Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sony DCR-SR52E and Macs

At last, some success with stuff off HDD onto Macs! The Sony DCR-SR52E was detected by the Macbook although Quicktime will not recognise the mpeg2 file unless you have MPEG2-Playback installed ($20 from Apple) and then use Streamclip to convert files to an editable format (
Still, at least the original files will be of a better quality than mpeg4s, and can be transferred directly to dvds without conversion for storage etc.

Windows Media Player to sync media

I used Windows Media Player WMP) to sync media to my pda phone for the first time yesterday. Don't know why I've not done that before. I'm so used to just moving the files across, but the playlist function on WMP is similar to iTunes, so is very useful for organising media on the PC. I've used iTunes for ages with my ipod but it's the first time I've tried the same functionality with my pda phone!
So, after converting .vob of Peppa Pig (if you have a 3 year old, you'll know what I mean) using Avex DVD and Video converter (I could NOT get Super to do it for me), I had a wmv which I synced to my pda phone. Did the same with a few mp3s as well. Next time you see me, ask to see Peppa Pig....

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The latest on video formats

The latest stuff I've been reading seems to indicate that so long as you have an Intel-based Mac and iLife'08, you CAN edit mpeg2 videos in iMovie. (See
So hopefully some contacts with an Intel-based Mac and iLife'08 will take their laptop down to a Sony Centre and try out some HDD camcorders for me! This list of compatible camcorders seems useful, until you realise that many of the models are american and I can't tell what the equivalent UK model is. (
I've totally veered away from mpeg4 camcorders like Sanyo Xactis now, although up to this morning, I thought it would be the ideal choice. The quality, especially in low light (and some education settings can be classed as 'low light'...) is poor and having looked at some sample footage, I've decided that we should try to collect videos at the highest possible quality (subject to budget). You never know how you are going to use the footage and it's best to keep your options open.
I still think DV tape is going to give us the best quality, but for the sake of looking current, HDD camcorders are the best compromise between style, size, quality and budget. And if it's possible to edit them now (and I'm sure it will get easier to edit them in future without jumping through a few hoops), then so much the better.
AVCHD is the next big thing on the market, and again, iLife'08 appears to have support for that, but not sure that we need to record in high definition in our industry - we tend to make videos for streaming over the web, playing in PowerPoints, playing on ipods or pdas...and as yet, most of our PC screens are still in 4:3 format, so recording in 16:9 seems unnecessary. I'm sure it will all change, but by then, we'll all be working on new projects with different focuses and budgets and we'll be able to do it all again. ;-)
AVCHD camcorders are also that little bit more expensive at the moment, being the in-thing.

So currently, I'm plumping for the following:
  • Sony DCR-SR52 (available for under £350 if you shop around),
  • Bluetooth microphone ( Sony ECMHW1, about £107 from Amazon to record interviews with wireless mic
  • Wide angle lens (in case of classroom situation, filming in small spaces) VCL 0630 X, about £69

This is provided the camcorder is detected by the Mac in the first place, so hopefully I'll be able to update this blog soon with my experiments.

Speaking of which, I went to a Curry's today to try out the camcorders they had. We tried a Samsung SD camera (cost about £160) which seemed to have a lot of features including detecting various lighting settings etc. The Macbook couldn't detect the Samsung camera, but as I was driving away, I wondered if it would have been ok if we'd put the sd card into a usb reader on the Mac. Might ring Curry's up tomorrow and ask the guy to try it! It should then read the mp4 file in iMovie.

Tried a Panasonic HDD camera and this time, the Macbook did detect it and imported the footage. However, Quicktime couldn't play it back and I suspect it just needed the mpeg2 playback software from Apple (

If you want to quickly video something to put out to students, mpeg4 camcorders may seem like the ideal thing, but hey, why fork out for something like that when your own digital camera's video function will give you similar quality? That's something to think about....

Sunday, January 20, 2008

which camcorder?

Di Dawson and I had a discussion about providing people with advice on which bits of kit could be used to record videos for what mobile devices.I'm sure she'll be posting her findings soon, and I've done some research and have the following views to offer. For readers' info, I have a degree in audio-visual production and I've worked as a multimedia producer. I have worked with lots of kit from analogue to digital. I can happily produce professional quality video if working with the right kit. What we're doing here, though, is working out what is quick and easy to do in an education setting.
For the sake of argument, I'm going to assume that we want to film indoors in a typical classroom, with the camera aimed at the tutor to record what they are doing and what they are saying. So what we need is

  • A camera
  • Extra batteries or the camera charger (you'd be surprised how many people forget to plug in the camera until it runs out of battery)
  • A wide angle lens (if trying to capture more of the class. Make sure you buy a camcorder that allows attachments that you want!)
  • Zoom microphone (if camera allows such attachment or better still, wireless lavalier mic)
  • Extra media (dv tapes, dvds etc if using such cameras)
  • An extension lead
  • A tripod
  • An mp3 recorder (always useful to have backup for podcast and also, an mp3 recorder can be placed on the person talking for clarity)

If we were going to do an interview, I would throw in

  • Lights
  • Reflectors

If viewing on Windows-based pda-type devices is important:
It would be best to start with something that captures avi that you can simply import into Windows Movie Maker. So you could use a good quality stills camera like a Canon, use the movie function to record (at 640 x 480 max) the video, maybe use an mp3 recorder as well, placed near the person who is talking.
Where possible, use clip-on microphones so check that the mp3 recorder has an audio input jack.Extra lighting is recommended if filming indoors. Because a lot of stills cameras will record video in .avi format, you can simply transfer the video files to the pc (by connecting the camera to the pc with a lead. The pc should see the camera as an extra drive), then simply import into
Windows Movie Maker to add titles, add the mp3 if required (mute the original clip if the audio is terrible), then Save to my computer, choosing the Video for Pocket PC setting for the right size and resolution.

If inserting into PowerPoint is important:
Follow the same advice above, but you can save the video with high quality (unless it makes the PowerPoint file way too big for students to download!). You can choose from Movie Maker's long list of settings.

If viewing on ipods is important:
Start with an mpeg4 camcorder like the Sanyo Xacti or Aiptek camcorders. Cheap and cheerful but that's what mpeg4 is anyway! You could push the handle out and buy the HD versions. Some of these cameras actually have an audio input jack, but not all are reliable so make sure you visit some AV forums for comments about your camera audio before purchase.The Sanyo Xacti cameras also have the option of adding wide angle lenses and a battery charger, which I think will be useful as these cameras do not have a long battery life. Large SD cards will come in useful, but check that the model of the camera will work with a large SD card before buying the SD card! Not all cameras will work with an 8Gb SD card, for instance. Some can only take 1Gb SD cards and that's it.
It's also possible to use Kodak cameras that capture video as well (like the Kodak C603). These record video as .mov files that can be imported easily into a Mac.All these cameras may work better with extra lighting if filming indoors.
Same advice as above on recording backup audio using an mp3 recorder with a clip-on mic.
iMovie on the Macs will import the video clips easily enough and you can use the native functions to export to ipod or psp.

Another quirky bit of kit that would allow you to use any camera with AV output (so all the kit you may already have for video recording in college) is the Pinnacle Video Transfer USB 2.0 device (PVT) ( You don't need a PC to copy video to your ipod, PSP or USB device. Attach the camcorder to the PVT and your ipod or psp and voila! Only £99.99, but bear in mind that this is assuming you don't need to edit your videos.

If high quality is important:
If you need to film and edit high quality video in order to project it on a screen, or to add to that marketing video, then there's no getting away from a proper camcorder. You might think that HDD (hard disk drive) is the way to go (partly because they don't make new dv cameras anymore) but unless you have a lot of stuff to go with it, editing is going to be a nightmare. Let me explain...HDD camcorders record video in mpeg2 format. Neither Windows Movie Maker nor iMovie will be able to import this without a bit of converting. By converting the mpeg2 footage, you are losing quality. And this is before you even edit the video. The conversion process also adds time to the whole process. You could, of course, use any provided software to try to edit the footage, but they may be limited in functionality and still not provide output in the format that you require (eg wmv or avi to work with PowerPoint or mp4 to work with ipods). Check this carefully before investing in a HDD camera. Of course new software is coming out all the time and the Macs may actually decide to give better support to HDD cameras in future ( but right now, it's fiddly.
Another disadvantage is that mpeg2 files require a lot of computing power if you are going to edit them, so your regular desktop may not be up to the task.
HDD cameras are useful for recording video that doesn't need much editing, with a dvd as the final output in mind. Read this friendly article for more a nice comparison chart between video formats.(

So currently, the best route for good quality video is dv tape!! The average PC or laptop would require a video input card or external device to import dv ( but Macs can easily do this with the Firewire cable. You leave it to import the footage, then edit to your heart's content. Of course, if you require windows-friendly footage, you would have to turn to a software converter (again). This is not an easy question to answer!

And mpeg4 camcorders seem to be getting better at producing quality video ( so maybe this is the way to go?

This is a bit like the war between Betamax and VHS: Windows or Mac?
If your project is based on the premise of using ipods, then go the Mac route.
If your project is based on pdas, then go the Windows route.
And be prepared to purchase a souped-up pc with high-end graphics card to handle conversions between formats as required!

A budget guide to lighting with some nice background info thrown in:
If you have an AV department, they may have lights you can borrow. On-board camera lights may not 'reach' far enough in a classroom situation, although they would be sufficient for an interview situation. If planning to use these, make sure you've purchased a camera with an Active Hot Shoe. This allows you to attach the light to the top of the camera, and will 'talk' to the camera, allow control of the light from the camera. It will also get its power from the camera.
Cold shoes allow you to attach stuff on top, but these attachments will have to be powered by batteries, making the camera that much heavier or bulkier to handle if not on a tripod. You will also need to have a lot of spare batteries!

If you buy a wireless lavalier mic, you can easily record someone talking on your laptop (with audio in) or pc in the classroom, especially if you have software like Audacity already installed. You clip the tie mic on to their clothes and they hook the sender on to their belt clip. Then you attach the receiver to your pc audio in jack, do a test on your mp3 recording software and away you go. (If a student asks a question in class, always ask the tutor to repeat the question so it's heard on the recording!)I recently bought one off ebay for £7 so watch this space for quality tests. ;-) If you want to record straight to a portable device, how about the lavalier mic, an ipod and an ipod mic adapter ( The ipod recorder attachment is ok if you are holding the mp3 recorder to your face, but if you want to slip it in your pocket and have a discreet mic clipped on to your top, then this is probably a good setup.

This is a mega-long post. Sorry! If I've got any of it wrong, I'm sure I'll find out in the
next few days! - internet aggregator for mobiles

I've had a pda phone for about 2 years now. Used to have the MDA and now have the HTC Touch.

So far on my pda phone, I've installed Newsbreak, a rss reader so I can keep up with the likes of Andy Black and Dave Sugden on the go. I paid a little bit of money for this.
Just come across, which seems like a nice free 'aggregator' for the mobile phone, bringing together news sites and blogs in one site. Kind of like igoogle for your phone. It seems to work better than Newsbreak because it shows me the full blog, whereas Newsbreak shows me the headlines and a short version of the blog. To read more, it then launches Internet Explorer and takes me to the site. Mippin will let me keep my preferred sites as favourites and formats them nicely for the pda screen. Seems like a nice function to me.

And it has a mipplet that adds my Twitter stream so it appears on my mippin page! Nice...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Learning for Living and Work

Many parallels between the MoLeNET projects and the LLW projects. Here are some thoughts on kit for the LLW projects:

Top of my list has been:

psp with camera attachment: The camera is about £30 and you can download free editing software on to psp for it. Learners can view video clips and record video clips of themselves, or rotate the camera (180 degrees) to record what they see. (Bear in mind a bit of file conversion to get videos on to psp but no different from converting to put on any other media player eg ipod). Thanks to Di Dawson for inspiration!

bulletcam: To attach to moving objects for point of view, or to someone's head, again for point of view. Learner can show that they can perform a skill, or refresh their memory of how to perform a task. Great for tight spaces where not possible to film or situations where you need both hands free (eg under a car, in a tractor etc). Also available from Amazon and Woolworths. You can google bulletcam to see the original (which will be higher quality but more expensive) or Digital Blue do a version that is lower quality and cheaper....

Nintendo Wii: Brain training on the Wii is very relevant for numeracy skills, there are also word games. Plus if you get on the internet with the Wii, there are various educational games you can play. Found a nice basic drawing application you control with the wii remote. Would work nicely on a smartboard as well. Lots of other wiigames on Dave Sugden can probably provide the link for making your own Wii interactive whiteboad?

Mimios and ebeam: Taking advice from the Techdis site on how these can support learners in the classroom. They are also far more transportable than fixed interactive whiteboards.

Netsupport: Where colleges are planning to supply learners with tablets or pcs, or even pdas, this software will allow projection of the teacher's pc on to learners' devices, and control can be passed to the learner, so works like interactive whiteboard without getting off your chair (especially if you can't).

Red Halo: This application can run on umpcs, pdas, psps and soon Asus eeepcs. Allows tutor to push files to learner devices and collect them as well. Allows teacher and learner to connect files together as an activity (web page link, image, notes, audio, video, inspiration file etc). Provides a copy of Inspiration on pda or tablet, which is fantastic! Has 5Gb of server storage space per learner so video files and audio files storage not a problem. Can sign up for free account (1 Gb storage).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

An idea for use of Twitter/Jaiku...

I've been getting excited by the idea of giving students virtual work placements through Twitter and Jaiku: You ask a tradesperson or professional to keep a Twitter or jaiku throughout a day (or a few days). Students view these via the web or subscribe to it via their mobiles and can ask further questions (by commenting or replying). They can then add their own mini-reflections using the micro-blog or a full blog. This is supplemented by keeping up the Twitter or Jaiku when they go on work placement. Would love to see this happening and get case studies for this!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

File transfer between multiple devices - Red Halo

At Handheld Learning last year, I came across a company called Red Halo. I've seen them around before but it never twigged how useful their offering was until MoLeNET came along.

Basically, you set up an account on their server, then download the Red Halo application to your device (I have it running on my HTC Touch and Q1 Ultra. They will soon have one for the Asus eee). Press the sync button on your Red Halo Application and voila, files go up to the server, and files come down to your device.

The idea is that a teacher can set up student accounts, put files in them (could be learning content, audio files, video files etc) and these would then be pushed onto the learners' devices when they sync. I haven't tested large video and audio files so will have to find out more about this. Also, I envisage that it would work best in a wireless environment, or if the learners have a flat rate data plan so they are not charged per Mb of data transfer.

At the same time, student files are sent from the device up to their student area: so photos, videos and audio they have created, notes and drawings etc are all uploaded and the teacher can view them and add a comment to them.

The Pro version also comes with some software to add functionality - The Windows Mobile bundle for PDAs and smartphones includes RedActivity, Inspiration, PhatPad, Pocket Painter, Photo Explorer, Opera, Red Media Composer, RedFlipper and Calligrapher. Sounds worth it for the software alone, never mind the 5Gb storage space you're given online!

You can contact them to sign up for free accounts at the moment. Anyone who has a lot of devices to sync should try it. Nothing to lose!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Q1 Ultra growing on me, plus HTC Touch for video

I think my Q1 Ultra is growing on me, but the main reason for this has got to be because of that little keyboard.
I set it up on the m-champions training day on the 11th and it hardly takes up any desk space (I was perched next to two participants at their table). I used it to make notes as others were presenting. It accessed the wireless network at the LSN effortlessly, so I was able to participate in updating the Moodle, downloading some apps that someone recommended (My Mobiler, allows you to view your pda screen on your pc, similar to Cerdisp), twittering etc.
The problem came when I tried to connect it to the overhead projector. It's been a while since I've used tablet software for this, and they've updated it since but never fear, I though, John Whalley is here. As it turns out, it had been a while since he'd had to do it, so in the end, the Mac won out and we kept it connected instead! I'll have to master the tablet display options or start lugging my 17" Macbook around like Mick Mullane does!
On the journey home, I thought I'd catch up with some video entertainment - plugged in my earphones to watch a Chinese dvd film I'd ripped and converted into wmv. However, without subtitles, my viewing pleasure was thwarted as the audio was way too quiet for a noisy train environment. Is there a way of changing audio levels when converting a video? I'll have to check this out, or else start using my Q1 ultra for this as well. I'm assuming the audio volume will be better on this.
I'm beginning to think I might give my Q1 a pet name - getting attached to it!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Getting used to Q1 Ultra

Took the Q1 Ultra with me to a couple of meetings to take notes. Happy so long as I'm using the Keysonic keyboard with it (£15 from Amazon) so for me, the main thing is text input using these devices.
I'm still waiting to find out if there is a better driver for the built-in cameras since they are not very good at capturing video.
Someone passed my a mobile phone while I had the stylus from the Q1 in my hand and I was tapping away on the screen of the mobile phone wondering why it wasn't reacting. Duuuhh!!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

wireless problems at home

Had hell all morning trying to resolve a problem connecting to the internet. Everything was fine last night. Went to bed. Woke up this morning. Nada.
So I've been round the houses, ringing up the ISP, checking for winsock errors (didn't really know what I was doing), finally decided to upgrade the firmware on the router. Still no luck.
However, I had my USB modem so I plugged that in and used that to poke around a bit more. Somehow, it all came back and the router's working fine again. What happened?
The DNS server suddenly appeared again on the router display, so for some reason, that got taken off or lost somewhere, somehow.
All I can say is that I'm now flooded with a sense of relief. Not having internet access on your main work machine these days is like working with your arm cut off.
Now I guess I'd better get down to some proper work...