All Free Stuff – A Bit About Video Conversion

This Sony A6000 is quite a nice little camera: New Camera, New Challenges. I am SO still learning all about it, what it can do and what some of the stuff means.
Like, interlaced versus progressive. My camera shoots in 50i (24M and 17M – not sure what that’s about), and in 50p (28M), 25p (24M) and 25p (17M). I’ve learned that the best thing to do if you’re shooting mainstream YouTube-able stuff, you want to shoot in progressive. Interlaced is for burning to DVD or BlueRay.
However, I didn’t realise this until after we got back from NZ, so I have all this interlaced video I have to convert to progressive. Here’s where ffmpeg comes in handy.

I may be leaving a few folk here with this flight into philosophy on software and freedom and all that, but anyway, it’s a major focus to me: freedom in computing, and so all of this is happening in Linux Mint (Rosa), and the video-processing is largely done at the command-line. There are those who feel that not having a GUI (graphical user interface) is too backwards and old-school and neck-beard-ish for them, but it’s actually easier than it sounds. No, you do not have to type a long, arcane command into the command-line window every time. You might the first time, but then, if you’re doing the same thing over and over – like what I’m doing – de-interlacing and stabilising video – you can just up-arrow to a previous instance of the command, change a few things, and run it again (hit enter).

So, here’s what I’m doing to de-interlace and stabilise video recorded on my Sony A6000. First of all, the format is MTS: I want mov files. And I want them in progressive format. So the command is:

ffmpeg -i 00017.MTS -c:v libx264 -preset veryslow -crf 16 -vf yadif -strict -2

Looks a mouthful, don’t it? Here’s what I understand about it: ffmpeg is the program name, so you sort-of need to tell bash this is what I want to run. bash is “Bourne Again Shell”, which is the command-line program-executing thing. A wee aside: it’s so cool, bash is, that Microsoft just included it in Windows 10 for the developers! So, yeah, it’s pretty powerful stuff.
Okay, back to ffmpeg.
For some of these commands, by-the-way, just reading the documentation can leave you more befuddled than before. Google is your friend, here… found some very helpful hints on this site about transcoding video for quality.
The -i stands for ‘input’. Then, you enter the name of the file being worked on, which is 00017.MTS. This name has to be entered exactly the way it is listed in your file folder. If you left off a ‘0’ or typed MTS: ‘mts’ (lower-case), Linux and bash would spit the dummy. Very important to be precise.
The next bit refers to the preferred codec (libx264), which is – incidentally – the most common and versatile video codec out there. We want to do the conversion from interlaced to progressive with as little loss as possible so I’m going to let it run very slowly. -crf stands for “Constant Rate Factor’, which “preserves an overall level of quality throughout the file by adjusting each frame’s bitrate based on the given quality level”. With ‘0’, you get a HUGE file, but no loss in quality (and it’ll take forever). With ’51’ you get rubbish quality / high rate of compression.
‘yadif’ is the plugin that does the interlaced/progressive conversion, and the ‘-strict -2’ bit is to ensure the audio is faithfully copied as well.

I went ahead and copied the audio, but it was recorded using the camera’s inbuilt microphone, which is pretty ordinary. I do have a Zoom H1N, but didn’t bring it on this trip. Need to get in the habit of using it for audio.

Okay, so that’s conversion. This is getting really long, so I’ll talk about video stabilisation in the next post.

All Free Stuff – it begins

With this blog-post I’m going to begin what I hope will turn into a sort-of potentially helpful series called:

All Free Stuff

The point of this exercise – or series of exercises – is to demonstrate that 1) there’s a ton of free stuff out there to do all kinds of cool stuff with and 2) you are limited only by your willingness to learn how to do things, not by funds to purchase tools to do those things.
Back in the day – we’re talking the 1980s, here – editing video shot on your camcorder was a luxury reserved for those who could afford software the cost of a small car. Now, a lot of it is free.
Anyway, let’s get started. Here’s a quick little video I shot on my new Sony A6000 and edited in Blender. It’s a pretty meaningless video, really: as I said in the thing, I wanted to see how long it took to go from concept to final render. In this case, it took over a week: pretty sure I’d mentioned to Paula and DL at work that I was looking to put something like this together well over a week ago.
So, yeah, need to pick up my game:

I’ve got a higher-resolution version – around 84mB vs 22mB – as well. Might want to right-click the link as “Save As…” as the throughput on this site is a bit laughable.

Okay, next, we’ll hope to show a bit of footage from NZ!

Staggering in, still getting a grip on how to do this

So, this site keeps trying to discover why it still exists. When I first thought up Tightbytes ages ago, I envisioned: “help site”. Then it sort-of became “hey, look what I’m into now” site.

Now… not really sure where to go with this, but I’ll keep trying to run with that help-site notion a bit more.

So, today, I’m having a go at video. My initial efforts are definitely not all that great (pretty lame, actually), involving long takes of where we live, but anyway, it’s a video. My target audience? family… the ever-patient, ever-long-suffering curators of all that’s deemed somewhat creative amongst us.

So, here ya go. Anyone keen to see how this was done?

I’ll do better next time. By the way, the video was shot with a Canon T3i (now sold). You might notice some takes aren’t the sharpest. I didn’t realise just how unclean the lenses had become and what an impact it would have on the image quality.

Live and learn!

The next step was stabilisation: shaky video is just a pain to watch, so I’ve invested in proDAD Mercalli V3 software. I have a number of issues with this software, the interface being a major one, and the lack of Linux support being the inevitable drama, but it gets the job done. I’ll be finding a Linux solution soon. Certainly not upgrading this rather pricey software, nor would I endorse this product, either… but as I said: for now, it gets the job done. Just.

I have been doing my video editing in Lightworks, but for my purposes, it’s really overkill. I’ll probably not renew my subscription but just use the freeware version of it and in the meantime:  edit in… Blender. Yes, Blender! As this little effort was edited in.

The video currently playing is 45 mB. Given the bandwidth limits of this website, I’ll have to keep this videos fairly short. Still learning about how to reduce bitrate, etc, so less bandwidth is needed. Youtube will do this for you, but I’m striving to be a bit more independent.

Unbridled Excitement

Every now and then, you run into a product that you find addictive, compelling… impossible to “put down”. Blender is such a product.

I’ve been a Poser user since version 6, used it to create scenes, pose characters and texture and give material attributes to the 3d mesh, such as skin and cloth and such. Poser made it easy to create scenes, had a powerful material-room tool to create and assign materials and allowed me to easily pose humanoid figures with expressions and realistic attitudes and poses.

Blender was the content-creating or -fixing centre, for things like dynamic cloth and when I wanted a bit more geometry but Poser was render place, where it all came together.

However, that is shifting, now. My workflow – and emphasis – has changed.

I still use Poser, but only for posing humanoid figures. The rest, Blender does completely for me:

Back to Poser, and creating dynamic cloth in Blender

The purpose of this article is to document my exploration of creating dynamic cloth in Blender for Poser. I have been struggling with the cloth room in PP2014, trying to cobble settings that would result in optimal mesh deformation using conventional quad-based mesh, but I’m not impressed with the results, overall, ignoring the burnt-in specular which is making this hair look really ordinary:

TheBay02Notice how the skirt deforms beautifully and the top, much less so. The reason? delaunay mesh in the skirt, quad mesh in the top.

Apparently,Marvelous Designer does elegant delaunay mesh.  However, at US$60/month, a personal licence is prohibitively dear, and it doesn’t allow me to make anything for sale or to give away. Purchasing a full Marvelous Designer licence is not an option, either, for obvious reasons.

US$4000? Really? I would gladly pay a reasonable amount to be able to create clothing to give away — most of what I create, I donate to the community — but at that price… not an option.

So, we’re left with shareware or freeware solutions. Blender has a Decimate modifier that will generate triangular mesh – even delaunay mesh – from quad mesh, but the settings elude me at present, as the default results are a bit ordinary (uneven mesh resolution). Will post more as new light emerges on this!


Flying inspiring creativity

For those who know me, my sail-plane gliding days are numbered. It’s a fairly egotistical activity — it’s all about me! — and cost / benefit ratio just isn’t there.

So, I bought a 17ft sailboat (project) which I’m going to fix up and take family out on. Better returns for time/effort/$$ investment.

In the meantime, I’ve respectfully created a glider for Poser in Blender 2.70a. ‘Respectfully’, because the whole flying thing was prompted/initiated by this video:

If you have Poser, you can have a play with a very similar aircraft to that Schweizer 2-33 Lilly Mae did her training and solo in… it can be found here.

Click for a larger version…


Catch-all Site, isn’t it?

Tightbytes must, to those who’ve been following it at all over the past few years, seem a bit schizophrenic. It started as a travel blog thing, then sort-of went to Poser and Python programming (those pages are still around, somewhere). Now, it’s about FOSS and computing freedom.

But really, it’s about all of that, and more. Because, mate, that’s just me.  🙂

So, in keeping with historical behaviour, it’s now about video. Film-making. I’ve always wanted to make a film, say something significant, but lacked the where-with-all.

That’s no longer an issue: with a DSLR, a few affordable accessories and free (or low-cost) editing software, that goal is definitely within reach. What lacks now is skill.

Case in point – this little YouTube video should illustrate:

Keokua Beach Park and Holualoa

Fortunately, there’s a solution for shaky video. The credit goes to Ise for posting this Linux-based solution on his blog. I’ll post it here for the same reason he did: so he can easily find it again if he needed to.

He uses ArchLinux, for Ubuntu-based systems the code would be:

[code] robyn@NetbookMint ~ $ sudo apt-get install transcode[/code][sudo] password for robyn:
Reading package lists… Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information… Done

The following extra packages will be installed:
liblzo2-2 transcode-doc twolame
Suggested packages:
mjpegtools xvid4conf (might need to look at these)
The following NEW packages will be installed:
liblzo2-2 transcode transcode-doc twolame
0 upgraded, 4 newly installed, 0 to remove and 19 not upgraded.
Need to get 1,932 kB of archives.
After this operation, 4,816 kB of additional disk space will be used.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]?

So, I’ve installed on this little system – not that I’d edit video on it – and will do on my laptop once I’ve got a decent connection on it again: the WiFi on it is dodgy.

Well, of course it’s Linux-based: this website is about community, not corporations, so mostly solutions that have a Linux approach will be published here. True, for some things you still have to go to Windows :-/ but I’m going to try not to unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Developing free software for free computing