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out of time, have to throw away all the hard work done over the previous week (because each week the material becomes out of date), hit the 'reset' button and go through the whole wretched process again a week later.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!