Wednesday, April 24, 2013

NAB 2013: Where are the gyros? / New video editing software.

A couple weeks ago I was at the NAB Show with Freefly for the MōVI launch, the first product I've helped work on at the new job. That meant spending a lot of time doing the chicken head dance and explaining to people that there aren't actually spinning flywheel gyros on things anymore...

It's a camera gimbal, similar to what would be mounted to a helicopter or multirotor, that you can also carry around in your hands while it stabilizes the camera. (If you read this blog, I'm sure you know all about control systems and active stabilization so this probably doesn't amaze you as much as it still amazes the non-technical public...)

Since I spent nine hours a day at the booth talking to people about gyros (Wait, is this Maker Faire all over again?), I didn't get as much time as I would have liked to wander around this expansive tradeshow, which covered three whole buildings. (It's about 10x the size of the EVER Monaco Expo / car show I've been to a couple times.) There were definitely a lot of camera-carrying multirotors this year.

Here is just one of many....
I was mostly impressed by how it folded up.
There was also a giant two-story indoor flying tube where DJI showed off some of their products. And several outdoor booths with all manner of flying cameras ranging from GoPros up to big-budget cinema cameras like the RED Epic. Speaking of RED, they had a clean room installed on the show floor where they were doing live sensor upgrades to their new 6K / 100fps sensor. (So to watch the video it produces, you need nine HD screens in a 3x3 grid and it has to play in 4x slow motion...)

Most of the camera stuff at NAB is way outside my budget, but one thing that excited me was the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, which was also just announced at the show. It shoots raw or high bit-rate compressed 1080p video onto normal (but expensive/fast) SD cards. If I were planning to upgrade from my Panasonic HD camcorder in the near future, the $995 price is not that bad. The only real problem for me is that it weighs 355g, (maybe less than 500g with a small lens?), so I would be instantly tempted to put it on a multirotor, and then I would be at risk of crashing it all the time. I doubt it's as durable as my GoPro...

I think of all the NAB Show things I saw later read about on the internet, the one that caught my attention most was new, free-ish video editing software called Lightworks, by EditShare. I was pretty disappointed that the new Windows 7 edition of Windows Live Movie Maker is a stripped-down piece of crap, even compared to the at least somewhat functional WMM from the Windows XP era. (The old WMM had an active user community with lots of third-party add-ons for people who wanted to use it as an actual tool.) So a new piece of editing software that doesn't cost hundreds or thousands of dollars was definitely something I wanted to try out. And it looks like a very nice tool.

Maybe I was attracted to Lightworks because the desktop layout is almost indistinguishable from that of a CAD program:

Which of these is the video editing software and which makes 3D models?
Despite being a relatively new program (I'm using the Windows beta version), the interface feels very smartly developed and intuitive. Combined with a set of quick-start video tutorials, I didn't have to spend much time at all to learn how to do simple things like make clips, arrange a timeline, trim ins and outs, work with audio tracks, and add simple effects like fades and dissolves. The options for moving a cut are particularly nice: you can make clips on either side of the cut longer or shorter independently or have one get longer and the other get shorter at the same time (to keep sync). Maybe this is a pretty standard feature in professional editing software, but it's my first time using it and I can't imagine how to ever work without it now.

The only part of the workflow that was not quick and easy was exporting video. Importing from various formats works great, but exporting to something other than a hardcore (and huge) editing format was a challenge for me. H.264 support is through Quicktime, maybe? The new beta version may support native H.264 without Quicktime but I failed to make that work. So in addition to buying the Pro version of the software, you have to also have Quicktime Pro to create H.264 files? And then after all that the H.264 output had no audio (a known bug). Luckily, you can export the audio track as a .WAV, so after fooling around for a few hours to get the H.264 export to work, I still had to use my trusty all-purpose MEncoder shell program to reattach the audio.

I'm sure the export quirks will be worked out in newer versions of Lightworks, though. If the software stays the same price ($60 for the Pro version with full codec support, including H.264?), then it's an amazing deal for a real editing tool.

To test out the software, I've finally gotten around to collecting up all my random GoPro clips from around MIT, flying with my Talon quad. No fancy stabilized 3-axis gimbal for me (well, no gimbal at all...just taped to the bottom of the quad), so get ready for a rough ride: