Forget Homeland fast-tracking, will online simulcasts stop Aussie downloaders?
By Adam TURNER
Ten hopes that streaming Homeland on Monday afternoon will satisfy viewers who can't wait until Monday night.
This time last year Network Ten put the first 25 minutes of Homeland's season return online a few days before it screened on Australian television, hoping it would satisfy tech-savvy viewers frustrated at the delay between the US and Australian broadcasts. This year Ten has gone a step further with plans to stream Homeland's season return to Australian audiences on Monday afternoon, running on a 15-minute delay with the live US broadcast on Showtime.
It's an interesting idea, even though most Australians won't be able to watch it on Monday afternoon unless they have a very understanding boss. In theory an Australian online simulcast should eliminate the need for people to download Homeland on BitTorrent, but you can be sure that some still will. Even if Ten screened Homeland the night before it screened in the US, it would still be less painful to wait and watch it on the BitTorrent channel rather suffer at the hands on free-to-air television.
As I explained over at the Sydney Morning Herald today, people don't turn to downloading so they can watch their favourite shows first. They turn to downloading so they can watch their favourite shows intact. Until Ten can actually stick to its advertised schedule, it will never win people back from BitTorrent.
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Getting started in compositing for video
By David HAGUE
One of the things most needed in the gentle art of video making, is the trick of compositing. Now before you run off screaming with arms in the air, compositing is not as scary as it sounds, once you understand the basic concepts.
We have all seen compositing in the wild; when the ‘weather man/girl’ stands in front of the animated Aussie map and points to areas of interest, he/she is of course in fact, nowhere near a map. We all know this, and understand it is a combination of video, blue screens, two cameras and making sure the ‘talent’ doesn’t wear any clothing or makeup that would cause a ‘hole’ in the composited image. ie something also blue.
More complex trickery involves a way of making things transparent, beyond the simple blue screen. In the industry we call this masking. Or creating a matte.
And when it has to move, it is a ‘garbage matte’.
A blue screen is easy to create. Even the most basic video editing software can usually do it. But what if you wanted to isolate say, the Sydney Opera House from a shot and place it in a desert?
Now this is a subject for many tutorials, and indeed, I intend to create them. But sorry dear reader, not here. That is the province of my day job at www.australian-videocamera.com.
But to get you started, let’s look at the most basic of trickery, that of creating a transparent area in a still image using Photoshop.
Consider the following image. We want to remove the ‘white’ around and in the logo text, so we can superimpose this (composite) on top of a video.
Step 1: open the image in Photoshop
Step 2: Save it under a different name to preserve the integrity of the original
Step 3: Create a new layer. Click Layers … New layer.
Step 4: Make sure this NEW layer is the lowest in the list of layers in the Layers palette. If there is only one current layer in the original image, it may appear as ‘Locked’. Double click the ‘Lock’ icon, and it will become layer zero and allow you to drag the new layer to the bottom of the pile. Select this new (lowest) layer.
Step 5: Choose the Magic Wand and click on the areas outside the text to select it. To complete the operation, don’t forget any ‘holes’ in letters such as ‘A’, ‘B’, D’, ‘O’, ‘P’, ‘Q’ ‘R’ and their lower case derivatives.
Step 6: Once you have all the areas to make transparent deleted, press the ‘DEL’ key.
Step 7: Save the file
Step 8: import the file into your editing package. Now here is a trick. Your editing package may NOT ‘see’ the ‘alpha’ channel of the file (the transparent areas). Depending on your package, you may need to force it -- in Sony Vegas for example, you right click the imported image, choose ‘properties’, and turn on the alpha channel option.
You can now use the compositing tools of your package to make whatever you want out of the transparent background of your (or my) logo.
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Missing out on virtual benefits
By Ian GRAYSON
One of the biggest recent trends in enterprise IT has been server virtualisation. But it appears many organisations are not taking advantage of all this technology has to offer.
A key selling point for investing in a virtualised architecture is that it improves flexibility. Rather than tying applications and data to specific physical boxes, they can be shifted as required. The result is improved utilisation of hardware assets and the ability to more easily cope with changes in business demand.
Having this ability also means workloads can be consolidated onto fewer servers, allowing other to be spun down or even turned off. The result here can be significant savings in power consumption.
But it seems that, even when companies have this capability, many are not taking advantage of it. According to chip giant Intel, a large number of companies with virtualised server infrastructures never move workloads around. As a result, average server utilisation rates are still hovering around 50 per cent. Why? No one is really sure.
What is sure, however, is that these organisations are failing to extract full value from their investments in virtualisation technology. Whether its a lack of technical skill or the inability to see the benefits on offer, it's a very strange trend.
Is your organisation getting everything it can from its investments in virtualisation?
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No EPG for Australian Xbox One at launch
By Adam TURNER
For a brief moment Microsoft said "yes", but Australians will need to wait before they can take full advantage of the Xbox One's television features.
This week I'm in Japan for Tokyo Game Show and I had a chance to talk to Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer about his vision for the future of the Xbox One as an all-in-one home entertainment platform. The console features an HDMI pass-through, so you can view the output from your digital set-top box or Personal Video Recorder. Even better, the Kinect attachment also features IR blasters for controlling your other home entertainment gear.
In the US you'll be able to use Kinect to control your television and search for content, because it will have access to the Electronic Program Guide. Spencer was initially confident that Australia would have the same functionality at launch in November, which obviously came as a surprise as we'd initially been left off the list.
Thankfully I didn't run with the story straight away, because I had to head over to Tokyo Game Show for some hands on time with the PlayStation 4. Spencer got back to me later in the day to clarify that Australia will not get EPG access at launch, although the HDMI pass-through will work and you should be able to use basic voice commands such as "Xbox, mute".
Spencer says that I'll need to confirm the EPG details with Microsoft's Australian team closer to the launch date, but the fact that he thought we were on the launch-day list at least gives me hope that we haven't been forgotten. Considering the hassles that Australian EPG services have had in the past, I'm still worried it might be a long wait.
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A7: portent of doom for desktop Macs
By Stephen WITHERS
During last week's announcement of the iPhone 5s, Apple stressed the "64-bit desktop class architecture" of the A7 chip.
I'll leave the question of whether the A7 really is "desktop class" to people who actually know what they're talking about when it comes to chip performance. It seems to me that there has been enough ill-informed commentary, so I won't add to it. If you know of a good analysis of the issue by an authoritative source, please leave a link in the comments.
But taking the claim at face value, it sounds like another hint that Apple is thinking in terms of putting an ARM chip inside a future Mac. After all, if the A7 or its successors really are up to the job, why would Apple persist in spreading its resources across two architectures?
The company has plenty of experience in transitioning from one processor family to another, taking Macintosh from its original 680x0 processors to PowerPC and then x86. So if the Mac does move to ARM I feel confident it would happen smoothly.
But I can't see a two-pronged Mac hardware strategy with one or more MacBook models using ARM chips with the rest of the Mac family remaining on x86. The lack of enthusiasm for Microsoft's Surface RT suggests that's not a winning strategy. It would also mean software developers providing fat binaries of their products with both x86 and ARM code for the foreseeable future.
Furthermore, Apple has been fairly strident about the way mobile devices such as phones and tablets need a different user interface to computers. The company has been known to change its mind, but the reception given to Windows 8 (one UI for desktops/notebooks, tablets and phones) by many PC users suggests Apple is on the right track.
So while I expect Apple to continuing extending features initially delivered in OS X or iOS to the other platform where that makes sense (I never use Launchpad, but I can see why people might), I don't think a full iOS/OS X reunification is on the cards until Apple decides to get out of the desktop market completely.
At that point, the notebook can become a tablet with a physical keyboard and trackpad. We've seen some interesting designs from manufacturers in the Windows camp, and I'd be amazed if Apple isn't cooking up something innovative in a back room.
Then iOS becomes the Apple operating system, and picks up the keyboard and trackpad related functions from OS X. Why put trackpad support into a touch-centric OS? If you use a keyboard, you don't want to keep lifting a hand to the screen.
But be prepared to say goodbye to the 'power user' features such as AppleScript and Automator. If you've never used them, you don't know what you'll be missing. The idea of allowing users to automate their own workflows seems anathema to Apple's iOS side, but see (eg) Scripting in iOS for some reasons why you might want to script a mobile device.
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