Malex tries to order a video camera and becomes embroiled… in madness! Give it a listen and let us know what you think.
It’s kinda blowing my mind, but I’m actually beginning to write these Malex Minute episodes earlier and earlier. As in, not at the very screaming last minute. In fact, the wheels of the entire production are beginning to turn faster and more smoothly.
Almost as if we knew what we were doing…
I’m terribly embarrassed to admit how many things from this week’s episode are based on reality. The one thing I’ll verify in public is that the Malex Media Network™ has indeed purchased some studio-grade, professional AV equipment.
The first thing we purchased is a Canon XH-A1 HDV camera. It’s capable of 1080 rows of horizontal resolution and 1920 columns of vertical resolution. I estimate that, when compared to our old wide-screen SD projects, this new camera is capable of capturing over 14 times the information.
As for other features, it’s capable of a wide variety of frame rate and interlacing options, it has a professional-grade lens assembly, it’s got 3 CCD sensors for astonishing color reproduction, and it has two XLR inputs just for us pro audio buffs!
Speaking of XLR inputs, we sprang for a nice little super cardioid shotgun mic and a boompole to mount it. See, one of the things about amateur and ‘prosumer’ video projects is that the audio is pretty universally neglected. In fact, bad audio is practically the distinguishing factor between an amateur-feeling production and a production which could pass as professional. And as an audio freak, it grates on me to no end.
So, needless to say, we’ve got some powerful new toys to play with, and you may rest assured: we will be playing.
Have a good week! ttyl
“Look, I’m tired of arguing about it. If the cat wants the mayonnaise, that’s fine. I don’t even care anymore. But you tell him, if he wants that mayonnaise he’s going to have to fly upstate and come get it himself!”
Snufflefungus: Welcome to the Malex Minute everybody! Me and piggy are hosting the show today!
Linus: I am too you know.
Snufflefungus: Of course! This is my friend Linus! The less famous and less well-loved of us, but he’s not all bad once you get to know him!
Linus: But… Snuffy, aren’t we best friends?
Snufflefungus: Oh yeah! I forgot.
Linus: Ladies and Gents, Malex has been on the phone for seven hours now.
Snufflefungus: On hold!
Linus: His face is ashen, and he hasn’t responded to external stimuli for about an hour.
Snufflefungus: We’re not sure if we should qualify that sort of sound as a response or not.
Linus: I don’t think so, it seems too random.
Snufflefungus: See, Malex has been trying to buy a professional, studio-grade video camera for the past week!
Linus: Yes, we’re tired of having to rely on the terrible standard-definition stuff you find at electronics retailers for $200, and at thrift stores for $5.
Snufflefungus: Yeah, I wanna tape my shows!
Linus: Snuffy, you don’t tape shows with a camera, you tape them with a VCR or a DVD recorder!
Snufflefungus: Not at the theater you don’t!
~~ Malex is taken off-hold, and the phone is answered.
Johnny John Johnson: Thank You for Calling Trustworthy Camera Supplies: Your Trusted Source for Trusty Cameras and Every Other Expensive Thing. Trust us! Trusting Customers Say We’re Trustworthy!
Malex: Yes! Hello! I’ve been trying to reach a person at your company for the last day.
Johnny John Johnson: Well this just might be your lucky day! Here I am!
Malex: Yeah. That’s not arrogant or rude at all.
Johnny John Johnson: Thanks! So what can’t we do for you today?
Malex: Well, I saw that you have the best price listed for the Canon XH-A1 professional video camera, so I tried to place an order online.
Johnny John Johnson: Yeah, okay, I totally understand that…
Malex: Right, $1,000 for a $4,000 camera is quite a deal. So when I placed the order, it gave me a total that didn’t include shipping. I expected the shipping to be added later in the checkout process, so I gave it my credit card number.
Johnny John Johnson: Yup, yup. You did the right thing sir.
Malex: I’m so glad to hear you say that. So anyway, after I put in my credit card number, it asked if I wanted to ship the camera to my house, or if I wanted to pick it up in Antarctica.
Johnny John Johnson: And?
Malex: Well, I want it shipped of course.
Johnny John Johnson: Okay, yup. That makes tons of sense.
Malex: I should hope so. Anyway, after that, it informed me that the shipping would be $675 to any state except Ohioville, which just happens to be the state that I live in.
Johnny John Johnson: Oh yeah, our carrier has some bizarre special exception for Ohioville. I don’t know why.
Malex: Right, so it claimed that shipping to Ohioville would be $1,075.
Johnny John Johnson: Too bad, I know.
Malex: Then it asked me if I wanted a battery for the camera.
Johnny John Johnson: Completely optional, of course.
Malex: For $400.
Johnny John Johnson: Those batteries, so expensive!
Malex: It further claimed that no battery comes with the camera. Which goes completely contrary to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Johnny John Johnson: Well, we have a special arrangement.
Malex: And the specifications listed on your own site.
Johnny John Johnson: Well, see, the specifications on our site are after all the optional upgrades.
Malex: Right, of course.
Johnny John Johnson: I’m glad you understand, sir.
Malex: So then, after I declined to add a battery to my order, it asked if I wanted the manual.
Johnny John Johnson: Yes?
Malex: For $123.95.
Johnny John Johnson: Yes.
Malex: I declined.
Johnny John Johnson: Whatever you say, sir.
Malex: Then it asked if I wanted the power cord for $560. I declined that as well.
Johnny John Johnson: Sir, I must interrupt. I’m a very busy man. You have the option to accept or decline all the optional upgrades. What do you need from me?
Malex: Well, see, after I declined all of those things, it asked if I wanted the camera.
Johnny John Johnson: Yes?
Malex: For an additional $8,965.
Johnny John Johnson: Another optional upgrade. I’m sure you understand. So what do you need from me?
Malex: Well, since I declined that option too, I’m just very curious to know what I just paid $2,075 for?
Johnny John Johnson: An empty cardboard box with a very pretty Canon logo on it, sir.
Malex: So, my entire two-thousand dollar order consists of an empty box?
Johnny John Johnson: With a pretty logo, yes sir.
Malex: Well, I’m sure you’re a very busy man, so I won’t take up too much more of your time. I just wanted to ask if you’d do me a favor.
Johnny John Johnson: What’s that sir?
Malex: Take that order…
Johnny John Johnson: Yes?
Malex: …and you cancel it! (Screams.)
Johnny John Johnson: Sure thing, sir. Whatever you want. Oh, and I just thought you should know…
Johnny John Johnson: Well, I remember you from the pager incident. (From way back in Malex Minute 015. ——Alex)
Malex: What?! (Shaky voice.) Is this…
Johnny John Johnson: Johnny John Johnson, sir. And I must say, I expected you to attempt something like this.
Malex: I– I mean– I didn’t–
Johnny John Johnson: So I took the liberty of calling the Big Men With Clubs and hiring another batch of them to come beat you up and take your soul.
Malex: But I–
Johnny John Johnson: And I hope you don’t mind, but I used your credit card to pay for it.
Malex: (Still shaky voice.) Now, you see here–
Johnny John Johnson: I must inform you, they were quite excited by the prospect of getting another chance to take revenge on you. They still haven’t forgotten the sacrifices of their fallen comrades – the Big Men With Clubs previously sent to take blunt revenge out on you.
Malex: You’re a monster!
Johnny John Johnson: Thank you, sir.
Malex: I’m going to hang up now.
Johnny John Johnson: One last thing, sir.
Malex: What’s that?
Johnny John Johnson: I routed this call through every single third-world country before picking it up. It’s costing you something in the neighborhood of five-hundred million dollars a minute.
~~ Malex hangs up.
Linus: Look! The dead awakes!
Snufflefungus: What was that all about, Malex?
Malex: I had to cancel that camera order. That place is too shady to do business with.
Snufflefungus: Oh, that’s too bad.
Linus: You want me to place an order with a more reputable retailer which might cost more at first glance, but will be better value in the long run?
Malex: Sure, here’s my credit card.
Linus: I won’t be a moment.
Snufflefungus: Malex, why do you seem so sad?
Malex: No reason, Snuffy. We just might have to leave the country again.
Snufflefungus: Oh. (Disappointed.)
Malex: Or the planet.
Snufflefungus: Oh… (More disappointed.)
Linus: Malex? They’re saying that your credit card was declined.
Malex: What?! That card has a credit limit of $11,000 dollars!
Linus: Your bank said it had something to do with a nine-thousand dollar payment to the Association of Big Men and Clubbing Guild. Any idea what that’s all about?
Snufflefungus: Yeah, what’s that all about?
Malex: Ladies and Gentlemen, looks like that’s about all we have time for today. Hope you enjoyed yourself and will join us again next week for another Malex Minute!
Observant readers may wish to call me out on the seemingly impossible quality improvement estimation from Malex’s Thoughts in this week’s Malex Minute episode. So, I present my logic here:
First, we establish that a full 1080-line HD wide-screen (16:9) image captured at 30F or 24F (progressive) will be 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels tall. For a total of 2,073,600 pixels.
That was simple enough. But from here comparison becomes difficult, because (for the purposes of this comparison) SD images are based on the analog NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) standard, which has no direct digital equivalent.
A regular NTSC signal has 525 scanlines between frames. Each of these scanlines may have as many ‘pixels’ of vertical information as you have bandwidth to transmit. Most of these scanlines are actually invisible, as they occur outside the television’s normal scan range, and they are often used to encode other information. (Such as closed captions.) To further confuse the situation, NTSC (Never Twice the Same Color) signals are usually interlaced at a rate of 60 half-frames per second. (Each interlaced frame contains information from two different moments in time, encoded as half-frames which are ‘interlaced’ together by alternating lines.) Note: If this sounds confusing, there are two possible reasons: 1) I don’t understand it, so my explanation is flawed. 2) It’s confusing as all screamin’ reality.
There may have been a reason for all of this at one time, but nobody has been able to sufficiently explain that part to me.
Anyway, so the practical upshot of all this is that, if you want to pull out a single moment of time, you have to discard half of the lines in your original image.
Now, we enter the digital realm. Standard definition digital video, such as the video you’ll find on a DVD or in a DV stream, appears to pretty universally be 720 pixels wide and 480 pixels tall. (Remember how a number of the 525 scanlines in NTSC occur outside the television’s scan range? That’s one reason why there are only 480 lines in standard-definition digital video.)
Usually, that image is then compressed in the horizontal dimension to achieve a 4:3 ‘full-screen’ image. Unless you’re talking about a wide-screen DVD. Then the horizontal dimension is stretched slightly to achieve a 16:9 wide-screen image. That wide-screen image may then be displayed on a wide-screen monitor without any modifications, or displayed on an old television with the addition of black bars at the top and bottom.
Does that all still seem reasonable? It’s about to get even more convoluted.
Enter the really crappy consumer digital camcorders from the past 15 years. Some of these came with a ‘wide-screen’ shooting mode, which would result in exactly what you would expect from the output. Specifically, wide-screen video squeezed into a 720x480 pixel format.
The only problem with this? The camera’s sensor is the wrong physical shape! It can’t capture wide-screen video natively, so it chops off the top and bottom of the image. The result of which is that instead of using the 480 lines of resolution it’s able to natively capture, we’re only getting closer to 405 lines. (Or 360, depending on how you calculate it.) Then the camera silently and awkwardly scales that information up to fit the 480 line output requirement. (The reason it’s impossible to be sure how many lines of resolution it’s actually capturing is because this horrible scaling operation occurs inside the black box of how the camera operates. The details are completely hidden from view.)
Now, if you thought 405 lines of resolution was bad enough, you’ve got a surprise coming.
These consumer-quality SD camcorders force you to record interlaced video. You have no choice. Thus, if you want a single frame (which, if you’ll recall, is what we’re comparing) you’ve gotta discard exactly half of the lines you get from the camera.
So when you’re in wide-screen mode, each moment in time is only represented by approximately 202.5 lines of resolution.
You couldn’t even print that on a postage stamp without obvious image quality problems! Nevertheless, that image is regularly scaled up to a 30-inch television screen. Ick.
So when you follow that logic to its bitter, bitter conclusion, each moment in time is represented by an image whose total density is 720x202.5 pixels, which is a grand total of 145,800 pixels.
145,800 pixels compared to 2,073,600 pixels. That’s 14.22 times more information.
So there you have how I came up with that number. And you have a rant.
Hope it makes some sense.
Producer and Director: Alex Markley
Writers: Alex Markley and Gabriel Markley
Voices: Markley Brothers
Post-processing director: Gabriel Markley
Illustration: Peter Markley
Release manager: Peter Markley
Recording assistance: Leela
Thanks to everyone for their help and support.