Tag Archives: media

Thinking of Cutting the Cord?

Five years ago I wrote Evolution of The Playlist, a casual observers look at the changing landscape of media consumption and the choices the consumer is left with.

The accompanying set of video is a three part series for those thinking of cutting the cable / satellite tv cord.  This first episode takes a brief look at some popular media apps and what to consider before signing up.  The second video looks at the device options available for viewing content. The third video addresses data usage when relying on the internet to stream video.

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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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The Field Shoot Backup Plan

Part of planning for any production is identifying your vulnerabilities and having a backup plan should something go wrong.  The last thing you want is to waste a client’s time and money because something did not come together the day of the shoot.  You cannot reasonably afford the overhead of purchasing doubles of all your equipment.  There are, however, some key pieces that are worth the investment of owning multiples and traveling with them during every shoot.

Audio Cords

An item that connects your microphone to your camera or audio mixer.  You would not get sound without it, and it is likely one of the least expensive items you will own in a field setup.  This cord is made of wire and pins that will age over time or is subject to damage from being bent or stepped on.  When it fails you will get static, intermittent sound until you get nothing at all.

On a field shoot bring one cord for each microphone you will use and at least one extra in case there is a failure.  If you can afford it, bring additional cords.  Audio cords can be daisy chained together to provide extra length.


If well cared for microphones will last a long time.  You will replace audio cords more frequently.  If your budget allows for it, an extra microphone or two will not only assure you are covered if there is a failure but it will also add a great deal of flexibility to what you can shoot.  There are different microphones for different purposes.  As you add the number of people for whom you need to capture audio you eventually need to add microphones to assure the highest quality sound.  A few extra microphones in the field kit will have you prepared if people are added to a shoot last minute.

Power Supplies

Identify all the gear that requires batteries.  Make sure you travel with extra batteries for each item and that they are fully charged. Don’t use battery power unless you have to.

Always travel with the power cords to your gear and use that as your first option.  Battery power should be reserved for the times when power cords are not an option such as:

  • Tight, crowded spaces where cording is too hazardous.
  • Outdoor footage.
  • Other locations where there is no easy access to an outlet.

Go into each event fully loaded with all of your power options.  Shoots sometime go longer than expected, accidents happen and things get dropped and sometimes atmosphere can drain a battery down more quickly than at other times.  You may have been told outlets were going to be available to you, but then the location changes last minute or it turns out the plug does not work.  Stay flexible by building options into your gear.

Blank Media

Tapes, DVDs, and SD cards. They will fill up quick if a shoot goes longer than planned or there is just more great footage to capture than anticipated.  Sometimes you end up with a lemon that won’t record anything.  You can’t make lemonade out of that.  If you don’t have a backup you don’t have a show.

Tripod Shoes

It is the thing that attaches the camera to the tripod. They are just so small that it is easy to misplace one.  Your backup plan without a tripod would be to film handheld, which would produce shaky video or try to construct a make-shift support last minute which would limit your ability to pan and tilt for shot adjustment.  Better to purchase a second shoe as backup.

In general, it is a good idea to test your gear out once a month and again before every shoot.  You can still address issues the day before a shoot, even if it is to reschedule it because there was a major failure, like your camera.  This is not something you want to discover as you set up for the shoot, if you can avoid it.

Copyright 2013 Digital Design Digest

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Filed under Getting the Right Gear, Project Planning, Video Production

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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