Tag Archives: budget

Evolution of the Playlist

I grew up on cable and as a child of the 1980’s I amazed my mother with how I could tell time just based on what show was coming on next. There was predictability and an order to things by which you could tell time. Who needed a watch?  Our playlist (though we did not call it that at the time) was devised based on the day of the week and hour of the clock.  We showed up to our playlist then.  Experimentation occurred in the off-season; an uncomfortable period of time when our playlist favorites went on sabbatical until the Autumn and we needed to find a new routine, something new to show up to; something new to depend on to be there.  It was a bit of a gamble that our timeframe would be filled with something equally entertaining, albeit a little different. Usually the off-season playlist garnered one or two shows that were added to regular Autumn viewing.

As a college student of the late 1990’s and new millennium my friends and I put our powers of prior proper planning to use in devising an intricate table of recording and watching on key nights when there was just too much on to watch at once.  Recording devices, in their infancy during the 1980’s, were now common place and a cost effective alternative for the average consumer to take some control over their playlist. There was a pecking order of priority of what got watched in real time broadcast and what got recorded for later viewing.  Sometimes we had two VCR’s going at once.  Programming was different then.  There was comedy and drama, VH1 Behind the Music and Trading Spaces on TLC.  There was genre variety and all you had to do was channel surf to find something entertaining or at least interesting to watch.  It was media for the masses.  Something for everyone.  Sports, music, drama, comedy and life style.

Somewhere in the mid 2000s the programming format shifted and variety seemed harder to come by.  As the playlist I relied on fell apart I began looking for alternatives in entertainment, education and general media consumption.  I have always been a basic service kind of gal, so in the interest of full disclosure this post is written from the experience of a budget conscious consumer.  Premium channels and multiple DVR’s do not enter the equation.

Like most, programming is the great escape from the reality of the day.  My escape was in the story and still is.  As series like Friends, ER, Judging Amy, Gilmore Girls and Will & Grace came to an end, more reality tv shows and game shows took their place.  Competition.  The situational comedies and dramas that those of us grew up on could no longer compete.  Competition it’s self was now programming and it was a competitive race to the top for the number one show.  Over the years it seems most of the game shows petered out and made room for large talent shows.  I did watch the first few seasons of American Idol and a few episodes of Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.  It was entertaining for a change, but these competitions could not replace the excitement of watching the latest “chapter” in situational programming.  I found some great dramas in Grey’s Anatomy, Parenthood, Numbers and Medium.  I turned to Food Network and TLC for some lighter entertainment but found that, even there, competition and drama were in the forefront.  Cooking was not as relaxing as I thought it would be when waiting for someone to get “Chopped” at 9:30pm. There was little out there in light-hearted programming.

When I began to realize that what I watched stressed me out more than the day I was escaping from I began to ask myself, “Why?” The answer had to do with the content and timing.  Dramatic acting is very good.  The story, characters and performance suck you in to the moral and physical drama of medicine and law or the overall challenges of interpersonal relationships.  It transports you to the reality of that situation without getting bogged down in the mundane details of reality TV.

I decided dramatic TV was a bad idea right before bed.  Even cooking, tattoos and  dogs were eventually thrown off the nighttime playlist.  Seriously.  Even the lighter fare programming was laced with personal drama or competition.  The writing strung you along through the commercials, and left predictable cliff-hangers to the next episode, much like a daytime soap opera.  When those shows became more about the drama and competition they stopped being fun and informative.

After taking a break from watching programming all together I began to think about my playlist.  Actually I thought about two of them; the playlist I abandoned and the playlist I wanted.  The playlist I abandoned was one I created from narrowing options provided to me via my content delivery system.  Even more narrow was the window of time through which I had to consume that content.  If I was willing and able to pay more money I would have opportunity for programming variety as well as recording and playback methods.  The ability to acquire more content and playback options was an economic moving target.  I began to consider the playlist I wanted and by what means I could really have it on a basic service budget.

With YouTube and other online video forums well established for the distribution of amateur to semi-pro content, mainstream media began dipping its pinky toe into online distribution of its content via Hulu, Fancast, Netflix and custom platforms.  I decided it was time to give it a try as a consumer.  I found Hulu offered the best variety of TV shows in a great delivery platform. While episodes often had an expiration date I usually had a week or more to consume the content via my computer or smartphone.  I can browse available programs, favorite them and receive updates when new episodes are available.  I love my delete button and have used it when something is not engaging. I am more inclined to try a new program because it does not compete with one I am committed to. I usually have access to at least the full current season so I can catch up.

Aside from Hulu+ I have three other subscriptions.  My subscription to Lynda.com is invaluable when learning new software for work or simply to satisfy my inner nerd.  Youtube offers some great free programming.  I can’t learn crochet by diagrams in a book but I found some great videos.  They are not fancy, or even pretty but they give me what I need.  No frills repetition of a basic technique that I can compare my efforts to and know that I am getting the hang of something new.  I use Apple iTunes for movie rentals.  They have the best selection I have seen with a great playback platform.

I mastered my media on a budget.  Aside from a standard internet subscription I probably pay about $450 annually in online content fees.  The economic savings comes at another price.  The fact that I have multiple subscriptions to get the variety I crave is a little ridiculous not to mention the management of it: multiple logins, multiple bills.

While I am currently pleased with my playlists and the means by which I access them, content and distribution is forever changing.  There is a price for everything and while I am not unwilling to pay there is a limit.  If the price for my current methods of content consumption becomes too great compared to their rewards, I may be on the hunt again.  That is the non-monetary price of choice; the time and energy of evaluating what you are getting from any given option and looking for something better – there is no forever and there is no perfect.

What does your playlist evolution look like?

Copyright 2013 Digital Design Digest

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Filed under Media Content

Digital Marketing on a Budget

Do not let a tight budget keep you from rolling out a digital marketing plan.  In the digital information age and a lousy economy constant, consistent communication is key.  You don’t need the best gear to accomplish this.  You can do more than you think with consumer level gear.  Technique and planning is what matters most.

Check out this video on basic photo editing with iPhoto.  As described, the photo was taken with a point and shoot camera on macro setting.  Care was taken to make sure there was sufficient lighting, though not at any great expense.  The background used was a basic white poster board and white paper.

A good practice to get into is to photograph everything on the highest quality setting your camera will allow.  It is easier to scale down a large image for web and video than to try to scale up a lower quality image for print.  It also gives you more flexibility in cropping an image and still maintain print quality size.

Mastering your marketing media on a budget is all about keeping your options open.  With that in mind I leave you with one last piece of advice: do not edit your original photo.  Make a backup and edit the copy.  That way you can go back to the original and repurpose it more easily.

Copyright 2013 Digital Design Digest


Filed under Photography, Project Planning

How to Buy a Video Camera

This is a question I get frequently from new and seasoned camera owners.  Technology changes so quickly it is easy to assume the rules for buying a camera change too.  When buying any technology it is always a good idea to do a little research on the latest trends to see what is out there and their price ranges.  But before you invest too much time pouring over technical specifications of a potential purchase, spend a little time listing your specifications.  In other words, what do you want this new camera to do for you?

Your list should include everything and the kitchen sink.  It does not cost you anything to simply put it all on paper.  As you list your needs and price range you will begin to prioritize your specifications.  A good camera will last you at least 5 years or more so invest wisely and look at the features you may want tomorrow, not just what you know you need today.

Media Storage

The days of capturing video to tape is obsolete.  You will be hard pressed to find a tape based camera on the market and the only reason to buy one on the cheap is for the ability to backup archived footage to a hard drive. SD cards are the current future of video cameras.  So as you surf the offerings out there look at each camera’s storage type and capacity.

How much footage do you plan to capture before transferring it to an external drive?  The Sony Bloggie is a nice pocket size camera that takes good quality video and photos.  But with only 8GB of space you will need to offload it to a hard drive frequently in order to make room for your next production. If you are going on an extended trip or do not plan to transfer footage to external drives frequently, consider upgrading to a camera with a larger storage capacity.  For less than $300 you can get a small palm sized camera that can support a whopping 60GB or more of storage. With that kind of storage you can shoot everything in sight and edit the best later!

Battery Life

This actually goes hand in hand with video storage.  Some of the smaller blogging cameras have small batteries that need frequent recharging. If you are the occasional videographer or shoot more close to home where you can recharge regularly this may not be a major concern.  If you travel a lot or your occasional shoots last several hours then you want to look at a camera that is supplied with batteries that last more than 2 hours or invest in a few spare batteries.

SD, HD or Both?

Standard definition (4:3 aspect ratio) is still alive and kicking and a more efficient standard in terms of hard drive space and processing power when editing.  HiDef video(16:9 aspect ratio) produces stunning video and has the file size to match.  It also requires an extremely powerful computer to edit this footage efficiently. As technology evolves HD video will become as efficient to work with as SD and, eventually, replace SD video.

All that being said it would be worth your while to look at cameras that allow you switch between SD and HD recording if you are purchasing for your business or for a serious hobby. A camera that can straddle both standards will give you the most options to start.

Video and Audio Quality

Video has come a long way in a short period of time.  For very little money you can acquire a camera that takes phenomenal video footage for work or personal use.  There are some great cameras out there for under $300 that will take crisp, vibrant video images which, if you follow some of the basic principles for shooting video, you can edit later into a quality production.  While the inexpensive cameras offer some stunning video quality under most circumstances, you may find yourself wanting more control over different lighting situations, shot composition and sound.

Let There be Light, or Less of It

Exposure is how much light is allowed to enter the lens of the camera and it affects the brightness and darkness of a shot.  Too much light washes out a shot and makes the subjects too “hot”.  While you can darken a shot in editing you can never get back the detail lost from an over exposed shot.  On the flip side, too little light can darken a shot and make the video quality appear grainy.  You may be able to lighten such a video in editing, but with mixed results depending on how dark it started out.

All cameras come with automatic features that adjust for different lighting situations to some degree.  As you work your way up the price chain you will find cameras that offer more manual controls for adjusting exposure.  In additional to manual controls present on the camera there are lens filters at reasonable prices as well as external lamps that can attach directly to your camera.  These are great in situations when you are in close proximity to your subject and require just a bit more lighting than your surroundings provide.

I Can’t Hear You!

Most of the low end cameras on the market take phenomenal video footage in their own right but severely lack in their ability to capture adequate audio.  Almost all cameras come with their own built-in microphone.  These mics are fine for capturing ambient noise or for spontaneous narration by the camera operator but they will not produce the kind of rich, robust sound quality you will want for a professional video piece.  If you are going to be filming a lot of interviews and narration then you will want a camera that can accept external microphone attachments.  There are several varieties of external microphones built to handle different types of audio situations. (Another story for another blog). Owning a camera with a mic input gives you the option of attaching any one of these microphones to your camera.

Look for a camera that offers at least an eighth inch mic input.(Price range $900 +)  Even an inexpensive, external handheld mic will yield better audio results in an interview than the built in microphone.  For about $200 you can get and XLR audio adapter that will plug into the eighth inch mic input and give you 2 grounded XLR audio inputs.  This gives you the option of attaching 2 professional level microphones to your camera or a mixing board for even more microphone inputs. There are other camera models out there that allow external mic hookups without the need for adapters, but their price range typically starts at $2500.   Depending on your needs you may decide to allocate that $2500 to putting together a full compliment of field gear rather than just the camera piece of it.

Zoom. Zoom.  Zoom.

There are 2 different types of zoom advertised for cameras; optical and digital.  In the age of digital technology consumers mistakenly focus in on the digital zoom feature, which can often boast a 100 -200x zoom in of the subject.  Digital zoom simply magnifies the pixels that create the image of a subject.  The further in you zoom the more distorted the subject becomes.  Like in graphic design and video editing, digital magnification has its place when use sparingly (and as a last resort) but it should not carry any weight in the decision process of buying a camera.

Optical zoom is the number you want to pay attention to.  The technology of optical zoom allows you to zoom in closer to the subject while maintaining the crispness and overall fidelity of the image.  Some brand cameras have always offered impressive optical zoom technology.  A higher optical zoom helps you get high fidelity close up shots from further away without needing to purchase additional telephoto lenses.  It’s a nice feature to have. However, if you know you will mostly be filming subjects within close proximity it is not a necessity.  Other considerations to be weighed, maybe more heavily, are the chip size (bigger chips and more of them lead to richer images), the camera’s performance in low light situations and its manual options for controlling exposure and shutter speed.

If you are the casual videographer and have a few hundred dollars to support the hobby you really can’t go wrong with some of the great sub-$300 out there.  If you are a serious hobbyist or needing a camera for business purposes and plan to invest equally serious money in the equipment do your homework first, starting with understanding what you expect from your investment today and in the future. Your camera will be the main hub of your production gear so plan with expansion in mind.


Copyright © 2012 Digital Design Digest


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Filed under Getting the Right Gear

Video Production for Businesses on A Budget

A picture speaks a thousand words but it does not have to cost thousands of dollars to create. It is possible to find a happy medium between hi-end, hi-budget works of art that cost more than they ever make in revenue generation and no budget videos which lack polish and necessary elements of quality control.

Consider these tips when planning your next video project.

1. Write a script. A script is like the road map to your finished product. It will help you refine your message to a digestible nugget of information, say between 2 and 5 minutes. It will also serve as your “to do list” of elements needed (video to record, photos to take, voice over and music to record and permissions to clear). This prior proper planning ahead of time will save you money in the long run when working with your designer or production team.

2. Keep it simple. Write a clear concise script that educates your audience about your product, services or idea. Plan for simple video that illustrates what is being discussed in your narrative and plan for simple graphics that enhance the message. A clear, concise message in a digestible, 2-5 minute timeframe will leave your audience feeling more connected to you and your product.

3. Everything you need may be right under your nose. You and your staff know your products best. It makes sense that members of your company be featured in your video. Newspaper clippings, graphics, photos and other video clips on hand may all be part of this new edited piece. Refer to your script to see if items already on hand make sense in your new project. This could save you production time and money.

4. Video quality matters. A well-lit, steady, crisp video image is important. A nice head and shoulder shot obeying the rule of 3rds will do for most interview and narrative situations. Avoid lighting pitfalls such as sitting in front of a window or using an uneven lighting source in the video. Use a tripod. No matter how still you think you can stand, the camera will move with every breath you take. This could be enough to ruin an otherwise acceptable video shot.

5. Audio quality matters most. People will be somewhat forgiving of less than stellar video quality. But, viewers will abandon the viewing experience if they cannot hear what you are saying. The way you sound in real life is how you should sound on video. A full body sound like this is achieved through using an appropriate microphone. There are many types of microphones on the market, each suited for a different use. If you are thinking of producing a video yourself, do your research before purchasing a microphone or camera.

Copyright © 2012 Digital Design Digest



Filed under Video Production