Sunday, July 19, 2009

Open Video, Ogg Theora and Critical Mass

A confluence of forces are pushing to the forefront an open, non-proprietary video standard. The critical mass has started emerging at the time of the OpenVideo Conference in NYC last month. The players:
- HTML5 and the new "video" tag, which makes it easier to embed video in a web page.
- Firefox 3.5 includes built-in support for the Ogg container, the Theora video codec and Vorbis audio codec, all of which are open source. No additional plug-ins are required to watch videos in these formats.
- Wikipedia will soon allow uploads of popular video file formats for server-side encoding to Ogg Theora, and will release a new player.
- Content owners such as Al Jazeera, Internet Archives and Metavid making hundreds of thousands of videos available in the Ogg Theora format.
- A new plug-in for Firefox 3.5, Firefogg, that allows encoding to Ogg Theora.
The above from and ReadWriteWeb
More on Ogg Theora from the CEO of, which currently delivers most video as MPEG4 and Flash:

The main problem with the Theora codec is that it's not currently as efficient as the more evolved h.264 and VC-1 codecs. Efficiency results in higher quality at lower bit rates. There are efforts currently underway to improve the codec's efficiency, these are still in the alpha stage.

The codec is not included with the standard Apple QuickTime/MPEG4, Adobe Flash, Microsoft Windows Media/Silverlight installations, another obstacle. YouTube, owned by Google, does not consider Ogg Theora currently good enough to replace its h.264 codec, wrapped in both Flash for web viewing and MPEG4 for downloading. Hopefully, when Ogg Theora is mature enough, some of the big corporate players will jump on the bandwagon. However, other big players have already decided that it is "good enough!"

It's nice to see an open video standard finally arise on the web, competition can only be good for most of us.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Unexpected time to reflect and reorganize

We were without power for two days at the college, through no fault of our own. I had a backlog of comptuer and network related work, and at first I was chagrined. Then I realized it was a good opportunity to step back and take a look. Where have I, and the labs I am involved with, been and where we are going? My brain, notepad, pencil, whiteboard and marker do not need electrical power!

Ninety percent of my time is spent "in the trees," figuring out how to solve countless new problems in using technology, and maintaining our computers in the ATL and DCC with software upgrades and "clean-up" operations. The power loss was an unforeseen but welcome opportunity to step back, see the forest, and evaluate the big picture.

One of the more challenging recent projects has involved subtitling, with three faculty suddenly needing good solutions and workflows. With over 10 programs out there, and little previous personal experience, it took considerable research and testing to find the best one for our needs. We settled on Annotation Edit, a bit pricey, but it has a generous educational discount, and tech support was very responsive. Spending a bit more at the front end, and buying a good solution, usually saves lots of time and aggravation further down the road, and pays for itself.

Another interesting recent project involved assisting a faculty member in purchasing an HD camcorder. We settled on the Canon HG-20, this records to either hard drive or memory card. For a loaner we would have chosen memory card only, but this one had a slightly larger chip, and good low light capture was desirable. I taught her student assistant how to use Final Cut Express to digitize and edit about 20 hours of older Digital-8 tapes for research purposes. It was especially rewarding as the student was an extremely fast learner, I usually only had to show her something once, and she got it, and figured out quite a few things on her own. I love fast learners!

Upcoming projects this summer include:

♥ Researching and piloting a good podcasting solution. Apple's upcoming Snow Leopard Server has both a new built-in Podcast Library and a Blog Server that can be used for podcasting. With our Developer Account we will test the pre-release versions. I will also be investigating the Opencast site for new developments in open source podcasting.

♥ Configuring two new computers for the ATL, a dual boot Mac for video and audio editing and a Windows machine for graphics.

♥ Expanding our lab storage with a new 8 terabyte RAID, this will almost double our storage capacity.

♥ I wish I had the opportunity to attend the Open Video Conference, but will have to settle for watching some of the many interesting on-line videos, and hope to catch up in this rapidly evolving area.

♥ Getting familiar with the Digi Mbox 2 Mini audio interface and ProTools Le 8, we will be installing these in a new 17 computer Mac lab, along with other video and audio production software: Final Cut Express, QuickTime Player Pro, MPEG2 QT component, Flip4Mac Player Pro, Toast, Audacity, iLife 09, iMovie 06, MPEG Streamclip, Perian and Silverlight.

♥ Getting our multicasting, both live and playlists, back up and running. We left this on a back burner, we were all busy with the successful migration to Google Apps for Education.

♥ Conduct a security audit of our servers, and ensure they are as hardened as possible against hacking.

♥ Evaluating the new OS 3 for the iPod Touch, and preparing for some new iPod enabled courses.

♥ Moving support materials from our old wiki (in MediaWiki), to our new one (in Google Sites). This is an ongoing project, and will probably take a year to accomplish. For a while, we will be using both to support the use of technology in education. My approach is to move what is needed, it's too much to move everything, and technology can change faster than I can move. One thing about a wiki, it's never done!

All in all, it will be a busy summer, and gone before we know it!

Once a year I also go through the DCC, storage cabinets, my office, and our storage closet. I organize and dispose of obsolete technology that will not be needed in the future. I am always amazed at the hundreds of items, and thousands of dollars' worth, of software, hardware, printouts, and books that I eliminate. I usually do my clean-up in late August, the power loss enabled me to perform the majority of it now.

When I was a shipwright at Mystic Seaport, I bought and used woodworking tools that were at least a generation old. These older tools, such adzes and chisels, were much better made than their modern counterparts. When I dispose of computer technology that is obsolete after only a couple of years, I often think of my beautifully crafted adze, which must be over 50 years old, and still works like a charm.