Monthly Archives: August 2007

Brief Reflections on Elgato EyeTV, etc.

Overall, I've been very impressed with the Elgato Turbo.264 hardware encoder. Especially now that they have updated their software to allow custom encoding parameters, it seems like a potentially very powerful tool (see my previous posts). They even have some competition now. I was hoping for great things from the Elgato EyeTV digital converter box as well. It is certainly a nice piece of hardware, with programmable TV capture and a built-in mpeg2 encoder for real-time conversion. But it turns out it's not so great for the limited functionality we need for the Film Studies Center. With all it's bells and whistles, it cannot communicate directly with iMovie, nor can it convert analog material directly into DV - which is all we really need. The proprietary EyeTV software allows you to capture material directly into either mpeg1 or mpeg2, which you can then export directly into iDVD for authoring and burning (handy for VHS to DVD conversion). You can also export to iMovie, but the software must convert the captured material into DV format, which takes some time.

Elgato purports that the EyeTV will work in tandem with the Turbo.264 to output h.264 movie files in real-time. I was hoping this might mean direct capture to h.264, but no such luck here either. The Turbo.264 does operate seamlessly within the EyeTV software, but the box still needs to capture to mpeg2 first. After your clips have been captured and entered into the queue, you must then transcode to mpeg4, which automatically activates the Turbo. The EyeTV software has a nice export interface to output video directly to iPods and the AppleTV. But, again, no direct DV capture is a major annoyance. Something akin to the Formac Studio might be much more appropriate for our purposes (direct DV capture and editing in iMovie). An external h.264 capture box would be great, but they are hard to come by. ADS Tech claims to have such a device (although I could not find it on a quick search of their website). Miglia offers a box than can convert directly to mpeg4 (DivX), but not h.264 (although future releases might be able to do this). There are also a bunch of PCI cards that can handle direct h.264 capture, to various degrees. It's definitely worth looking into this as the technology continues to improve.

Notes for setting up a class WordPress site

1. I comment out Lines 131-140 of /wp-admin/index.php to clean up the admin interface that students will see. I think it makes it less distracting. It also removes the Need help? links, but they're redundant because the same links are in the footer of the page. We could also replace these links with links to our own support pages.

2. I like to add the PJW Mime Config plugin http://blog.ftwr.co.uk/wordpress/mime-config/ which allows you to configure extra mime-types for support by the inline-uploader. This is good for classes where the students might be uploading media files with weird file extensions (eg. m4a, ac3, flv). After transferring the folder to the /wp-content/plugins/ directory on the server (via ftp or otherwise - can't be done through the gui) go to the admin interface and go to Plugins to activate. Then go to Options > Mime Types to add new mime types. Note: this only allows mime types to work with the inline uploader if the webserver is already configured to handle the mime type. We ran into some like m4a's which we had to ask the commons server admin to enable in the Apache httpd.conf config file before they would work.

3. Similarly, for classes that will be uploading media files, I like to add a plugin that does a better job of embedding movies and audio. We've used Anarchy Media Player, but there might be better ones. http://an-archos.com/anarchy-media-player - Changes to the design (width, height, colors) of the various players can be made by editing /wp-content/plugins/anarchy_media/config.php and you can find and edit the keyframe/placeholder image used by the video players in /wp-content/plugins/anarchy_media/images/

4. Another good plugin to use is Evermore. It allows you set the max length of post that is displayed on the home page before putting in a Read More link. This especially good for class assignments where the posts will be more than a couple of paragraphs.

http://www.thunderguy.com/semicolon/wordpress/evermore-wordpress-plugin/

- Options > General : update title and tagline, check for proper admin email address, maybe change calendar to start on Sunday

- Options > Reading : front page can be set to a static page rather than recent posts, can change max number of posts appear on page

- Options > Discussion : can turn comments on or off, can set up security on comments eg. if people need to fill out name and email, it they have to have a previously approved post. Can also put in some spam protection with link restrictions and word blacklists.

- Options > Privacy : can block search engines here

- Options > Permalinks : can change the way the URLs to pages are written here.

- Options > Miscellaneous : can change default uploads folder (eg. I've changed this to podcasts for podcasting classes)

Users : create users here. I've been setting usernames to NetID and initial password of secret and I suggest students have the role of Author.

Presentation > Themes : can choose alternative wordpress themes here to change the layout and design of the site.

Presentation > Theme Editor : can edit the CSS style sheet and the php files that make up the pages here in your browser without having to download and re-upload the individual files.

Manage > Categories : this is where you can create new categories/tags. Post Slug is used to tidy up Categories names to make them more link-friendly. It removes special characters and changes spaces to hyphens if you leave it blank. You can specify something else if you want to shorten the link for example.

Classes*V2 Podcasting Tool

The biggest problem we ran into using this with students was that, on
the current version of Sakai, users with the role of Student on a
course didn't have permission to upload to the Resources folder. This
is supposed to change in the next version of Sakai that we might
upgrade to before the end of the summer 2007.

Another snag has
been the file sizes. Joe's specifications in the documentation guide
students to encode their videos as QuickTime movies using the H.264
codec with some custom settings to achieve an optimal balance of
quality and manageable file size. Even so, if the video goes longer
than around 10 or 11 minutes the resultant .mov file is over 100MB. The
File Upload feature in the Sakai gui is restricted to 100MB. OK, no
problem, we'll just do WeDAV. When the movies are uploaded to the
Resources/Podcasts directory via WebDAV, the Podcasting tool doesn't
recognize it as a new edition to the podcast and therefore doesn't
syndicate it or add it to the list.

One other grumble is that
there's no inline player in the Podcasting tool. Maybe this is on
purpose to force people to use and external podcatcher like iTunes, but
it's not convenient for users who want to just view/listen in Sakai.

The tool has a description field for each file uploaded, but the text
box doesn't allow any formatting, it doesn't even preserve line breaks.
I tried throwing in html paragraph tags, but it just printed the
<p>. I realize that this field is intended for a small field in
iTunes or other player where things like line breaks would be
inappropriate if not impossible. The downside of this is that students
want to include some commentary and even photos with their uploads. A
desirable feature here would be to have two fields - a brief
description field for media players and a long description field
(preferably with a WYSIWYG editor) that would output formatted text to
the Podcasts page and not to media players.

The tool also lacks a comments feature. I didn't use Sakai for another
summer class where the students created podcasts because it was a
required part of the assignment that students comment on the other
students' podcasts. A workaround would have been to set up something in
the discussion boards, but it makes for a more cumbersome user
experience.

This is knit-picky, but I ran into a problem in Firefox when I tried
subscribing to the podcast by clicking the RSS icon provided by the
tool and then choosing iTunes. When I do this, it activates iTunes and
adds a track called deab0097-d818-48d2-80f1-d3403077a8c2 into the
Library rather than adding the feed into the Podcasts section of iTunes
(in Windows it activates iTunes and then nothing else that I can detect
happens - it doesn't even add that track). I say this is knit-picky
because, when I copy and paste the feed address into podcacthers,
including iTunes, everything works fine.

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