Hey everybody, we got a new camera for recording blog entries and the like!
Watch the video, then read more of my thoughts on this fascinating subject below.
So, the big deal about this camera is that it captures video in "full" HD at 1080 progressive lines of resolution. But how good is it really? Doesn't a $200 full-HD camera change everything?
My answer is no. We still have our nice (old, but nice) Canon XH-A1 camera, and even though it's not (quite) full HD, I still plan to continue using it for our entertainment video production for the foreseeable future. (Although I can see us using the Bloggie when we need a secondary camera or we need a camera for a very dangerous/risky stunt.)
Don't get me wrong, there are lots of things I like very much about the Bloggie. But it's not suited for too much serious work, and here's why:
» First, if you intend to use a camera in any serious production, it must have some way to feed in an audio source from outside the camera itself. Boom mics, hand-held mics, lapel mics, wireless mics – all these and more are completely off the table if you're using a camera that has no audio input.
» Also, it needs to have a good lens which can zoom quickly and be manually focused. The Bloggie has a good lens, but it doesn't have a great lens. Compared to other blog-oriented cameras, the Bloggie's lens is golden, but compared to our Canon's lens the Bloggie just feels like a toy. The practical effects of this can even be seen in the video above. Auto-focus likes to get distracted and focus on the wrong thing. (*sigh*)
» Sensor quality is another huge factor. The sheer pixel count is important, but it's almost never the main driving force behind the overall quality of the final video. What about color reproduction? Low light sensitivity? Sampling speed? Clearly the Bloggie is doing its best, but the color reproduction is questionable and the slow top-down scanning speed across the sensor leaves considerable artifacts even with minimal motion. Again, this is all designed for a quick video blog entry here and there, so it is performing admirably. However, the Canon is so far out of its league I'm not even sure it's fair to compare.
» Intermediate video storage is another huge consideration when talking about doing serious work with video. The H.264 video that Bloggie produces is a very convenient format for most general use, but I fear trying to edit with it. To be fair, the Canon's HDV storage is probably not much better, but at least it's a "known quantity" in many respects. I've been working with HDV for a few years now, and I know all about its quirks. Not so with H.264, so we'll have to see – in the long run – how it works out.
So there, my thoughts on the Bloggie. It's very nice to have around for blogging, and it could even turn out to be an asset for production in rare cases, but I am being realistic. When it comes time to replace the Canon XH-A1, we're going to have to drop a lot more than $200 on the table.
So after our discussion about how to get HD on the site, I've implemented it here. This blog entry is the first of what I hope to be many videos that we offer in both SD and HD!
The SD video is 360p, which is about par for web video. It is suitable for the iPod and iPhone, and I've even seen it play on a Droid before! (Although that was an egregious hack – I'm still working on good support for Droid and related platforms.)
The HD video is 720p. We're shooting for a bitrate of under 3 megabits/sec, so most decent broadband connections should be able to stream it. It's not full HD, but it is on par with most current web standards for HD video, and it is more than adequate for our purposes. (Also, if we ever sell Blu-Ray disks, I'd like to have a higher quality to offer than what was previously given away.) This HD video should be compatible with the iPad, but I have not yet been able to confirm this.
I'm noticing that the HD video can be substantially more challenging for a computer to play back. If you're having trouble with lurching and jittering, but the video has fully buffered, you might want to upgrade to the latest version of Flash and/or the latest version of your video card drivers. Full screen mode may also help.
If you've tried everything and the video is still not playing smoothly, your computer may not be fast enough to play back the HD version. Please try falling back to the SD version, and we are sorry for any inconvenience.
As far as the user interface for playing videos on the site, we wrestled long and hard with this, and we suspect we've gotten it right:
» The big splash screen at the top of the page, when clicked, will immediately begin playing the SD version. This is more compatible with older computers than the HD video, and it also loads and starts quicker – even on moderately fast internet connections.
» The built-in player is full featured, and can be made fullscreen, etc.. However, it is not very wide, due to constraints on the width of the page layout. This actually prevents us from showing HD-quality video using the built-in player, because the HD video would be squished to fit inside the tiny player. So instead we use the pop-up player.
» The pop-up player we use for HD videos can be placed anywhere on the screen, and it can be resized to whatever size fits best on the user's desktop. It can still be used in fullscreen mode (which is actually recommended for users with slower computers) and it shares all other features with the built-in player.
» For users who do not wish to be bothered with scrolling down and seeing/reading/understanding the big button, the SD video playback should provide a quick, reliable, medium-quality solution for most cases, while still not getting in the way of the quality-conscious user who doesn't mind finding the right button to press.
As I said, I feel like we've done this right, but I would still like feedback. If anybody has any suggestions on how the user experience could be improved, please let us know!