Monday, May 26, 2008

Video editing - knowing when to give up!

I seem to have spent most evenings and weekends of the last few months sat at a computer, waiting. Waiting for the computer to do something that should take seconds but, inexplicably, starts taking hours.

For the last few weekends and a few Bank Holidays too I seem to have survived on just a few hours sleep, trying to get a slickly designed and produced video podcast ready for the web. Only to find I run out of time, have to throw away all the hard work done over the previous week (because each week the material becomes out of date), hit the 'reset' button and go through the whole wretched process again a week later.

Signs that things were not going to be as straightforward as promised by the hardware and software manufacturers who'd sold me high priced equipment surfaced pretty early on, with basic camera usage.

Sony's PMW-EX1 camera is an amazing camera for the (not inconsiderable) price of over UKP4000. The high def picture quality and level of control available is amazing. But the build quality is worse than that of a very cheap Christmas Cracker toy. Sony just love deliberately building in obsolescence - and as I look at a broken PC, several broken DAT players, a broken portable CD player and a broken digital video recorder, it seems to me that this is deliberate policy on ALL their products.

The PMW-EX1 is a hi-def camera that has numerous fiddly controls designed for fingers the size of matchsticks, with much needed lettering that flakes off within weeks of being used. It features an on-camera microphone holder which snaps off just by having a piece of camera bag material brush against the attached microphone.

The video forums are full of early owners disappointed at the frankly shit quality of what Sony have done in several areas, when the camera is so beautifully well designed in others.

What I find really bizarre is that whenever somebody rushes in to complain about any of the problems a horde of Rottweiler-like fan boys rush in to say 'What do you expect for the price? The picture quality is great. Who cares about the ergonomics or the build quality?'. I don't know why these 'fan boy' owners don't just walk around wearing 'Please rip me off. I'll never complain because that would mean admitting I made a mistake in my purchase' t-shirts. The reason we get such shoddy products is that people just seem happy to accept third-rate products that don't deliver on the promises made in the sales material.

My second 'learning curve' came with buying some animated backgrounds from Digital Juice. I should state upfront that I like Digital Juice a lot. They make great products, at ridiculously affordable prices, and have a customer service department second to none. But they also have this annoying practice of changing their prices on an almost daily basis. However, I guess that's a subject for another day. My frustrations with their product started with finding approximately half the DVD volumes I purchased from them - which should just load within seconds - would sit cranking away, locking up my whole computer for over 8 hours at a time, before finally giving up without installing the required video collateral!

Endless experiments and to- and fro-ing eventually pointed to my DVD drive being the problem, despite it having had no problems with numerous Microsoft software installation discs from MSDN. This is the 'fitted drive' that came with a top-of-the-range laptop that cost just under UKP4000! Digital Juice suggested getting new drivers but there are none available. What is available, if you do an internet search, is a lot of owners of the same drive complaining about lack of decent drivers and the way the drive keeps 'disappearing' from Vista on reboot. Unfortunately, this being a 'fitted' Dell PC, there is no simple alternative to replace it with.

I had thought I might be able to use an external Blu-Ray drive to load the discs instead - another expensive piece of equipment. But no, that drive too fails to read discs that other drives have no problem with! Shouldn't this shit just work? Are DVD formats a standard specification or not? Why am I wasting hour upon hour just trying to get basic functionality I foolishly assume I've paid for to work?

The next problem is that despite having 4GB RAM on my PC, video editing is too slow to be practical. Available disk space is part of the problem, so last week I bought a 2TB external RAID drive from Western Digital. If you're tempted, as I was, by their My Book Premium Edition II range that proudly boasts it's suitable for hi-def video, please do an internet search to find out how many angry owners all trying (and failing) to get their money back on this product there are!

Problems were obvious from the get-go. The drivers didn't auto-install as the flimsy one sheet instructions supplied with the drive had said they would. Not a biggie - I installed them manually. The drive then became visible in Windows Explorer and I could use the 2TB drive (actually two 1TB drives RAIDED together) to read/write to. But the supplied RAID manager, necessary to switch between RAID 0 and RAID 1 configurations, just keeps saying "no device found" despite the fact the drive is happily there, visible AND usable. A quick search via Google revealed no solution - just a LOT of unhappy customers complaining about what an awful product it was, and how customer support was non-existent. Some owners are still trying to get Western Digital to fix their problems more than a year after purchase!

Last night, after working crazy hours for two days on filming, DVD reviewing, script editing and collating assets I started to try and put the final touches together for a video podcast I wanted to launch last night (with another show to follow this morning). Using the Western Digital drive to hold assets introduced an interesting performance issue. Hit any key in the video editor and the PC would lock up for 10 minutes with the Western Digital drive flashing to say it was doing something, but I've no idea what. Want to split a piece of video to insert something? Wait 10 minutes. Want to back up a frame to line up a transition? Wait 10 minutes. After 6 hours I realised that my four minute video would require a week of working 18 hour days to get ready with this hardware. Hardware sold as 'suitable for use with hi-def video' I hasten to add.

I've had enough! Video podcasting plans are on hold until I can afford the 8 or 9 grand that seems necessary to purchase a turnkey solution suitable for video editing. A turnkey solution that has proper backup and support and NOT the sort I've had from Sony, Western Digital and Dell over the last few months! The time I can afford that sort of money to get something that will actually do what it says on the tin seems some long way off, but in the meantime if you've found a good packaged hardware solution, ideally one that's PC-based since I've spent a fortune in time and money in learning Sony's Vegas Pro package, please let me know.

In the meantime, I'm just going to look forward to a few free evenings, some decent sleep, and casual weekends for a change! The world of video editing makes the world of flakey Microsoft beta software and continual patches seem professional by comparison!


Anonymous said...

You always did like to be at the bleeding edge of technology!
Editing HD IS an expensive business and a nightmare for prosumer gear, particularly when you are doing compositing and fx.
Why not make your videos in SD for now and save yourself a lot of headaches?

Ian said...

I blame that guy who told me that the Sony solid state camera was the only one really worth looking at ;-)

I am editing in SD, but of course the PMW-EX1 won't shoot in SD, and HD is where the attention in web video is focussed these days. Two years ago HD was bleeding edge, but these days it's ALL the wretched magazines talk about.

All of which has nothing to do with DVD drives that don't read "standard" discs, or external hard drive systems that don't work (I don't think anybody else complaining vociferously about Western Digital is trying to edit HD - just trying to get their pieces of crap to work properly).

Greg H said...

Oh Ian. I know MS is your livelihood, but get yourself a 2nd hand Mac with the 60 quid iLife software to do HD editing. It'll better that PC of yours. And give you back your sanity. You do serious photos, music and video. It's a painful and cruel piece of fate that you haven't already converted.

iMovie 06 is very very good at giving you control back while rendering transitions in the background and so on. Every clip in the timeline has a little red on black progress bar. It's practically free - the equivalent of MovieMaker. But better.

Other choices: more modern iMovie 08 - rewritten. Utterly brilliant for collecting all your snippets in a library. Think Picassa or LightRoom for video. Does HD, fast. But very basic on editing facilities; one hopes they'll put the stuff back in soon that fell out in the rewrite. Final Cut (Express or Pro): Full professional suite, lots of detail, dual window, multi track professional layout. Steeper learning curve. Good deal on the express edition.

Obviously RAID support, DV/Firewire etc are built into all Macs.

You know, it might even work for your in the short term to steal a copy of MacOS and iLife and run it on the PC. Think of it as an eval. There are lots of bootleg drivers these days, so long as you are running a recent genuine Intel processor, eg Core 2 Duo or better.

For speed purposes, FCP will hand off rendering silently other other Macs on your LAN using Xgrid. Spare laptops. Idle AppleTV.

Anonymous said...

An animation library that does not require all the file converting is ActionBacks. You can get the animations in AVI and Quicktime format, and they are ready to go. Their website is

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I wonder what you're thinking after having read the above posts with suggestions on how to go forward. Are you burned out or ready to try something new?

I was looking forward to seeing you online each week, but man, I certainly can understand you not wanting to fight with this anymore. I'd have given up way long ago.

Whatever you decide, I wish you the best of luck! Sounds like you deserve it by now.

Ian said...

Thanks Ro. I've spent too much time, effort and money to just walk away, but am certainly going to "unplug" for a while.

Problem is not unsolvable. It just needs (even more) money. And that's money I don't have right now.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ian

I share the exact same frustration as you regarding Digital Juice's marketing strategy. I really admire you walking away because of their unscrupulous business ethics, because I can't do the same, I'm too addicted to their products! They do get my goat sometimes though with their lies about pricing, retiring products, etc. Thanks for letting me rant and good luck with your video ventures! Will miss you on the DJ forums.

Ian said...

Well THIS post wasn't really about problems with Digital Juice (there's a later blog entry dated 14th June where I talk about the same things you mention but I tried not to mention the company by name). At the time of this blog entry I was a big fan, and still am to a certain extent. But sometimes when someone plays bully you have to stand up to them and since I'm not reliant on the company's products for my income it's not like I'm losing anything major by refusing to give them any more business.

There's a difference between good salesmanship and marketing. DJ are brilliant at sales gimmicks, but poor at long term marketing/PR (in my view) with a policy that can only alienate the casual buyer - and they will need the casual buyer if they want to grow their business.

However I do think they are generally trying to do the right thing, and usually respond well to reasonably voiced criticism. It's the small handful of 'regulars' on their forums who lay into anybody foolish enough to post even a vague comment about their pricing policy that made me walk away. I've seen some suck-ups in my life, but there are three or four people on those forums who really take the biscuit and exceed anything I've ever seen before. And they're spiteful and mean to anybody new who happens to get poor service and be foolish enough to comment on it in the DJ forums. Maybe they think they'll get extra discount vouchers of something if they nip any criticism in the bud, and being totally reliant on DJ products for successful businesses have to ko-tow to the company? I can't see any other reason for the totally irrational behaviour they exhibit.

Luckily video is not my full-time job and at the end of the day I've given the company a lot of money for software that won't even install on two different decks, and which installs on another deck but then can't be used to render anything out, so it's not such a huge loss. And when you look at it how many of the contents of ETK Pro 9 and ETK Pro 10 weren't just slightly adjusted versions of sets already issued?

Shayne said...

Hey Ian,

Western Digital drives are pretty looking, but that goes out the door when you plug them in. Let me guess, if you have a project open and walk away for 10 minutes and come back to work on it, it seems to take the WD drive another 10 minutes to wake up.

My best experience has been with Maxtor hard drives. I highly recommend them. And then there's the G-Drive. I've not used one, but I've heard they're the best on the market. By the way, if you ever decide to switch to a Mac and use Final Cut, I promise you won't regret it. I refused for years to switch over, but when I bit the bullet and did, I realized how much all my past work would have been easier and faster to do.

Hope all this helps,

Nashville, TN

Ian said...

Thanks for the feedback Shayne. New hardware is some way off thanks to current finances but when I jump ship it's looking highly likely it'll be to Apple and not to a new PC.