Category Archives: YouTube

Giant Squid lavalier or Rode

Giant Squid and Rode smartLav+ lavilier mics.

Recently I bought myself a Giant Squid lavalier microphone. The version I got was the mono, cardioid model and came in at around $(US)40. This makes it about half the price of the Rode smartLav+ (itself around $80, so not exactly expensive). Physically it is a bit larger than the Rode, though I could put it the other way around and say how amazed I was at how small the Rode was. This will mean that, compared to the Rode, this Giant Squid will be a bit harder to hide if you want a your microphone to be concealed and out of view.

Being a cardioid device it will cut out much of the background sounds. One area where this can be really useful and that’s in a room with a bit of an echo to it. This device seems quite good at cancelling out that often rather unnatural ‘hollow’ sound.

Compared to the Rode the overall sound seems warmer, though looking at it the other way I could say the Rode gives a crisper sound. One area where the Rode really does outperform the Giant Squid is outside in the wind. Here the Rode is far less susceptible to that wind noise that can so overpower any outside recording. On the other hand the omnidirectional characteristics of the Rode means that if in a crowded street you may find it hard to hear your speaker’s voice above that of those around you. In this situation the cardioid pattern of the Giant Squid could work in your favour.

The Giant Squid is designed to plug straight into a standard audio recorder (I regularly use a Zoom H1) where the Rode smartLav+ is looking to feeding into a smartphone or tablet device. One big problem here is that the codecs used by phones for recording audio can (and do) vary vastly across models. Far by the best results I’ve had have been when using Rode’s adapter lead which enables the smartLav+ to plug into the Zoom.

Which of these two lavalier microphones is best – that really depends on your own situation, what you want and how you use them. At this sort of price you can’t expect perfection, however for speech recording they both provide a vast step up compared to a camera’s built in microphone.

(When I have some spare time and money I’d like to get an omnidirectional Giant Squid and compare that to these two.)


Rode smartLav

sadly disappointed with my Rode smartLav mic.

I had always associated Rode with quality, I’ve used their products before and always been very happy with them. However I find myself sadly disappointed with the quality of my recently purchased  Rode SmartLav lavalier microphone. They advertise it as “a professional-grade wearable microphone” but I found it far from that.

The first thing I noticed was a physical problem, the foam cover / windshield was not properly attached to its frame. That got sorted by fully removing the cover and then the application of some superglue to re-attach it.

The microphone did come with a tie-clip which does quite a good job of holding the device and keeping the cable secure. The microphone itself is quite small, somewhat thicker than a toothpick, a lot thinner than a pencil. Assuming you could route the cable out of sight then it could go totally unnoticed if attached to the side of a monitor or to one side of a desk. Its omnidirectional pick-up pattern means it does not have to be pointing at the speaker in order to pick up speech.

The device is advertised as a smartphone device, I did try plugging it into my Zoom H1 recorder and also my video camera but (as expected) it didn’t work with either. I’ve tried it with three different phones. Using a Nokia Lumia 520 it gave an audio file that sounded a bit wooly with a loss of upper end frequencies. Using a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 gave a very tinny sound with loss at both the lower and upper frequencies. My iPhone gave the best overall sound in terms of frequency response however I still class it as ‘poor’ and far from the ‘professional-grade’ that Rode claim. There was also a noticeable background hiss all the way through and an intermittent crackle just to add to the distraction.

The one area where it did perform better than other microphones I’ve used is outside in that it picked up less wind noise than most. This does not, however, compensate for its overall poor quality of performance.

Sorry Rode, the phrase “could do better” springs to mind.

Link to my YouTube test of it.

Bit Rate Settings

A while ago I rendered out a video at 1080p and then again at 720p.

As expected the 720p file size was considerably smaller than the 1080p one. However I thought I’d play a bit more with this as I was a little ‘uncertain’ with the results I was getting, after all not just image size (1080 / 720) had changed, but bit rate too. On play back both videos looked ‘good quality’ and even stretching the 720 up to fill a 1080 size window didn’t noticeably reduce its viewing quality.

So I took a short 20 second clip standing on a street corner which started with the camera held still (so a mix of non-moving buildings but with cars and people going past) and then at the 10 second point panned the camera around so everything was now moving relative to the camera.
Then it was a case of rendering this out at 1080p various times, the only thing being changed between each session being the bit rate, working up from around 800 Kbps to 32Mbps.

Down at the low bit rates stationary items looked all right, but moving items (people, cars, the buildings when the camera was panning around) were of very poor quality. At the high bit rate end of the scale everything looked crisp and nice, however both rendering time and file size had also grown.

What was also apparent was that the choice of playback program was significant. Different players, VLC, Windows Media Player, QuickTime, all will play back the same clip differently. Same applies to using different browsers as a play-back engine – they are not all equal. Also what you have recorded makes a difference. A clip with little movement and few colours will be very different from a clip with lots of movement and activity.

Then a matter of working up from the bottom to find the bit rate cut-off point between where a clip was unacceptable and one was watchable; and coming down from the high bit rates and at what stage starting to notice a degradation in quality. Then finding an overall mid-point balance between quality and file size .

So what this really means is that there is no one ideal bit rate setting that’s going to cover all situations. For my set-up, with my camera and my editing software and thinking of uploading to somewhere like Vimeo or YouTube, then I’ll be thinking of working at 8 Mbps for indoor videos where there’s not a lot going on, and 12Mbps for outdoor videos full of colour and movement.
But this just my experience. You will need to do your own experiments to find your best compromise settings that will suite your equipment and set-up.

Resolution size and quality

Video resolution, file size and image quality.

A while ago I thought I’d take my camera out for an afternoon’s videoing and so headed off to Linlithgow Palace. Once I’d got some editing done I found I had a video of just under 10 minutes in length. Usually I render out at 720p for a YouTube or Vimeo upload, but this time I thought I’d render at 1080p just to see how things went. At the end of the processing I found myself with a file of just over 2 gigabyte. This I thought a little bit large for uploading from home so went up to Uni did my upload (to Vimeo) from there. That went nice and fast, in fact it uploaded faster than the length of time it took me to type out title, description and all that sort of stuff. Once back home thought I would re-render it but this time in my more usual 720p (other settings the same) just to do a compare and contrast. My just under 10 minute came down at just over 400 megabyte.

So we’re talking about one fifth the size of the 1080p video. Playing the two videos side by side it was hard to notice any difference in quality, it was there but you really had to pick around the edges to see it. Now and again I’d pause at a suitable moment where perhaps a a sign was in view or maybe a car number plate or something similar and try and read it, and it was more readable in the 1080p version. However as a flowing video it was quite difficult to tell the difference between the two, yet the 720 giving me so much more free hard drive space compared to 1080.

I also rendered it out in standard definition quality at 360p size (looking towards uploads for mobile devices or older smart phones). Here we had a file size of just under 60 megabyte, or a little under 3% of the 1080p file size. Comparing the video here to the others there was a very definite reduction in quality. It still wasn’t too bad to watch, however when you had this 360 next to either the 720 or 1080 the difference really jumped out at you. On the other hand it was still more than good enough for a portable device if you were on the train.

Something to think about. Take the 1080 HD video size, which is a 1920 by 1080 rectangle. Multiply that out and it comes to just over 2 million pixels. Or to put it another way, if you’re in a shop talking about video and cameras and the sales staff are busy trying to sell you this camera rather than that camera because this camera has more mega pixels on the sensor… well, if you’re going to actually film at the native HD resolution then all you really need is this just over 2 mega-pixel size sensor. Bigger does not always mean better.


VEDA thoughts

Been a bit distracted over the last month uploading a video every day in April (VEDA) to YouTube.

This VEDA thing is not as easy as it sounds and many an experienced vlogger has tried but failed to achieve it.

It can start off easily enough. Everybody has those few things they like to talk about, however once you’ve got them sorted plus a few other things you want to have a good rant over, then finding something to say *every day* (remembering you have to record, edit and then upload) for the rest of the month can be really demanding. No break, no taking a day off, every day a new video has to be processed.

This is definitely something where that phrase ‘proper planning prevents piss poor performance’ (or whatever your own variation of it happens to be) really comes into its own. In a way it should not be that difficult.

The first day an introductory video, the last one wrapping things up. That leaves 28 days, or 4 weeks to be covered. Four weeks, then how about 4 stories, each story told in 7 instalments and each instalment being about a minute long. (Can’t be that difficult can it?)

Or rather than 4 stories, give each day a theme. Mondays cover your favourite foods, Tuesdays about music, Wednesdays about work (school / college), Thursday films… You get the idea, give yourself some proper structure to work around.

Just noticing that it’s about to start and saying to yourself ‘sod this I’ll give it a go and see what happens’ is not really the best way to go about things. However I did manage to do an upload every day (split across two different channels) so in that respect VEDA was achieved, but a little bit of thought and pre-planning would have made things so much easier, more enjoyable, and produced far better quality output.

YouTube Messages

Youtube mandatory e-mails!

Recently I got a YouTube mandatory email. Something of such importance that it must sent to me regardless of any email preferences I may have set.

I have no problem with that. There are times where information must be passed on. Major network disruption, significant changes in terms and conditions, something that may have to be sent in order to comply with some legal requirement… I can live with that sort of thing.

So what was this important mandatory email about… it was about YouTube wanting me to watch their 10 most-buzzed videos of the year.

That’s right, they consider it to be so important that I see parody videos and how a baseball team helped break a pop song that they sent me a mandatory message.

I find this a sad reflection of how YouTube is now descending into mass commercialism with no real thought or consideration to their users, even though these users are the very people who clicks on the advert links and the like which is in turn how YouTube makes much of its money!

The other thing is that it degrades the importance users will put on mandatory email messages. If all they are going to do is forcibly e-mail me crap then I’ll just end up ignoring them.

Or maybe I have this all wrong. Maybe my life does depend on me watching a pop song video. Maybe.

Maybe I’ll spend a lot more time on Vimeo instead.

Camera Accessories

Three of my favourite camera accessories,

the sort of things that if they went missing or broke I’d be down the shops the same day to get replacements.

For video work (even though I only do basic YouTube type stuff) I really do like using a proper Rode external microphone. The ones built into your usual video camera are at best ‘adequate’, the ones in your video capable dSLRs are usually terrible. Getting the sound nicely sorted can make such a difference; to be able to clearly hear the story being told or to enjoy the music without having to struggle is more important that having a perfectly crisp image.

If being used outside, then going with the microphone is its windshield, a usually grey coloured furry cover, often known as a ‘dead cat’. This things really can cut out the wind noise, that loud ‘woosh’ sort of sound that can so overpower the sound you want to be recording.

My Manfrotto MP3-D01 fold flat mini tripod adds an extra dimension to slow shutter speed photography. It’s small enough and light enough to be left attached to the bottom of my camera and provides basic tripod support where ever I am. It’s three rather stubby legs can be adjusted to provide a stable platform on almost any surface. Great for night shots or where you want to prop your camera up at a slightly odd angle. It means you can also take ground level pictures but without putting your camera directly onto what could be a rather wet or dirty surface. Small, light, it’s one of those ‘fit and forget’ type devices.

Not that often used, but when videoing in low light situations (I do like to get out to castles and that sort of thing) my battery powered LED lighting brick (F&V Z-Flash) is so useful. Attaches to my camera with a hot-shoe adapter, it means that whenever I go into a relatively dark room I have enough light for my camera not to have a fit ramping up ISO setting or doing weird thing with aperture or shutter speeds.

It runs for hours off its (rechargeable) battery pack so I don’t need to worry about constantly having to switch it on and off. It’s also useful for still photography as a fill-in light and helps to take the edge of the harshness you can get from flash. (Also a great source of light at home in the event of a power cut!!!)

Irritated with YouTube.

I’m getting really irritated with YouTube.

If someone’s gone to the effort to produce some music or make a film then I think it’s quite right that if others are going to use this work then the original author should get rewarded for their efforts. If others are going to take that material and use it for their own gain without at the very least seeking permission to use it, then I think that’s wrong. So in general I’m not against this thing of YouTube and their associates trying to have a clamp down on the misuse of copyright material. However what has really started to annoy me is that YouTube seems to be supporting their associates like Rumblefish in claiming copyright of material that they are not entitled to.

Recently I uploaded various videos, each with some background music sourced from Kevin MacLeod. He very generously provides a lot of music royalty free, all licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0. To use this license all you need to do is to correctly attribute the music in your video. (There’s no cost to use music under the Creative Commons License.)

Within minutes (sometimes seconds) of uploading I’d get a message from YouTube saying copyright violation and that some music rights collecting society (usually Rumblefish) has claimed copyright on the music I’ve used. There is a big implication of guilty unless you can prove your innocence, and the only way to achieve this is to go through the whole dispute process.

If this happened just once every now and again then I could understand that nothing is perfect and mistakes can be made, but when it happened every time I uploaded a video, that’s shite. You could of course take the easy option and ignore things, but then they will monetize your video by placing adverts in it and then in turn they’ll make money off the back of someone else’s efforts.

So on one hand we’ve got YouTube saying how wrong it is for individuals to misuse copyrighted material on their videos, the next minute they’re supporting companies to claim other people’s work as belonging to them. To me this smacks of fraud, but YouTube does not seem to care, we’re part of the Google empire therefore we have more lawyers than you so we’ll just do what we want.

After all, if YouTube has the technology to scan and identify the patterns in the sound and music of the videos being uploaded, and do this in virtual real time, then surely they have the technology to check in the Description box and look for valid acknowledgements and attributions, especially where a valid ISRC code has been included.

As for Rumblefish and any ‘concern’ that they may have about making money of the back of others, they recently tried to claim the copyright over some ambient bird song noises recorded when a guy was out doing some gardening, and when he went through the YouTube dispute process, they still said he was using their copyrighted music.

If YouTube want to have the trust and respect of their users then they should do a little less ‘we’re bigger than you so we’ll ignore the small time user’ to a bit more of ‘remember it’s the small time user that watches these videos and clicks on the advert links that make you money’.

This whole situation means I’m getting really irritated with YouTube. Therefore I’m viewing less YouTube content so seeing fewer ads so they’re generating less revenue from me! Instead I’m starting to upload more and more to Vimeo, a site I knew about but never really used until this started happening .

YouTube may be the biggest kid on the block at the moment, but even the mighty can fall.

London and SitC

A trip to London and SitC 2011.

Went down to London for a week recently. Got down there at the tail end of that period of rioting. However all I saw was Londoners (and tourists) all just getting on with life. The reason for heading down from Glasgow; to attend the three days of Summer in the City YouTube Gathering (SitC) and also have a few days in London of just being a tourist.

SitC was good. I don’t know how many attended over the week-end, perhaps six or seven hundred. A bit of Hyde Park, a bit of Regent’s Park and a bit of Jubilee Gardens; and in the evenings some music sessions. Nice to see some familiar faces and nice to make some new contacts. For a few people this is the only time throughout the year that they get the chance of face to face meetings with their internet social contacts, especially when these people are located in different countries.

One area that seem to have become a surrogate home for many YouTubers is Camden. An interesting area of shops and markets, lots of food places and the canal going through the middle. Walking around there the day after SitC had ended and I was bumping into many I knew, all just winding down. Although not really my style of clothing, heading off into The Stables market area and a wander around CyberDog is always fun. A few years ago if someone had asked me if I’d like to live in London I’d probably have said ‘no’, however I’ve going down there to Gatherings over the last three years my attitude to the city has changed, and if I could afford a property there, then I would happily move there now.

Back to SitC – an amazingly friendly get together. Yes, with that number there there will be personality clashes and the like, on the other hand it is so large it’s easy enough to avoid those you may not wish to see. No barrier to gender or age, many there in their early teens, others there retired. Spread across Friday – Saturday – Sunday some just turned up for one day, but what did surprise me was the numbers there at the start on Friday lunchtime. Walking into Hyde Park and seeing in the distance this huge crowd of people was just amazing. I’d expected (and we got) large Saturday numbers, but to see so many there so early at the start was great.

This was the third SitC and at least this time YouTube bothered to send some representatives which was nice. Provisional dates for 2012 are for the 17th – 19th of August. I hope to go.

Response to comment, more on YouTube socialising.

This is partly a response to a comment made on the previous article, and partly that it was time to comment again on YouTube socialising.
Something that has been highlighted to me on quite a few occasions when I’ve been trying to tell others (mainly university students) about the active social side that goes on under the surface of YouTube is something along the lines of… ‘why should I bother with trying to socialise through something like YouTube when I already have a perfectly adequate circle of friends already around me.’ I personally see no need whatsoever, but what about those who don’t have an adequate circle of friends close at hand. We are an inherently social creature and desire friendship and company. (I’m writing this in a Starbucks – people around me, not at home – the only person there.) So for those of such a character that strangers and unknown crowds can be a bit stressful, then what better than developing contacts than in your own time and ‘from the safety of your own home’. Also these contacts can be from all corners of the world, bringing you access to people from different cultures and creeds that almost no amount of physical travel would allow you to achieve. What’s more, there are no time zone boundaries on the internet, it is a 24 hours a day medium.
So I do think many here have a lot in common with each other. A need to develop friendships by this relatively remote method. An acceptance of using technology, and a level of knowledge and intelligence that allows them to do it. Also an understanding of some of the problems of life (which had lead them to be developing friendships this way) which makes them more understanding and sympathetic to others who also have their own problems.
Looking at things from a slightly different angle, there was a while ago a period when people were putting up videos saying how YouTube has changed them. One common theme across almost all the responses was the boost in personal self-confidence that came through developing their communication skills. First perhaps by putting up a comment or two against other people’s videos, maybe joining in the chat onBlogTV , then making and uploading their own videos. This boost with their self-confidence then reflecting through to the rest of their lives, making them better people, more able to cope with and then enjoy life.
So there is a lot to be said for YouTube and the other social networking sites. However as well as pleasure they have in their own way cause me considerable heartache and pain, but more on that another time perhaps.