Saturday, October 29, 2011

Video Editing & Final Cut Pro

One of the more significant reasons I decided to get a Mac was because of my video editing issues that I often experienced on the PC.  Below is my story and I hope it gives a little more insight into my experience and reasoning.

I have been filming videos ever since 2002. Back then I purchased my first Sony video recorder in anticipation of our first child, Kaitlyn.  It proved to be a great purchase and I captured many moments of her, and countless other events (Christmas parties, Weddings, Birthdays, etc) since then.  That was quite a few years before HD came out and I was pretty content with the camera.

Going even further back... I can remember my grandfather (Dad's side) first introduced me to a VHS camera when I was probably around 10 years old. He was always the guy with the camera whenever we had family events, particularly on Christmas.  As my Dad tells it, he was always more excited than even the kids were growing up and having Christmas morning. So it made a lot of sense that he would spend much of his time filming from the chair in the corner of the living room when we went to visit Grandma & Grandpa.  I suppose my Grandfather first got me interested in doing video. In a way, I think I have picked up the torch- now it is me sitting in the chair taking everything in.

Fast forward another 8-10 years to College. I was involved in a campus ministry, Campus Crusade for Christ.  Every now and then we decided to create some video skits. These skits usually became epic works that years later were still talked about.  A good buddy (and roommate) of mine would spend countless hours at the PC using Ulead Studio, his Packard Bell doing basic video editing. I learned a lot about working with video through this process.  I also learned that 30 seconds "is an eternity" on video and you have to work hard to fill it up with something interesting...

Not long after I graduated college I found myself still quite interested in the whole AV/Video thing. Being a long time computer nerd as well, it made perfect since for me to be at "the intersection of computers and video".  Some of the things I dove into were Windows Media Center (the early version that was an add on to the OS) and programming... with the vision of having all your media at your finger tips on your living room TV, as opposed to looking at a computer screen in the damp, dingy, dusty basement.  Media Center ended up being a pretty pivotal piece of technology and allowed me to display all my old school videos on my TV.

Things changed again in 2006.  High Definition was finally affordable, though I was definitely an early adopter of the technology.  I picked up a JVC HD video camera that did "full HD" which turned out to not really be full HD, but 1080i (close enough).  The video quality on this camera was stunning but it came with a big price... disk space and huge cpu needs. The camera itself has a 60GB hdd which ends up holding about 4 hours of video.  For several years, my computer was a bottleneck- it was really difficult to do much with the footage.  But that was OK- recording the files and simply watching them were good enough most of the time.

A few years later Intel came out with the i7 chipset which finally meant I could easily edit and render video without having to wait several hours while doing so.  I built a PC and experimented with several different NLE's (video editing tools) including the latest version of Ulead Studio and Sony Vegas. During that time I had some great "use case" footage- including the Youth Lockin where we filmed about 10 video skits.  The total footage was well over 8 hours, but each video ended up rendering around 5 minutes or less once I cleaned them up and put into content.  They were quite the hit at the Church and are still talked about today. For some reason, people just love to see themselves in videos! :)  I've also done several weddings, rehearsal dinners, church events, family vacations, etc. over the years.

Although the PC generally did the job, I would get the occasional lock up or freeze and lose my work. Certain file formats (like .MOV) would not import well from the lower end camera that I had picked up to take on Disney trips (rather than lugging around my larger camera).  This was frustrating me and I started to look around and consider my options.  With everything going on in the Apple World, and having known for many years that a lot of the "pro's" use Mac's for video editing, I thought I would at least get more educated about it.  I didn't have to look too far.  There was a new couple that started coming to our church and they were both very talented.  Tom teaches a class at UT on Video / Multimedia... and his wife Cheri plays piano professionally for the Toledo Opera (and joined the music team).  I talked to him several times about some of my challenges, especially after seeing some of the exceptional video work he has created for our Church.

As you may have been following my Mac Adventures, you know that I haven't really reported too much on the video experience simply because I haven't had that time until now.  Well, I've finally got a chance to get hands on and I am here to tell you:


I am using Final Cut Pro, iMovie, iPhoto, and a few utilities. But it is so amazing working on a Mac to edit video.  Coming from Sony Vegas / Ulead in the past it was quite easy to come up to speed for basic editing with Final Cut Pro (version 7).  I found a web site that also greatly assisted me:

I have been able to successfully edit my high definition MPEG 2 camera footage as well as my low end camera that creates .MOV footage.  One downside is that I have to convert all my MPEG 2 footage into .MOV in order to get Final Cut Pro working how I want, but that conversion is very quick and I can't discern any loss of quality (huge!!)!  To convert, I am using a utility called MPEG Stream which is apparently available on both PC and Mac.  If I want to create a slideshow movie with photos, I use iMovie.  The best thing about all these utilities is that the Mac gives you complete control over what format your video is in across all these tools.  That means there is no conversion, stuttering, lag, or other general ugliness when working on a video. No drivers, codecs to mess with, etc.

It just works!

So the verdict is in... it has been totally worth the switch. If I wasn't convinced before, I am now! I spend a lot of time working with multimedia and now I can do so in a very nice environment.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Going on a month...

I have been a Mac user for one month now and wanted to take a moment to blog more of my experiences and views as I have gained more experience and knowledge on this platform.

First off, it is hard to believe it has been a month! I've done a lot on my new machine since then, but there is still quite a bit that I want to do. For the last week or so, I have all but shut down my home PC. I consider myself just about fully switched now.

Disclaimer: I am still using my PC at work. I don't really have a choice in the matter because of our network / security / whatever policy.  Since I use the PC at work it helps further polarize the differences between the two.

Latest observations:

1. Using a Mac feels like a "treat'. After I get back from work I smile when I think about using my computer. It's not just blah, more of the same like what I get at work. I tend to approach it in a different way- it's not just about getting something done, it's also about the experience. 

2. It has been fun to show other people (family, friends, etc).  One of the first thing that they notice is "all those icons" on the bottom of the screen.  I really like having everything at the touch of my finger.  The more I use the icons to launch an app, the less I want to use the start menu on the PC.  It just makes more sense that way.  

3. I find myself somewhat disappointed by lag when I am running my Windows VM. However, I think this will be pretty easy remedied when I upgrade the memory. Still haven't gotten around to that yet- my wallet needs a break for a bit.  

4. I'm starting to notice that there are a lot less apps "out there" for the Mac as compared to the PC.  That's ok because I'm running a Windows VM but... there are some things that I would expect to be out there. For instance, there is an iPad application out there that allows you to extend your desktop to the iPad wirelessly (displaylink). Ironically, there is no Mac version of it.  Another one is a gmail download utility. I take some of these tools for granted on the PC.

5. Portability is great, even for a 17".  Battery Life is not as good as I hoped- seems like I get about 5-6 hours tops. I am sure my extra upgrades are contributing to the lower battery life- it's advertised as up to 7. Still not bad, especially compared to my work PC which is half the power and about the same battery life. 

6. I am definitely taking more notice of other "Mac users" that are out there. I often wonder "why are they Mac users?" I notice pictures on Facebook, links from twitter, comments on blogs, twitter, etc. My initial stereotype of "Mac people" seems to be a little off: more eccentric, pop-culture lovers, etc. I'm finding that there are quite a few people similar to my background- developers, musicians, etc. A bit of right brain and left. It also includes people who just don't want to accept the mainstream / mediocrity from the PC experience. 

I'll close off the entry like this: is it worth getting a Mac? After the first month, I can definitely say "Yes!". I have been really happy with my decision and continue to enjoy it.  Despite my best intentions, I still haven't been able to get real deep in some of the functionality that I originally purchased the Mac for... ie, video editing, music editing, photo editing, etc. But from what I am experiencing so far it is doing a fine job and I am learning new things on a daily basis.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

VMWare Fusion, Unity, and VS.NET 2010


I've finally gotten around to it!

Windows 7 VM is installed, up and running in "Unity View" and VS.NET 2010 running as an application. I was asked how this worked on a Mac (on twitter) so I thought I would blog the steps needed.  There is more than one way to do this of course, but I chose to do it with VMWare.  Another way would be to use "Bootcamp" to do your own bootable Windows 7 partition, but what fun would that be?  You could also use Parallels, which I hear is also pretty decent.  Or, if you are really daring, you could just go MonoDevelop and not even utilize the Microsoft IDE... (note to self: future topic for another post)

1. For the steps below, you need VMWare Fusion. I am using version 4.0.  
2. You also need a valid Windows 7 and Visual Studio .NET 2010 license key.

General steps:

1. Create a new VM, using the Windows 7 64 bit choice. Go with the default 60GB option. To use Unity, make sure you pick the scary "sharing" option, not the isolated one. It sounds dangerous because it is.  This means that your shared mac documents could potentially get infected by windows virii and malware.  (See step 3 below to help protect).  A sacrifice for a seamless experience, but it's worth it for me. 
2. Install using an ISO image (click "continue without disk" on first screen). I used Windows 7 64 bit ultimate. 
3. After installing Windows 7 and after several VM reboots, you will then have the opportunity to install other apps like usual. Before proceeding (the average windows machine is infected in 10 minutes if not firewalled) I recommend:
 a) Installing Microsoft Security Essentials. Free download for Microsoft, and one of the best anti-virus scanners out there.
 b) Installing all the Windows Updates that it recommends.
 c) If you ever install Adobe products, make sure you religiously update these as well. Apart from "promiscuous browsing", most virii originate from these products and lack of a patched machine.
4. After completing all of step 3, obtain Visual Studio 2010.  I utilized the "web installer" from MSDN.
5. Run the web installer. I went with the default options, which includes installing C++, F#, and SQL Server Express.  Some may not want these features to conserve on space.
6. After the install, you are pretty much ready to go!  Open the VMWare menu and select the "View", and check "Unity".  This will enable whatever applications you are running to be viewed in a window that is very "Mac like".  It will also minimize the application in your task bar.
7. It's not a bad idea to close your shiny new VM and make a copy of the file.  This will allow you to revert back if you happen to hose your Win 7. If it gets infected by a virus, you can easily delete it and revert back to your fresh copy.


The windowed view- everything appears to be a normal Mac application.

The taskbar. You can see the VS.NET 2010 "infinity" icon parked right next to the VMWare one (red and blue boxes)
Other tips / thoughts:
You can make your "home" directory for your source code point to your shared files.  That means all the source code will co-exist on your Mac. In the event that you have to re-install your VM you will still have your source. I am also using Timemachine and that means it will automatically be backed up by default.

Have fun!!!

Of VM's and Switching

I am now up to two VM's on my MBP. This is all part of my multi-step program to switch to the Mac. :) This is just about the final step in my master plan...

The first VM is Windows 8 Developer Preview.  It's a great way to check out some of the new features that Microsoft is coming out with. However, it is not anywhere near ready for "prime time"- and seems to be best viewed on the Samsung tablet.  The reason I say this is because the Metro UI is very difficult to use with a mouse.  It is also extremely laggy in a VM- I can only stand about 5 minutes working with it, but it's good for the purpose it serves (preview!). The second VM is Windows 7, along with Visual Studio .NET 2010. It is also running in "unity" mode which means I put Win7 apps on my Mac taskbar and run them seamlessly. However, that also opens up the possibility for my Mac Files to get corrupted by a Windows virus since the documents and network are shared.  To be on the safe side I downloaded Windows Security Essentials- a fairly lightweight but comprehensive virus / malware scanner.  The lag on the Windows 7 VM is barely noticible, but I still need to upgrade my ram to 4GB.

I am now getting down to brass tacks and in the process of handing down my PC's.  For me, this is the true litmus test of making the switch. I've had my PC and its 24" screen quietly humming away in the background.  After wrapping up the installs of my other "must have" apps on the VM I will finally complete the process.  Fortunately, there is not much I can think of that I can't do on my Mac that I could on my PC.  I suppose one thing would be utilizing my Blu-Ray drive, but I could pull that out and make it external.  I only use the blu-ray for a few things: 1) burning blu-ray data discs, and 2) burning blu-ray videos. I can do both on the Mac if I make the drive external.

The other needs are pretty straightforward:
1) Visual Studio .NET - a requirement for doing .NET development. Not available on the Mac platform, unless you are using something like MonoDevelop. I haven't tried that yet but I will some day.  It looks quite a bit like the IDE on Windows. VS.NET 2010 will be going on the VM.

2) Microsoft Zune.  The software is only available for Windows.  I am using ITunes, and have been since the IPad. I am starting to like it more but I feel a lot more comfortable with the Zune UI.  Plus, I am paying $15 / month for the privilege of virtually unlimited, legal music downloads and 10 tracks I can keep "forever", per month. Not a bad deal at all.  This will also go on the VM.

3) Microsoft Visio.  Incredibly useful tool for drawings. I use this on occasion for things like re-modeling, layouts, etc. I don't believe there is a Mac version available. Another one for the VM.

4) My backup scheme.  Currently I use a batch file to backup all the documents, images, videos, etc that are strewn across my various computers on the network.  I also have two 1TB USB drives plugged in to my main PC which is basically a kludged up RAID.  Since most of my work will be done on my Mac, and it's a little more impractical to connect/disconnect with a laptop, I will leave that connected to the PC and utilize it remotely. I already created a "timemachine" backup share that my MBP will use to backup apps and files. This will automatically fall into the backup and get mirrored.  I'll start scheduling the backup/mirror to run at 3AM so I get everything.

Since I am not using this for work, that is about it.  There are a handful of other utilities that I use on occasion with the PC, but there are either Mac versions or suitable replacements.  For instance, FileZilla is a great FTP program that is open source and available on Mac.  N-track studio is an awesome multi-track recorder that I run on the PC, but so is GarageBand, Adobe Soundbooth, or Soundtrack Pro. Paint.NET is good but Adobe Photohop is awesome. Final Cut Studio is great for videos and will easily replace Sony Vegas.

One final thing: I need to be able to utilize my Dell monitor so I can have dual screens. Apparently, I purchased the wrong adapter at Best Buy because it won't fit into the display port connector. I am going to have to figure out which one to get. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Superdrive to HDD - Update

For those of you following the "Saga of the Superdrive" I wanted to post an update.

I was losing a little sleep over the matter because I kept having a recurring though: I spent all that money on a shiny new Mac and now I've got a stripped screw of my own doing. I am a person who likes closure (or as my wife puts it, obsessive compulsive).  Consequently, I was compelled to go to the Mac Cafe and show and tell my feebly failed attempt at unscrewing the Superdrive.

Please, help me! I felt like I had a load on my shoulders and the only recipe was more cowbell a trip to the local Mac Cafe. So.. I took off a little early for lunch and made the 15 minute or so Trek to Talmadge Rd, in Toledo, OH- which happens to be the only store within 60 minutes (as far as I know) that can service Macs. I walked in with my head held in shame but figured I had nothing to lose- they seemed willing enough to help on the phone call the day prior.

After waiting in line behind an elderly gentleman who apparently had a relic from the 90's (an old iMac) that finally gave up the ghost (the mac, not the gentleman), I was graciously greeted. I plead my ignorance: I was just trying to unscrew the Superdrive and before I knew it, the screw wasn't turning!  I'm sure it was a tale that has been spun many a time... Within a few minutes, Nick took my Macbook back and did a quick triage. He quickly declared that "it was pretty bad" but the other experienced technician could probably work his magic.  I crossed my fingers and paced around the store for what seemed like an eternity... and after that eternal 5 minutes, I heard a voice proudly proclaim "I got it!". I eagerly walked up to the technician desk and was greeted by what I can only refer to as my new hero. He proudly proclaimed "You need to get a good screwdriver like this from Sears".  I promptly replied "I just ordered a set from <company name>" to which he replied "Nah, those won't work".  Doh. Good thing I only spent 5 bucks or so.

After that I asked them about the Warranty- am I ok? Nick said it would be no problem. They found a replacement screw that fit the bill.  I asked him a few questions about Apple Care and decided to take the plunge- Mac Cafe can also service the computer if I ever have problems in the future. They seem to be a little more lenient than if I were to take it to Apple as well.  Even better, they were cool installing my optical / hard drive kit and it only took them 30 minutes to do so.  I am sure I could have pulled it off assuming I could find the right screw driver set, but they seem to be pretty reasonable for doing installs and were very helpful. I'm definitely pleased with the overall experience and plan on going there in the future.

This adventure cost me a little mo money, but that's the way it is with Apple. Despite that it was a pretty good experience. The drive is running well but my VM of Windows 8 still chugs. Next on the list: mo memory.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Superdrive HDD Upgrade = Supermess?

Time is flying with the Macbook Pro since my last update. I've been a little busy this past week and haven't had as much time to putter around like I was hoping to... But nonetheless, this past week I ordered a new component for my MBP- the Superdrive caddy. Thus a new adventure to blog about.

The superdrive caddy allows you to put an internal sata hard drive in it.  My reasoning is that I will get improved performance of VM's (which will then live on that drive).  Case in point: I am running the Windows 8 preview but it is dog slow, so anything I can do to help eek out performance will be helpful.

I ordered the caddy sometime last week and it arrived yesterday. It was late in the evening (had another soccer game), but upon returning I figured I'd give it a crack.  I had the screws off the case in a few minutes... Everything was going well until I started unscrewing the first screw that was helping hold in the superdrive.  I started cranking my phillips head and noticed the screw wasn't coming up. Instead, it was stripping away the screw head.  I quickly backed off and decided I'd better not do any more damage. I think the head might still be usable but it'll be pretty close if it is.

I didn't think much of it- decided I'd call the near by "Mac Cafe", which is an authorized reseller / repair shop (the closest Apple Store is in Ann Arbor, about 1 hr away). I've been in there a few times and it's not a bad place, but they seem a little pricey and don't have any "non-standard" configurations unless you special order (ie, nothing you could upgrade to on the Apple web site). At any rate, I called them and explained my dilemma... the first thing the guy told me was that I probably voided my warranty.  I almost laughed out loud I was so surprised- what a shocker! He just about lost a potential customer- but then told me he'd check with the technician and see.  Fortunately he changed his tune and told me they could take a look and potentially replace the screw, and depending on how bad it was, possibly even free of charge. Whew, that sounds a lot better.  He rattled me a little bit- so I googled up the Apple Forums and searched for "stripped screw" to see what other people had experienced.  I found a few examples where people had similar worries about violating warranties, but had no problems when they took it in to Apple.  Thank goodness.  If that was really the policy this will be my first and last Mac. I've been handling computer components for quite some time now- and Apple's "high end" but flimsy screws should not be cause for me to have an invalid warranty.  Sheesh.  In retrospect, it makes sense that a company specializing in "professional" service repair would try to scare customers into using their service vs. attempting to do it themselves, but come on. Spare me the sensationalism.

Something he also mentioned was that if I ever did have to send it in to get it fixed and had the Apple Care, they would want me to swap out all the components to the original apple ones. With my current plans, that would mean my system drive and superdrive replacement would have to come out. I was also thinking about buying the cheaper non-apple memory.  That seems a little bit of a hassle and I'm not sure if that is really the case, but I am going to try and find out what the official policy is.

So I am still on the fence about taking it in. I decided to pony up $10 or so to get the OWC toolkit, which comes with all the correct screw drivers. While the one I am using was able to get the case open without issue, I figure it'd be best to get a set that are designed for the MBP. I will give it another shot once those arrive, and if at that point it doesn't look promising, I may take it in.