You Ought to Be In Pictures! The Process of Making a Company Video – Part 2

video-business-man-2Know Your Limitations!!

In this series, we’re looking at the process of making a high-quality company video that can be used to educate and entertain your audience through social media.  For Part 2, we’re going to briefly discuss personal limitations as they pertain to the production time requirements.  To poorly paraphrase the great Clint Eastwood, “A business owner has GOT to know his/her limitations.”

It’s almost the year 2013.  Everyone has a video camera, even in their smart phone.  Virtually every computer being made today comes preloaded with software to edit and produce video.  The same software the pros use is readily available for purchase, too.  HD cameras are dirt cheap now, as well.  So why hire a professional company?  Can’t everyone just make their own videos these days?

Ummmm … yes.  Everyone CAN make their own videos, but not everyone SHOULD.

I’m reminded of the story of the famous photographer who goes to a dinner party with friends.  The host greets the photographer and says, “Your photos are AMAZING … you must have an incredible camera.”  The photographer smiles and says nothing until after dinner is done, at which point he looks to the host and says, “That dinner was AMAZING … you must have an incredible stove.”

Great videos are not made by equipment or software or computers.  They’re made by people who know how to make great video.  These people might have great gear … but they’d make great video even if their gear wasn’t great.  It’s what they do.  They have a particular talent for the process, along with a whole bunch of experience in doing it, often combining to make a product that’s way beyond what the average person of above-average intelligence could imagine.

That doesn’t mean YOU shouldn’t make your own video … just that you should really take some time to evaluate your own ability, understanding, and talent.

Time in a Bottleneck

In addition, you should take a look at how much of your valuable time you’re willing to spend making video … because it does take time, and lots of it … at least if you want it to look and sound good.  We’ll talk more about the element of “time” later in this series. For now, use this rule of thumb:  It takes a minimum of an hour of video shooting to yield one minute of final video, and from pre-production (to plan and prepare storyboard, set up interviews etc.) for a video shoot, through the shoot itself, to post-production (editing, rendering, authoring), taking the average figures for each of these activities, a time estimate of 4 hours of production for a minute of final video content is the norm!

video-post-productionThe greatest amount of time is devoted to the editing process. You can expect, for quality video results, that beginning video producers can take upwards of 8 hours or longer to edit a two- or three-minute piece. Advanced shooters (>1 year experience) can edit in one to four hours for a two or three-minute segment.

If you can take that kind of time away from your business and/or family, and feel you have the talent and ability to make a truly great company video, then by all means go for it.  Be honest with yourself, though, and remember that your business deserves the very best you can give it, if you want it to be as successful as possible.  Know your own limitations. It is very easy to distinguish between a professional studio product, and a “made it myself” project. From voice-over recording for clear dialog during the render, and custom graphics and text overlays to enhance and clarify the message, to a custom music bed with sound envelopes that adjust to the voice-over, these fine brush strokes can make a masterpiece.

If you don’t have the talent, knowledge, or time to invest in making your own video … which I’d guess describes most business owners in America … then make it a priority to find a professional video production company that will offer what you need, and with whom you can develop a working relationship.  The right company will provide exactly what you need within an agreed time period, while leaving you the time to focus on running your own business.  For the purpose of this series, we will assume that you will be hiring a media company to produce your video, as it is usually the best choice for a busy business owner.

R-4-cropWe’ll stop here for now, but when we return, we’ll look at what you’ll need to know before you start looking for your video production company. Here’s a hint: Content, i.e., your storyboard, gets built to achieve a specific goal or set of goals: Response, Recall, Reliance and/or Recreation(The concept of “R to the 4th” was developed here, first.)

Intrigued? Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series!

Making the Move to Dynamic Signage

Are you still wondering if dynamic signage is the arena for you? Here we’ve been writing about how and why the digital print / traditional sign company is the best built enterprise for the job. In case you have missed the posts, start with the October, 2006 post and read each chapter as though it’s an important book!  Really. Go ahead. We’ll wait 😉

You may now be asking, How do I make this move? What do I need to know, and where do I go to get that information? Whew! Thank you for asking an easy question!

By entering the world of digital signage, sign designers and sign company professionals maintain complete control of their client base, and signage portfolio.

Sign makers who have worked for their entire career with static signage can find all of this new territory difficult to navigate. There are many new manufacturers of digital signage products, and it is unfortunate that many of these manufacturers do not have a sign-making background, and therefore do not always speak our language. And, while it may be easy to find companies who offer digital signage software (more than 350 exist today!) and/or hardware, it is much more difficult to learn how to implement the technology for the end-user – our clients.

Training Course for Digital Sign CertificationEnter the Digital Signage Certified Expert (DSCE) program, offered by the Digital Signage Experts Group, the best and most widely recognized certification program for dynamic sign experts. The DSCE course is a widely recognized certification course which covers all of the essential ingredients for anyone who wants to offer digital signage. Who has taken the course already? About 4700 individuals, most from the AV industry. We, however, believe YOU are even better equipped to deliver sign messaging through dynamic systems!

At the School of Sign Arts website, www.schoolofsignarts.com (SOSA) you can not only register for the course, but also they give you a free book, hot off the press for 2012: Making the Move to Dynamic Signage, which sells separately for $75. PLUS, when you register at SOSA, WE at LobbyPOP will donate $5 to the American Sign Museum!

You purchase a program access key code at SOSA for only $195, then go to the DSEG.org website and log in. Upon doing so, you can begin your training course, which is a series of instructional videos, accompanied by a 68-question certification test. Once you’ve filled in all of your answers, you submit your test for review. It is instantly graded, and, provided you receive a passing score, you then instantly receive your Digital Signage Certified Expert certificate via email, and are added to the Digital Signage Experts Group list of … well, Experts!

Making the Move to Dynamic Signage bookWhen you purchase your DSCE course access code through SOSA, you’ll also receive the PDF book: Making the Move to Dynamic Signage …. Did we mention, it’s free! This 48-page guide for the sign professional is approved by founder of DSEG.org, Alan Brawn, CTS, DSCE, DSDE, ISF, ISF-C, this year’s Chairman of the Digital Signage Federation. A great companion to the DSCE course, it includes additional insight, statistics, and information on the current and future digital signage market.

What is the certification course like? There is a complete review at the School of Sign Arts site: Certification is Priceless. How many “traditional” sign companies have taken the course? That, my friend, is a good question. More every day enroll in the course…

On a quiet Saturday afternoon, February 11, 2012 in Lubbock, Texas, Toby Stephens, owner of Elite Sign & Design, clicked “submit” and became a member of a rare breed: The digital print sign professional who crossed over to the bright side and embraced dynamic digital signage as a part of his future. He became a dynamic sign expert.

If you recognize this opportunity and want to get started on a great course, visit SOSA’s sign-up page here.  Get your free book and client assessment surveys. And make your move! Any questions? Call us! 1-888-LOBBYPOP [1-888-562-2976]  or email: amazing@lobbypop.com.

DSCE Course Review

Those Special Codec Moments…

The following is not gibberish: A portmanteau is a blend of two or more morphemes. The word codec is a portmanteau of “compressor- decompressor” or, more commonly, “coder-decoder”.   Wikipedia explains: A codec encodes a data stream or signal for transmission, storage or encryption, or decodes it for playback or editing.

If you have been involved in dynamic sign content, you know those moments when the screen gives you a blank stare, and you fear that your beautiful video has fatal flaws? Well, isn’t it almost always the case that this is simply due to a missing “codec?” Then you go on the hunt to fix this embarrassing situation before the client sees the project. It’s pretty funny to hear audio and see nothing on the screen, and run to check the cables. Admit it, we all do that. A good hunch, but not relevant.

Codec for VideoLet’s talk about codecs, because making the move from digital print to dynamic signage requires that you know how to avoid those precious codec moments.  Although it has many other definitions, the term “codec” has become synonymous with digital video playback and encoding.

If you are in the business of graphics, digital print, advertising, or the sign industry, you are very familiar with lossy file formats, such as jpgs. The compression achieves a manageable file size, but there is data loss in the process. Images can look pretty pixelated after some edits and “saves.”  Well, the same holds true for codecs.Some popular codecs are “lossy” – losing some quality to achieve compression –  and some are “lossless — typically used for archiving data in a compressed form and keeping every byte of information present in the original stream.

What does this mean to you? Well, if you are rendering content for high-quality display (the good stuff all of your clients want), then like our media engineers at LobbyPOP, you want to use a lossless codec. All of those edits, text changes, music tweaks, video insertions, and saves, saves, saves, will create a pretty unpretty mess if you use a lossy codec in the process.

Of course, your final files will have to be decoded with the proper codec. We are familiar with one big name, popular content management system that doesn’t have the codec to decode MP4 files! The notion of AVI being a codec is incorrect as AVI is a container type, which many codecs might use (although not to ISO standard). There are also other well-known containers such as QuickTime, RealMedia, Matroska, DivX Media Format and containers defined as ISO standards, such as MPEG transport stream, MPEG program stream, MP4 and ISO base media file format.

Determining Codecs (thanks to Cisco for this information below)

Many tools are available to analyze a video file to determine what codec was used during encoding. One is AVIcodec, which you can download from http://avicodec.duby.info. The program recognizes most video file formats and delivers additional details in an easily viewable interface. Figure 3 shows a sample of the download output.

Figure 3. AVIcodecAnother program that is simpler is GSpot, which you can download from http://www.free-codecs.com/download/GSpot.htm. Figure 4 shows the output of the same file when viewed with GSpot.

Figure 4. GSpot 

Well, this blog was a bit more technical, but remember, we gave you risqué news in the last post!

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, From Sneaker Net!

It seems like just yesterday we were discovering the world of dynamic signage, and loading up our content by manual transmission, ie, flash drives and DVDs, aka, using the “sneakernet.”

Sneaker Net

With a DVD or VHS network you have what is called a “SneakerNet” – can be prone to human errors. Just look back to 2009, when a “sneaker net” system was used in a WalMart department not served by WalMart TV. The porn videos that played in that Arkansas WalMart certainly received a lot of media coverage (pun intended). In case you  don’t recall the millions of tweets, two employees swapped out DVDs in a device controlling 6 TVs in the furniture department. They got caught and the term SneakerNet took on a whole new meaning…

Here’s the point: Because the system is not connected, you have no guarantee the promotion you intended is being played. Making the content in the first place is costly (burning DVDs) and you can really only afford to do this once per month. If you run weekly specials, it’s impossible to advertise those on your screens because you’re running the same loop every week for a month. With a networked system, you’ll be able to change this on the fly easily and have completely synchronized media campaigns, both in-store and in-home. So, you understand how far we’ve come, yes? But, if you are comfortable for a little while longer in sneakers, you can simplify your own process, so read on!

Turtle Content DeliveryA large number of signage deployments today are still actually done by sending around VHS tapes and DVDs by turtle mail. Sometimes this is because when talking with the IT department, someone always says “no”. So the digital sign professionals and the ad agencies serving the client think, “No problem, we’ll just use DVDs!”

If you are starting out, and the sneakernet delivery system is the simple model you or your customer wants to deploy, there are a few tips that will make the picture quality, and your costs, better all around. But remember, that’s not the way to become a well-heeled digital sign pro. Just picture ad agencies, who have high expectations of the direct-out-of-home industry to deliver campaigns as contracted. They are becoming increasingly vigilant in ensuring that they are getting value. They will want proof that the campaigns are running.

Okay, here are your important rules for sneakernet:  First of all, never, ever use a consumer model DVD or BluRay player!  These are rated for about 2000 hours maximum, and certainly not for continuous play! Invest in a commercial player – which is often what your kiosks will feature at one price point – and you won’t be replacing the unit every few months.

Next, consider the video quality. If you are driving a plasma screen with a DVD player over composite video, the picture is going to look pretty ordinary. Now, swap that composite video cable for an HDMI cable, to your commercial screen, and with your commercial DVD player, your image is “up-rezed” and voila! Vastly improved picture quality, not to mention audio is always synchronized!

Now, how about the cost to burn and ship? Here’s a baby step from sneakers to something a bit less informal. Connect with your client’s (or your) IT department and gain access to an FTP site. Upload the files (yes, this takes a little time, but so does uploading and distributing through connected digital sign systems!). Make sure there’s a  DVD or BluRay burner at the other end, and let the IT guy or gal burn the contents to it. Now, load and play! You’ve saved time and cost burning these DVDs for these smaller digital sign projects. You’ve also saved days in transit!

Another step: Some “stand alone” digital sign systems will simply play whatever is on a gig-stick and loaded to its media player. This eliminates the BluRay or DVD player. And then there’s always Apple-TV, but that is another blog for another day.

It is apparent, if you give this some thought, that a simple media player, internet-connected system will ultimately save time and energy, and sneakernets, while still an option, will give way to the need for more frequent updates, reports of play, ROO and ROI calculations, and the chance to finally through away those old tennis shoes.

Just letting you down easy…

The Display Wars are Over… Sort Of

Remember back in early 2010 when we compared Plasma screens and LCD display technology? Well, that post covered a lot of ground, and the decision-tree is still a valid and great tool. But now we have a third horse in the race, and it looks like a triple-crown winner… if price is no object. LED-lit LCD screens are almost perfect.

The difference between plasma and LCD wavered for some time, with each offering different economic and visual benefits depending on the model, price, and time in the life cycle of HDTVs. But in the past couple of years, with the advent of increasingly sophisticated LED backlighting, we finally have a true winner. With its unmatched energy efficiency, LED-based LCD is the best flat-panel HDTV technology. Unfortunately, it’s also generally the most expensive. — CNET Technologies, June 2011

Okay all you traditional (digital print, routing, illuminated channel letter) sign professionals, here’s something you are familiar with: Cold Cathode and LED. Yup. It’s here, too, in dynamic digital signage. Traditional LCD HDTVs use cold cathode fluorescent lights (CCFLs) to illuminate the screen. CCFLs are similar to the fluorescent lights you might see in your lamps and overhead light fixtures. They use a charged gas to produce light. LED-LCD screens, like their name implies, use light emitting diodes (LEDs) to illuminate the display.

LED LCD BrightSo what are the advantages when it comes to digital signs? Well, as you might have guessed, LED-LCD is thinner, brighter, and the contrast ratios are out of this world.

For this advantage, LED HDTVs command a premium; for all major HDTV manufacturers, LED-backlit HDTVs can cost a few hundred dollars more than CCFL-backlit HDTVs of the same size. Generally, plasma HDTVs tend to be the least expensive, priced at equal to or slightly less than CCFL-backlit HDTVs. However, that savings means the screen will be thicker and much more power-hungry, even if it does offer as good a picture as an LED-backlit HDTV.

How good the picture looks, especially if you’re a videophile or a cinema fanatic, is the most vital aspect of any HDTV. Specifically, peak white and black levels determine how detailed a picture can look on a screen. Historically, plasma HDTVs have produced the best black levels, but the domination of plasma in this field, however, is over. The current PC Magazine Editors’ Choice HDTV, the LED-based LG Infinia 47LW5600, puts out only 0.01 cd/m2, the best level we can measure.  Of course it’s an LG – one of LobbyPOP’s favorite brands!

So, you if you recall that decision tree of our LCD-Plasma comparison post, then consider this your update. If energy consumption is important, you will be looking at LCD, of one kind or another. If price is most important, you will be looking at plasma for the larger sizes. If quality, however, is your mantra, and price is no object, then the new LED-LCD screens will be your pick. But always, always, always choose a commercial screen and NOT a consumer model for your sign systems.

It bears more than a mention here: Commercial screens have what it takes to get the job done, vs consumer screens that pale in comparison.

The main differences are:

  • Commercial units have MORE modes of Video/Picture selection.
  • Commercial units have “Adaptive Picture Mode” and consumer units does not.
  • Commercial units allow for PC inputs, which few consumer models offer.
  • Commercial units have more Decorder formats.
  • Commercial unit has actual HDMI in with HDCP. Most consumer units have HDMI  In, as DVI with Adapter.   This is a pretty big difference.
  • Often, commercial units have separate antenna in and separate cable in (more versatility).  The consumer units usually have a single antenna/cable input.
  • Commercial units come with a two- or three-year warranty on-site. If you use a consumer model for a commercial sign application, you void the warranty.
  • Commercial models have heat management systems to accommodate continuous operation. Consumer models are not built for 24-hour operation.

Well, you get the picture! (Pun intended 😉 )

Part 2: May Your Resolution Be Right

More fun with technology! If you are up to date, you have followed these posts for a while. Our Part 1 of this two-part series on resolution is very important if you plan to use the information provided here, so give it a good read.

Okay, ready?

HD Resolution (or Frame Size):

There are 2 standard HD video resolutions:  1280×720 and 1920×1080 (width x height).  Both are displayed in widescreen (16:9) image format and use square pixels (the tiny individual “dots” of color that collectively make up the full image).  In contrast, standard definition (SD) video is a single resolution of 720×480 (for NTSC), using different pixel aspect ratios (non-square) to create either widescreen (16:9) or standard (4:3) images.  The square pixel format yields a more consistent image on a variety of display types, whether it is a plasma screen, LCD, or LED TV (or computer monitor).

A third format exists, better known as HDV, that is common among consumer-oriented video cameras.  This format is 1440×1080, and uses a non-square pixel size to render a widescreen image.

 Now, factor in Progressive Scan (p) and Interlaced Scan (i) and entire world of bandwidth considerations comes into play. This post is just not big enough to cover the subject, so get the amazing Guide when you register to take the DSCE course. 

Here’s the scoop in a nutshell: In a perfect digital world, we could say that it would always be better to display full frames in a progressive scan format, since each frame is a complete picture … and since current technology is certainly capable of keeping up with huge amounts of bandwidth, why would there be a need to compromise?  Bandwidth is still an issue, however, especially in video transmitted over the Internet or through cellular service.  The other issue is that many consumer or “pro-sumer” video cameras can only record high-resolution (1920×1080) video in interlaced scan format, since the hardware can’t support the higher bandwidth required by progressive.  Don’t lose sleep over this – just use resources provided by your media house to guide in the right file rendering size.

The MP4/H.264/AVC format is capable of producing very high quality video in virtually any common resolution, including HD.  It has been almost universally adopted as the standard for streaming video … and HD video in general.  It is the preferred format for YouTube, Vimeo, and iTunes, and is the most common encoding method for commercial Blu Ray discs.  The H.264 codec can also be used to encode MOV files.  MP4 files can be played by the QuickTime Player on any Mac or Windows computer, the Windows Media Player on all Windows 7 based systems, and by most smart phones.  Most of the currently available digital signage systems are compatible, too … WooHoo!

Multi-tasking mp4For these reasons, we at LobbyPOP prefer to render final video as MP4 files, to ensure compatibility across the spectrum, whether it’s playing from a locally-controlled digital signage player, remotely controlled system, Blu Ray disc, or streaming via YouTube.  Of course, when the need arises, we can render in virtually any desired format … but generally speaking, an MP4 file will work for any computer or digital signage system. 

There are many further details that may be discussed in the future, such as the accompanying audio formats for video files, bitrates, encoding profiles, etc., but it is too much to cover in this installment.  Hopefully this crash course will help to gain an understanding of what HD video is all about.

For more: LobbyPOP provides an excellent Guide for LobbyPOP Pros and Digital Signage Certified Experts. Just sayin… 

 

Part 1: May Your Resolution Be Right

Here’s Part One of Two about the technology that transforms a blank flat panel screen into a communications dynamo! Just what you’ve been waiting for! (Hmmm?). It’s time for a wee bit of technical jargon, and it’s not going to hurt a bit. When it comes to digital signage (the moving kind), the one most confusing piece to translate from our world of static to the calisthenics of dynamic displays is: What resolution for content creation, and what settings for my screen will display it properly?

The easy part is the screen, really, if you can push some buttons enough times, maybe even break down and read the manual, you will find it. (Just practice at your own shop first, on an identical system, so you don’t look silly in front of your client.) As for content, however, you may feel like you’re jumping through hoops to get a handle on this, depending on the application for the content display and delivery. Is it for cellular delivery? Cabled? Wireless? Flash drive? A zone on the screen? HDTV? SD Kiosk?  YouTube? Yep, it can be different for each!

Content Delivery VehiclesFirst, the good news: If you (wisely) use a media house to create and render your content, you shouldn’t have to stress over square vs. rectangular pixels, frame rates, HD vs. SD, and all those other definitions. Now, the not so good news: You need to know this stuff, if you want to guide your clients through the conversation about content so you can order the right thing from your media house!  So, here’s a little bit to get you started. The full blown Guide is available for those seeking their Digital Signage Certified Expert credentials from the Digital Signage Experts Group, if you order through SOSA.

To understand the current standards for HD Video and how it applies to digital signage, we’ll need to take a look at some basic terminology. To create the illusion of motion, video (just as with film movies) consists of a series of images displayed in rapid succession.  Each single image is referred to as a Frame.

The most common frame rates include:

  • 24p – NTSC 24 frames per second in progressive scan format 
  • 25p – PAL 25 frames per second in progressive scan format
  • 30p – 30 frames per second in progressive scan format.  This is the standard video rate for most common applications.
  • 50i – PAL 50 interlaced fields (25 complete frames) per second (see “HD Frame Format” below).  This is the standard video frame rate for PAL television broadcast.
  •  60i – NTSC 60 interlaced fields (30 complete frames) per second.  Technically, it is 59.94 fields, or 29.97 frames, per second.  This is the NTSC standard for all television broadcast, DVD, and consumer camcorder.
  • 50p/60p – 50/60 frames per second in progressive scan format, used in high-end HDTV systems. 
  • 72p – 72 frames per second in progressive format.  This is a more-or-less experimental rate that is finding applications in high-speed video recording, which can then be played back at a lesser rate for ultra clear slow-motion video.  It is also the current maximum rate available for WMV video.

HD Video File Formats:

Okay, here’s where it all comes together for useful applications … like digital signage.  HD Video can be created and stored in many different file formats.  The file format you choose should be based on the hardware and software that will be used to view it.  For example, the digital signage software/hardware system you select may specify compatibility only with certain file formats for video.  Here’s a list of the most common file formats and their most-used applications:

MPEG-2:  Blu Ray Disc, DVD

MP4 (or MPEG-4), also known as H.264/AVC:  Blu Ray Disc, Internet Streaming (YouTube, Vimeo, iTunes, etc.), local computer playback (Mac or Windows), mobile devices

WMV (Windows Media Video):  Windows PC playback, Internet Streaming (although your video may be converted by the host)

MOV (QuickTime):  Local computer playback (Mac or Windows), some DSLR (Canon) and camcorder native recording format

AVI:  Windows computer video (massive storage required for uncompressed files!)

But wait … there’s more to the story.  Next Post: HD resolution and the wonders of MP4! In case this is just not quite fun enough, LobbyPOP provides an excellent Guide for LobbyPOP Pros and Digital Signage Certified Experts. Just sayin…