Thursday, September 25, 2014

Are laptop specs accurate for upgrades? Or, why to ignore the recommendations of laptop manufacturers.

I normally don't write "short" articles, as I usually have so much information to give! But this one should be rather quick in comparison. I love working on my laptops, but I think even people who aren't afraid to do so can get lost on what preliminary measures to take when upgrading.

Maybe you have a decent laptop, but it's running a very slow dual-core CPU. If you want to upgrade it you need to know a few things. The first is what family of mobile processors it belongs to. You can usually find your processor and its respective family on Wikipedia lists. Once you find your processor that same list on Wiki should show you other CPU's from that family. You can see what is better than your CPU and start looking for your replacement.

Sometimes, a family might use the same pin configuration as a predecessor or successor, meaning that you may be able to find and use a newer CPU family. However, I would say this is seldom the case.

On that same Wiki list of CPU's, it should denote how many watts your CPU is. This is VERY important. A normal desktop can have its power supply upgraded, a laptop cannot (without major "hacking"). The most that you might be able to do is find a corresponding laptop power adapter that supplies more wattage than your stock laptop power adapter.

The reason this is significant is because upgrading a CPU (or a graphics card) can increase maximum watts needed to power your laptop. If your laptop's CPU only uses 15 watts, this may mean you have little to no extra wattage available from the laptop to upgrade. Maybe a CPU that is 25 watts will work. But maybe a 35-watt CPU will not. Maybe none of them will work, maybe both of them will.

This really becomes a guessing game unless you can break down all the individual components and how much they use. Components like a hard drive, RAM, and an optical drive may not use much, but they do add up. The bottom-line is moving out of the stock CPU's watt range is a risk.

Helpful Tip #1
If your laptop was a laptop that had different CPU options, you can check the manufacturer's page (or elsewhere) and see what options were available. There could be high-end option, in which case you can investigate to see how much watts that CPU can use to give you an idea of what CPU you can upgrade to.

If your laptop didn't have different CPU options, you can explore forums for others with the same or a similar model to find out wattage information.

By far the cheapest bang-for-your-buck upgrade that can be done is RAM. It is comparable to upgrading the exhaust system of a car. RAM can be great for multitasking, virtualization software, special effects software, and much more. The only limitation is usually whatever the manufacturer says it is... or is it?

Most laptops will have specifications that state how much RAM a laptop not only comes with, but how much it can be upgraded to. From what I have found, this can be wrong.

For example, a laptop may say that it can only support up to 8GB of RAM. However, what is not mentioned is how much can the CPU support? If you look up the CPU you will find a specification for the max amount of RAM it can see and handle, and at what speeds. Let's pretend that the laptop has a CPU that can handle up to 16GB of RAM. This means there is a very good chance you upgrade the RAM to 16GB worth.

Note: Higher speed RAM than what your laptop can handle should still work, as the system should slow it down to make it work.

Helpful Tip #2
Just because your CPU can support more RAM doesn't mean your motherboard will. While I have never come across this situation, I have read posts from users where it does. The best thing you can do, if you're willing to take the risk, is buy the amount of RAM you want to upgrade to, and make sure it is a quality brand. I have heard that may make a difference. I have only tried Corsair "Value" RAM with success.

Graphics Card
Graphic cards can be a little trickier. Some laptops don't use graphic cards at all, so if you have one of those your out-of-luck. (Unless you do an external graphic cards, but the cost vs. power increase will likely not be worth it.) If you do have a graphics card slot, then you can very likely upgrade it.

Many of the same tricks and requirements for upgrading a CPU apply here. Including making sure that your laptop power adapter supplies enough wattage, and if you will go out of the stock graphic card watt range.

Helpful Tip #3
If you have an older laptop and wish to put in a newer graphics card, there will normally be no native support for your laptop. But don't fret, you can often do a INF mod and get your laptop to recognize the graphics card.

Power Adapter
I wanted to remind anyone reading this that your absolute cheapest upgrade will be a laptop power adapter. Yet, this is only a complementary upgrade if you are pushing for higher watts with a better CPU or graphics card. If you stay within the watts of what you already have, this purchase would be completely unnecessary.

In Practice 
I have actually had to do everything mentioned above between two different laptops. The first was an Alienware M17x R2 laptop. A huge laptop (heavy as ****!), with a 900p screen, Crossfire ATI 5870M, and I believe 8GB of DDR3 RAM. The second was recent and for a Sony VAIO VPCSB25FG.

I purchased the M17x second-hand off of a forum. It was fairly cheap and I wanted something I could use for video editing and whatnot when not at home. It came with a cheap CPU that I upgraded to an i7-920XM. This was definitely a wattage increase. I also upgraded the Crossfire setup to a single GTX 680M. Another wattage increase. And because my laptop wasn't made to officially support that graphic card I had to perform an INF mod to NVIDIA drivers.

There is no higher laptop adapter for this model, but from my research, this combination would work. There is a supposed modification to combining two laptop adapters, but it seems that it was a flawed approach. And because of the amount of power the above hardware combination uses, there could be problems between overclocking both items as one would throttle the other.

I did not experience too many problems, but enough to be frustrating. I had to download ThrottleStop to prevent the 920XM from running full speed on start-up. And sometime I cannot boot into Windows 7 without first having the adapter unplugged initially. What's worse, is for no reason, sometimes that little trick will reverse itself where it must be plugged in the entire time of booting.

I also upgraded the RAM to 16GB. I checked on forums and saw that many people were able to accomplish this. I checked the Intel site and it stated the 920XM could handle 16GB. One weird note is that since that time Intel has changed the official specification webpage to state it can only support 8GB. The only way you can know it works with 16GB is if you dig through the technical documentation as it was still there last I checked...

And no, just because Intel changed it didn't make my laptop suddenly stop working!

The Sony VAIO I have only performed a RAM upgrade. I want to perform a CPU upgrade, but I will wait on that. The official webpage specifications for this laptop states a maximum of 6GB of RAM. Which I thought weird since you can't get 2x3GB sets, and laptops only come with two RAM slots.

On further inspection, apparently this series of Sony laptops have 2GB SOLDERED into the motherboard! Great to always have RAM... unless it dies! Anyways, now it makes since that you would be forced to buy a 4GB single RAM stick, which would bring the total to 6GB.

Anyways, I put in a 8GB RAM stick and booted the laptop. It gave no issues whatsoever, and recognized the 10GB of RAM.

Don't trust what the manufacturer's specification are. They might have some validity, but as I have explained, this doesn't seem to be the case for the most part. Many argue that those are just theoretical specs as companies cannot predict what hardware will come out in the future. I believe they just want to force us into buying something "better"; a good trick on getting more money and return customers.

So, if you don't think you can upgrade a laptop, think again! Unless you have already done what I have written, you very likely can.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

VP9 + Opus = WebM: How to Upload THE BEST QUALITY YouTube Videos with the SMALLEST FILES!

I try to keep myself up-to-date with the latest video codecs (such as ARRI's new 3.2K ProRes) and containers. And it is time again for some new codecs and containers to take the field. With HTML5 large and in charge, online video will quickly become a bottleneck issue...

The H.264 codec has been, and still is, a huge staple for video compression. Whether it be for video cameras or a Blu-ray disc, H.264 provides great compression with great quality. There have been licensing issues that have sprung up, but moreorless, H.264 has become the standard for video compression everywhere.

The New Standards
As with DVD to Blu-ray, H.264 could only last so long as demands for better compression that sustain high quality video will and are needed. One of the most obvious reasons for this is online video. While web hosting can be purchased at inexpensive rates, adding more storage can be extremely costly. And if you are constantly loading up videos, even H.264 won't be able to help that budget. YouTube is a great alternative, but some may want to host their own video files.

HTML5 is meant to have already been standardized this year [July], and it is now widely accepted across browser platforms. Even sites like YouTube have "experimental" HTML5 video interfaces. The one thing HTML5 needed though was faster video to go along with it...

H.265 vs. VP9
The new codecs that are coming to the aid of video compression are H.265 and VP9. Both are meant to drastically reduce compression size while still maintaining high quality. They are still in their infancy stages, but are already a forced to be reckoned with.

H.265 is said to be better - in quality - than VP9. It is the obvious successor of H.265, and from what test stills I have seen, it looks amazing! Compression rates can supposedly reach 1/4th the size of H.264. The H.265 stills I previewed were nearly impossible to tell from the H.264 stills. I could only recall one still that seemed slightly worse than the H.264 still. That being said, many are worried that H.265 will have the same licensing issues that plagued H.264, but there is talk of it being free, however unlikely that may be.

VP9 is from Google and is free. I have done a few tests and it is just as amazing as H.265, in my opinion. I have had varied results in comparing compression size of VP9 videos over uncompressed videos I have outputted (such as a short intro at .5% or a full-length video at 12.5%), but they have always come out just as perfect as the uncompressed video itself.

NOTE: I am not mentioning Daala as I have do not have a way of testing this, and I don't believe the codec is widely support yet.

Great! So, where can I put this?
If you have your own website and hosting, you could use an HTML5 video player for VP9, as many of the latest browsers are able to decode it. The same should go for H.265. For those of you using free websites, or even those with paid hosting but little storage is available, YouTube has you covered if you go the VP9 route!

Can you contain me? Can you hear me?
VP9 is just a video codec, what about the container and audio codec? What will YouTube accept?

WebM is a container that will happily accept VP9. It is supported for HTML5. As far as audio, Opus seems to work with VP9 in my tests, and is of excellent quality (if that is a worry). It too is supported by HTML5, and both are supported by YouTube (I did not find Opus officially mentioned on their site, however). There, the secret's half-way out!

Why Should I Use This?
I had a couple reasons to use this that may or may not apply to you. My first was to simply get used to dealing with VP9. It's the future, and I intend to be ready for it. Another reason was that I had an old green screen video that would always look horrendous when uploaded to YouTube. I am hopeful that this method will fix this.

And maybe most importantly, I currently reside in a part of the world where Internet is slow and still costly. I can spend less time by encoding to VP9 and then uploading to a cloud service or YouTube, rather than trying to upload an uncompressed or high-quality H.264 MP4 video.

A final reason, that I'll go into detail below, is that it seems that less compression is had when using VP9 in YouTube. Of course VP9 is a form of compression, but the quality is so incredibly high for such a low file size that it is impossible for even me to see the difference between an uncompressed and VP9 video - when done right.

How to Convert Your Video to WebM (VP9 + Opus) for FREE!
This technique will show you how to quickly and easily convert your video to WebM using the VP9 and Opus codecs. While you can change the settings, doing so may cause issues in playback, and could greatly increase your time for processing.

Here are the steps:
  1. Output your video in whatever format you desire, but uncompressed may be best if possible.
  2. Download Hybrid, which is free.
  3. Install Hybrid, you can leave the install settings as-is.
  4. Open Hybrid.
  5. From the Main tab, choose "VP8/P9" for "Video handling" (the H.265 tab should change to VP8/9).
  6. Ignore this step if you do not have audio. Choose "custom" for "Audio handling". (An Audio tab should now appear.)
  7. In the upper-right, click the man walking out the door with a right arrow icon.
  8. Select your video.
  9. In the middle-right, click the man walking in the door with a left arrow icon.
  10. Select your folder and put in a file name with the extension ".webm".
  11. Click the VP8/9 tab.
  12. Choose "VP9" for "Codec".
  13. Choose "good" for "Basic speed control".
  14. Set "CPU utilization modifier" to the number of cores your CPU has. For example, 6-cores equates to a 5, while a single core equates to 0.
  15. You can leave "Encoding mode" as-is, but I recommend changing the bitrate to at least 6,000kbps (10,000kbps optimal), especially if the video has any titles or credits.
  16. Click the Audio tab. (Skip to step #20 if you have a silent video.)
  17. Check off "Reencode".
  18. Choose "opus" for "Audio format". (You can mess with other audio quality settings, but it is unnecessary, and may not work.)
  19. There are two "+" icons, click the one on the far right with up and down arrow icons below it.
  20. Click the Config tab.
  21. Clikc the Internals tab from the second row of tabs.
  22. Check off "Always use Avisynth".
  23. Click the Filtering tab.
  24. Click the Avisynth tab from the second row of tabs.
  25. Click the Misc tab from the third row of tabs.
  26. Check off "LibavVideoSource instead of FFmpegsource".
  27. Click the Jobs tab (only necessary if you have done this process before, otherwise skip to step #23).
  28. Highlight all "jobs" already in the queue.
  29. Right-click.
  30. Select "remove".
  31. Click the Main tab.
  32. Click the man shoveling with a small box containing a "+" icon.
Note: If for some reason your video outputs upside-down, go to Config > Input and check off "Flip raw rgb" under Decoding. This should only occur if you have a video that was made in a raw RGB format.

Give It Time!
My 2:56 minutes music video took less than an hour with the above settings. This will obviously extend the longer your source video is.

I found that many video players would not play the file correctly. I normally use VLC, and the current 2.1.5 version already supports VP9, but for some reason will not play these files. I have been told that the new nightly builds will. However, MPC-HC plays the files just fine.

But That's All the Drawbacks, Right?
Well, that really depends on your settings. If you follow the settings above, then yes. But if you begin changing them, you could incur other drawbacks.

If someone were to choose "Best" instead of "good" for "Basic speed control", a short 3-minute video would take a few days to process! Or if someone were to choose 0 for "CPU utilization modifier", then it could take a lot longer to process since only a single core would be in use. And if someone were to leave "LibavVideoSource instead of FFmpegsource" unchecked, their video could come out with a stuttering effect.

Premiere Pro Users
If you are a Premiere Pro user, there is an option available to you to compress your video to WebM as VP9 in-program. Here is the free plug-in for that. Here is a free plug-in, from the same person, for Theora; if you have any use for it. Place these in the "Plug-ins" folder of where your Adobe Premiere Pro folder is. If you still don't know what to do, there are plenty of articles on the web explaining how to place Premiere Pro plug-ins.

The reason I am not going into detail on how to use Premiere Pro for VP9 is that I successfully attempted this and was able to get it going easily. But after 4 days, it seemed the progress bar got stuck, and soon after, I had a power outage and lost all the progress. It seems the maker of the plug-in admits there are still issues, and I did find at least one post about the same problem I encountered.

You are able to use two cores if you follow the plug-in maker's instructions, but this is for best quality and will slow down the process further!

I have made three examples from the music video I tested this with. All three are in 1080p and uploaded to YouTube:

Uncompressed (16GB+) - On My Mind
H.264 (3.5GB+) - On My Mind
VP9 (123MB) - On My Mind

YouTube MP4 Download Size
Uncompressed - 76MB+
H.264 - 75MB+
VP9 - ≈79MB

I have a slow Internet speed, and am constantly using up my bandwidth, so each upload was a long wait for me. But for those with speeds triple 3-4Mbps, it should be a breeze.

YouTube Compression Percentages
You'll notice, if trying to download these videos as MP4, that the uncompressed, H.264, and VP9 videos are all practically the same size after YouTube compression.

Some simple math tells us that the VP9 video is about 3.5% of the entire size of the H.264 video. One might incorrectly think that the YouTube compression size should then be equally proportionate, but it isn't. The VP9 MP4 size is actually about 105% of the H.264 (and uncompressed) MP4 video. If we compare the MP4 sizes to their original counterparts we get almost .5% for uncompressed, around 2.14% for H.264, and 64.23% for VP9. This is a good thing as we want as little compression done by YouTube as possible in order to maintain high quality.

Music Video
The footage was all shot on a Panasonic Lumix GH2 hacked to use MJPEG (.MOV @ 30fps) at 80-100Mbps, utilizing mostly Canon FD lenses. I used Premiere Pro to edit and Da Vinci Resolve Lite to color grade. I did add a few effects in Premiere Pro as well.

This was the first day of using my GH2, and I was rushing to learn how to use and hack it. I should've been able to achieve the same bitrates with AVCHD, but something wasn't right. I couldn't experiment more as I was losing sun. We shot our guerrilla-styled music video in about 2-3 hours.

Thumbnail Tidbit
One last odd thing I noticed from YouTube was despite being the exact same music video, the VP9 version had different thumbnail choices than the other two. Why? I don't know...

VP9 quality is superb, and the compression is as amazing as it is made out to be. Once VP9 has gone through its trials and gains more support, I am sure it will be one of the best codecs for uploading, sending, or displaying video.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why I Choose Windows over OS X. Or, Mac vs. PC

I am a big fan of Windows, but I use Mac from time-to-time. This is not article meant to start a flame war, and it is not an article to show who's the "best". I wanted to write this to hopefully give some insight to those who are proponents of one or the other. Reading up on some Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro articles prodded me to lay out some ideas people on either side may have not considered.

It is important to remember that I will may use Mac and OS X interchangeably throughout the article, as you are only meant to be able to use OS X on a Mac.

Why You Prefer Mac or PC
First, I find it very interesting that most people use PC in opposition of Mac. PC is an initialism for Personal Computer. Isn't Mac a personal computer? This falsity could be perpetuated by the successful Apple commercials, which they may have been legally obligated to use to avoid lawsuits from Microsoft. Or maybe, Mac truly wants to be considered something more than a PC.

But here's the skinny: In my lifetime I have found certain general observations to hold true. One such being that depending on which side of the road your country drives on is also the same side of a sidewalk those people will walk up or down.

Similar to this, most people's propensity to use a Mac or Windows-machine is dependent on what was first readily available to them and thus became familiar with. Many of the people I have talked to have admitted that their preference was also their first OS that they began using on a regular basis. This makes sense not just for this situation, but many, if you think about it.

The Exception to the Rule
I am an exception to this general rule. I was first introduced to computers with the Apple IIe, and shortly thereafter, Macintosh. I used them throughout school until about Junior High. The reason I became a Windows fan was because of my father. His first laptop (which was Windows-based) cost about $5,000 USD. I was already fairly comfortable with Macintosh computers by this time, but laptops were a luxury, and now my family had one.

The first time I was allowed to use this laptop was quite soon after my father brought it home. Within 2 hours of messing with it, I had deleted the entire OS. I don't know how I did it, but I did! My mother was furious because she thought it was destroyed, and considering how expensive the laptop was, I understood why. Luckily, my father, being the technologically-inclined person he is, knew he could reinstall the OS, and did so.

One could argue that I had more exposure to the laptop since it was at home. But during that time, while I did enjoy using computers, I was rarely allowed to use his laptop, and we had no desktop. It wasn't until just before Junior High that I would sneak out of my room late at night and use his IBM ThinkPad to scour the web using Netscape. For those of you reading this that were not born or too young to know, Lenovo did not originate the ThinkPad, and Netscape was essentially the Firefox of the day (with a #1 browser spot!).

Fanboy, much?
I have never been a huge Apple fan. I have always championed Microsoft, but just for Windows. I have enjoyed Xbox in its many iterations, but I was a Sega Dreamcast fan (more for the hacking ability), and before that I was purely a Nintendo user. I have owned both Playstations and Xbox's - in their many forms, and find their quality and uses comparable.

I have owned an iPhone, iPad, and a Mac. While I even use a Windows-machine, I have made and continue to use virtual machines for OS X (along with others like Ubuntu). So, while I am partial to Windows, I can easily switch between the two.

If someone were to tell me I could only use a Windows 8 or OS X machine for the rest of my life - without customization - I would be hard-pressed to choose either. However, if I could customize the machines, I would probably choose Windows 8 since I could alter it enough to be similar to Windows 7!

Usability vs. Upgradability
I feel that in the arena of usability, unless you are already prone to one OS or another, Mac is easier to get used to. I think this true of all their consumer products, which is why they are so highly regarded by the public. Windows on the other hand, especially Windows 8, can take quite a bit of time to get to know the ins-and-outs of. However, I do feel that if you need more access to advanced customization and capabilities, Windows is the better platform.

As for upgrading, Windows wins out. Every Mac machine "needs" special Mac parts that come with exorbitant price tags. For a Windows counterpart, it can have a substantially lower cost. Sure, there are hacks that can get Windows parts to work on Mac, but not everyone can (or is willing) to perform these hacks; furthermore, not all upgradeable parts can be hacked.There are "hackintosh" machines, but these are essentially PC-part machines with OS X installed. These are not officially support by Apple, and they can have multiple issues in operating or functioning.

Apple is king when it comes to integration. They have iPhones for smartphone users, they have iPad tablets for those needing more screen real estate and portability, Apple TV, and they have iMacs, Mac laptops, and Mac Pro towers. In terms of software, they have items such as iTunes, FaceTime, Final Cut X Studio, iCloud, and the App Store. All seamlessly integrate and work as intended.

While price is of course still an issue, the only other company that comes close to this type of hardware integration is Samsung. They have their own Android (and Windows) Samsung smartphones, Galaxy tablets, Samsung TV's, and numerous household appliances that can be controlled with Samsung devices. It should be noted that the Samsung TV is an actual TV, while the Apple TV is a device that connects to your TV. In addition, there are ways of setting up your iPad or iPad to control household items as well. A combative, interesting point is that Apple has always used Samsung CPU chips in their iPhone...

As far as software, there is nothing quite on par. There are music players, editing suites, VOIP programs, and cloud services to compete with Apple; but no single company that offers all these and is as popular or purchased with the purposes of integration in mind.

Adobe Suite (CC) vs. Final Cut Studio
Before I begin this section, I wanted to give a little background on Final Cut Pro. Final Cut Pro was originally made by two men who had worked on the first three version of Premiere. They then went to work for Macromedia and created what would become Final Cut Pro based on Apple Quicktime. This created issues concerning Apple Quicktime as they could not offer the product due to a licensing deal with Microsoft. They later demoed both a Mac and Windows version, and when no one chomped at the bit, Apple bought Final Cut as a defensive measure. Macromedia would later be bought acquired by Adobe... Funny how the world works.

In my mind, until their later versions, Premiere and Final Cut were essentially the same thing for different OS's. Their intertwined history helps prove that somewhat.

But, I am an avid Adobe fan. I have always loved their workflow and have been able to utilize all the tools available in their suite at one time or another. Keep in mind, their full suite heavily outweighs Apple's because Apple's suites is for video post-production, while Adobe's is for that and so much more. Less we not forget, there is nothing, NOTHING, that comes close to Adobe Photoshop's features and functions.

But what's more, Adobe is cross-platform. It can be on a Windows or Mac. Giving it a huge advantage over Final Cut Studio. While this does not help the cause of deciding on Windows over Mac, it is something noteworthy of mention.

My only gripes are what Apple has done to some of their products and Final Cut Studio. I originally became interested in wanting to use a Mac for the purposes of special effects through Apple's Shake. Shake was a professional, node-based, compositing program that helped make such films as Peter Jackson's King Kong. But Apple discontinued the product in 2009 and supposedly integrated some features into Final Cut Pro. I then learned how to properly color grade with Apple's Color. Color was originally called FinalTouch and developed by Silicon Color, which was acquired by Apple in 2006. It was amazing and by far the best program (to me) in Final Cut Studio. Of course, Apple decided to discontinue it in 2010 - a year after Shake - and allegedly integrated a better color grading system in Final Cut Pro X.

Thanks to these many changes, especially Final Cut Pro X itself, many people have since jumped ship to Adobe. Adobe has since included their own color grading program called SpeedGrade.

Program Support
While Mac does have a lot of programs that can accomplish similar tasks to that of a Windows-based machine, there are numerous instances where programs are only supported for Windows systems.

One major program like this is 3ds Max. 3ds Max is owned by Autodesk and is a 3D-creation program for making models, animation, games and images. It can be compared to a CAD program of sorts, like AutoCad (also owned by AutoDesk), but far superior in its capabilities. Autodesk is also the owner of Maya, a program very similar to 3ds Max. However, in simplistic terms, I have read that most use 3ds Max more for buildings and other inanimate objects, while Maya is better for modeling and texturing. Some use 3ds Max for making a model (like a person), then bring it into Maya to apply a texture.

The one thing about 3ds Max that is important to this article is that it is only Windows-based. While Maya can run on Windows or Mac, 3ds Max is purely a Windows program. This means that movies like Transformers were made with Windows. They may have used Macs for other things, but the Transformers themselves were all done in Windows. You might ask, but the transformers are humanoid-like figures, wouldn't that be best performed by Maya? No, because remember that Transformers are machines, machines that turn into cars, and 3ds Max is great for such objects.

Another popular program is Access, which used to be part of the MS Office suite. While Macs can use MS Office, but they do not support Access. For most of us, that's okay, but for those of us who use Access to create and use databases, that's an issue.

There are many other great programs that do not support OS X. This is one impacting drawback when one comes across it, as there as some incredibly useful applications for Windows that would be just as useful for Mac. The only solace one can take, if they are on a Mac, is that there are a few programs like Wine that try to allow Windows-based programs to run on Mac. The downside is that sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes you get a combination of both.

Unless You've Got Power!
The one debate I always seem to get into with professional or consumer enthusiasts is which OS (but really machine) is better. The easiest way I put a stop to this is with one question. This is how the conversation usually goes: "Macs are better." "Why?" "Because they're better for [insert reason]." "Okay, but what actually makes Mac better at that than Windows?" "...I don't know." Mac is also interchangeable with Windows in this conversation. People can give me preferential reasons (or excuses) as to why one OS is better than another, but no actual hardware or technical information as to why.

There have been rumors for many years that Macs are better in terms of digital photography or video editing, but this is largely untrue, especially now. One of the most popular rumors was that the graphics power was far superior, and thus better for photography or video. The most I ever read supporting this was that at one point in the '90's Mac's were able to get better throughput (not to be mistaken with bandwidth) of graphic processing from the graphics card itself to the operating system. However, this was still marginal in comparison. Whether this was true or not, I am unaware as I only saw one lengthy post on this from many years ago, however, it did give a feeling of legitimacy from the knowledge the author had on computer workings.

I feel that Windows is far superior in this arena. Not only do we have more CPU choices at our disposal for desktops, but we have undoubtedly more choices for motherboards, RAM, and other components.

The only thing Apple had was Thunderbolt, an esoteric technology that allows for unbelievable fast transfer speeds from specified-devices. SuperSpeed USB3.0 (not to be confused with the first iteration of USB3.0) is now as fast as Thunderbolt. But Thunderbolt 2 is now out and twice as fast as the first. Thunderbolt was very limited for Windows enthusiasts when it came to availability. Now Intel (who developed Thunderbolt in cooperation with Apple), has released it for both markets. So this advantage will soon be gone.

Maybe just to give a more modern perspective on the power of a Windows machine, I will use Pixar as an example. Everyone Knows Pixar, it's Disney and non-Disney 3D-animated movies have touched our hearts. They are probably the best known 3D animation company, alongside Dreamworks. But did you know that Pixar creates their animation on HP (Hewlitt-Packard) workstations? In case there is any confusion, HP does not make any Mac machines. It takes a lot of processing power to make a Pixar film, and it seems Windows is the way to go for them. Kinda funny given that Steve Jobs somewhat helped put Pixar on the map...

Maintenance & Repair
From what I have found, Windows definitely needs more maintenance. Windows may get sluggish over time depending on how many programs I install and whatnot. I constantly use Disk Cleanup to free up what space I can, and find that when I do that on others computer's, they'll often get a few gigabytes of space back. I periodically use the built-in defragmentation program, and if it is severe enough, I go ahead and perform the defrag. It is said that the NTFS filing system should not need to be defragmented, but why would Microsoft put it in Windows otherwise? I even clean the registry, which many people are unaware even exists. I have found this to incredibly speed up computers at times. I should note that Mac does not have a registry.

On the other hand, I never found the need to do any type of maintenance with my Macbook Pro. I could load up programs, save videos, and anything else and it never really seemed to slow down. There is no native tool to defrag on Mac, but there are tools on the Internet that will do this for Macs.

The only reason I had before to not choose Windows over Mac was disk failure. From what I had heard, and read, when a Mac died, it was dead. There was no way to get your data back and start anew. I thought this true because many people saved all important data to an external drive, but this is just good practice for either OS. Whether this was true, and still holds true, is not something I am privy to. I have had Windows disks die in the past, but was able to extract the data from the disk.

I have read many articles for and against using Macs for networking. Most are about long-term costs vs. upgrading. Some argue that while the initial costs for a Mac setup may be high, that long-term issues are normally non-existent. While Windows-based machines are cheap to setup, but always have problems sooner or later.

As far as upgrading goes, many argue that Windows systems will be easier to upgrade. Opponents argue that while upgrading a Mac system can be costly (if applicable), integration of newer Mac systems are simple.

I have talked to many IT professionals and was surprised to find that when I asked which OS caused the most issues, it was always Macs. I must also admit that I have never seen many Mac-networking setups in the wild (with the exception of post-editing facilities), so is that the way to go, or are they simply feeding into the popular trend?

Viruses & Issues
Contrary to the common belief that Macs cannot get viruses, they can and do. The Apple site at one point even touted this, but that bit of information has long since been taken down. If order to know why it seems like Macs do not get viruses, you have to look at a virus creator's perspective. If the OS market is dominated by Windows, thanks to cost (and piracy), which is a better target? Windows. You would want a virus to reach as many people as possible, so you choose the most used OS. So while Windows has and will always have the potential to contract viruses, so do Macs.

Arising issues is an interesting topic. I have been told, and have read, that Mac issues are much more frustrating. Why? Because, while they may not appear often, the error messages received give little or no information as to what the issue could be. Thus, without knowing the issue, it makes finding a solution that much harder. I wasn't sure if this was really true until it happened to me. Generally, when I have a Windows issue, I can solve it rather quickly. Sometimes I get almost no information, but the little I do get usually aids me in resolving it. When this has happened to me on a Mac, I was lost and it took me an abnormal amount of time to resolve the problem.

I have to say though, this is a toss up between Windows and Mac as far as issues are concerned. I get issues on Windows much more frequently than on OS X (largely due to how often I am trying new things or modifications), but the time to solve the issues on Windows as compared to OS X seem to balance themselves out.

Each OS has their strengths and issues, some of which have already been discussed. One last circumstance I would like to voice is that different OS versions warrant different reactions. When Apple stopped creating their OS solely based on their own work and switched to a Unix-based system, lots of people were outraged. Some swore to never go back to Macs, others forced themselves to stay.

But this is very similar to Windows 7 and Windows 8 arguments. Microsoft wanted to integrate their Windows RT tablets and Windows 8 interfaces so users could easily switch from one to the other, if need be. People either love it or hate it. I definitely hate it. Windows 8 was good for those who were using a Windows OS for the first time, but Windows enthusiasts hated the learning curve. While there were modifications that could make it almost like a Windows 7 OS, you would have to figure that out on your own. The most jarring thing was the absence of a Start button. In either case, Microsoft seemed to take notice as they immediately started development on Window 9 ("Threshold").

One other thing, which is more of a hardware-based aspect, is the use of a BIOS. I won't get too detailed about a BIOS, but it is a firmware interface that allows your computer to run hardware and continue on into the OS. When Intel-based Macs first arrived, they started using EFI, which was a much more user-friendly firmware interface. While EFI was first introduced into PC workstations, it did not gain popularity for Windows-based systems until later. Many newer Windows-based systems now boast UEFI, a newer version of EFI. I believe there was a bit of lag, but newer Mac-based systems now have UEFI.

My Computer, My Choice
Ultimately, the choice is always up to the consumer. What they like? What they want? What they need? The answer is that is completely depends.

A consumer new to computers may find using a Mac ultimately easier. A consumer looking for easily accessed advanced customization and modifications may prefer Windows. Someone may only be able to afford Windows, while another person who is well-off may want to purchase a Mac just because they can (and it shiny!).

What is my computer? My choice? I have a custom-built Windows 7 desktop. I have had the case for many years, but have upgraded its innards several times. I have a AMD FX-9590 with 32GB DDR3 RAM in a ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z, running Windows 7 off a Kingston 96GB SSD. This also includes two hybrid drives, and two SATA III drives, both running RAID 0. I have 3 external drives, one via USB2.0, one via eSATA, and one via USB3.0. I have well over 13TB of storage space (soon to be almost 20GB).

I chose this setup primarily for two reasons:

  1. Cost
  2. Upgradability

Other reasons are that I have always enjoyed the Windows OS since 3.x, and can do things with it I would be unable to do in OS X. I love the Adobe suite, but far prefer it on my Windows system. I should also mention, again, that I do run OS X off of virtualization software within my Windows machine. However, at the moment, I really only use it because there is a great HTML5 web developing program that can only be used on OS X (ironic, right?).

A final reason I chose Windows as my OS was because that, at the time, you could use a NVIDIA card hack with Premiere Pro CS5.5 and get the MPE (Mercury Playback Engine) to run. The MPE allows for certain effects and filters to run without any need to render. While MPE was meant to only be used with NVIDIA Quadro cards, a simple hack allowed for many (cheaper) NVIDIA cards to be used. While Macs allowed this hack too, I read many were hit-and-miss. This hack could also be used for AMD/ATI cards, but was also very restricting in what cards would work. Now there is a lot of support for both NVIDIA and AMD cards on both Mac and Windows in Adobe Premiere CC.

If you are wondering what kind of phone I use, I now only use Android-based phones. I am partial to Samsung or LG - and currently have a LG G3 - but do have other brands. I find them easy to use and modify, and many apps I seek out are free from the Google Play Store. I have a Samsung Galaxy tablet as well. Other than the program mentioned above, I only have iTunes (for my wife) and Quicktime Pro (for video editing purposes).

Dual-Boot vs. Virtual Machines
For those few who read this in hopes of a definitive answer, then you have not had to go through all the forums and articles bad-mouthing each other. However, there is a way to have your cake and eat it too!

I will not be detailing the following techniques as dual-booting can be potentially dangerous, and virtualization software setup information can easily be found from a simple web search.

Dual-booting, or multi-booting as it is often referred to, is the process where one computer hosts two OS's (or more). There will usually be a way to choose which OS to boot when the computer first boots. This is a common procedure for Windows machines, and can allow you to jump from one OS to the other easily.

The major drawback here is space. You will need to partition a hard drive, or use another blank hard drive, if you wish to install the OS. You may be able to grab files from one OS drive and transfer to the other, but this is not a good way to go. It is better to allot enough space for the OS and all your programs and files. Another drawback I found was that I once made a multi-boot on the same hard drive. The computer eventually became unstable to the point it wouldn't boot up anymore. For others I have talked to about this, they have never seen that issue. Maybe there was just too much going on in one OS, or maybe it was a fluke. But I would advise anyone attempting this to only use a separate hard drive for a multi-boot OS, just to be safe.

Virtual machines are by far safer, and fairly simple in implementing. You setup a program like VMware, VirtualBox, or any other virtualization software just as you would any other program. You then install the OS of choice. On a Mac, Bootcamp is for this exact purpose. However, you can still use different virtualization software with a Mac if desired.

The drawbacks here are mainly RAM and support. Virtual machines are notorious RAM hogs, and the more you have the better it will perform. If you have a small amount of RAM on your machine, and don't intend to upgrade, be aware a virtual OS may act extremely sluggish. Another point is that certain items may not be fully supported, or at all. Bootcamp warns not to use a wireless mouse, while it can be used, it may not function perfectly. I use a wireless mouse with VMware and have not encountered an issue... yet.

But wait! Can Macs multi-boot? Well, actually, they can. I have not done this myself, but there is a program called rEFIt located here. And it seems as though it should be easy enough to install an OS through Bootcamp. Bootcamp itself has had support dual-booting for some time. I have to warn as I did before that it seems the documentation indicates the OS can instead be installed on the drive, which I will reiterate can bring about mayhem later... Please note that this software is only applicable to Intel-based Mac machines.

To sum up, the OS for you is just that, for you. I tried my best to be impartial as I do read up on both platforms to increase my technological knowledge. I have even proven that I am loyal to Windows, but not Microsoft itself. Maybe this article will help show that each has a place among the people for a variety of wants and needs.

Side Note
While not mentioned above, I am happy that Apple is around. Samsung and LG are huge companies that are in many of the same markets as Apple, and they have quality products to compete with. (I own a TV from each, and they are both incredible!) However, those giants are both Korean; Apple is American. While I do understand that those companies probably wouldn't be where they are today without American consumers, it is still nice to know that at least one American company has the know-how to favorably compete against giants like those in international markets.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Free Serial Numbers for Canon EOS & Dazzle (DVC-100) - Get the FREE Software for Free!

Everyone knows that getting serial numbers for paid software - that you don't own - is illegal. But what if you do own the software? Okay, let us make the situation a bit simpler. How does this work for free software? Many large companies will post their free software on the web and let you get copies whenever needed. Yet some companies do this, but require you to give them your product's serial number beforehand in order to download the respective software; or input it afterwards to have the software open. Enter Canon and Dazzle.

I wanted to start with Dazzle as it is not nearly as well-known as Canon, and it is less likely that you will need to use it since this is really a specialty product. Dazzle has numerous products that concentrate on recording from devices to your PC. Originally, their devices were focused on digitizing VHS. It seems that they are more geared towards digitizing DVD, and logically so.

The DVC-100 was one of Dazzle's early models. It was small, popular, and easy-to-use. The model has been updated since that time, but little has changed from a technology standpoint.

I first got this model many, many years ago. It cost me around $100+ brand new. The price is still around $90 new, and can be somewhat cheaper on eBay. I guess you really don't fix what's not broken.

That Dazzling Recorder Software
The software to download from their site is the "Pinnacle Instant DVD Recorder Setup". I believe the software is mainly just for recording but has some additional features like basic editing. Most would think this would be a free download, as there are many alternatives for their additional features that are far superior. But no, Dazzle wants to make sure you cannot use their product unless you have their serial. Oh, you bought it used? So? We're too busy to separate the basic recording software from everything else!

Oh, Canada
Those Canucks come in handy sometimes, and this is one shining example. When the Dazzle DVC-100 was released in Canada there were some issues regarding the serial numbers. It seemed that many of them simply did not work. How did Dazzle fix such a large-scale issue?

Dazzle decided that instead of addressing each case individually, why not kill a bunch of loonies with one stone? They created one serial number that would work on any of their DVC-100 products. Of course, this was only meant for Canadian consumers. However, there is still an article on their website that gives it out.

Serial #
I came across this serial number because I had lent out my DVC-100 to my friend's mother. She never used it and ended up losing the software disc. I had bought it in-store several years prior and no longer had the receipt.


I have tested this a couple different times and it has always worked for me. Here is a software version that I have saved in case you can't find a newer one.

If you don't know Canon then you probably have never gone shopping for a camera, lens, printer, scanner, or any other number of items Canon produces. They are a world-renowned Japanese company known for their quality products.

Canon cameras have been around for decades and have is one of the biggest contenders in the field along with Nikon. They have many consumers cameras that are excellent and revered by many. But their professional lineup is what the hubbub is all about.

EOS (Electro-Optical System) has been their current professional lineup since 1987. It has always been a mainstay for professional photographers, and in recent years has become a great and inexpensive choice for amateur and professional videographers looking for exceptional quality.

EOS Utility
EOS cameras come with specialized Canon software. One such piece of software is the EOS Utility. This utility is mainly meant for updating an EOS camera's firmware to fix or improve certain issues. Some people do not bother or feel the need to update their camera's firmware. Others are just too afraid to do it.

However, even if you use profiles like Cinestyle from Technicolor, you will need the EOS Utility to load it onto the camera. And if you are a Magic Lantern fan, you may need to upgrade your firmware to a supported firmware version before your EOS camera can take advantage of it.

Smile! You're On Canon Camera's... Software Site. 
Canon has made the EOS Utility available on their website as either an updater or as part of their package mimicking the contents of the CD that should have come with your EOS camera. You can download the updater files without a serial number, but if you do not already have the software, how does that help?

If you want to download the actual EOS Utility you will be need a valid serial number from an EOS camera in order to download a product. Simple enough if you have the camera with you, a pain if not.

The Old Workaround
In the past, you could download the Mac DMG file for the EOS Utility and use a Mac to extract the proper contents (since it actually held the full EOS Utility inside), and use it from there. This no longer works with newer versions.

The New Workaround
This involves registry hacks and other steps depending on whether you have a Mac or Windows OS. This information can be found here - along with the old workaround. If you really want to spend a lot of unnecessary time, go for it!

Serial #
The EOS software is the same for any of the EOS cameras. All you need is any EOS camera serial number and you can download their packaged software. The following serial number is posted publicly on the web.

Serial Number: 0330113672

NOTE: If you are looking for the ImageBrowser EX, Digital Photo Professional, Picture Style Editor, or PhotoStitch software from Canon, this method will be exactly the same as the package that contains the EOS Utility also contains all the aforementioned software.

I hope this helps anyone who buys a DVC-100 and loses their CD, or bought it used without one. I also hope this helps anyone looking for the Canon EOS software. I myself have had to go through both these situations and was extremely glad I was able to find this information. Best of all, nothing illegal or complicated needs to be done to obtain this software.