the Guru Bundle license after just 5 minutes of play time. It is that addictive!

The scores are uploaded to Frenzic's web site along with all the other players. I am ranked 66th as of this moment. I really can't imagine how other people can get score higher than 2000, let alone 6654!

I dare you to try it out. Just beware the time you will be spent playing it!

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