Friday, September 18, 2015

The End of Profit

Finally I get to write my own "The End of..." piece, albeit just in my own blog. To not bore anyone with the requisite amount of text appropriate for the title, here's just the executive summary.

The never-ending quest of the business world to increase efficiency means increased commoditization of every product, with which margins become really thin, making it very difficult to turn any profit at smaller scale, which in turn would disincentivise new business formatiuon, which will depresses the economy and wages. Where did I make an error here?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Amazon Fire TV 4K is Alright, Not Mind-Blowing

Amazon has pulled ahead from Google by releasing the 4K-capable version of the Fire TV mini-STB. Google's Chromecast does not yet have a 4K game. Until recently it was only $200 Nvidia Shield console ($225 with the remote you want) that supported 4K.

So the question for 4K folks is: Amazon Fire TV or Nvidia Shield? Or, even, why bother with dongles and set-top boxes instead of just using Smart TV capabilities of your 4K TV set?

(Again, I am not a gamer, I am interested in high-quality media streaming, so my take on this reflects only media part of the equation.)

Here's the things: YouTube, as of now, holds advantage of the 4K content available. In order to play YouTube 4K content, your system needs to have hardware support of VP9 codec - 4K format used by YouTube. No all 4K TV sets support it. For example, Vizio, which combines excellent features with affordability, can't play YouTube at 4K - a major drawback, IMO. However, a TV set that does run YouTube at 4K with comparable feature set, will cost you about $800 more. Now, to me this $800 gap for just a couple of features I miss, main of which is 4K YouTube, is the space where 4K STBs come in.

Until today, just about the only 4K STB game in town was Nvidia Shield console. But with today's announcement of Amazon Fire TV, we've got competition. And to me decision for which one to get comes down to this:
FeaturesNvidia ShieldAmazon New Fire Tv
4K Frame Rate60fps30fps
YouTube 4K SupportYes?? No

Yep, from its specs, it's unclear whether new Fire TV supports VP9 YouTube codec. Until I can confirm it's a "yes", for me Fire TV is not a contender. If the answer is yes, then I can imagine trading extra 30fps of Shield for a $100 discount.
According to, YouTube 4K content cannot be watched due to lack of VP9 codec support by the new Fire TV. So I $100 price tag seems too high for this device.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Entering 4K Video World: Hardware Upgrades and Process Changes

4K video resolution is arriving - not really slowly, but in a somewhat weird way: 4K content is sparse, while consumer-grade hardware to produce and consume 4K content is getting affordable, from GoPro 4 Black and Sony FDR-AX33 camcorders costing under a $1000, to plenty of sub-$1,000 4K TV sets. This price point is a sweet spot where a video geek can get the hardware and not be overrun with guilt that must ruin the psyche of a real early adopter.

Watching raw 4K footage on a 4K TV is not something I can deal with - video has to be edited first, and in the 4K video case, it means your computer will have to move and process a whole lot more data. Which in turn means upgrades, and no matter how exciting it is for you and me, it means keeping costs down to make this all bearable for our dear sane family members.

Start with a monitor: your HD computer monitor will need to be upgraded to see the glory of 4K. I got Acer S277HK. It's not perfect: backlight is bleeding over at the corners pretty badly, but it's 4K, it's IPS, it has HDMI 2.0 in addition to the DisplayPort so it can be connected not only to a computer in a pinch, it has built-in speakers so I don' have to waste desk space for speakers, and it's not ridiculously expensive. I am very happy with it, running on Windows 10. Everything look massively more gorgeous on it than on a regular HD monitor.

To drive the 4K monitor, I got the least expensive video card I could find for the purpose, which is just about any GeForce 750Ti - it won't handle 4K gaming, but should be plenty for 4K video editing. I got the EVGA, which worked out quite nicely. It also has a fairy quite fan, and I really like when my system is quiet. GeForce 750 (non-Ti) might have worked, but based on reviews it looked iffy, so I went with the Ti, which seems to be very much up to the task.

Now, here's something I didn't experience in a while: after copying 100 Mbit/s 4K footage shot on Sony FDR-AX33 from an SD card on to the 2TB spindle SATA drive, I found that playing back 4K 100Mbit video from the spindle is all jittery as heck. I felt it is 90's all over again. Now, how do you fight this? The largest 4K clip I have is about 46 Gig and I definitely will have lots of these in the future. A reasonably priced large-capacity SSD that would provide adequate performance still costs about $250 on sale. At only 0.9 TB, it won't take very long to fill it up with 4K clips. So I got an idea: replace the spindle drive with the SSD, and to save the space, get Amazon Cloud Drive Unlimited. At $60 a year, and assuming the price will go down in the future, unlimited cloud storage looks very attractive for anyone planning to edit 4K videos. As an Amazon Prime user, I have been relying on complimentary Amazon Cloud to backup my pictures for a while. Using Amazon Cloud Drive by itself is not a particularly polished experience: one has to use awkward Amazon Cloud Client to upload files, which is a far cry from, say, DropBox quiet syncing. So although in theory Amazon Cloud Drive Unlimited seemed like a good option, I still wasn't sure how the whole workflow would look like, until I discovered the Odrive - the syncing client Amazon Cloud Drive sorely misses.

ODrive is the secret sauce that made this whole thing come together. Now all pieces were falling into places: upload all your raw footage to the Amazon Cloud Drive Unlimited and using Odrive, unsync folders with massive raw 4K footage to save the space on the SSD. When editing video, sync only folder(s) that hold 4K footage you are working with. Once done, unsync to free space. Rinse and repeat. This way your large-capacity SSD drive will hold only your pictures and the minimum number of big 4K video clips. That can easily be managed with probably even a 512GB SSD.

Now if initial syncing of the 4k raw footage up to the Amazon Cloud Drive won't run into the ridiculous and dreaded 300GB data cap of the blood-sucking Comcast (Update: oh yeah, I did - see update below), I should be all set for editing my 4K videos on a budget, using VideoStudio X8 Pro, and not having nervous breakdowns due to fears of running out of disk space or slow hard drive performance.

Finally, once I finish editing a few 4K videos, I will stop memorizing the content of the awesome and get an actual 4K TV to enjoy the fruits of my labors.

Update: ODrive Windows client crashes fairly regularly. If it crashes in the middle of uploading a large file, it starts over. It crashed several times trying (and never succeeding) to upload my 46GB 1hr+/100Mbit/s 4K clip, which took my Comcast data usage to 670GB, while I never reached the 300GB cap before. Comcast forgives first three months of overages under the "courtesy months" policy. I'll is that's the case when the bill shows up.