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Going Digital — Without Going Broke

 
   
    This is the IFRA’s guide to multi-media – you won’t need all this gear, but if you’d
like to see this report, you can get
your own .pdf copy here
.


Y
ou don’t need dedicated A/V technicians, a $5,000 High Definition
video camera and a $10,000 editing suite to do multi-media on the web.
Advances in video and audio technology mean not only is high quality
audio and video well within the reach of most budgets, the skill sets
needed are well within the reach of any interested person.
Heck, as YouTube (and MetaCafe and Blip.tv) proves, these days a 14
year old with the family handycam and home computer can create the kind
of video it used to take a roomful of professionals to produce.
So. What do you need to start producing your own sound and slide shows, podcasts or videos?
Not an awful lot.
A word of caution: These are recommendations. The specific products we
mention aren’t your only choices by any means – you should seek and
take the advice of our IT staff and buyers. The key here is not the
specific product, but the capabilities of each. You can spend an awful
lot more than we’re recommending and get higher quality software and
hardware that gives you more options and abilities and produces a
higher quality product.
But we’re being guided by the "good enough" philosophy of the Newspaper
Next program. (As well as the "fail fast and fail cheap" part of that
philosophy.) If you get the equipment we’re recommending — or similar
products — you’ll be able to get multi-media on the web fairly quickly,
fairly cheaply with the staff on hand — especially if any of them are
WebU grads.
Read the rest of the WebU Guide to Going Digital — Without Going Broke after the jump….
Bill Dunphy

The Computer  

If you are not currently doing any multi-media, and want to begin, we
recommend taking a workstation approach, i.e. consider buying  a single
computer capable of doing your video editing while you figure out if it
is something your website needs and can benefit from. This is as
opposed to waiting until you can afford to buy video-capable computers
for all of the people you hope will eventually be creating video or
multi-media content.
So what computer do you need?
The simplest – and possibly most cost effective in the long run -
solution is to buy a bottom-of-the-line Apple iMac which retails for
$1299.
If you want to get all geeky we’re talking about the

Apple iMac 20" 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo/ 1GB/ 250GB/ SuperDrive/ iSight/ Airport/ Bluetooth/ 128MB Radeon HD 2400XT – $1299 



While this is not the computer to install as heavy duty multi-media
work station, (i.e. a dedicated computer churning out high-end videos
or movies all day) it is more than good enough to handle a steady diet
of the typical 2-4 minute news video or sound and slide show.  What’s
more it comes fully equipped with the hardware inputs and most of the
(otherwise expensive) software you need. Plus the included software -
iMovie and Garage Band (for video and sound respectively) are very
stable and easy to use. (NOTE: the newest iMacs come with iMovie 08
which is something of a dumbing down of the programme.  But you can
download the earlier version, iMovie HD 6.0, for free from Apple and
keep them both on the machine)


If you’d like to try re-purposing an existing Mac, you shouldn’t go
much older than the 2002 "mirror door" G4 Macs. Be prepared to beef up
the memory and install a newer version of the operating system,  MAC OS
10.3.9 works well. The machine should meet the following MINIMUM
requirements:

Apple "mirror door" G4 1.25 GHz, Dual core, 1GB RAM, 120 GB/ SuperDrive/ATI Radeon 9000 Pro graphics card with 64MB vram 

This machine will run iMovie fine, but we would not recommend it if
you’re planning on moving up to the more powerful video editing tools,
(i.e. Final Cut Pro). But we’ve been using them to run iMovie and our
audio editing software and it works quite well.

Windows Machines
We frankly don’t have the working multi-media experience on Window’s
machines, but if you want to use a Windows box you will need to
purchase the video and sound editing software separately and you will
have to make sure it has the appropriate video card. (See the Software
section below for more information on the appropriate Windows software.
The free "Movie Maker" software will not meet your needs for producing
professional looking web videos.)
Additionally the machine meet the following MINIMUM requirement:
2.4 GHz  1 GB RAM, 120 GB drive with an upgraded video card and
firewire  port to connect the camera – most modern Dell and HP machines
now include them).

The Camera
This is an area of some intensive
debate about quality and cost. We’ve decided to hew to the "good
enough" line since any video produced for the web is going to be
compressed to within an inch of it’s life and likely shown in a small
window on a computer screen — all of which renders nearly useless the
high end effects and resolution of a pro-level camera. Although you
could spend $7,000 to purchase a high definition camera like the Cannon
XH-A1, we recommend you spend about a tenth of that or less  and purchase a "miniDV" video camera that records onto mini digital tapes.
Canadian Press, which has begun aggressively pursuing and producing video, has armed their reporters with digital audio
recorders and inexpensive point and shoot cameras that can also record
video. Reporters ‘shoot’ events and interviews, capturing a few minutes
of video and separate audio. These digital files are then downloaded
onto their computers and laptops (modest recent vintage Windows
machines) and the digital files are shipped to a central editing
facility in Toronto for assembly and distribution to CP member papers.
It’s
a system that has allowed them to produce daily video practically from
a standing start, with low average costs. But the less expensive gear
in the field means higher end equipment at their editing suite, since
they have to perform more complicated video and audio synching. The
central facility employs higher end hardware and Avid, a professional
level video editing software suite.
We believe you can
de-centralize those editing skills and rely on trained and motivated
reporters and photographers armed with modest equipment to meet our
video and multi-media needs. But that approach dictates our equipment -
it should be light, easy to pack to and from assignments, cheap, so
they can be as widely distributed as possible, forgiving and
sufficiently "smart" that they’re easy to use.
Some key things your camera should do:


use mini DV tapes for data storage. They’re cheap, reliable, and
capture more than enough resolution for web uses. Hard drive cameras
compress the video before storing it (needlessly diminishing quality)

  • • accept an external microphone – ideally with a hot shoe to hold a wireless "lavaliere" microphone as well as a hand-held.
  • have a built in microphone – ideally stereo
  • have
    a earphone, or sound "out" jack either on the camera or the attachable
    microphone so the camera operator can monitor the sound
  • have a decent quality, glass lens with modest optical zoom capabilities.
  • anti-shake or image stabilizer software
  • auto focus and auto white balance

We
use the $799 Sony DCR HC96 (pictured above) and it has proven a
simple, reliable and smart performer, that takes much of the
decision-making out of the hands of the human holding it, delivering
consistently usable video. We use Sony’s wireless "blue tooth"
microphone (about $80) for sound. It’s a big clunky, and it hogs
batteries, but it does the job.

Digital Audio Recorders
We
use the Olympus DS 30, a tiny digital recorder with an excellent
on-board stereo microphone and superb sound. It’s a useful and simple
way to add voice-overs and narrations to videos – especially after the
fact. Can be very handy in rescuing a video with bad sound. Look for  a
digital recorder whose files can be converted easily to .mp3 or .AIFF
format. Retails for about $150.

Software

Video
Apple: We recommend the iMac computers largely on the strengths of their excellent, easy-to-use iMovie
software. As we noted above, the newest version iMovie 08  has been
made even simpler and quicker to use which could come in quite handy
when deadlines are pressing, but it achieves that speed and ease of use
at the expense of flexibility and features. But Apple offers the
earlier version on their website as a free download, which we recommend
you take advantage of. It has better and more transitions, more nuanced
edit controls.
Apple also produces the category leading Final Cut Pro, an expensive, fully-professional editing program used in Hollywood. A ‘consumer’ version, Final Cut Express, retails for $400.
The free iMovie software will meet the vast majority of your multi-media needs for the forseeable future.
Windows: At the professional level, Windows users have a number of choices, including Adobe’s Premier and Avid,
which, like Apple’s Final Cut, are both powerful, fully-featured movie
editing suites capable of complex projects mixing many simultaneous
tracks of audio and video. All three accept third-party ‘plug-ins’ that
extend the software’s abilites into a variety of special effects.
But
at the free end of things, Windows users are left with Moviemaker which
most reviewers compare unfavourably with iMovie both in terms of ease
of use and finished product. A useful and generally well-regarded
alternative is "Pinnacle Studio" which comes in three trim levels from
basic to "Ultimate"
At about $129, Pinnacle Studio Ultimate 11.0
has essentially all of the capabilities we would want with an
impressive library of both video transitions and royalty free music to
add to movies. Earlier versions of Pinnacle Studio suffered from
stability problems and was crash prone, but this newest version seems
to have licked those problems.

Audio
Audacity
is a free and very capable audio editing tool  useful for both cleaning
up and editing podcasts and for handling voice-overs and external audio
tracks when making movies. It comes in both Windows and Mac versions.
Switch is a $25 piece of shareware that can convert most sound file types into .mp3 or AIFFs

Slide shows
You’ll need Audacity to manage the audio and SoundSlidesPro (about $80) to marry photos with your editied audio tracks and output a flash animated project that can be shown on the web.

Miscellaneous
Some of the other things you’ll need to budget for:

Cables – you’ll need at least one $40 Firewire cable to connect the camera to your computer
Batteries – Always have a fully-charged spare camera battery on hand. They cost $60-$80. You’ll also want a ready supply of AAA and/or AA batteries to power your microphones and digital recorder.
Tripod – essential for creating professional looking video. Any decent one will do – ask your photographers. ($60-$80)

If
you have any further questions or want to discuss these issues, please
feel free to call WebU at 905.526-3262. We won’t have the answers to
all your questions, but we can find most of them for you pretty quickly.

Bill Dunphy
WebU Manager
bdunphy@metrolandwest.com
905.526-3262

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