The Tech of 1337 Wine

The Tech of 1337 Wine

So if you are a budding podcaster or video podcaster and would like to know what tech is behind what I do, you’ve come to the right spot. Just to get this out of the way, I don’t use super-fancy equipment for my podcast. However, I do make the most of what I use to get as professional a product as possible. So let’s get started:

Camera:

***UPDATE ON CAMERA***

The Flip Mino died in March of 2010. After calling Flip to see if it could be fixed I was told it couldn’t. I was very unhappy that I couldn’t send it in for a repair. From everything I saw it just needed a new battery, but who knows? I went with the Kodak Zi8 as a replacement. I’ve only done a few episodes with it (as of episode 131 – 3/23/10) and have been pleased with the results so far. Big advantage for the future is that is has a microphone input so that I can connect an external mic or wireless mic. I don’t use the HD functionality at the moment as I want to stay with reasonable file sizes. The audio for me has a lot of bass, so I EQ the sound a bit. I’ve also started doing some video adjustments in FCE.

***UPDATE ON CAMERA***

I use the Flip Mino camera for all of my work. This has been a joy to work with. It’s a bare-bones camera. I don’t even have the HD version. And, I didn’t pay for it. I won it in a Twitter contest from Peer1. For the most basic of video podcasts this camera is great. What I like the most about it is that it stores the video as a file. All I have to do is copy that file to a folder on my computer and go from there. The USB dongle that “flips” (hence the name) is all I need to transfer the file.

I’ve worked with other cameras in the past that use DV tape, and while they have a lot more features than a Flip, I still have to import the video in real time. In my past I’ve also used the video function of my Canon PowerShot SD20 (yes it’s about 5 years old). Instead of a USB dongle it has an SD card that I plug into my reader. If you don’t have a reader, all you need to do is use the USB cable that came with the camera to transfer the files. The limitation of this camera, besides resolution, is it can only do a maximum of 3 minutes of video at its lowest setting. Good in a pinch, but current digital cameras have better capabilities.

What else do I like about the Flip Mino? Its ability to put out decent looking video with such little light. Now I’m not talking about a dark room kind of thing. In that situation the video does look grainy. But for the podcasts where I am at the dining room table, I don’t do any lighting. Not even house lighting. What I do use is natural light coming through a window (pictured below):

I don’t even open the shear curtains anymore. I did for the first few episodes, but I stopped doing that once I noticed the softer lighting was better. I also do my reviews between 9 and 11 AM. Why? Well, initially it was so I could get things done earlier and have the rest of the day for other duties. But I found that the lighting was pretty good. The window is a west-facing window, so doing a shoot late in the afternoon or early evening means I have more direct sunlight. If you watch a couple of the Sommelier School lesson (specifically Lesson 7), you will see that the lighting is dramatically different. That Lesson was done near sunset and I used the light above the table to my left for extra lighting. Now before anyone goes asking, yes, if I had more professional lighting, my podcast would look better. I’m looking into some inexpensive ways to do this so that if I need to do these podcasts at night or in not so great lighting, I can have good lighting.

Limitations of the Flip Mino. The biggest issue is the lack of image stabilization. Not even digital. This means that in my situation, things are good. I use a tripod (any standard tripod will do in this situation) for stabilization and consistency in the shot. However, if you need to move around with a camera, the Flip Mino is not a good choice. It’ll work in a pinch so if I need to take footage of say a winery, I just have to be very careful with movement.

The other limitation is audio. I always bump up the audio by at least 8dB for my normal shows. Sometimes as much as 12dB for location shoots. The audio is fine overall. It’s just that I’m using their built in microphone which does get the job done. I have no way to use an external mic in conjunction with the Flip Mino. So beware of that limitation with it and other cameras like it. Even many $300-500 cameras can only use their internal mics. To get top quality sound, you need a camera that at least has an audio input jack or is able to have a boom mic attached to a “shoe” or a “hotshoe.” A “shoe” just means you can mount accessories to the camera. And a “hotshoe” is one that provides power to an accessory, such as a light.

Computer Hardware:

Up until April of 2009 (prior to the podcast even starting) my primary computer was an Apple iBook 800Mhz G4. It has served me well for 5 years and I’ve edited many a video on it. However, I knew that for future video work I really needed something that would be faster and have a bigger screen. So I bought off of eBay a late 2007 model 20″ iMac. Up until about 3 days after I purchased this iMac, I was getting a current spec iMac. However, the new version has one significant difference to me – the graphics card. The old one has a card with its own memory. The new one uses the 9400M which has shared memory. Not a huge deal for my level, but I’m glad I didn’t hold out for a brand new one.

My iMac does have a 1TB drive that was definitely after-market. It also came with 4GB of memory. It did take three tries to get a working computer though. The first one had a non-functioning internal mic. The second one showed up with a busted screen. The third one worked. Though I’ve had to work some voodoo on it a couple times, and yesterday I installed new memory as I believe my original memory was bad. So far no kernel panics in 12 hours ;)

Software:

For editing I use Final Cut Express (FCE). Yeah, it’s a bit much for what I do, but it’s what I’m used to from working on other videos. iMovie should be plenty sufficient for most people’s needs. That little wine podcast that’s been around for a few years, Wine Library TV, uses iMovie for their editing as far as I know. Final Cut is like having a basic 35mm SLR camera and iMovie is like having a regular point and shoot camera. Sometimes the point and shoot has some cool automatic features, but the SLR gives you more flexibility. There are definitely some things about iMovie that I wish FCE would do as easily.

One thing to know about my setup is that there is a piece of software that is very critical for FCE to edit Flip Mino files. It’s called 3ivx. The Flip software automatically installs this codec so that FCE can work with the files. Sometimes this codec can get corrupted as I have found out. If you notice really glitchy video or you flat out can’t see any video, then you will need to uninstall 3ivx and then use the Flip Mino installer to re-install 3ivx.

***FCE UPDATE***

The Kodak Zi8 doesn’t require anything of FCE. It uses a Quicktime compatible format. Settings I normally use in FCE for creating the file are this:

  • Quicktime
  • H.264
  • Compressor Native
  • keyframe rate – automatic
  • Framerate – current
  • Frame controls – off
  • Multipass – on
  • Frame reorder – On
  • Fast Start – on
  • Data rate 2000 – 3000 (the shorter the review the higher I use – changed this on 5/19/10)
  • AAC audio
  • Best
  • 128
  • Size: HD 1280 x 720 16:9 (changed this on 5/19/10).

More update from 5/19/10:

Ok, so that you understand how the editing works in FCE. If you use something like H.264, which is what the Zi8 uses, to do your editing, FCE WILL import it. The caveat here is it will unless you decided to use the 720p 60fps setting, which FCE doesn’t support. However, H.264 is not what is known as an editable format. In other words, if you take a clip and put it on the time line, you will get the double red line which means it needs to be rendered. IF however you use something like AIC (Apple Intermediate Codec, DV) you don’t have to render each clip. To do this, I recommend what is known as MPEG Streamclip. It’s free and easily found on Google.

There are some advantages and disadvantages to this. First, the advantages:

  • No need to render in FCE –  This means you drop the clip or parts of the clip into your time line and it’s ready to go.
  • You can actually modify the clip with many of the filters without rendering
  • The lack of a need to render means less time, in theory.

Disadvantages:

  • MUCH larger file size. Example, I had a clip that was accidentally shot in an unwanted format (720p 60fps) that was just about 30 minutes in length. It was also just over 1GB. After conversion to AIC it was over 20GB!
  • Even though it doesn’t need to render in FCE, the exporting took FOREVER. This same clip took somewhere around 12 hours to create the Quicktime movie for upload. Final file size was between 600-700MB. A little bit larger than if I had originally shot in 720p 30fps and left it in H.264

***FCE UPDATE***

Hosting:

Many of you may know that I use Squarespace to host my websites (I have a personal one that I’ve been ignoring for awhile – Marz). While there are plenty of other places to host my content, I prefer the ease of use of Squarespace. No, it doesn’t have as many cool templates as WordPress or all the other doodads of WordPress, but the one thing it does have is a great front end for creating the site. It literally is drag-and-drop for many functions. And if you are a coder, you can completely customize the site. So for the few extra dollars per month to have these features, I’m happy.

For video, I don’t store my videos on Squarespace’s servers. The potential for exceeding my limited bandwidth is too great. So I use a separate video service called Viddler. They are not the only game in town, but I enjoy their service. Just like many others, you can customize your player. I’m also able to put a logo in the lower right-hand corner so that if my video gets syndicated or embedded elsewhere, there is a link back to this site.

iTunes syndication. As of this writing (8/21/09), I am in the process of changing my service for the iTunes RSS feed. Currently I use blip.tv. Viddler has allowed my to use their iTunes feature recently and I’ll be switching to them. However, just this week blip.tv seems to have greatly expanded some of their features. So I’ll still use their service to aggregate my content to other places.

***VIDEO HOSTING UPDATE***

I now use blip.tv exclusively for my main Video hosting and player. I also use them to distribute to other video hosting sites including, AOL Video, TiVo, Facebook, Delicious, Flickr, etc. I also use Tube Mogul to further distribute to You Tube, Daily Motion, i2TV, iTunes, etc. I no longer send video to Viddler (I had been doing that with Tube Mogul) as my videos (all of them) that are longer than 12-14 minutes develop serious audio sync issues. blip.tv is the player for the website now.

***VIDEO HOSTING UPDATE***

Talking about iTunes; I feel it is extremely important to get your podcast, audio or video, on iTunes so that people can subscribe to it. I am one of those people that like to have flexibility in consuming my podcast content. Whether it be in the car, the computer, on my iPhone, or streaming to my 360 while playing games for audio. I really like to be able to multitask with listening to an audio podcast. For video, that’s a bit different. I’ve watched video podcasts on my iPhone when I used to live in Chicago and would use Public Transportation. It’s wonderful for that. I rarely watch shows on my iMac. What I normally do is stream to my 360 and sit on my couch to watch. This is the future of Internet TV aka IPTV. And you need to make sure your content can be watched in that setting.

OK, so that pretty much covers what I do. Remember that you can have the slickest looking and best sounding podcast in the world, but if your content isn’t good, no one will care. On the flip side; you may have the best content in the world, but if your podcast sounds and/or looks horrible people may not put up with it for very long.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Just click the “email me!” link in the right side bar or find me on Twitter (@1337wine).

 

Thanks,

Mark V. Fusco

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