Tag Archives: quality

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.

Belkin LiveAction Microphone

Last Christmas I was given a present of a Belkin LiveAction microphone, so I thought I’d give it the once over.

On the box it stated that it was for iPhone / iPad type devices, however it uses the standard jack plug that’s common across most devices. It worked without any problems on the two different Samsung phones I have.

It’s about 12 cm / 4.75 inches long, so not that large, but is quite big compared to the size of a phone. If plugged into the phone and you’re using the camera that facing the way the microphone is pointing, then end of the mic may come into view. (Just something to be aware of.)

Once plugged in, there is a small knob to turn that helps to secure the device to the phone. On the side there is a three position switch. Off, close-up directional, long distance ‘super-directional’. It uses a standard AAA size battery.

Over the years, phone manufacturers have spent a lot of time, money and effort in improving their internal microphones. Under standard indoor conditions I didn’t find any huge advantage to using the Belkin. Where it really did come into play was outside. Using its standard directional setting it picked up my voice quite nicely while cutting out (or at least reducing to an acceptable level) most of the other background sounds. At one time I was standing beside a busy road where the level of traffic noise was such that if I was talking to somebody standing beside me I’d have had to shout, however the Belkin picked up my speech nicely. I can see this having some potential in a gig or live event type situation where you want the sound from the stage while minimising the noise from the crowd beside you.

Using it switched to its super-directional mode it did pick up speech from quite a few metres / yards away. The quality of sound was not particularly good, however I’d rather have some sound that may be poor but I can work with that no sound at all! I can’t see myself using it in this mode very much, though I guess it’s handy to have there.

Overall I rather like it. With phone video quality improving more and more people are using this function when out and about, and under difficult conditions this Belkin does do a better job than the phone’s internal microphone. It does however still pick up wind noise, I must look out for a windshield / dead cat screen for it.

 

 

Mac or Windows – its upgrade time.

It’s almost decision time, but will it be Mac or will it be windows?

My original move to using a Mac was relatively indirect. I, like many people, had started my video editing with Windows MovieMaker. However soon upgraded to a basic budget priced editing package which did me for nearly a year. I could see it had a potential greater than what I was using it for, but there was very little support and virtually no tutorials around for it.

So time for something new. I hunted around on the web to find sites with good general video editing tutorials. Came across the IzzyVideo site where there was some excellent Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Express examples. FCP 7 was both a bit of an overkill for my uses plus too expensive, however the education price of Express was within my budget. Next, what did Express run on; OS X. This coincided with a need for replacement hardware anyway, but as I couldn’t afford a new Mac I ended up with a second-hand MacBook. So began my Apple adventure. I’ve ended up with a 3GS iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, and with an external monitor and keyboard attached, the MacBook used as a desktop machine.

However the MacBook is now seriously showing its age. One reason for using it as a desktop machine is that its battery is screwed. It has trouble running some programs and others won’t install because of its outdated graphics, its processor is constantly being hammered to death (cooling fan often freaking out!) and it’s got it’s fill of RAM but needs more.

Add to that my 3GS, as good as it is, is also showing its age. It’s battery still gives OK life however there are cracks creeping up its back cover, the On/Off button is missing, many new iOS features and more and more Apps coming out will not run on it… You get the idea.

So it’s decision time. Stay with Apple or move on? Apple does make some excellent products, but they are very overpriced (even after education discount). Are they worth the price premium?

The thing is Apple appears to be losing its innovative edge; at one time it was the undisputed leader in design an innovation, but now seems to be playing catch-up.
Going back a few years, the first iPod revolutionised the portable music scene (and helped to pull the company back from a very poor financial situation), the first iPhone showed what a difference a good interface can make, the iPad opened up the world of the tablet. The MacBook Air showed how to make a really nice portable laptop, iMacs had their own unique design.

However so many recent product releases have just been incremental rather than trend-setting. Android now more than competes with its smoothness of system operation. Many other screens give a better viewing experience that a Retina display. In numbers, Google’s Play store competes with Apple’s App store and is catching up in quality and range of Apps, Google’s Now voice search more than competes with Siri. A year or so ago Apple would never have released something like its Maps App in such a poor state of dysfunction.

My phone contract renewal time coincided with the Apple autumn announcement season, so I had been waiting with the proverbial bated breath to see what was coming up, and as a result I’m now the proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

There were two ‘final things’ that made me not stay iPhone. First, I had hoped the iPhone 5 would have been something exciting and new, not just a slightly stretched screen and updated processor. Second, iCloud. Over the last year I’ve moved from just being an internet user to that of using the cloud for more and more for my data storage and services, and iCloud just does not do it for me. Google was born in the cloud and inherently seems to do this sort of thing so much better than Apple.

This leaves me thinking about what may happen early next year when I look towards a computer upgrade.

The new iMacs look very tempting, but at a price. However I find myself using Adobe’s CS6 photo products more and more, so for video moving across to CS6 or even Avid’s Media Composer (both Adobe and Avid are cross-platform and both have competitive education prices) would give me the option to stay Mac, but not the absolute need which staying with FCP X would require.

For less than an iMac I can get a similarly specified non-Apple machine, either Adobe or Avid software, and have money to spare for extras like external back-ups. So, as much as I like Macs it’s far from certain that I’ll stay Mac for my computing.

(One final thing, I’ve been surprised at how quickly Macs age. I have a 10 year old Windows laptop which is still in regular productive use. Ten years ago means G3 powered iBooks. I wonder how many of them are still as useful?)

Camera quality, smartphone vs point-and-shoot

A couple of years ago I bought a Panasonic TZ10 point-and-shoot (current Amazon price; from £130) which has lived in a pouch on my belt and has had regular, often daily use. Recently though I found myself with a Samsung Galaxy S2, and like all the current smartphone devices, great publicity has been given to the quality of it’s camera.

So I thought I’d put my Panasonic to one side and give the S2’s camera a bit of exercise and see what all the fuss was about.

For some time now I’ve being doing a’take one picture a day’ task and for the first 9 months I had almost exclusively used the Panasonic, for the last 3 months it’s been the S2. Combine that with my usual usage and I have more than enough to give me a smartphone vs point-and-shoot picture comparison.

The Panasonic has a greater sensor pixel count, however the S2 has a more modern sensor and processing electronics, so I was uncertain what to expect between the two. I did think the Panasonic would have the edge ( though was quite willing to be proved wrong in this respect).

Under good daylight conditions both produced great results, however as soon as you were away from those conditions (even into mid-afternoon lighting levels) the point-and-shoot totally blew the S2 out of the water with a sharper image and far greater range of contrast.

This really comes down to two things. 1) The physically larger lens (a typical smartphone lens is only 3 or 4 mm across, a point-and-shoot say15 mm) allows for more light to reach the sensor. 2) Physical size of sensor. Regardless of pixel count and that sort of thing, the larger sensor size of the point-and-shoot allows for a far greater collection area for light.
So under good conditions where there is a ‘surplus of light’ there’s more than enough light available to allow either device to produce a really nice picture, but when light levels fall and things move away from a ‘surplus’ condition, then the greater light collecting ability of the point-and-shoot leaves the smartphone way behind.

So my Panasonic is back in its pouch attached to my belt, though I still do use the smartphone’s camera now and again. It’s certainly not that my smartphone has a bad camera, but when it comes down to it it just does not compete with a dedicated picture-taking camera device.

Closed Currys, not surprised.

Just walked passed a Currys Digital store here in central Glasgow to find it totally closed.

Saddened in that it is one less high street store open, but not surprised to see it happen. One thing that has characterised my visits to any (what was) Dixons / Currys / PC World was that I would leave feeling more irritated and annoyed than I did when I went in, my ‘customer experience’ in any of these Dixons Retail group stores was always negative.

I remember a while ago going into one store and while looking at one or two laptops was approached by a sales girl who asked what sort of laptop I was after. I said I was after something that had to be dual-core processor and the video output to be digital. She said ‘back in a minute’ and when she returned selected a lap-top saying this one would be suitable for me, pointing to the (analogue) VGA output saying that this was digital. I questioned her about it but the assistant repeated that this was suitable, told me the output really was digital, and was keen to complete the sale. Fail!

Another instance was of looking at printers and being approached by a sales assistant. I said I was looking for one of the cheaper postscript compatible machines. She said she didn’t know if they had any but would go and ask. (I have no problems with staff not knowing – they can’t know everything – so long as they are honest about it.) When she returned she said that they didn’t sell that make. The trouble is that postscript is not a make but a printer language common across most high and mid-range printers with some low-end machines postscript compatible too. I don’t know who she asked, but the end result was incorrect information from the staff and a disappointed customer. (Needless to say, there were postscript compatible printers there.)

As for the number of times I’ve overheard staff tell customers that ‘this camera’ is better than ‘that camera’ because it ‘has more megapixels’ is too many to list here. Or being told this is better ‘because it’s digital’. Then when you ask why does that make it better, the response just to repeat ‘because it’s digital’. Or of course, going into one of their stores and then waiting 20 minutes to be served, only to be eventually approached by a member of staff saying that the store is now closing. This has been a depressingly common experience; it’s apparent that as soon as it gets anywhere near closing time the staff all start heading towards the back of the store, reluctant to serve customers. I assume in case it delays their exit out at the end of the day.

Then there is the integration of (or lack of) the running of their web site compared to that of the store. Senior management has not yet latched onto the fact that consumers now expect seamless integration between the two. To find the web saying there is stock and on going to the store finding none, or price differences between the two is unacceptable. Customers expect to find ‘exclusives’ consistent between the channels. Their stores need to compliment, not compete with their internet presence.

I prefer buying in a shop, to be able to see and handle the actual product at time of purchase. To be able to walk out with the item, not having any postal delays and trying not to miss the delivery van. However finding staff who don’t know their products, who only seem interested in customers if they can get the customer to buy something that will fulfil their daily sales target just sends me off to places like Amazon. It’s not that I want to go to Amazon, but am being driven there because of the quality of service from their high street stores.

Wagamama; first impressions.

Glasgow has it’s fair share of noodle style restaurants, and my usual one is Ichiban. However, as a bit of a change myself and a friend headed off to the local Wagamama outlet. Not been before so curious about what my first impressions would be.

I guess it was around half full, though they had got most people all squashed together. We were duly slotted into a gap between two other groups of people. (Not a place for conversation unless you want everybody else to be able to listen in.)

We had hardly sat down and picked up the menus when a waitress came up and asked us what we wanted to drink. Because I showed a slight hesitation in saying what I wanted the waitress grabbed the menu from me, turned it round so the drinks page was uppermost, then thrust it back at me (rather rude, and certainly no thought of ‘customer service’). Our drinks were quick to arrive and food order taken. The menu was rather dominated by either prawn type seafood or chicken dishes, so I went for some spicy chicken. It arrived reasonably quickly. The food itself was nice but had been put onto a very cold plate. This meant that the main part of the food was reasonably hot, but the food towards the edge was tepid at best.

I thought this was meant to be an oriental style noodle bar (chop sticks were provided) but the way the food had been prepared and cut meant that using chop sticks a was not really a practical option.

I had hardly finished my last mouthful (my friend was still eating) when my plate was whisked away from me. The thought ‘conveyor belt’ sprung to mind, no proper customer service, we were there to be processed as quickly (and as indifferently) as possible.

The bill was presented and money handed over, and then we waited, and waited, and waited, and I noticed all the money trays at the counter had long been cleared, and we waited (for longer than it took us to eat the meal) and waited and I noticed our waitress occasionally glancing at us till eventually she went to the computer terminal, tapped quickly, and shortly after our change arrived! Quite obviously she had no intention of giving this to us.

Looking around, for what was meant to be an oriental style food bar there were no ‘oriental style’ people eating there, and likewise not an oriental person visible behind the relatively open plan kitchen area. This thing of no local oriental people willing to eat in this style of place was for me an interesting reflection on it’s actual quality and authenticity.

Compare this to my local Ichiban; similar rice or noodle based dishes, similar price range, but a place where hardly an English word is audible from behind its kitchen area, and a customer base that’s very oriental biased.
Would possibly be willing to give the place a second try (though not in any rush). However from my first impressions I know which restaurant I prefer to be spending my money in!

Wagamama  and Ichiban