Daily Inspiration, June 22nd, 2012

In honor of my blog’s first birthday I’m going to go ‘retro’ and revive what was supposed to be a main stay of this blog, the Daily Inspiration.  Apparently I don’t find nearly as many things inspirational as I thought I would.  Live and learn.

A few months ago, thanks to Pandora, I discovered a very unique band called the Romanovs that I’d like to share with everyone.  To the best of my knowledge, and disappointment, they disbanded after only putting out a single album but what a fantastic album it is.

Their album “…and the Moon Was Hungry…” is available from download on Amazon.

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One Year Later

Well, it’s been a year and I’m still posting.  There have been some dry spells here and there and some of my early blogging ideas didn’t pan out but I’m still plugging away.

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Return of the Pizza Box?

The recent, um, ‘upgrade’ to the Mac Pro followed by the unconfirmed leak (which was later confirmed) about real upgrades possibly coming to the Mac Pro next year got me thinking again about what a totally redesigned Mac Pro could look like.

My theory is that the next gen Mac Pros could resemble the Mac Mini but larger to accommodate multiple hard drives, more RAM, dual CPUs and allow for proper air flow so the machine doesn’t cook itself (kinda like the old ‘pizza box’ form factor but not quite as big).  It will have Ethernet, Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, HDMI, an optional optical drive and maybe eSATA (possibly FW800).  The big shift will be the lack of PCIe slots and the addition of an integrated GPU.

The Thunderbolt ports (4-6 of them) will provide for expansion, everything from external GPUs to fibre, since the machine won’t have PCIe slots anymore.  The big problem with my theory right now though is that Thunderbolt is only 1/4 as fast as PCIe.  This is just the first iteration of Thunderbolt and it will get significantly faster in the future but that timetable isn’t public info.  It’s fast enough for a lot of things but it will certainly bottle neck an external GPU.

If Thunderbolt was faster right now I think my new Apple pizza box could arrive next year, but with Thunderbolt being so much slower than PCIe (and so many apps including FCPX leveraging the power of the GPU) I don’t see Apple introducing a revamped Mac Pro line with this kind of bottle neck.  Maybe they’ll kill all the PCIe slots except one for the GPU.  Who knows?  I’m sure over the next 12-18 months there will be plenty of rumors keeping people speculating and guessing.

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Change coming for Hulu and Apple?

Not exactly late breaking news but still interesting none the less.

According to this article Hulu is moving to an ‘authentication’ model where content would be tied to having a cable subscription (like HBO GO is today).  That seems like it could be the beginning of the end for Hulu if true.  The appeal of Hulu is that it is an alternative to cable, not something that requires cable.

While Hulu seems to be taking a step backward Apple appears to be taking one forward.  Apple is rumored to be looking at ePix.  I mentioned in a previous post that content is king in the distribution world and it looks like Apple is going after some.

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Microsoft’s SmartGlass

Microsoft’s SmartGlass gets official: app brings AirPlay-esque streams to Android, iOS and Windows Phone

In a nutshell Microsoft’s SmartGlass app is what Apple’s AirPlay could be if Apple played well with others.  MS making SmartGlass available on all mobile devices (wait, no WebOS love?) is huge and a sign that MS is realistic enough to know that it needs to look beyond itself in order to succeed.  If SmartGlass only worked with Windows products it would be a bigger flop than Zune.

I’m not sure how well of a game play companion SmartGlass is going to be, but it’s the home media applications (coupled with MS’s new content announcements) that has my attention.

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Minecraft and alternate distribution methods

The simply addictive game Minecraft is another example of successful ‘open’ development where the creators are working with their audience from an early stage of the dev cycle as opposed to only presenting a finished product at the end.

How ‘Minecraft’ became an Xbox blockbuster

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Apple and their ‘TV hobby’

Recently at the D:  All Things Digital conference Time Cook, when asked about the various Apple TV rumors, said that TV is “an area of intense interest for [Apple].” In the past Steve Jobs referred to Apple TV as a hobby and ever since then Apple fans have been waiting to see when, or if, it would graduate from hobby status to center stage along side the iPad and iPhone (though I doubt there is anything Apple TV could do to steal the limelight from the those two).

I think the TV market right now is a very tough nut to crack (both from consumer electronics and content distribution stand points).  On the hardware side you have a number of device makers that make it very easy to stream Internet-based content to your TV set.  Besides the Apple TV set top box you also have similar devices from Boxxee, Roku, Western Digital, Seagate, inexpensive Internet-ready Blu-ray players, Internet-ready TVs and video game consoles (Sony, Microsoft and to a lesser extent Nintendo have added powerful home media capabilities to this generation of consoles).

Another hurdle on the hardware front is that a TV is a large purchase that is typically made infrequently.  I know Apple makes some great devices but I doubt the trend they started with the iPod (getting a large amount of people to upgrade every year or two) is going to fly when it comes to large, expensive TV sets.  Especially now that the HDTV set market is mature (no more analog vs digital issues, etc.,) and the TV set makers have pumped in so may features that TVs are nearly all-in-one home theater PCs.

On the distribution side (which is changing as fast as the hardware) the situation doesn’t look much better.  The key to success, IMO, is content and I’m not sure how Apple is going to secure enough exclusive content to warrant purchasing their device instead of a competitors that basically has all the same features (and more if you are talking about a Blu-ray player or video came console).  If you are HBO or the NHL or Netflix you don’t really care what devices people use to watch your content as long as people are watching your content.  I think that makes it harder, or at least more expensive, for Apple to leverage content deals.

Even though this post sounds pretty sour on Apple’s chances I wouldn’t put anything past them.  iTunes was the killer feature that helped move iPods in record numbers.  Apple’s App Store & iOS dev community helps keep the iPhone at the front of the smart phone pack.  What is going to be the killer content feature that separates Apple TV from the rest of the pack and launches it from hobby status to center stage?

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If you want ‘new media’ success it helps to already be popular

I recently read an interesting blog post by John Scalzi called “Amanda Palmer, Kickstarter, and Everything” talking about Amanda Palmer (solo artist, formerly of The Dresden Dolls) and her ridicoulosly successful Kickstarter campaign.  She asked for 100k and could very well hit a $900k before it’s over (I promise the rest of this won’t be so link heavy).  It reminded me of Louis C.K. making a million bucks self-distributing his most recent comedy special online which reminded me of NIN’s Creative Commons release of Ghosts.

On one hand someone could look at this and go “Holy cow, it’s so easy for artists these days! Screw the labels/studios/networks/old media dinosaurs!” but they’d be totally off base.  Its not raining money.  Its not super easy.  And it’s disingenuous to trot out the tired, old ‘media sux/new media rox’ routine.

All of these artists spent years, decades even, cultivating massive fan bases.  They also spent years earning large sums of money via ‘old media’ which enables them to take these chances.  Louis C. K. spent $250,000 up front to produce and distribute his comedy special.  How many people have the means to do that?  Trent Reznor probably doesn’t need to earn another dollar ever to live comfortably and Amanda Palmer apparently has enough money to pay out of pocket to record her latest album (at least that’s my take since the Kickstarter campaign is just for promotion and distribution).

They are successfully sticking their toes in new waters, which I think is great, but we can’t look at that success in a vacuum.  That’s not only a disservice to the blood, sweat and tears these people have shed to get to where they are today, but it also gives an inaccurate idea of how well these new business models work.  I’m not saying that things like Kickstarter and online self-distribution aren’t shaking things up and providing opportunities that weren’t there in the past, because they certainly are, but they aren’t the magic keys to success that some people make them out to be.  You can’t just offer a digital download or fire up a Kickstarter campaign and expect the world to beat a path to your door.  Sure, it’s easier now to self-distribute than ever before but it’s not just easier for you it’s easier for everyone.  Something like 60hrs of new content is uploaded onto YouTube every minute.  That’s insane.

‘Back in the day’ the high cost of production was the primary barrier of entry.  But if you could manage to get a record or movie produced odds are you’d be able to sell it.  These days the cost of production has come down so much that there is a an over abundance of media so you have a harder time getting noticed and a harder time selling it.  I often wonder if we’ve just traded one barrier for another without really changing the difficulty of ‘making it’ in this business.


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Medium is changing… content? Not so much.

I’ve gotten into a number of discussions recently about how broadcast and cable TV is dieing, that there is a new wave of Internet-centric content that will wash away the ‘old media’ and a new generation of kids will grow up that never experienced waiting for their favorite show to air once a day at a specific time and on a specific channel.  I pretty much agree with all of it except I don’t think b’cast and cable are going to shrivel up and blow away anytime in the near future.  Expanding into new models doesn’t necessarily mean the imminent death of the old model.

I also see many people taking the position that the success of traditional TV content is tied to the success traditional TV distribution. So as broadcast/cable viewership declines so will the desire to watch the content that broadcast & cable typically carry.  I don’t buy that at all.  For example, the success of Netflix and Hulu are based squarely on people desiring the same content but delivered in a different fashion.  That’s a problem for the content distributors but it’s not a problem for content creators.

Netflix, Hulu and YouTube are already creating original content (‘broadcast quality’ content for lack of a better term) because that’s they only way they’ll be able to compete and survive in the future.  As an editor, a person that works in content creation, this is great news for me because it means more job opportunities.   If I was a traditional content distributor though, I’d be worried about what the future is going to look like.

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FCP 7 Media Manager and custom sequence settings

Although FCP’s Media Manager function was pretty dicey in the past (it was commonly called the “Media Mangler”) it achieved ‘reliable’ status by the time FCP 7 came out.  It does still have some limitations though.  For one, you can’t change frame rates.  Not sure why but you just can’t.  Another thing is that if you are transcoding the footage you are limited to using a list sourced from FCP’s sequence presets.  Normally this is fine because all the typical codecs you work with are there in a variety of permutations.  From DV to Uncompressed to DVCPro HD to ProRes (of course).

But what if you want to transcode  into something that isn’t on the list?  Something like Avid’s DNxHD?  Hmmm.  The solution is actually pretty simple.

All you have to do is go into the FCP  drop down menu, select Audio/Video settings, click on the Sequence Presets tab and make a new preset with whatever settings you want (keep in mind the frame rate limitation still applies).  Then go into the Media Manager and your custom preset will appear in the drop down menu for recompressing options.


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