Continuing Education: Jan Ozer's Critical Skills for Streaming Producers
Posted Jun 6, 2008

Critical Skills for Streaming Producers, a new instructional title from Jan Ozer and StreamingMedia.com, is billed as a "mixed media tutorial." Before I get into what I think of the product, I first need to spend a little time discussing what "mixed media tutorial" means, in this instance. It’s not a book, it’s not online, and it’s not a DVD (well, it is, sort of), but it’s all of these elements combined into an interactive PDF document.

With streaming and video technology moving so fast, by the time you publish a book about it, the book would be obsolete. Online material is great, but it can be limiting for larger content. This is how Jan Ozer ended up creating a mixed media tutorial available on a DVD. This is the first time I’ve come across a tutorial delivered in this way (PDF on DVD), but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

I’ve been a big fan of Ozer’s ever since reading his book DV 101: A Hands-On Guide for Business, Government and Educators (Peachpit Press, 2005), so I was very excited to get this DVD. In addition to being a contributing editor to and columnist for EventDV (and its predecessor, EMedia), Ozer has written more than 10 books related to the video world and is considered an expert in the field of video and compression techniques.

Within the Critical Skills for Streaming Producers DVD, there are more than 100 embedded videos that include examples of the output with various data rates and compression techniques. The document is packed with 340 pages (in PDF form) of essential material for any producer of content.

Critical Skills includes 27 tutorials on different software, both Apple’s Final Cut Pro Studio and Adobe’s Production Premium CS3. (According to StreamingMedia.com, software-specific versions of the DVD--i.e., Final Cut-only and Adobe CS3-only--are coming soon, and will cost less than one-half the MSRP of the full DVD.) On top of that there are nine "skill-set" tutorials, covering topics such as lighting and camera composition.

The DVD also includes more than a dozen charts, graphs, and illustrations that come in handy when you need to quickly refer to a particular topic. The DVD has 11 chapters that start with the streaming landscape of video and finish up with postproduction and encoding workflows.
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The content of the PDF is organized in such a way that you start with preproduction and end with the distribution of your video for web or internal use. Ozer takes you step by step through the creation of your video, starting with the designing of your set. Then, the DVD moves into lighting methods. I’ve always had a lot of appreciation for Ozer’s work with software and streaming technologies, but I believe that he truly shines with his tutorials on 3-point lighting and camera composition and techniques. These tutorials alone are worth the purchase of the DVD. There are very few resources that give great and helpful lighting and camera-framing information in such an easy-to-understand form.

From there the tutorial goes into video and audio correcting. Whether it’s adjusting the levels on a specific shot or complete color correction, it’s covered in this tutorial. And don’t forget, Ozer is taking the time to explain these skills for both Apple and Adobe’s suite. The chapter also includes tutorials on audio clean up and adjustments for both Adobe’s Soundbooth and Apple’s Soundtrack Pro.

The second half of the PDF concentrates on encoding and compression techniques. Ozer explains which codecs are currently being used and which ones are the best for any given situation. From there, the DVD covers a topic that gets a lot of producers in trouble: Choosing Output Parameters. Ozer’s ability to explain data rates, resolution, and aspect ratio will really help clarify for anyone having difficulty with these concepts.
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From there the tutorial goes into covering workflow issues. This is an area that I’m very passionate about, because your content and your output needs will help decide what workflow will best suit you. The challenge with this is that sometimes it’s hard to know what your best workflow will be until you are finished with the project. The PDF does a great job in laying out the best options for different situations.

Chapter 9 covers Encoding Basics. You could shoot and edit the best video ever, but if you don’t understand encoding technology, you’ll be "shooting in the dark" trying to make it look good for the web. The chapter covers VBR and CBR choices and ends with Flash, Windows Media, and QuickTime streaming technologies.
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The last two chapters of the PDF are dedicated to working with Adobe’s Media Encoder and Apple’s Compressor. Ozer spends a lot of time covering just about all the different streaming and output options that you could want or choose. He even takes the time to explain cross-platform conversions, e.g., creating a Flash file on the Mac or an H.264 file in Adobe. This chapter also covers important topics on conversion and deinterlacing issues, which, by the way, can be two of the most critical issues when converting a video for the web!

As an added bonus, the last two chapters also have great tutorials on creating chroma keys with Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects as well as Apple’s Final Cut Pro. Anyone who has ever struggled with pulling a good key from green/blue screen footage will benefit from this tutorial.

Ozer has the rare ability to clearly explain how to accomplish a task, but he can also give you the information on why it should be done a certain way. Ozer brings to bear his years of video expertise and authoring skills into a content-rich and informative multimedia document. The flow of the PDF is very intuitive and moves at a great pace in covering a large amount of important information.

One of the greatest strengths of this mixed media tutorial is that it can accommodate different learning styles. Whether you are more visually orientated and find it helpful to watch the video tutorials, or if you learn better by reading along with the PDF, you will benefit from the information included on this DVD.

Critical Skills for Streaming Producers should be the ultimate resource for any producer who is working with video and/or streaming. Not only does this DVD teach critical skills for streaming producers, as the title promises, but it teaches skills that all content producers need to know, including videographers of every stripe who either promote or distribute their work online. This DVD will quickly find a home as one of the most referred-to reference materials you have.

Critical Skills for Streaming Producers is to available to EventDV readers, for a limited time, for $149, $100 off the $249 regular price. For more information, including how to order the Critical Skills DVD from StreamingMedia.com, visit StreamingMedia's online store. Enter the coupon code EventDV when you check out to receive this $100 discount!

Todd Gillespie (gillespie at mail.id.ucsb.edu), an EventDV contributing editor, works in television production at UC-Santa Barbara.