The Gadget Bag
Posted Oct 1, 2007

Let’s start with a subject that affects us all: protecting our computers. According to the latest report from a leading product-ratings magazine, there is a new leader when it comes to PC protection. Trend Micro easily grabbed top honors in all categories from anti-virus to anti-spyware to anti-spam. The individual components within the company’s security suite also gathered mostly excellent ratings, with no single rating lower than "very good." And what’s more, its products are cheaper than the other major players.

The Trend Micro Internet Security 2007 suite costs $50 per year (with discounts for multiple years) in contrast to $80 for McAfee and $70 for Norton. The full suite even includes wireless network protection (something that the other guys don’t even offer). It requires Windows 2000 Pro SP4 or newer, and that $50 fee gets you licenses for three PCs. In addition to the suite, Trend Micro also offers other packages for less money.

Don’t Leave Home Without It
Although this column deals with the technical side of video and talks about tips, tricks, gadgets, and gizmos, I want to remind readers that there is a personal side of this. You have to include some personal items in your gadget bag, especially if you do weddings. Here is what I suggest: safety pins, an emergency sewing kit, neutral shoe polish and polishing cloths, aspirin or ibuprofen, antacid tablets, hard candy, and white and black gaffers tape.

The reasons are obvious for most of the stuff, but hard candy? For the bride or groom that gets a serious case of dry mouth due to nerves, the hard candy will calm them down and eliminate the dry mouth in the process. Gaffers tape can be used for quick hem fixes, to hide lav mics and wiring, and about a million other uses.

TCB Flash
Even in this new world of embedded video, video blogs, interactive Flash, and other cool things that you can place on your website, many of us (especially those in education and commercial multimedia) still use PowerPoint to get our point across. Now there is a way to place your PowerPoint show right on your website. Wondershare has a product called PPT2FLASH that converts PowerPoint (including PowerPoint 2007) shows to Flash movies. This is great if you have created photo slide shows using the old tried and true PPT. Priced at $59.95, PPT2FLASH (the standard version) converts any PowerPoint show, retaining transitions and audio while reducing file size.

While reading up on PPT2FLASH, be sure to check out some of Wondershare’s other time-saving software.

Three Points on Conversions
On the subject of video converters (see "On the Web"), one of the newest rages is to create content for video iPods and cellular phones. While almost any video can be converted to play on these mobile video devices, there are practices that can make that video experience more effective.

Remember that we are talking about a screen no more than a couple of inches across, so there won’t be much detail. With that in mind, closeups are the key. Conversely, don’t even think of showing a lot of widescreen detail. It will just get lost.

Another area to consider is movement. Because of video compression, camera movement (including zooms) becomes a blur that probably won’t add to your content. So minimize those movements using dissolves or straight cuts instead.

Compression is another variable that should be looked at before relying on a single method. Most video-ready phones are optimized to different compression standards. (Another one of those non-standard standards.) Most will display MP4 video but some will do better with other standards (along with iPhones, PSP, and other small screen devices).

Hi-Def Dilemma
Don’t have a high-def DVD burner but want to see what your HD or HDV footage looks like on something other than your computer screen? Simply edit, encode, and output the footage to a USB 2.0 hard drive and use the USB input to your PlayStation 3 to play back the footage.

Granted, this is not the way to deliver it your client, but at least it is an easy way to view your HD edit without the expense and difficulties of burning to HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc before your business demands it. (Thanks to Kevin Shaw for this tip.)

No Muss/Fuss VHS-to-DVD
For those of you that transfer VHS tapes to DVDs for your clients, you all know that can be a tedious process for minimal return. Plus, it ties up your equipment that can generate much more income when used on other projects. I’ve got a product that will take your other equipment out of the equation and justify its cost in the first job.

About a year and a half ago, I purchased a JVC DR-MV5 combo VHS/DVD recorder on sale for $250 because I was facing a shopping bag of VHS tapes to transfer to DVD and needed an easier way of accomplishing the task. Two days later, I had transferred 13 two-hour VHS tapes to DVDs, made four sets of DVD copies, paid for the new recorder combo, and turned a huge profit without tying up my computers or my time. To this date I have used this machine for almost all of my VHS-to-DVD conversions (well over 200 tapes) with outstanding image quality and no rejects. But lots of boxes do this. What’s the big deal?

Unlike its competitors, this machine offers true one-button dubbing and a unique feature that will scan the VHS tape to determine the length of the recording and automatically set the DVD bit rate to accommodate the full tape. It also has FireWire input, so it can double as a standalone recorder for your other projects. And has both fixed (one, two, four, and six-hour) durations/bit rates, and a custom bit rate option that allows you to adjust the record length in three-minute increments from 60 minutes to six hours.

Did I mention that the image quality is good? This past year I had moved four hours of a family holiday gathering from a hard drive to a DVD (yes, a single DVD) and was blown away at the resultant picture quality. If I didn’t know that it was a four-hour DVD, I would have guessed (from the looks of it) two hours at best. It was that good. Anyway, this particular model has been discontinued, but it is available as a refurbished unit and I have seen it for sale online for as low as $95 (eCost). Guess who’s getting a few more? JVC has continued this line of products with newer models with enhanced features.

White Space Update
The battle for the frequency space between TV channels (known as "white space") is heating up. The big hoopla is that everyone, from software giant Microsoft to ISPs like Earthlink and Google, wants to expand their reach to the world via expanded Wi-Fi. Initial tests, involving Microsoft, using a newly developed system to access internet content via computer over these frequencies has shown the possibility of interfering with broadcast TV.

Regulations require that any system using these white spaces make efforts to detect TV signal presence and avoid broadcasting anything that could possibly interfere with the television broadcast. Microsoft’s system failed in detecting some of these signals. Microsoft disputes portions of the testing requirements and states that the problem has been corrected. Other manufacturers have demonstrated devices that comply with the FCC requirements. Microsoft has stated that the FCC’s requirements are too harsh. The battle continues.

Congress has mandated that the 700MHz band (currently occupied by TV channels 52–69) be vacated in January 2009 as broadcasters move from analog to digital, and this task has been dumped into the FCC’s lap. Current plans are to auction off the band, but with restrictions as to its ultimate use. Why is this such a highly contested issue? Most Wi-Fi is now operating in the 2.4GHz to 5GHz band, and signals in that higher spectrum are difficult to propagate and have some trouble penetrating building walls and sometimes even foliage. The lower frequency (700MHz band) allows for greater propagation with less power and thus access to more customers.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has taken a stand in all of this proposed use of white space, stating that there are serious interference issues with unlicensed devices. The association has suggested to the FCC that they tackle one issue at a time, namely the transition of analog TV to digital (currently with a January 2009 target).

Ed Wardyga, owner of Keepsake Video and KVI Media in Rhode Island, runs the Gadget Bag website and is the recipient of the WEVA Walter Bennett Service to the Industry Award.