On HFR (High Frame Rate) video

Here’s a technical post about frame rates in video. Exciting, right?

Most higher quality shows in Australia are shown at 25 fps, and the whole image updates every second — this is Progressive, the p in 1080p. All our devices are progressive too — TVs, computers, phones, tablets. Feature films (shot on film or digital) are also progressive.

Broadcast TV signals are different. It’s all delivered as interlaced — 50 updates per second, half the image (a field) at a time. A field is every other horizontal line, meaning that an object that moves will be a little blurry. You can present progressive material within an interlaced stream, and it looks just like true progressive content. However, reality TV, sports and news are shot natively in interlaced. We’ve grown to associate a lower frame rate with feature films and high-quality drama, and a higher frame rate with “cheaper” content.

Modern TVs remove the interlacing, but also default to making all content look like it’s been shot at a high frame rate. By making this “smooth” look the default, a lot of people have been convinced that “smooth is good”. I (and many others) hate it though, and turn it off straight away. Partly because I don’t like the look, partly because with films it’s not what the filmmaker wanted, partly because the glitches (artifacts) that are visible when all those extra frames are invented are quite distracting. At the end of the day, though, the old “smooth means cheap” rule is not as absolute as it once was.

Most modern DSLRs only shoot progressive, because that’s what filmmakers (and computers) want. My new GH5 (lovely camera) is mostly used to shoot 4K at 25 fps, because that’s what I want to edit and deliver. However, it can also shoot in 50 or 60 fps in 4K, and up to 180 fps in HD. Mostly, that’s great for slow-motion, shooting a higher number of frames per second, but playing just 25 of them every second.

But it’s now possible to actually deliver 60 frames per second — HFR, or high frame rate. It’s still progressive, so there’s no artifacting, and it’s natively smooth, to keep fans of that look happy. The higher frame rate also brings with it a lower amount of blurring of objects in motion, and that’s a two-edged sword. When everything is perfectly sharp, it doesn’t feel like a story being told — it feels like actors on a stage. Turns out that a higher frame rate might be more realistic, but that’s not actually a good thing. Plus, those who hate the look still hate the look.

Any time a new technology is polarizing, or difficult to adopt, it will struggle. 3D struggled because of the glasses or headsets, because some people can’t see in 3D, and because it made life hard for creators. Even video games didn’t really adopt it much. It was present on the PS3, rarely used, and it’s now gone from PS4.

HFR is definitely polarizing; it destroys the suspension of disbelief and looks cheap to many. Still, it probably won’t go away like 3D did, because cameras will support it for slo-mo, and TVs need to support higher frame rates too. Plus, it may become more popular on YouTube — even if only for gaming. That gives it a decent chance at gradual acceptance, even if we aren’t going to see many more movies using HFR for a while.


On CreateWorld and conferences

Conferences are terrific, but not only for the explicitly planned sessions. It’s the chats between sessions, it’s the chance conversations in corridors, it’s the random exchanges over a drink. Workshops can be great to open minds, and so can a good panel session. It’s not every day you get to introduce one of the custodians of Scratch to a new programming language, or hear how a new school is able to inspire its students, or build a robot and then program it — but I got to do them all over a couple of days.

Opening your mind is always a good thing. If you spend a lot of time teaching something, you’re an expert, often with a razor-focus, and that’s not great for your ego. A great antidote to “knowing it all” is coming to a conference like CreateWorld, because it reminds you that there’s a whole heap of stuff out there that you don’t know. Scratch is something I should know better. Building robots is something I should do more of, though I suspect I’ll remain a software fan. And interactive visual art can be built on all kinds of apps I don’t have my head quite around just yet.

For example, TouchDesigner, which I attended a workshop on, is a pretty amazing piece of software, and in the hands of an expert it can produce magic. It’s node-based and superficially similar to Quartz Composer (which I know pretty well) but I could still fall off the deep end in Touch Designer. While I appreciate its power, I found it like driving without a seatbelt or a windscreen. Too many ways to break it irrevocably, no safety net, and I’m just about curmudgeonly enough that some questionable UI decisions can put me right off. Still, others who have spent much more time in Unreal (or Unity, I guess) don’t have the same resistance.

(An aside: Certainly, I’m glad that there’s a wider world out there that isn’t all following the Adobe-Apple UI model, but I don’t want to completely re-learn the wheel every time, and I wish they wouldn’t reinvent the basics of selecting and moving. No, I don’t want to right-click and drag just to select something. No, I don’t think I should be able to create a situation where all my different elements are such different sizes I can’t see them all together. And yes, I do expect Undo to work reliably. Software that’s effectively pulled up from its own bootstraps has a certain appeal, yet for me it’s too fragile. But anyway.)

So why CreateWorld? I was invited to present a talk on FCP X. The talk itself will be online in the next few weeks, though I might re-record a presentation of it before then. In case I don’t, here are the slides, though the CoreMelt giveaway was of course for attendees only.

CreateWorld as a whole was terrific — just the right blend of the unexpected and the practical. A little bit of what I knew, just the right distance from my comfort zone, and an open bar at the dinner for good measure. If you work in the creative media space, this should definitely be a conference to attend. See you there next year?

Yosemite is awesome

The US National Park is awesome. The version of OS X called Yosemite was pretty good for its time. The conference called Yosemite that I went to last year after NAB was fantastic. If you’re in the US and part of the Mac or iOS community, then you should definitely make the time to go.

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

There’s no other place where you can hang out (and even eat dinner) with the Apple-related people you’ve been reading for 20 years, learn amazing things from amazing people, go on fantastic walks in one of the most beautiful forests on the planet, and then drink cheap booze* under the stars.

While I don’t expect I’ll be able to go again (I live on the wrong side of the world and NAB isn’t on at the same time in 2017) I’d definitely be going if I lived nearer. Yosemite (the park) is something you should do at least once in your life, and Yosemite (the conference) is a brilliant way to kill two birds with one stone.

*Optional but recommended

Roughly the time

Today, an update to Roughly, my new Apple Watch complication was approved, and the new version supports both the Utility and Mickey faces in addition to the Modular face that v1.0 supported. So what does it do?

The Roughly app store preview

“Roughly” is a complication, a small chunk of information that can be added to a watch face on the Apple Watch. I’ve had one since release, and still really like it. In fact, I’ve reviewed it for macProVideo here, and talked about how to set up custom faces on it here.

Roughly snap 1

While I’d really like to be able to create custom faces myself, this is the best I can do for now. I’d seen that the Pebble smart watch had a face made entirely of words (e.g. twenty six past ten) and while I liked the idea, for myself I wanted something less precise.

five past two, Utility

When someone asks you the time, you don’t give an exact minute-by-minute readout; almost by definition, someone who doesn’t wear a watch doesn’t care about that level of detail. What I created was something more approximate that can tell you “roughly” what the time is, to the nearest five minutes, in a natural English way.ten to eleven, Modular

For me, this is a bit of fun and a slight convenience, though I’m finding it’s actually useful on the “Mickey” face, which is hard to read, and on the Utility face, which I find most attractive in its most minimal (yet least functional) mode.

five to eight, Mickey face

For some people though, numbers are hard to comprehend. Dyscalculalia is the numeric equivalent of dyslexia, and I hope they find Roughly to be useful. Other people haven’t yet learnt to tell time quickly on a standard analog clock, and hopefully it’ll be useful to them too.

ten past ten, time travel, Utility face

Time Travel support means you can spin the digital crown and see many times with their English-language equivalents, which should be useful to kids and students of English.

half past eight, Modular

Even though I made the thing, I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed using it myself. Like the Apple Watch itself, it’s not that I need it, but that I enjoy it. It’s free, available now, and I hope you like it too.

Click the icon above to download Roughly for free from the App Store.


P.S. Since I made the app, I’ve been informed about “Fuzzy Clock”, a similar concept delivered on the web, and as an iPad app. Roughly is obviously a very similar idea executed differently, but those are the links to follow if you’re looking for an implementation on a different platform.

P.P.S. To install the complication on your Apple Watch, you actually need to download an iPhone app first, then perform a few steps. There are instructions inside the iPhone app and Apple Watch apps as to what to do next.

Using the OS X Terminal

Inspired by and following on from a useful article on iMore, here are a few more tips on how to use the Terminal — if you ever need to:

– Press Tab to autocomplete a path.
– Use Option-left and right arrows to move the cursor by word (this didn’t use to work but does now).
– Use up and down arrows to go back through your previous commands (all the way back to previous sessions).
– “sudo su” if you’re going to do a few things as the superuser.
– Dragging in files from the Finder to type their path is very handy.
– You need to escape spaces in filenames with , as in “My File”.
– It’s written in the article already, but recommended to always use “ls -la” to show all permissions and hidden files.
– “top” is the Terminal equivalent of Activity Monitor, handy for discovering process IDs.
– “kill -9” if something just won’t die.
– When navigating, ~ means your home directory, and / means root.
– Whatever you do, DO NOT type “rm -r /*” because it wipes everything — at least, the files you have permission to.
– The “more” app is a good way to read longer text files.
– “chmod” for changing permissions.
– “dig” or “nslookup” for checking out websites.
– “vi” is a basic, powerful text editor, and knowing its basic commands can get you out of some sticky situations — but it’s weird.

WordPress hackers

If you have a website, you may have been unlucky enough to have been hacked, like me. Right now, I’m wasting my Saturday going through several websites that I host, repeatedly removing infected files and locking down anything I can. It’s incredibly frustrating that hackers continue to actively destroy so many other people’s websites, forcing them (or me) to waste their time dealing with this rubbish.

The nuclear option of converting most of these WordPress sites to unhackable, super-fast static sites remains a possibility. It’s just a real shame that I’m even having to consider it.

When Holidays Go Bad

My wife and I were meant to be flying to Bali this week, but it very much looks like that’s not going to happen. Even if our flight did reach Bali, we’d almost certainly be in a queue trying to return home, as there are thousands of other travellers who’ve been stuck for several days already.

Volcanic eruptions are out of anyone’s control, but the response which companies give to a situation like this is revealing. A few slightly ranty bullet points:

  • Virgin Australia’s customer support line isn’t a freecall number in Australia, which cost some people a lot if they’re on hold for hours. There is also no kind of notification of how long you’ll be on hold, or how many people are in front of you.
  • After eventually getting through, staff were hamstrung by their own policies — Wotif would have to make any changes.
  • To a travel arranger like Wotif, Virgin Australia is regarded as a “regular” airline while Jetstar is a “low cost” airline. You must make changes directly with a low cost airline, but Wotif has to make changes with a regular airline. I’d much rather deal with the airline directly — why can’t I?
  • Wotif do have a freecall number, and a callback service. Unfortunately, yesterday I was told the callback would be 1 hour 20 minutes, but it was over 3 hours. When they called me back, I was then put on hold(!) for another hour and 15 minutes. Insane.
  • I’ve had no dealings with Jetstar, but you can at least (try to?) contact them through Skype.
  • The airlines only cancel flights day by day. Virgin’s language today is indicating pretty clearly that if they can fly on Wednesday they’ll only be taking empty planes to Bali to fly people home, but they haven’t actually cancelled our flight yet.
  • Virgin are offering replacement destinations “for free” (codeshare costs extra) but they are all domestic/uninteresting/cheaper from Brisbane. (And why isn’t Perth on the list when flights to Broome (via Perth) are?)
  • Days ago, Jetstar allowed passengers with flights booked through the end of this week to pre-emptively cancel their flights for a travel credit, but Virgin didn’t. Virgin’s public language only mentioned changes, and refunds could only be arranged by talking to Wotif, who would then read Virgin’s fine print and ask them nicely.
  • Jetstar are now also offering replacement flights to many other destinations (Hawaii/Fiji/Thailand/NZ) with no change fees. Virgin’s more exotic (codeshare) destinations cost an unknown amount of extra money.
  • Wotif can cancel our flights and get our money back from the airline now, but until the flight is officially cancelled, we’re less likely to get our money back from the hotel (and there’s still no guarantee). We therefore have to wait until it’s officially cancelled before making any other bookings, and can’t book any replacement holiday until the day before, when all the cheap tickets are gone.
  • Finally, Wotif want an $80/person rebooking fee. Apparently not, according to the  person I spoke to today.

Lessons learned?

  • Maybe the savings from a package aren’t worth it. Booking directly is much easier to manage.
  • Wotif and Virgin could both communicate a whole lot better. I’ve had absolutely no proactive communication from either company, I’ve had to call them, and each call has taken a long time.
  • Earlier pre-emptive cancellation of flights would help a whole lot of people to actually have a holiday.
  • Wotif really need to react better to this situation. Why not earn some goodwill and actively offer replacement holidays to anyone still in Australia?
  • Wotif really shouldn’t be calling people back to put them on hold, or charging $160 to make a booking. They should be emailing people to let them know they might not be going on holiday in two days time.

Enough. Hopefully everyone stuck in Bali can get home soon.

EDIT: Virgin finally cancelled the flight today on their travel alerts page, so I rang Wotif to get a refund. Full flight credit received, and hotel refunded too. An hour or two after that, Virgin emailed me to say my flight was cancelled. Better late than never?

The Demise of the Local Video Rental Shop

My local video rental shop is (finally) closing, and that’s a sad, sad thing. While this happened years ago for most people, I’ve been lucky enough to have a local video shop this whole time. So what’s the big deal?

Cost is one factor. Watching a movie is now going to cost a lot more than $1 on a Tuesday, and at $5-7 a go, I’m less likely to take a chance on odd movies with mixed reviews. As someone who rarely re-watches movies or TV, I’m not inclined to buy discs. Disc rental was the only cheap way to watch TV shows that were otherwise locked away on pay TV — especially if you’re catching up on past seasons.

Apart from the money, though, the main thing I’m going to miss is the browsing. Digital shopfronts are really good at letting you find what you’re already looking for, and pretty bad at helping you to discover something you’d enjoy. The analog world of the video shop is the opposite: hard to find what you’re looking for (and with limited quantities) but terrific at introducing you to something you didn’t even know you wanted. (Disc rental kiosks don’t duplicate that at all: no older releases, a limited selection, and I still have to return something. Worst of all worlds.)

Spending a half-hour at the video shop scanning the shelves was a joy: all a film needed was an interesting cover to pique my interest. If a quick look on Metacritic showed that it wasn’t trash, I might take it home. I honestly don’t know how to replace that, because the digital world allows commercial interests to insert themselves into that process, and I’ll have to engage with some other system that simply shows me all the films recently released. It probably exists, but it won’t be as much fun as walking the shelves.

So many of the films I’ve found at the local video shop over the years were unknown before I stumbled across them. Sometimes it took repeated looks over a few weeks before I caved in; sometimes they were good, sometimes not. But I don’t know how else I would have found God Help The Girl, or Wanderlust, or Pride, or All Is Lost, or Locke, or What We Did on Holiday, or countless other good movies that never got enough of a marketing budget to put their name in front of my ad-blocked eyes. Also, I couldn’t have watched all the behind-the-scenes making-of specials that don’t always make it to digital formats — Wanderlust alone has an entire alternate cut of the film made from outtakes. I may even have missed out on Game of Thrones, the first season of which I bought when my last video shop of choice went under.

Digital is a tricky beast. It makes search easy, but browsing hard. If digital shopfronts make it difficult to discover lesser-known or older works, then we’re doomed to a future of only tentpole blockbusters for the mass market and indie films few people see. We can do better than that, but given how movies have shifted in just the past few years, I’m not sure if we will.

Basic financial advice

I didn’t expect to ever offer anyone financial advice, but here we are. Some very simple tips that will hopefully help if you’re in the mid-life stage I find myself in.

1. Get a mortgage with an offset account. Not every bank offers this, but many do.

2. Put all your family’s income directly into this offset account. The balance effectively comes off your mortgage instantly for interest calculations, and you’ll therefore pay a lot less interest. If your mortgage payments are made directly from this account, it no longer matters if you pay weekly, fortnightly or monthly, because the money counts against the mortgage both before and after a payment is made.

3. Use a credit card for most purchases, but be sure to (automatically) pay off the full amount each month so you don’t incur any interest. That way, your money will sit in your account longer, paying off your mortgage for as long as possible.

4. To be safer, use a separate account for PayPal and for receiving payments, and don’t keep much (or any) money in it.

That’s it. The basic idea is that it’s better to avoid paying interest than it is to earn interest you have to pay tax on. Hope it helps.