Jun 30, 2010

Sony Movie Studio HD Platinum - Review

It's always been the impression by the casual observer or the uninitiated that in order to produce professional-looking imagery of any kind that you *have* to use professional tools to do the job.  Actually, nothing could be further from the truth; it's not the equipment that makes or breaks any shot or production it's the person using the equipment.  Give an amateur professional tools and you'll get amateur-ish results; give a pro anything and they'll make amazing imagery and maximize the capabilities of whatever they're using.

The perfect case in point is the advent and subsequent explosion of the use of DSLR's for pro filmmaking. Nobody, not even Canon saw or predicted how their digital still cameras would completely turn the video and filmmaking world upside down and sideways.  Now we have multi-million dollar productions being shot with cameras that cost less than $2000 dollars, where before they'd have either been shot on traditional film cameras, with their associated costs of film, processing and the telecine process or, "digital cinema" cameras like the Thomson Viper or Sony F35; both of which will set you back nearly $500k for just a single camera fully rigged for filmmaking.

So it stands to reason that the tools used in editing these films or videos would also eventually have their low-cost versions to handle the job.  Typically a pro editor in Hollywood would be using Avid or, in the indie film market it would be a competitive wash between Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro or Sony Vegas Pro.  But all these NLE's (non-linear editors) have pro-level costs associated with them and, because of that the assumption that only a "pro level" edit platform can do a professional job.  To a certain degree that's usually true, since the aforementioned editing suites have capabilities that consumer-grade software just can't match.

Well, that was then and this is now.  Enter: Sony Movie Studio HD Platinum.

For exactly $100 USD you can have a well-rounded editing suite that does most of what those professional applications can do but at a fraction of the cost.  And, if that's not enough, you can even do some things they *can't* (not just yet anyway) without additional plug-ins or software being added - and for additional costs too.  So what's so great about this consumer-grade video editor?

For starters is does exactly what most editors need; it will cut up to 10 tracks of video (along with the associated audio), allows unlimited cuts, rolls and general edits along with hundreds of video and audio effects and transitions built-in.  Add to that some advanced tools such as chroma keying (green screen compositing), basic primary and secondary color correction, external AV monitoring and audio restoration tools.  It talks to HDV, AVCHD, standard DV/DVCAM formats and has a plethora of final output options including print-to-tape.  All those things and more encompass about 80% of what all video editors use on every project.

Now Movie Studio HD Platinum is of course a consumer editor, so it can't use professional camera formats such as XDCAM, DVCPRO-HD, HDCAM or others.  It also lacks advanced final color correction or mastering audio tools, but for $100 you wouldn't expect it to either.  And it does have it's limits when it comes to the amount of video and audio tracks it can handle, 10, total.

There are some features that make this $100 program really stand out.  One, it's fast, really fast when it comes to rendering.  I'd put it up against any pro-level NLE currently available, whether it's PC or Mac based for rendering speed.  Plus, it can take AVCHD files and immediately edit them, that equates to a "drag-and-drop" to the timeline scenario.  None of the pro NLE's can do this just yet; Final Cut requires transcoding into ProRes, Premiere Pro can drop directly to the timeline but you still have to render it for a full preview.  I haven't reviewed the latest Avid yet so I'm not sure how that compares.

But Sony "MSHDP" also has a few tricks up it's sleeve that are normally only found in a pro editor.  One, it has a built-in "rolling shutter correction" tool.  This is huge as every DSLR camera on the market today has a rolling shutter and it's subsequent image-skew issues that go along with it can really be a deal-killer for certain shots; that feature alone isn't even available in any pro-NLE - yet - without buying third-party software.  There's also software frame stabilizers (reduces shaky footage), the ability to time-remapp (stretch or compress time) and use keyframes for all effects and filters.  And because it's PC-based you can actually output a final movie as a Blu-Ray disc!  It's a simple track-only encode, similar to what Toast 10 does, but it's more than what you can do with iMovie!

In fact, I can't think of *any* video editing software regardless if it's PC or Mac that can do as much as MSHDP can for such a low price.  iMovie certainly can't pull off all these tricks, Windows Movie maker...what a joke, and the plethora of sub-$200 editors on the market today?  Not even close.


For $100 you absolutely can't go wrong with Sony Movie Studio HD Platinum.  Heck, if you pony up for just another $30 dollars you can get a lot more features and built-in effects plus add a stock sound library to the mix!  And all for less than $150!  Sony's got a real powerhouse here, and certainly a nice lower-cost compliment to Vegas Pro.

Why the SmartCar just isn't smart

Chances are you've seen one, this diminutive, cute, clown-car-sized auto buzzing around town or the inner-city freeways, the "Smart" car.  It looks barely big enough to hold 2 average sized humans - and not much else.

I remember the first time I saw one around 2006, I figured (as many probably did) that it was a european electric import.  In fact, Smart actually paid several people in many large US metro areas to simply drive around the Smart car in place of their regular vehicle, just to start the buzz about it's existence.  And it worked, people all over were gawking at it, asking questions and doing millions of web-searches trying to find out more about it.

Europeans have been used to these uber-small 4-wheelers for decades as several brands have and do make autos of the pint-sized variety for decades, and it wasn't just because fuel costs were higher than here in the US, but simply because most of europe is very tightly compacted, with narrow streets, limited road access in rural areas and overly congested cities with little wriggle-room for the typical US-style sedans to move around.

But the Smart Car isn't the first teeny-weeny-sized auto to hit US shores.  If you're older than 35 you might remember the Renault "Le Car" which was introduced in the late '70's to the US market or even the Yugo.  Neither of which went over very well, mostly due to quality and reliability issues, but also people here just couldn't get done what they thought they needed to with such minimal carrying capacity. It was great for students or that second kick-around car to do errands in but you'd never trust one on the highway - hopefully.

So here we are in 2010 and the Smart Car has not only gone from hard-to-find oddity to being a regular sighting in our daily commute.  But is the Smart Car really all it's cracked up to be, or is it just another example of glossy & cute marketing hype that people have bought into?  Let's break it down and find out:

First, if someone wants a Smart Car simply because it's cool looking, cute or just fun to drive around then you can't argue that "I want one" mentality.  But if you're thinking that it's a "smart" choice because of it's purported economy or low-cost of ownership you might be in for a surprise when you run the numbers.

Compare the mid-level Smart Car model they call the "ForTwo Coupe" to it's closest rival in size and price, the Toyota Yaris.

The ForTwo Coupe price they list on SmartUSA is $14,700, not including tax, title or license fees; even though it is NOT the cheapest model Smart makes it does represent what most americans consider a "base model" with normal amenities that we expect from a new car.  That model has an EPA MPG rating of 33 city / 41 freeway.  It can only accommodate 2 people and just enough room behind the main seats for a few groceries and or smallish luggage such as a few laptop cases or the like.  No back seat at all, it's a 2-person ride, period.

The Yaris 5-Door Hatch lists for $12,605 not including TT&L.  It's EPA rating is 29 city / 36 highway.  It can hold 4 people plus small luggage/groceries in the rear or, the rear seats fold down allowing for more than double the cargo space.  Heck you could easily put a couple Pelican 1650 large cases back there and still have room for extras.

So the right off the bat the Yaris costs less money, can hold double the number of people and has 3 times the cargo capacity of the Smart TwoFor Coupe.  "Ah, but what of the superior gas mileage of the Smart Car?", you say?  OK, let's look at that then:

It's simple math:  According to the government site, www.fueleconomy.gov , the Smart Car will cost you $1241 dollars in fuel annually to drive; the Yaris will cost you $1412 of fuel per year to drive.  That's with a fuel price of $2.73 per gallon and driving an average of 15,000 miles per year and, based on the EPA CITY ratings for both cars.

So let's make this comparison clearer:  The Smart Car TwoFor Coupe costs $2100 more than the Yaris, yet yields only a $171 dollar per-year savings on fuel.  That means you'd have to drive it 12 years to make up that cost difference!  Huh?  Is that what you'd call, "smart"?!?  C'mon now.

Oh but the fun doesn't stop there, you can still only hold 2 people in a Smart Car for that $2100 premium and, you've got virtually no cargo capacity at all.  Not to mention that it's 70-horsepower motor has virtually no get-up-and-go and can't go faster than 85-90 mph.  Granted, you really wouldn't want nor do you need to travel faster than 70mph on the freeway, but that also means you've got no power available to pass, drive up in the mountains or carry heavy loads - such as two of yours truly!  (laughs)

I have a Honda Reflex scooter than can out-accelerate the Smart Car, can hold two people and with the quick-release trunk on the back can hold just about the same amount of luggage and, gets about 60mpg.  All while costing about $11,000 less than the Smart Car.  Granted, it's only got 2 wheels and doesn't have a fully enclosed frame around it like a car does, but just exactly how safe is a Smart Car supposed to be at a 40mph head-on impact with less room in front of the driver than a Mini Cooper?

Exactly what is "smart" about the Smart Car?  From my perspective, absolutely nothing.  It's an over-priced motorcycle on 4 wheels.

If you want something that's small, has great fuel economy and can actually do more than a motorcycle on 4 wheels then either a Toyota Yaris or better still, a Honda Fit should be in your sights.  But a Smart Car?  I'd call that a stupid purchase, not a smart one.

Jun 25, 2010

The New Apple: "Mac" is out, "i-Product" is in

Apple's new 4G iPhone has just been released and already it's breaking sales records with the media quoting Apple's stats as the launch date being, "the most successful launch of any Apple product to date...".  How wonderful for the billion-dollar mega-computing giant.

But the apparent initial success of this new "i-Toy" not totally surprising; ever since the introduction of the iTunes and then the iPod Apple has been on a skyrocketing trajectory of popularity with consumers which recently went to fever pitch with the release of the iPad.  And now with the iPhone 4G consumer interest in Apple i-Products it's most likely reached critical mass:  How could Apple possibly out-do itself now with this much unfettered success?  One way would be to get back to what used to be the core of Apple's business, it's Macintosh-based hardware and software offerings.

To wit, several of Apple's products - which still sell well and are highly popular - have all but gone ignored by "Father Jobs" as he's clearly spent the lion-share of Apple's resources and attention with the iPad and iPhone development and marketing, leaving many of Apple's Macintosh line customers feeling left out in the cold and wondering if there's anything new on the horizon for them outside of the gooey, glossy world of i-Products.

Two cases in point, the iLife and iWork mini-suites.  Typically (albeit not *always*) Apple releases updates to those applications at least once a year.  We're now solidly through half of 2010 and both the those i-suites are still on their '09 versions with no hint of an update on the horizon.

For professionals things are even more bleak; the Final Cut Studio professional video editing suite is now  2.5 generations behind it's competitors, namely Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid, in it's feature set and competitive offerings.  And although FCP version 7 was released not too long ago it was merely a service pack rather than a suite-wide refresh of what's quickly becoming an aging application.  In fact, at the NAB convention in '07 Adobe and others took a giant leap forward in front of Final Cut by offering Blu-Ray authoring and a few other very cool features that to date Final Cut is still incapable of.

But the video pros aren't the only ones feeling the pain, Logic was supposed to have been given a refresh also only to find out that the "update" never happened and it too is lagging behind it's pro competitors.

Speaking of Blu-Ray, Apple remains the *only* company on the planet who still refuses to play nice with the only high-definition disc format available.  Those who are technically oriented will well remember the duel between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray with BR coming out the clear winner.  Yet 3 years later and Steve Jobs still considers  Blu-Ray "a bag of hurt" and refuses to adopt the format into Mac OS X.  PC's have been playing Blu-Ray discs ever since the first BR drives became available what... 5 years ago now?

Do you have a MacBook Pro and constantly get comments about how "gorgeous" it is.  And do those same people seem astounded that the most beautiful and "technologically advanced laptop ever made"... *can't* play a Blu-Ray disc?  Now doesn't that just seem ludicrous?  It does to me.

And about those uber-gorgeous, glossy-screened "pro" laptops Apple touts as being so technically advanced:  Do you know that they lack professional connections currently available on more than 80% percent of PC laptops and, that they still do not have a second internal hard-disk, not even in the most expensive 17" inch option?

And by the way, creative professionals especially who are in film, video or photography DO NOT want a glossy screen throwing glare and reflections back in their faces when trying to do critical VISUAL work.  No, we need matte or "anti-glare" screens, as Apple now calls it.  Before the unibody MacBook Pro that anti-glare screen was the default choice; now you have to PAY an additional fee to NOT have a glossy screen.  WTF??  Really?!  Why is that?

Well, it's all because Steve Jobs wants all Apple products to be "gorgeous".  How they look externally is far more important than actual functionality.  The laptops look more like iPhones or even iPads all the time and that's purposeful, not coincidence.

So what's happening in Apple-land?  Why are Mac-based products becoming so goofy and software suites going without updates for such a long period of time?  It's all because Apple has transformed itself away from computers, indeed they changed the company name from "Apple Computer" to simply "Apple", and instead are now nearly 100% focused on it's iProduct offerings.

Indeed, why shouldn't Apple become tunnel-visioned on it's i-Toys?  It is in point of fact where their billions of dollars are being made and with each new i-Product release their market-share in consumer electronics grows by leaps and bounds.  The downside unfortunately is that many of their Macintosh based products are now either aging and behind the curve or, as in the case with laptop design, are so overly aesthetic-centric that functionality and usability suffers.

So what's a Mac-user to do?  Not much unfortunately.  Unless there's a massive migration away from Macintosh hardware/software back to Windows platforms Steve Jobs simply won't have an incentive to refocus his attention to the Mac platform.

But then again, maybe personal computers and professional software are just no longer part of the Apple business model.  I mean, you can email, take photos, shoot and edit video and browse the web all on the new iPhone.  So who needs a computer and pro-level software anyway.  I mean, according to Steve Jobs, YouTube plays HD videos so nobody really wants or needs a Blu-Ray player either.

Right?  Ugh.

Jun 22, 2010

Setting up your Computer for HD Video Editing


With the explosion of affordable desktop-based video non-linear editing (NLE) software ranging from Sony Vegas all the way to more affordably priced Avid packages the numbers of independent and up-and-coming film producers has also increased exponentially.

Unfortunately for all these "newbies" entering into the film and video industry there are very few affordable "boot camp" type seminars or training sessions available to teach the new filmmaker in all the key areas of information they need to get up and running without spending most of their time trying to figure out all the things they need to know rather than being productive.

And one of the most important aspects of using any NLE package is having a properly setup computer in which to create your masterpiece.  Indeed, most newcomers to video editing usually make the mistake of spending too much money on hardware they either don't need or don't understand or, are the victims of overhyped ad campaigns and spend money in areas that are completely non-beneficial to the editing process.

Unlike high-end gaming, photo or audio editing any pro-level NLE software will require the most effort and tax the resources of all the components on a computer to it's maximum capacity, from RAM, CPU clock-cycles, hard-drives and even the front-side bus on the main-board, all of it get's pushed to the limit while it moves, renders and allocates system resources to accomplish the task at hand.

In this page I'll cover the basics of how to setup any computer - be it a laptop, iMac-style or desktop tower - so that you're using the hardware you can afford to it's best ability and, give you a logical upgrade path so when the time comes, you know how and where to spend your hard-earned cash.

Before we get started there are a few terms and standards we need to cover first that are universal to any NLE software regardless if it's Mac or PC based.

THE PROJECT FILE:  This is a singular reference file that is created by the NLE software which is basically a large META-file giving the project it's name, list of assets and their locations and the format of the project.  The project file will be given a name that you specify such as "My Movie" etc.

CAPTURE SCRATCH:  This is the location where your video & audio is "captured" off the tape from your camera or tape-deck.  This file location doesn't apply to tapeless workflows where the capture process is eliminated by virtue of the drag-and-drop file workflow.  In most systems you can specify a different location for video and audio or have them go to the same folder.


MEDIA FILES:  These are everything that's used to create your movie which include:
    -  Video and Audio from tapeless systems such as P2, SxS or AVCHD cameras
    -  Audio files such as soundtracks, voice-overs and sound effects
    -  Still images
    -  Any stock video such as motion backgrounds
    -  Any other files to be included in your movie such as pre-rendered sequences from other applications.

RENDER FILES:  These are small reference-based data files that include references to the original media files but include the changes you've made to them such as filters, effects, transitions etc.  The files are relatively small but are constantly changing and are the source of most of hard-drive fragmentation.

WAVEFORM CACHE:  When the option is turned-on you can see the waveforms on the timeline where your audio tracks live.  These cache files are small but are generated to give you this visual image of your waveforms.  Most NLE's give you the option to *not* display waveforms to speed up display refresh times.

THUMBNAIL CACHE  The beginning of each video clip on a timeline is always associated with a thumbnail of that clip, giving you a quick visual reference of what that clip is.  Some NLE's allow you to turn off thumbnails again to speed up refresh display times.

AUTOSAVE:  A method for NLE to automatically save the project to a specified location at specified intervals.  This can aid in preventing losing all the recent changes to a project if a power failure occurs or human-error that would otherwise cause the project changes to be lost unless the editor manually "saves" the project on regular basis.

All current pro-level NLE packages including Sony Vegas, GrassValley Edius, Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, Media 100 and Avid all use these conventions in managing the per-project data.   (NOTE: Consumer-grade software such as "iMovie" do not have the ability to manage these files hence these instructions won't be of any help.)

Here's how to setup your hardware AND your media management for the various types of systems:

SINGLE-DRIVE SYSTEMS:  Often many who get a new computer or are using an existing one simply don't have the budget to be adding hard-drives or external devices.  No worries, you can still do your editing even HD, but with some important caveats and limitations especially for laptop users.

    -  Install as much RAM as possible.  If you're out of money and can't add more RAM then do the following (which is good advice for any system): 
    -  Disable or turn-off anything that's "auto" anything in the OS such as updates
    -  Disable UI extras such as bouncing opening icons, desktop shadows, menu fades, smooth scrolls, active or animated wallpaper (in fact turning off all wallpaper even static ones saves CPU clock cycles from having to refresh that background image all the time) etc.
    -  Turn off any type of drive indexing, shadow copies or in the case of Mac use an application called "Spotless" which will stop indexing on any drive connected to the system.  It doesn't turn off Spotlight searches, just the background indexing which steals system resources while you're working.
    -  After you've installed all your applications AND media files defrag your hard-drive *before* you start editing.  For the Mac use "iDefrag", for the PC use the built-in defrag utility or go all out and get a copy of "Diskeeper Pro".  The reason for this is that since you'll be taxing your sole HDD during use it's a good idea to make sure all of it's free-space is allocated together allowing the NLE and OS "breathing room" for all the temporary swap-file data that's going to be moved around during editing.


By default your NLE will want to put all the above mentioned files into default locations.  However instead, make folders for each of the file types on your desktop and then go into your NLE software Preferences and manually point all the file types to each specific folder. 

When saving a Project, make sure you manually save to the new folder you've just created on the desktop.  If you accidentally let it save to the default location, no worries, just do a "save as" and re-save it to it's proper place and delete the "old" file location.

Premiere Pro, Media 100 and Avid all allow for the above file types to be separated by individual project.  Final Cut Pro does not unfortunately, with exception to the Project File.  However at the end of your finished project you can use Media Manager to migrate all your project files into a singular folder/location for archiving purposes.

The reason for putting these files on your desktop is simple:  If you only have one drive then it doesn't matter where these files live, they will occupy the same amount of space no matter where they are in your menu structure.  Better to have them easily accessible and viewable in case of project corruption or, when it's time to migrate them off to an archive you know exactly where to find everything at a glance, rather than having to dig around your OS and find all the stuff manually.

In the MEDIA FILES folder:  Make sub-folders of all the different file types and import them into their respective places.

If you edit everyday then make sure you defrag your system at least once every two weeks to keep free space optimized and, make sure to use disk maintenance routines for both PC and Mac at least once a week to keep the OS tuned-up.

LAPTOP USERS:  Although all high-end laptops these days are blistering fast compared to even 3 years ago, they will still be limited to a narrower front-side bus pipeline than a similarly configured single-drive tower.  That means for HD editing you may only be able to lay down 2-3 streams of HD video before the system is unable to keep up in real-time playback even after fully rendering.  In a single-drive system there's just nothing you can do to avoid this - other than investing in external drives and as much RAM as the system will hold.



The first and most beneficial upgrade you can make to a single-drive system is to add an external Firewire - not USB - drive.  Firewire is much more data-stable in the I/O transfer process and most laptops have more space allocated to the Firewire bus than USB even though they often share the same total pipeline space.  In PC systems Firewire IRQ's are given priority over USB.


Now that you've gotten an external connected it's time to let your OS and NLE software have it's breathing room.  Move ALL the NLE-specific files - EXCEPT THE PROJECT FILE - mentioned above onto the external drive and keep them separated by folder and sub-folder just as with the single-drive setup.

Keep the PROJECT FILE folder on your desktop.

Make no other changes to your OS environment and keep it optimized for editing.


Take the above path and add as much RAM as the system can hold.  If you just can't help yourself you can start turning on some of the UI niceties that you've been keeping turned off.  Just keep in mind all these feel-good interfaces do nothing but steal CPU processing power away from your primary task.


At least one company, MCE, is making a kit that allows for the installation of a second internal HDD in late-model MacBook Pro's by removing the Superdrive and replacing it with another 2.5" inch HDD of your choosing, while moving the Superdrive to an external Firewire enclosure.  Now you're got more of what a tower-based system would be like and here's how to set it up:


Keep your external Firewire drive connected as you'll be needing it.


Move all your MEDIA FILES & CAPTURE SCRATCH to the new, second internal HDD.  All your CACHE, AUTOSAVE and RENDER files on the external Firewire drive.  The internal drive will have much faster I/O speeds than any external drive so you want the large, MEDIA FILES to be on the fastest drive available.  Keep the PROJECT FILE on the desktop.



    -  Sonnet Tech eSATA Express card Pro adapter
    -  Any 2-drive external eSATA HDD enclosure that is setup as JBOD
Setup your 2-bay eSATA enclosure as RAID-0 which gives you a massive and fast external HDD.


If you do not have the MCE kit mentioned above then migrate all your MEDIA FILES to this ultra-fast external RAID array and keep everything else on the Firewire drive.

If you DO have the second-internal HDD kit then:
    -  Move MEDIA FILES to the RAID array
    -  AUTOSAVE, CACHE and RENDER files onto the second internal HDD.  You can now use your external Firewire drive for archiving or data migration.



Since all Mac Pro's and most PC towers allow for multiple HDD installations the best thing to do first is to add as many drives as possible to the system.


Setup your files accordingly:
    -  OS and applications/programs on a single drive
    -  MEDIA FILES on it's own dedicated drive
    -  AUTOSAVE AND CACHE on it's own dedicated drive
    -  RENDER FILES on it's own dedicated drive
    -  PROJECT FILE should stay with the OS drive/desktop


Add as much RAM as you can afford. No other changes.


Decide which external RAID type you can afford (eSATA, Fiber, SCSI etc) and make the following changes in SOFTWARE:

    -  Move all MEDIA FILES to the ultra-fast external RAID array
    -  Keep all other file locations as listed in Phase Three


If your HBA (RAID controller/host card) can accept more than one physical enclosure or, if you have enough JBOD eSATA connections to split up into (2) RAID enclosures then do the following:

RAID Enclosure 2:  RENDER FILES and other final output files.

Regardless of system type Hard-drive space is a premium and should always be the first thing to consider when upgrading any system.  More HDD space is more valuable than RAM and faster CPU's by far.

Are your eyes tired yet?

Aerosoft vs IRIS F-16 for FSX: Head-to-Head Fly Off

AEROSOFT VS. IRIS F-16 FOR FSX:  Head-to-Head Fly Off

Professional pilots, aviation enthusiasts, RC modelers and flight-simmers alike all have some form of admiration for the General Dynamics F-16 "Fighting Falcon" or as it's pilots nicknamed it, the "Viper".  Almost everyone drools over it's ultra-sleek fuselage shape and those familiar with it's performance remain in awe of it's uber-tight turning radius and it's unique and completely visually-obstruction-free bubble canopy, something never before seen in any aircraft prior to it's launch.

So it should be no surprise that the flight-sim community has been graced with no less than two premium F-16 add-ons for Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX as it's more commonly known), one from Aerosoft and yet another from IRIS Simulations.  At first blush the two models appear to be quite similar (other than the obvious single vs. tandem-seat configurations) but in fact the two birds differ quite a bit from each other in various ways, and this review will cover all that I've had time to test.


Aerosoft chose to model the single-seat version, that being the F-16 A, AM and C models from both the US and it's allies.  IRIS models the F-16 D two-seat version, again both US and allied countries being represented.  Both companies provide "clean" and load-out variants with external stores ranging from missiles, FLIR pods, externals tanks, bombs smoke generators (for the various demo teams) and of course accurate representations of the liveries from the various squadrons and teams that use the aircraft.  Below are some of my favorite livery schemes from both versions but not at all the complete list.  (see pics below)


Both Aerosoft and IRIS do a great job of accurately modeling the aircraft shape, size, panel and line locations and livery markings down to minute details.  However they both also make some not-so-obvious errors that should have been caught prior to product launch and below is the list of niggles:

-  The Aerosoft intake and exhaust internals are too bright (see pics below).  There's no way in the real world that you can see all the way back into the inlet and see the fan blades of the main compressor or, see into the back of the exhaust nozzle up to the rear turbine blades while looking from the outside.  You'd either need to have stuck your head inside these areas and let your eyes adjust to the light or, have used some very bright lights to light up what is otherwise a very dark place.  IRIS on the other hand got this right and both the inlet and exhaust areas "fade to black" as you look directly inside.  Interestingly IRIS made the same "too bright inside" error on their F-14 but obviously learned from this mistake prior to launching the F-16.

-  The Aerosoft landing gear leaves something to be desired as both the physical modeling and the rolling-wheel animations look far less polished than the IRIS which again, takes the lead on small-detail visuals.

-  The size of the exhaust nozzle or "turkey feathers" is too long on the IRIS; the Aerosoft size is just a tad too small.  Somewhere in between is the correct size - but Aerosoft's is closer to reality.

-  The animation of that same exhaust nozzle is another story entirely:  IRIS has correctly replicated the smooth and somewhat delayed motion of the nozzle during throttle operation, most especially during landing gear operation where the nozzle opens-up fully ONLY after the gear is extended.  By contrast the Aerosoft nozzle is directly tied to the throttle lever; move the throttle forward and back and the nozzle opening moves in direct proportion to the throttle position with zero delay.  Zip the throttle back and forth super-fast and the nozzle opens and closes with the same speed.  This is completely inaccurate as the hydraulic system in the real aircraft would not only not be able to keep pace but the engine management computer which regulates the nozzle opening would wait for the engine to either spool up or down before making a nozzle adjustment.  IRIS nailed this one properly whereas Aerosoft either ignored it completely or simply didn't understand how that system is setup on the real aircraft.

-  When airborne the rear flaps will lower in the Aerosoft when the airspeed drops below 200 knots; the IRIS will only drop flaps when you lower the gear or, select a manual flap override in the cockpit.  Since I'm not an F-16 pilot I'm not sure which is more realistic but considering IRIS has replicated systems more accurately I'll assume they got this portion correct.

-  There are 2 things that make the F-16 visually interesting in flight:  The long vapor-streaks that emanate from just in front of the wing strakes which are a signature characteristic of the F-16 that hug the side of the fuselage during high-G maneuvers and, the smoke trail coming from the engine exhaust during mid-to-high throttle settings.  Aerosoft did a superb job of replicating both of these external characteristics; IRIS didn't do either.  For IRIS to completely ignore the vapor-streaks considering how much attention was spent on systems is very disappointing especially since it's such a noticeable trait of the F-16.  I can't help but wonder if IRIS just never noticed, purposely ignored it or forgot and found out too late before making the release.  (Update:  After emailing the IRIS designer for their F-16 the way the a/c was created meant that vapor trails was something that had to be left-off for some reason relative to how the model was built).

-  External lighting is yet another mixed-bag:  While they both realistically replicate the single white strobe on the top the vertical stab and both flashing and steady fuselage lights the Aerosoft goes a step farther - in the wrong direction.  When you turn on the interior cockpit lights (which by the way also turns on the flood lights at the same time) it also activates an external "livery flood" light on the tail projected by two points on the upper empennage (tail section).  While it sounds incredulous that a fighter would have flood lights on it's tail they actually do exist on the F-16 - but only on certain models, not all of them, and the Aerosoft doesn't allow for them NOT to be turned on when the interior lights are also on.  There are also smaller white lights on the top of the fuselage that Aerosoft modeled which get turned on as well but these aren't as pointless as the livery lights.  IRIS on the other hand didn't replicate the livery flood lights nor the added white marker lights but did do everything else including both upper and lower landing/taxi lights which unlike the Aerosoft are switchable and properly modeled.

-  External coloring is also a mixed bag.  Some variants of the Aerosoft seem to have missed color accuracy whereas the IRIS seems closer to real-world.  This is especially noticeable in the "Thunderbirds" livery included in both packages, IRIS getting the nudge for more color accuracy.

-  One last external visual niggle on the IRIS:  When the aircraft is on the ground and completely still, even powered off, it will wobble from side to side like a drunken sailor when you move the stick side-to-side.  I've seen freeware aircraft do this but for a premium payware plane to do this is totally unacceptable.  This same wobbly-kneed behavior also makes for less than straight rollouts on touchdown and uneasy ground handling.  The Aerosoft doesn't exhibit this wobbly-kneed bug.


These two areas are something where the Aerosoft and IRIS part company quite distinctly when it comes to accuracy:

The Aerosoft provides a very simplified cockpit with not-so-realistic looking gauges and switches and not many of the real aircraft system are replicated, most especially when it comes to lighting controls as mentioned above.  The HUD shape and display information isn't always easy to read either.  Cockpit internal lighting is horrible as there's no way to only light up internal panels alone, the damned flood lights are directly tied to the internal switches and no way to separate their operation.

IRIS on the other hand has in fact replicated every system that FSX limitations would allow.  On top of that gauges and switches are much more realistic both in their appearance and operation.  Unlike the Aerosoft, IRIS offers near-full control over lighting, both internal and external, engine and flap operations, radios and even weapons controls.  The overall appearance of the entire cockpit is amazingly life-like making gauge markings very easy to read, especially the HUD displays which in comparison to the Aerosoft are amazingly crisp and readable.  The internal lights operate exactly as they should, with gauge lights and flood lighting being separate allowing for much easier reading during night ops or daylight when shadows cover switch groups.

The fuel gauge is completely useless in the Aerosoft whereas the IRIS actually shows fuel on-board and as you burn it off it winds down accordingly.

Overall Aerosoft's modeling of systems is poor and comparatively lazy and in fact they mention the supposed limitations in their documentation, saying that what wasn't simulated wasn't possible to do in FSX.  Obviously that's completely wrong since IRIS did an amazing job of systems simulation.


You'd expect these two F-16 offerings would fly similarly but they don't and in fact behave very differently when compared head-to-head.

IRIS has supposedly modeled the "fly-by-wire" system in the F-16 to a higher degree than the Aerosoft however they did create one big bug which is the rudder.  In-flight with gear-up you have zero control over rudder inputs and the plane flies as if you have "autorudder" turned on in FSX, even if you don't.  That means that crisp aileron-type rolls are impossible, making barrel-rolls how the plane actually performs.  Even slow, smooth movements in either direction, left or right of the stick will engage rudder-type movement from the aircraft creating far too much yaw.  You only have rudder authority when the gear is down.  That can't be how the real aircraft performs and I'm inclined to think it has something to do with the "wobbly-knee" bug mentioned earlier.

The Aerosoft's rudder actuation is more realistic; if you push the stick to the side for an aileron roll that's what you get.  If you kick in hard rudder the plane will yaw deep and roll, just as you would expect it to. 

On the other hand, the IRIS tends to keep it's nose where you pointed it which would indicate that indeed their fly-by-wire simulation is more accurate.  The Aerosoft by contrast is a bit more lazy and while in a turn will actually drop the wing further during the turn forcing you to make a reverse-aileron correction to keep the bank angle where you had it originally.

The IRIS accelerates and decelerates far too fast to be realistic; you can punch up 400 knots and bleed it off in a heartbeat especially in a clean configuration much faster than the Aerosoft.  If the real F-16 performed as well as the IRIS neither the F-18 nor the F-22 could catch up to it!  I'm inclined to think that the Aerosoft is closer to real-world in this category as throttle-to-speed ramps take a great deal longer.

Both aircraft seem to replicate takeoff and landing speeds accurately; fully loaded with external stores you won't rotate until about 220 knots and an ideal landing speed with the same configuration and load-out is around 170 knots.  Much less for both with a clean configuration and bingo fuel.

The IRIS takes systems replication to a whole new sense of realism in this aircraft; you need to pay attention to the FTIT (fan turbine inlet temp) gauge in the cockpit.  If you redline this parameter too long (and your warning gauge will alert you to an ENG problem) you'll permanently damage the engine and it will die without the ability to re-start it - until you reset your FSX flight.  That means you'll be looking for an airport to hopefully make a dead-stick landing!  You can easily redline the FTIT by flying at low altitudes at airspeeds above 700 knots with power at or above 100% (afterburners don't need to be engaged).  At higher altitudes as the outside air temp drops - above 10,000ft - you won't have to worry about this.  But if you get a full head of steam way up top and make a nosedive whilst in the middle of some aggressive ACM you'd better pay attention to the FTIT needle and keep it out of the red otherwise you're dead meat.


Internally both the Aerosoft and IRIS are near identical; startup-and shutdown sounds are similar however the roll-up wind noise against the bubble canopy ramps up and down much more noticeably in the IRIS.  The Aerosoft is using some of the FSX default sounds for the front intake, one of those sounds being affiliated with the Learjet, and sometimes it can be annoying to hear an engine whine you know doesn't belong to the F-16.

The only niggle with Aerosoft internal sounds is that during rollout or high-speed taxi the landing gear makes rattles and squeaks, like an old shopping cart.  I can guarantee you that if the real aircraft made sounds like that the maintenance crews would pull it out of service and have the landing gear overhauled, so there's no way that's an accurate reproduction of gear noise.  The IRIS has a low-frequency grumble that you'd expect to hear from ground rolls.

Externally however it's a completely different story and yet another area these two models part company.  The IRIS uses a synthesized sound pack for engine sounds in which you can clearly hear the points where the sound file loops on itself.  While different from the default F-18 sound pack it's not very realistic sounding at all and is one of the most annoying features of the IRIS sound.  Especially when the afterburners kick-in (or engine re-heat if you're British) the IRIS external engine noise kicks in a whole new level of synthesized screech.  What's interesting is that in the real aircraft there's almost no perceptible change in engine frequency or amplitude from full military power and full AB, so IRIS got this one wrong.

The Aerosoft by contrast uses a sampled sound pack taken from the actual aircraft (or so their marketing says) and all engine noises are very realistic.  In fact, the first time I heard the engine from the rear as you ramp up to full power from idle, boy howdy... I got goosebumps!  It sounds as if the air molecules are being ripped and torn apart as the engine bellows out it's powerful sound-print as only a military jet engine can do.  Oh yeah... firewall the throttle on this baby you're belching out a warning the world can hear!

At some point I'll find a way to post samples of those sound clips here on the Blogger platform but for now you'll have to take my word for it:  The Aerosoft external sound pack will give you goosebumps!


This one also is markedly different.  The Aerosoft with a 3D cockpit turned on takes a heavy toll on frame rates.  The IRIS doesn't affect frame-rates any more than a default FSX aircraft which is surprising considering how many systems are replicated and how gorgeous the cockpit interior is.


The detail in pilot is quite different in these two models:  The Aerosoft pilot is constantly moving his head around from side to side and, when you kick in the rudder his head follows rudder movement; this may also explain why their model takes a hit on frame rates for this constant animation. The IRIS keeps the flight crew static (non-moving) however they change their head position from time to time randomly and do not follow rudder movements.  I've not figured out how or what controls their random head positions and IRIS has not responded to an email about this.

CONCLUSION:  A TIE (Almost) !!

Overall the IRIS is modeled more individual items correctly, and especially with a/c systems they really outdid themselves when compared to the lazy-man's version of systems in the Aerosoft.  BUT, IRIS missed the mark on some very key and highly noticeable traits of the F-16 both in visuals and handling in which Aerosoft gave a virtual smack-down to it's rival.  And because both these companies missed the mark enough times they both tend to equal each other out in overall standing head-to-head.  I'd give both of these models a solid 8 out of 10, for different reasons.

However, if you were going to somehow combine the best of both and make the ultimate, most accurate F-16 simulation for FSX here's what it would look like:

External visuals:  Take your pick; they both did superb jobs of fine details
External Animations (vapor trails, smoke):  Aerosoft
Internal Sounds:  IRIS.
External Sounds:  Aerosoft  (oooh, yeah!)
Exhaust Nozzle Animation:  IRIS
Exhaust Nozzle visual size:  Aerosoft
Flight Model:  IRIS (assuming fixing the rudder issue)
Aircraft Systems:  IRIS
Lighting:  IRIS
Ground Handling:  Aerosoft
Frame Rates:  IRIS

Truth is, I end up flying both of these models about the same amount.  I get annoyed with hearing the grossly inaccurate external sounds or dealing with the lack of rudder control in the IRIS and I'll switch to the Aerosoft.  But the Aerosoft will lose favor when I take a hit on frame-rates in multiplayer or when the external lighting at night makes me cray or that the less than accurate cockpit lighting just feels too goofy.  Neither one is perfect and they both exhibit traits that show it.

One last thought about these two differences:  Aerosoft seems to be on an update path for their model; version 1.21 was tested.  IRIS on the other hand does not seem to offer updates for their models as I've never seen an update posted anywhere on their site (their support directs you to their forum which is loosely put together at best).  So while Aerosoft might fix the bugs in their model in the future it seems once IRIS releases a model that's it, they're off onto something else and consider their releases "final".  Too bad since they're closer to a perfect model than Aerosoft in certain key areas.

On the whole you can't go wrong with either of these models.  I would suggest however that if you go with the Aerosoft that you turn off "3D cockpit" in FSX preferences as this will help greatly in multiplayer scenarios.

Maybe someday a very creative and knowledgable code-monkey will find a way to merge these two aircraft - or at least learn from their mistakes - and produce the worlds perfect F-16 for FSX.  I'd pay money for that!

And if you ever want to be my wingman, just look me up on FSX multiplayer.  You'll most likely see me logged in as either "lenzdude" or "Viper602".

Tailwinds to all.

Western Digital Product Warning!

March 9, 2010




If you’re looking at any of the above-mentioned products that means you are in need of an external drive either for storage/backup or as a working drive for your main system.

Unfortunately none of the WD products listed above should be considered for the task as they will all be less than reliable and worse, have a greater than 90% chance of failure.

At issue is the on-board back-plane data controller (I/O chipset) and internal power supply used by these enclosures.  The I/O controller often causes data collisions between the host computer and the internal HDD inside the WD enclosure, which in turn causes data corruption on the HDD and in extreme cases the on-board cache on the HDD actually “burns” and becomes unusable.

Since 2006 I have had more than 100 reported cases from clients, colleagues and friends who have had one of the many versions of these drives which have all failed, either completely by having total corruption on the entire disk (TOC or boot sectors completely unusable) or the controllers were causing cross-talk issues that even made the host system’s main-drive directory unstable.

These problems have been exacerbated by those who attempt to use them in professional editing environments (NLE) where the back-plane I/O controller on the WD enclosure actually causes the host application to crash and or cause data corruption on the actual project file the user was working on.


Regardless if your Mac or PC based you DO NOT want to use any type of external enclosure that has “intelligent” background processes running in it’s onboard controller, such as data-backup, I/O speed-boosting (a marketing term for allowing direct-access to on-board HDD cache) or any other drive or I/O communications parameters.  What you want - and need - is an enclosure that simply holds your drives and allows the host computer to communicate with it either directly through Firewire (preferred over USB), or an eSATA or Fiber HBA (host controller card).  That’s all, nothing more.

Enclosures such as the My Book/My Passport series - and others by other manufacturers - were originally designed for the general computing market to provide a “theoretically” simple and single-point for the user to not only store data but have automated backups.  They were never intended for professional use but because of their price-point and stand-alone design many editors have attempted to use them for an external working drive.  To date I have *never* heard of any pro application of any of these products that did not eventually cause a serious problem or failure in less than 3 months.

The best setups are where the HDD enclosure, often a hot-swappable RAID system, provides drive “sleds” allowing the user to have easy access to each individual drive for quick change-out/upgrade and uses a standard Oxford Firewire controller (for FW 800) or industry standard eSATA or Fiber backplane controllers.



The Western Digital My Book/My Passport products were designed for those who only have a budget for either Firewire or USB connectivity (eSATA, Fiber and SCSI are significantly more costly) and thankfully you have many options for using Firewire.

My recommendation is to check out all the external enclosures available from OWC - Other World Computing.  They have bare enclosures allowing you to insert your own drives or, pre-configured drives from single, stand-alone HDD’s to multi-drive RAID in various configurations and sizes to fit any budget.

While they specialize in Mac productsAll their hard-drive products they sell will also work in Windows systems so don’t let the name, www.macsales.com,  fool you.

The best part, none of the Aluminum Pro series from OWC has any of the backplane or power-supply issues of Western Digital.

I’ve been using OWC Firewire externals for more than 5 years without so much as a hiccup and their reliability and customer service is far beyond competitors, even LaCie or G-Technology.

New Blue Sky Monitor Offerings: SAT 2.65 and Sub 212

BLUE SKY 265/212 Pro Studio Monitoring setup

It's amazing the things we assume as common knowledge these days.  For example, we all know the earth is round.  And the moon isn't made of cheese.  And it turns out smoking really does cause cancer.  But did you know that you can actually own products and technology specifically designed for and used by SkyWalker Sound?  Seem amazing?  Well, it's true - true "Blue" that is.

That's right, Blue Sky actually sells an entire professional monitoring setup that was originally designed for and in collaboration with SkyWalker Sound:  The 265 Satellites and 212 Sub combination. (products offered separately, not as a standalone kit)  NOTE: the 265 satellites are NOT designed to be used as standalone stereo pair but are sonically matched to the 212 subwoofer.

If you've read my other reviews you know that I've tested almost the entire range of currently available professional studio monitors and that 2 other Blue Sky products, the Media Desk and Pro Desk both got glowing reviews from me specifically because they outperform their competition and at a price point that's hard to beat.  In fact I've been so surprised by the Pro Desk's performance that I'd considered anything larger to simply be… louder, but not better.

Well that assumption was blown away recently when Blue Sky sent me their latest masterpiece, the 265/212 combo.  The setup consists of (2) of their 2.65 satellites which enclose (2) 6.5" inch woofers each and their gorgeous single center-mounted tweeter - all with individual discrete amps - balanced with the massive 212 Sub which houses a dual "push-pull" 400-watt driver.  The subwoofer is nothing to take for granted; the enclosure is so tall that you could bolt-on a backrest and turn it into a seat - not that you'd actually want to sit on it during operation, mind you.  (That would be one hell of a sphincter-loosening device, ay!)

In all honesty I fully expected that the combination of literally four large-scale drivers in a near-field setup (remember, it's 2 woofers per satellite) coupled with that uber-sized subwoofer would simply be overwhelming for a single-user edit station and all that power would be wasted on ear-crunching output.  Boy was I wrong.  In fact what all that power does is reproduce sound in a completely distortion-free environment, something even the Pro Desk can't do when you start cranking the output.

Speaker technology is actually pretty difficult stuff to master and here's an example of what I mean:

Take the your typical orchestra; there are several instruments that vibrate the air around them at differing frequencies and velocities from the high-pitched squeal of a violin to the low and very highly-transient punches from the timpani (kettle drums).  Each of these instruments literally creates their own "space" in the air and their sound reaches our ears in slightly different ways - and times - which gives them their individualistic sound and a sonic footprint that separates them from other instruments.  It's also these characteristics that professional audio engineers have to take into account when setting up microphones to capture this multi-faceted environment.

Consider the above and now apply those same concepts to say all the sounds that happen within a movie production environment; you've got ambient sounds, the spoken word from talent (or singing vocals), sound FX (which more often than not includes LFE - low frequency extensions) and of course the soundtrack the producers choose.  All that stuff has to find it's individual space in the final output in the movie.

Now think about all those various sounds which can come from literally dozens of sources being squeezed down into just a few - often no more than four - separate speakers; 2 woofers and 2 tweeters.  And that's the typical stereo setup you see at an edit station.  Right?  Does that sound logical to you?  (pun intended)  Well it's not at all logical and, when you start to ramp up the volume to gain more clarity during a piece what happens?  You start introducing distortion because those speaker drivers can only vibrate back and forth so fast and, can only handle a limited number of frequencies at any given moment in time.  Clearly speakers have their work cut out for them, and smaller speakers especially are easily overwhelmed with large sound output.

And that's the basic model behind not only the Blue Sky philosophy of creating the "2.1" environment but also in the thinking behind these massive and multiple drivers for the 265/212 setup.  In effect what Blue Sky has done is not only divide up the workload for the speakers so the can more efficiently transfer all this information to your ears but, they've also given each separate driver it's own high-powered amplifier so they can move the mass of air with greater ease.

Think of it this way; a small inline 4-cylinder car can get up to 100 mph after a certain period of time and most likely near it's top-end limit "redline" of RPM too.  Whereas a large V8 motor will get up to 100 mph much faster and with a lot less effort, not nearly turning as many RPM's and not getting close to it's redline either.  This same concept applies to the 265/212 setup: More power, more drivers with less distortion and while not "overdriving" the speaker cones themselves.

The end result?  Everything from highly percussive LFE transients to the most subtle chirping of a distant bird is reproduced with unparalleled grace.  Compared to the Pro Desk the stereo imaging from this setup is nothing short of amazing; using my standard test sound files as a reference point hearing them played back on the 265/212 setup is almost like hearing them for the very first time - in a whole new dimension, almost 3D, for lack of a better term.  And floor noise?  No more perceptible than was apparent with the venerable Pro Desk: Extremely low and quiet.


At nearly $5K for the purchase price this system isn't for the newbie or inexperienced editor, but if you're dead-serious about hearing every minute detail of your soundtrack and truly getting an honest and unqualified perfect reproduction of your sonic environment I can't imagine anything outpacing the 265/212 setup from Blue Sky, not even at double the price.  Now if I could just figure out a way to make that subwoofer a temporary seat in my office….

Digital Rebellions' Final Cut Studio Maintenance Pack review

Digital Rebellions’ Final Cut Studio Maintenance Pack

Ever since Final Cut Studio 2 was released its popularity has grown leaps and bounds.  It is the de-facto standard for Mac-based video editors worldwide and is often first thought of when somebody says, "video editing", simply because it's popularity gives it such presence to outsiders.

But as those who've been using Final Cut for a while know, and those who are new to the suite quickly learn, Final Cut is anything but trouble-free and 100% stable.  In fact, it can be quite buggy at times when not properly managed and, it lacks it's own built-in set of management tools more commonly found in suites such as Avid that help keep things in place and stable.  I have personally spent literally hundreds of hours painfully troubleshooting very obtuse and difficult problems associated with FCS that seemed to have no end - and no clear source either, often to be stuck with the no-win scenario of having to save everything, wipe my hard-disk clean and physically reinstall the entire FCS suite - and my OS to boot!

For years the entire FCS user-base has been collectively "screaming" at Apple to give the Final Cut suite a much-needed facelift both internally to have more robust media management and self-healing tools to fix those annoying and often project-killing problems that rear their ugly head at the most inconvenient moment possible.  But as of April 2010 Apple has yet to respond to those requests and FCS trudges forward with nary a critical system update in sight.

But fear not, all you FCS users no longer have to toil endlessly trying to fix a broken project or fix an anonymous resurfacing problem in your install, now you've got some serious help on your side and at your disposal:  Digital Rebellions FCS Maintenance Pack.

While this toolkit does offer utilities that specifically address elements of FCS it also works on the general OS parameters and the user interface as well, so it's more like a combination pack of OS tuneup combined with FCS tweaks and helpers, a real "swiss army knife" of useful software utilities.

Got a project that won't open anymore?  FCSMP can fix that.  Have a quicktime file that's become corrupted?  FCSMP can fix that too.  How about a way to store all those hard-won personal preferences you've setup in Final Cut, or a way to manage all those plug-ins you have or give the entire FC suite a thorough cleaning and tuneup? FCSMP can do all that and much more with ease and reliability.  If you've ever dealt with Compressor deciding that it's just not going to work anymore or, actually causing a clip to become corrupted you know what a total time-killer that can be or how devastating it is to a mission-critical project.  FCSMP can fix that too - and regain your lost sequences!

In truth, there's just far too many things that the FCS Maintenance Pack is capable of to list individually, so visiting the Digital Rebellion site is worthwhile reading, so rather than try and write about them all take a look at this screenshot of the available tools - many of which have sub-tools too:


This is "must-have" software for any FCS editor regardless of experience or platform.  If you've spent weeks working on a big project all to have it come crashing down because the project file becomes corrupted or just one teeny-tiny single clip won't render anymore - or worse disappears from the timeline - then using FCSMP can pay for itself by using it just one time.  And that's no exaggeration.
 Furnace Core filter set - The Foundry

For as long as there have been film and video editors there has also been the need to have a robust and usable toolkit of filters and effects to add spice, fill and even correction to motion picture visuals.  And with the advent of cost-effective desktop editing solutions such as Avid, Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro so too have come a handful of developers that offer a suite of effects to add to the toolkit.

One of the those cost-effective and usable options is the set of effects offered up in Furnace Core from "The Foundry" in the UK.  Like most other filter set offerings there is a small batch of highly effective and fast-to-process of effects that can be considered staples in any editors bag of tricks, however the one that I was most interested in and has possibly the greatest implementation across the various genres of motion picture work thus making it one of the most utilized and important effect is that of re-timing, appropriately named by The Foundry as "Kronos".

FCP has it's own built-in retiming tool which got a slight tweak in version 7 however it still suffers from the same two issues: The end result isn't as good looking as it could be, as proven by other re-timing plugins and, it's very slow to do it's analysis and work.

Prior to testing Kronos the best re-timing tool I've ever used was Twixtor by ReVisionFX.  The use of and output from Twixtor is absolutely gorgeous, the problem with Twixtor?  The cost, at $900 for the full "pro" version it costs more than the entire FC suite!  That's hardly cost effective by today's standards and I can't think of any FCP-based editor who could justify such a premium for a single effect no matter how gorgeous.

While the user interface and implementation in the FCP timeline is different than Twixtor, Kronos brings all the gorgeous end-result beauty without the high price-tag and, since it's part of a set of filters in the Furnace Core set it's a bargain at $500.

Why is re-timing such an important tool?  One only needs to look at almost any national ad campaign on broadcast TV especially during prime-time; you'd be hard-pressed to find one that didn't use some form of re-timing whether it's a ramp up or down.

Ramping or, re-timing as it's more commonly known, has as much an immediate and global effect on the feel and immediacy of any clip just as controlling depth-of-field does during production; the end result is nothing short of stunningly dramatic - when done properly.  Thus retiming can be used for literally any kind of production, whether it's uncle Joe's wedding day or that national ad-spot.

But a filter is only as useful as the editor deems it and much of that usefulness comes in the form of responsiveness and ease of use; Kronos has both in spades as it's much faster at doing it's job than the built-in speed tool in FCP and it's interface is just as intuitive as any other plug-in based effect.  And as mentioned earlier the end-result output is far and away superior to FCP's weak and almost useless implementation of a speed tool.


Kronos is a very well implemented effect with high-quality results that are commercial-grade.  Adding the list of other effects, DeFlicker, DeNoise, ReGrain, DirtRemoval, MatchGrade and MotionBlur adds up to a hugely useful and creative toolset for any FCP editor.


AJA KONA LH/E review

In the world of professional video editing there's one thing that is tantamount to creating good looking sequences that will look good the viewing audience:  You need to have an external monitor (properly calibrated, mind you) to see what the end result will really look like.

For non-linear editing systems such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro, Media 100 and others that means you need a video card that translates this information out to your external monitor and for that you need something like the AJA KONA LH/e.

AJA has been in the commercial film and video industry for decades and not only understands the needs of NLE editors but has also created a few of the standards that many use today for setting up video.

One of the benefits of the KONA is that it will take HD formats/signals and downscale them to SD-widescreen out to any monitor that has an RGB component input (not composite, which is not the same thing).  Let's say for example you're working on a sequence that was shot in HD (of any format) but it's final output is to DVD.  The only way you can view *beforehand* what your final output will look like is to actually see it on either an SD broadcast-monitor or, tube-type home TV set or a flat-panel TV.  The KONA will automatically downscale the HD signal along with audio and send it out to your preferred viewing device and voila, you've got an exacting preview of your soon-to-be DVD content.  Pretty neat, huh?

Of course using a external video card like the KONA has much more features and benefits than simply downscaling HD to SD, such as discrete XLR in's and out's for 2-channel audio, a software-based hard-disk tester to make sure you have enough speed on your single drives or RAID array to handle your edits and, it has a plethora of internal setups for making sure you get a properly balanced external monitor.  And that's just a start.

AJA has been tightly partnered with Apple for it's KONA lineup and is constantly developing newer drivers for their cards making them forward and reverse-compatible with the greatest range of Mac Pro or G5 users.


There are competitive products on the market that sell for slightly less than the KONA series, however my experience has been that AJA tech support is much more accessible than those others and, their drivers tend to be more stable and released less often making the KONA platform more reliable, which in the time-intensive world of editing can make or break a production schedule.

HPX170 Review


Chances are if you're considering a P2-based camera you know all about the HVX200 and it's newer brother, then HVX200-A.  (read my page about the HVX200 and why it's such a great camera and a worthy contender for your money).

In simple terms, the HPX170 is an HVX200-A without the tape-drive removed, making it a purely tapeless-media camera, P2 cards only.  But underneath the surface there's a lot more going on worth talking about.

First, although the tape drive is gone it still records every SD format the HVX200 series does, it simply records them only to the P2 cards.  This is a greater benefit than most realize, and if you've ever worked with any tape-based camera before whether SD or HD you know what a hassle the tape-capture process can be and how frustrating tape drop-outs are.  So with this camera there's just no chance of drop-outs, head misalignment, "tape eating" transports, ever:  a pure-solid state device from lens to cards.

Like other P2 cams the HPX170 is VFR capable with many frame-rates available, has the HOST mode direct HDD transfer and tons of configuration options for creating an in-camera "look" to suit the needs of the production.

The HPX170 and HVX200-A share the exact same chipset which is a big improvement over the HVX200 with a more natural color response, especially more neutral grays and better low-noise characteristics.  But there are also some nice upgrades/improvements over the HVX200-A such as:

-  A wider Leica lens that goes from an actual 3.9mm to 51mm which translates roughly into a  28mm to 368mm lens in 35mm terms.
-  It's weighs slightly less at 4.2 lbs.
-  A histogram display mode for more critical exposure control.
-  In-camera image flip, a HUGE plus for those using 35mm lens adapters such as the Letus Ultimate.
-  4 different types of focus assist modes.
-  Redesigned user-function buttons.
-  NTSC/PAL switchable.
-  A DVX-style joystick menu controller.
-  A 6 pin lockable firewire interface.
-  Gone is the S-Video out and replaced with an HD-SDI out, another major plus for those wanting the purest of HD signals.
-  8 Scene File settings.
-  3 built-in Neutral Density filters (1/8, 1/16, 1/64).
-  And another huge add-on carried over from Panasonic's larger 2/3" inch cameras is DRS or Dynamic Range Stretch, which really helps bring out shadow detail without sacrificing highs.  Similar to what digital still shooters do with HDR (high dynamic range) post-processing.

... and a list of other highly usable features that would fill an entire page.


Like all Panasonic cameras, one of the major benefits of the HPX170 is the actual color output of the camera.  Features, chipsets, resolution etc... that's all nice and fine but at the end of the day what really matters is what the images actually LOOK like, and the HPX170 delivers very natural color, wonderfully neutral grays and a rich color palette which lends itself towards the "film look" more than any other HD camera in it's class.  When you couple that with the standard 5-year warranty offered by Panasonic - just like their full-sized 2/3" inch P2 cameras - that makes the HPX170 a must-have for any serious HD production now and for the foreseeable future.

Panasonic HPX500 P2-HD camera Review


When the venerable HVX200 was released it created quite the stir in the world of commercial video and independent film production.  Not only was it the first tapeless HD camcorder but it also offered a wide variety of features such as VFR frame rates and a true progressive chipset just to name two of dozens, but of course it also gave us the gorgeous richly-colored Panasonic chipset which so many came to love starting with the DVX100.  But one of the HVX's biggest claims to fame was it's overall value to it's users  because of it's great amount of configurability, ruggedness and total reliability when using the P2 media.

Although the HVX200 met with great and continued success many professional shooters and independent producers had been jones-ing for a logical step-up from a handheld HD camcorder to a larger 2/3" inch removable-lens system.  The problem had always been that those cameras such as the Panasonic Varicam or Sony F900 were far, far out of the reach of most of these potential users simply because the cost is exponentially higher than any compact HD camera; a fully configured camera of those types pushing $200k easily.

Panasonic recognized this new market opportunity and created the AG-HPX500, released in 2007.  Even today it remains the only 2/3" inch chipset/mount HD camera for less than $15,000.  Competitive cameras offered by Sony, JVC are only 1/2" inch mounts and the only Canon with removable lenses is 1/3" inch.

There are good reasons for having a 2/3" inch chipset and lens mount:

1) The majority of professional video lenses on the market today are 2/3" inch mount starting with SD lenses that go back 20 years all the way up to the latest HD-spec glass costing upwards of $80,000!.  That translates into a plethora of lens choices from cinema-style prime lenses to typical ENG zooms and everything in-between.  The better the quality of glass the better the images look out of the camera.

2)  A larger chip means more light-gathering capabilities, greater dynamic range, sharper images and, larger physical pixels which equates to far less noise than any 1/3" inch chipset.

3)  Greater "film like" depth of field characteristics due to the physical distance between the rear lens element and the imaging sensors.

But bigger chips and a supreme choice of lenses isn't the only major benefit of this venerable P2 camera, it's also the audio capabilities.  Most of the complaints professional shooters have about handheld HD cameras when it comes to audio is only having access to 2-channels of XLR audio inputs (all HD formats are by default 4-channel audio streams).  The HPX500 has 4 discrete XLR inputs for audio with full controls over all 4 such as AGC, low-pass filters etc.  This is a major step-up from any handheld  camera and opens up a whole new world of audio possibilities and clearly puts you outside the "pro-sumer" world and into full-on professional capabilities.

One disappointing feature on the HPX500 however is that the supplied viewfinder is not in HD even though it is an HD camera.  One reason for this was that Panasonic wanted to make this camera "affordable" and create a natural upgrade path from HVX200 users and also convert Sony or JVC users into this new camera body.  If an HD-spec finder had been used it would have raised the price over the $20k mark which would put it outside it's target demographic.  However to offset the lack of HD resolution Panasonic introduced a histogram-style focus-assist mode that goes a long way to aiding critical focus both in the finder and in the flip-out LCD.

And about the flip-out LCD:  It's exactly the same module as in the HVX200 (as told to me by Panny engineers at NAB '07).  Again, another cost-saving feature to help make the camera more affordable.

The HPX500 is similar to it's little brother the HVX200, in that the 500 is actually taking an SD chipset and using spatial-offset technology - something Panasonic has perfected beyond the typical pixel-shifting used by other companies - to create an HD-capable chipset.  In point of fact, Panasonic is using a PAL version of the SDX900 chips in the HPX500.  This created quite a controversy when the camera was initially released however the technology and the chips have since proven themselves many times over by producers worldwide.

An interesting side-effect of the spatial-offset is that when in HD modes there is more visible noise in the image than when shooting in SD, just as with the HVX200 and HPX170.  In fact, because the chips are actually native SD-PAL, when you shoot in SD the resulting images are virtually noise-free in comparison!  This made several producers opt for shooting in DVCPRO-50 widescreen (a high-bitrate and high-color SD mode far better than standard mini-DV) rather than DVCPRO-HD for straight-to-DVD productions.  The resulting final output was amazingly crisp.  But I've also seen HD footage from the HPX500 authored to Blu-Ray and it too was just as gorgeous.

Unlike it's little brother the 200, the HPX500 has an additional (2) P2 slots for a total of (4) and can use any P2 card currently available including the newer "R" and "E" series cards.  As newer cards are released all that's required to make the camera compatible is to install free firmware that Panasonic always supplies on their support site.

In practical use the HPX500 does it's job amazingly well.   Being a shoulder-mount design means no-more holding a camera in front of you and tiring out your arms; if you're used to any ENG-style camera or even the Canon XL-series then you'll be right at home with the HPX500.  Main switches are all where you expect them to be and easily accessible and the entire rig is very well balanced with lens and battery mounted.

A great value-added feature offered in the HPX500 - and one worth learning about - is the CAC circuitry (chromatic aberration correction), in which the camera talks to electronics built into CAC lenses offered both by Canon and Fujinon whereby chromatic-aberrations or "fringing" as it's more commonly known, is automatically corrected for in-camera and dramatically improves the overall image quality.  This CAC correction is an option you have to turn on or off depending on the lens you're using, but not all lenses offer this feature.  In fact, the high-end low-dispersion and HD-spec glass won't need it since their light-transmission qualities are much better than the low-cost, affordable "kit" lenses that both Canon and Fuji offer for the HPX500.

Because the HPX500 is so unique in the marketplace - even in 2009 - Panasonic published FAQ and basic overview guides; you can get these PDF documents HERE.

If you goto my YouTube page you'll see a couple demo videos shot using the HPX500; one was done for Panasonic for the NAB '07 convention as a demo, the other was done for a client as some low-cost stock footage for their properties.


The HPX500 has been my first tool of choice ever since I shot the demo footage for Panasonic in 2007, allowing me to capture as near to the HPX2700 as possible with a far smaller budget.  I've never shot nor tested any other camera at or near this it's price-range that comes anywhere close to it's usability, scalability, lens choices and overall image quality, ever.  This is in point of fact, the "poor mans Varicam" and there have been several productions that simply would never have been done if it hadn't been for this camera's low-cost, high-quality output capability.  It is also to date, the most enjoyable video camera I've ever used because it does exactly what ti's supposed to do with no surprises and total reliability.

As I mentioned earlier, even in Q4 2009 there is no 2/3" inch mount HD camera offered that bests the HPX500 in any category, and certainly none that can compete in price.  Many consider the Sony EX3 to be a worthy contender and in many ways it is, but as I'm fond of saying, at the end of the day what matters most isn't counting pixels for measure-bating about features, it's what the image looks like out of the camera.  In this respect - and for it's intended market and all the reasons I mentioned above the Panasonic AG-HPX500 has no equal.

Panasonic HPX2700 P2 2/3"rds inch camera Review


You almost never see reviews of full-sized ENG video cameras anywhere, mostly because the people who use them are in fact seasoned pros who already know and fully understand the ins-and-out's of any pro HD camcorder.  Plus it's not like the manufacturers sells tens of thousands of these cameras either, so the market is quite small and specialized.  However because the HPX2700 represents quite a leap forward in tapeless video camera technology, and based on my usage of it I felt it warranted space here on the site.

In point of fact, the AG-HPX2700 is the P2 version of the venerable tape-based Varicam that has been a staple of both ENG and independent filmmaking crews worldwide for years.  But with newer technology also comes newer features.

One of the latest additions to the Panasonic pro-HD codec lineup in AVC-Intra which comes in two flavors, AVC-I-50 and 100 which replicates D5 master quality at half the bitrate.  (AVC-Intra should not be confused with AVCCAM or AVCHD, both of which are versions of the newer consumer HD codec aimed at replacing HDV).  Just like with DVCPRO-HD AVC-Intra is not long-GOP but frame independent and is a definitive step-up from DVCPRO-HD both in visual quality and full-raster color/noise characteristics.  However there are 2 noticeable departures in this camera compared to it's little brother, the HPX500.

First, the HPX2700 only shoots HD formats, no SD at all, period.  That means if you ever have need of a production requiring an SD output you'd either need to use the HPX500 instead or, have your 2700 footage down-converted which is not a simple nor easy workflow.  Second, there are only (3) XLR mic inputs rather than the traditional (4) found on most ENG bodies.  Why this was done is not clear and it only presents an oddity, not a feature benefit.

Like other ENG cameras the 2700 does offer CAC circuitry to help clean up chromatic aberrations which are commonplace in low-cost ENG lenses, but when you mount high-end ED-type glass, holy cow... this camera really comes alive with tons of detail, superb color and very, very low noise characteristics.

In practical use and especially in AVC-I-100 mode this camera's output is amazingly gorgeous and visibly better than DVCPRO-HD and most especially several steps better than any XDCAM model.  No it's not a Thompson Viper nor is it an F35 but despite it's appeal to the indie market it's not intended to be a digital-cinema camera.  However, when you consider  that the body-only price is under $40k it represents quite a compelling option for use in digital-cinema productions especially when coupled with either the Canon Anamorphic adapter (which costs more than the 2700!) or even a B4-mount 35mm lens adapter such as the Letus Ultimate.


Just as with it's little brothers the HPX170 and HPX500 the HPX2700 represents a huge value for the money not to mention all the benefits of the P2 tapeless system and far outperforms anything by it's competitors.