Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Synergy: one mouse/keyboard to rule them all!

For some reason I have five computers (one's a laptop). I suppose I should consolidate, but right now, it's easier just to keep them all. However, this means I need to access all of them at any given moment.

This means FIVE keyboards and FIVE mice (do you say mice when you're talking input device?) laying about my desk, which leaves little room for anything else.

I had been looking at KVM switches for a while, but was really nervous about adding an extra hub to any DVI cables that might degrade video quality. I was also worried about the fact that most KVM's are only for two computers; they start getting really expensive when you're talking about three or four.

A long time ago I had heard about Synergy, but at the time, I just started using Remote Desktop. I thought that was going to work for me, but I've since found that Remote Desktop kind of sucks, because of it's video limitations (you can't use full 32bit color, and streaming video is a stuttery mess --in this day and age of Gigabit, I shouldn't have to deal with this).

So yesterday when I set up my newest machine, I revisited Synergy, and it's freaking great!

Five computers, and one mouse to rule them all!

Synergy is an open source program that you install on all your computers. One computer acts as the "server" and your other computers feed off that server. When you mouse to the edge of your screen, you just keep going over to the next computer, exactly like a multiple monitor set up. You can also set up areas above and below the monitor (thus, more computers can be accessed).

The down side is the developer stopped working on the project back in 2006.

The upside is that a community of geeks has taken over with a fork called Synergy+, though the only release marked "stable" so far is 32-bit. There are 64-bit versions, but they are marked unstable.

Still, regular old Synergy seems to be working well for me. I've got it running on Vista Business Ultimate, and plan on adding my XP machines to the mix soon.



Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Build: what do you download and install first?

I just set up the new machine (more on that later).

This is what I immediately downloaded and installed (in order):
  1. Updates for OS (Windows Vista Business Ultimate)
  2. AVG (I got burned pretty bad last year)
  3. Malwarebytes (the virus I picked up wouldn't allow me to install this, and it was killing me)
  4. Firefox (IE sucks)
  5. Mozilla Weave (syncing your bookmarks across machines is glorious)
  6. CPU-Z (gotta make sure everything's running alright)
  7. Launchy (why doesn't Windows have this feature automatically?)
  8. Synergy (using one mouse and one keyboard for all my machines is awesome)
  9. Flash plug-in for browsers
  10. Updates for Adobe CS4 (back to work!)
There will be more of course, but those were the things I found I couldn't live without, and had to download immediately upon firing up the new machine.

I'm curious as to what other users' immediate downloads are after building a new machine.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

30" LCD Monitor for Video Editing

It kills me that I can't find any decent reviews of 30" monitors from this year (2009). A lot of the reviews I'm reading are from 2006. WTF? Has nothing changed in the world of 30" monitors since Dell upgraded the 3007WFP to the 3008WFP?

I'm looking to purchase a larger monitor. I love my Dell 2407WFP, but at a maximum resolution of 1920x1200, it's just not up to the task at hand. I need to be able to view RED files at 2k resolution (2048x1024).

Here are the top models to choose from at the consumer level (under $2,000): Dell 3008WFP (some still swear by the 3007WFP), the Apple Cinema Display, HP LP3065, Samsung 305T, and I suppose the Gateway XHD3000 and LG W300H.

There are also 30" models from NEC and Eizo, but they definitely bump you up over the $2000 mark into the "pro-sumer" level of things.

There are many things that factor into what would be the best monitor (contrast ratio, response time, gamma display, etc.), and the biggest factor in these is how the screen is constructed.

Here is an explanation from jaguarskx on Tom's Hardware (in 2007, I might add), and yes, I consider "jaguarskx" to be the preeminent expert on LCD panel types:

TN = Twisted Nematic - These are 6-bit screens that cannot really reproduce 16.7 million colors. They can only reproduce 262,144 colors; 64 shades of Red, Green & Blue. Thats (2^6)^3 or 64^3. All the other colors are created through a process called dithering. These typically have fast response times (for gaming) at the expense of color accuracy. These are inexpensive monitors.

MVA = Multidomain Vertical Alignment
PVA = Patterned-ITO Vertical Alignment

MVA and PVA panel are the most common 8-bit LCD screen around. They are relatively slow compared to TN, but offers better color accuracy. Good viewing angles and contrast ratio. However not all MVA and PVA panels are 8-bit screens. S-MVA and S-PVA are typically the ones that are 8-bit panel from my research. S = Super.

8-bit LCDs can truly reproduce 16.7 million colors. That's because there will be 256 shades of each color (2^8 ); Red, Green & Blue. Therefore 256^3 = 16.7 million (actually, a little more).

S-IPS = Super In-Plane Switching. These are high end and really expensive LCD panels. All these panels are 8-bit panels and comes the closest to CRT image quality. From what I've read they also have very good response times as well. LCD monitors geared towards graphic artists who demands the most color accuracy are designed with these type of panels. That means the shades of color you see on the screen are the exact shades that will be printed out on a good color printer.

That's at least a beginning. I need an IPS panel. But this seems pretty standard these days. Some gamers prefer the TN panels because they're a little faster and much cheaper, but I definitely need color consistency, so IPS it is.

Now I have to decide between the monitors on my list above. The big three seem to be the Apple, the Dell, and the HP (the Samsung gets pretty good reviews, but nothing's changed since 2005... that makes me nervous --should it?).

There are no definitive winners regarding any of these. Depending upon the review you read, any one of these is the superior monitor. Can this really be the case?

The Dell 3008WFP often wins the debate because of the sheer numbers of inputs on the device. I could care less. Give me my DVI port and I'm happy. I guess I'll enjoy the upgrade to 10-bit color (via the DisplayPort) over 8-bit (via DVI), but it's not really a battle-winning factor. That said, I am starting to doubt all choices but the Dell because of the DisplayPort... so I guess I lied. It does matter.

Dell seems to be the brand that gets commented on for color inconsistency the most often. But none of the others really "shine" in this area, anyway, so it doesn't really help with my decision. Most of the comlaints also seem to be from back in the year 2007, so I wonder if they've fixed the problem. I don't know, because I can't find a damn review from this year.

If I go simply by price, Apple loses the battle hands down. You can't really find it for less than $1,699 (and there are lots of people bitching about the ACD problems to boot, so it's not a matter of "the higher the price, the better the monitor"). The "regular" price for the Dell isn't much better, but it goes on sale all the time, and can usually be purchased for around $1299, depending on the day (it's really annoying how Dell fluctuates their prices all the time --the 3008WFP was actually $1039 in March of 2009). The HP is usually $1,199. The Samsung can often be found for less than $1,000.

Awwww who am I kidding? I'm buying the Dell. Having the Display Port for 10-bit color is the clincher. Now I just have to figure out how to get them to sell it to me for the price I've seen a million times ($1,299 instead of $1,699... or better yet, $1,039), but isn't available "right now."


Thursday, August 6, 2009

New Topic: Editing RED Footage in Adobe Premiere CS4

Alright... I've been gone for a long, long time. Before my blogging hiatus, the major topic of discussion was hacking up the Samsung Omnia i910, and while I will continue to tinker with that toy (nay, superior smart phone) my new topic of choice is video editing and post production for "film!"

I am getting ready to edit a feature film in Adobe Premiere Pro CS4.

"Really? Shouldn't you be editing in Final Cut Pro, like everyone else?" you might ask.

Well, we shot our film in full resolution (4K) RED. Final Cut hasn't addressed the format as well as Adobe, so I'm going with Premiere. Premiere is simply at the forefront of editing native RED footage.

The new version of Final Cut Pro released last week touts the ability to edit RED better than it's previous version, but FCP still forces you to wrap the .r3d file in a Quicktime wrapper, thus you aren't really accessing the RED files natively (you have to go through that workaround).

The RED plug-in for Adobe Premiere is just the best way to go in my book.

So much of post is done in After Affects (no matter what platform you're on and what software you're using), and the integration and flow of Premiere and After Affects is superior (vs. FCP or AVID) to say the least.

Yes, there are issues with editing in Premiere (not the least of which is Adobe's apparent REFUSAL to address syncing and linking audio and video files --more on that later). But each leading platform (FCP and AVID being the two others), have their issues as well.

Other than sound, the biggest problem with Premiere (and it's admittedly a big one), as that it's a youngster in the field. Pretty much anybody who's been doing anything with film on a serious, professional level, has been using either AVID or Final Cut Pro. Thus, the knowledge base for Avid and FCP is much more vast. Finding answers for your problems with Premiere takes a lot of work. Hopefully my posts on the topic can help people find the same answers I was looking for a little quicker (a couple issues we had took weeks to find an answer to --some of the problems we still haven't found answers to, which leads me to believe that there might not be answers yet).

Bottom line, you're going to have problems (big or small) with any program you go with, so you just need to make sure you're doing what's best for you and your particular project.

Next up, the build (what I learned from researching for weeks before putting together a computer for the specific purpose of video editing).