Thursday, November 27, 2014

How to Get the BEST 4K Video Out of a 1080p Camera!

I've held off on this article as I did not feel the time was right, but it has become too evident that 4K is the next big thing for TV's and digital video recording. Many of us are lucky enough to own camcorders or cameras that output 1080p quality video, but now that 4K is becoming increasingly popular, should we toss those devices aside and purchase a 4K camera? I would like to argue that (for now) 1080p can suffice for 4K videos, and I would like to show you how and why...

Back in the Day
Just before I was about to be a sophomore, I switched high schools. I was late to the party so I only had a few choices for my electives. I opted for a video class that I thought would be easy; boy, was I wrong!

The former teacher was known to be very lax and the video class had been easy. But the current teacher wanted his students to really learn how to create video projects at a high standard. Before you were allowed to even touch a NLE (Non-Linear Editor), you had to learn how to edit with VHS. While not as hard as editing 8mm with a film splicer, it was still an arduous task. Once you had done one project on a VHS editing bay, you could then move onto a NLE.

When I first sat down in front of a computer (loaded with Adobe Premiere), I didn't know where to start. I could open the program, but that was about it. So I pulled over a classmate and asked them one question: Which button cut the video. From then on I educated myself on all the skills and technical aspects of production and post-production.

I was fortunate enough to get into digital video just before 24p became a huge revolutionary way to capture and output video. For the younger crowd, it was much like the jump from SD to HD (1080p). For newer crowds it will be akin to 1080p to 4K. I wouldn't say that things were simpler back then, but because there was less to contend with, it did give a sturdier background for digital video and all the new features that would start to arise.

Originally I wanted to do something in computers, but since that first class in high school, I have continued my studies and experimentation in digital video. I even went on to get a degree in film and media. That's not to say I forgot about computers altogether, otherwise this blog would not exist.

1080p vs. 4K
1080p is a video resolution of 1920 x 1080. 4K is a video resolution of 4096 x 2160. There are other 4K resolutions, but I won't get into that here (check "14 Things People Get Wrong..."). 4K is roughly 4 times larger than 1080p. You can check this by multiplying the numbers above then dividing the total for 4K by the total for 1080p. In pixels, the comparison is about 8 million to 2 million. This should help you understand why 4K is such better quality than 1080p, even without having a TV that will allow you to test that theory.

1080p vs. 2K
2K is a video resolution of 2048 x 1080. Again, there are some other resolutions, but I will not be getting into them. 2K is just barely taller than 1080p. 2K is the resolution used in most cinemas (there are some cinemas that do show movies in 4K).This may help understand why the need for cameras, camcorders, and TV's to have 2K never really came to fruition.

Be Forewarned
The best way to get 4K video is to obviously have a 4K camera or camcorder. A 4K smartphone may be cool, but it is not a good way to get 4K footage (even with hacked bitrates).

The only camera I know that can be hacked to become a 4K camera is the Sony F5, but the camera alone still costs thousands upon thousands of dollars. It would be better to get something like a Panasonic GH4, especially now since there are rumors that Panasonic may discontinue the line...

But if you can't afford those options, then follow along below.

Preparation for the Transformation
There are a few things you can and should do in order to make the best quality out of 1080p video footage.

The first is a pre-production step. If you own a Canon EOS, a Panasonic GH2, a GH1, or any other camera that can be hacked for higher bitrate, you should enable those settings. You will need to spend some ample research on how these are performed, how they can react, and how to reverse the process if needed. For an applicable Canon, you can use Magic Lantern, which will give you a setting to increase the bitrate. The process is easily reversible by just pulling out your battery. On a GH1 or GH2, the process is a little more in-depth as you need to actually replace the firmware and find a respective mod that will increase your bitrate (the Driftwood Moon or Cake is a good one for GH2 users). Of course, there are going to be a lot of cameras without any sort of hack, so you can skip this step if it does not apply. (Or pick up a cheap Canon that can use CHDK; camera list available here.)

For my tests I ended up using a hacked GH2 that got me about 80-100Mb/s for my 1080p footage. It came out superb and was a perfect candidate to try for a 4K upscale.

The second step is something anyone should be able to accomplish. After creating your video, but before throwing it into a NLE, download and install the free version of GoPro Studio. You can then increase your video footage's bit-depth from 8-bit to 10-bit. I won't go into the exact steps as I use NeoScene (which was a product that became discontinued when GoPro bought Cineform). They have the same capabilities, except that the GoPro Studio is an editing suite, and NeoScene includes the ability to convert AVCHD files (great for GH2 users like me!). If you want NeoScene for AVCHD footage, you may be able to find some valid serials sold on eBay. I have a posting here with the actual downloads that GoPro's site does not make available for discontinued users.

If you're asking why do the second preparation task, because you know that bit-depth is about color; it's because that this will likely help produce a better 4K version of your 1080p footage since it will have more color information when producing a top-notch 4K video. 8-bit deals with 256 colors, while 10-bit uses 1024 colors. And when doing the upscale process below, the computer is trying to produce non-existent details from details that do exist. Giving it more to work with is better than less in these circumstances.

How to Make 1080p into 2K
The easiest way to go about this is just to enlarge your video until the height is 2048 pixels high. Sure, some quality loss will occur, but not enough to be noticeable to the naked eye. To reiterate, there isn't much of a reason to do this unless you are specifically asked to do so (i.e. a client needs his digital video in 2K).

If this isn't satisfactory, you can use similar steps that will be discussed for 4K.

How to Make 1080p into 4K
Now, you could just scale 1080p footage to the dimensions of 4K, but unlike 2K, the quality will be substandard. Because we are enlarging the footage more than 4 times its original dimensions - where 2K is a slight pulling of the height - the quality will immediately take a hit and be noticeable by enthusiasts and the general public alike.

A simple way, which I do not recommend, is first scaling the 1080p footage to 4K, then use some post filter effects. You can throw on some Gaussian blur to smooth over the banding and artifacts that will undoubtedly arise, and use a bit of sharpen to get back a bit of that grain for realism's sake. This can be useful for quick jobs, but it doesn't give it the video footage quality it deserves.

Instead, you should use Adobe After Effects CC. If you don't have it, try out a trial version. If you use up the trial, either buy it or reinstall your OS and do the trial again (a bit extreme unless you have a spare computer you don't actively use).  

Not long ago Adobe introduced a new "detail-preserving upscale" feature for Adobe After Effects CC. It is an effect and is fairly easy to use. The results are quite phenomenal, even moreso when compared to just a standard upscaling of the footage.

Now that you have the required tool to perform this trick, follow these steps to transform your 1080p footage into 4K:

  1. Open After Effects
  2. Select "New Composition".
  3. Change the values to 4096 x 2160.
  4. Name the composition whatever you like.
  5. Click "OK."
  6. Import the 1080p footage into your "Project" panel. (Drag-and-drop your footage on the Project panel, or right-click the "Project" panel and go to Import > File... to browse for your footage. File > Import > File... also works.)
  7. A "comp" will be created along with the footage import.
  8. Drag-and-drop the footage into your comp timeline.
  9. In the "Effects & Presets" panel, type in "Detail". The "Detail-Preserving Upscale" effect should appear. (If it does not, you are not on the latest version of Adobe After Effects CC.)
  10. Drag-and-drop the effect onto the footage in your comp timeline and it should automatically apply to your footage, and open the "Effects" panel.
  11. Ensure your timeline is at the beginning of your footage by dragging the time cursor to the start of the footage.
  12. Click the "Scale" stopwatch provided underneath the "detail-preserving upscale" effect in the "Effects" panel.
  13. Use the "Scale" option to increase the size of your footage until you fill the entire frame.
  14. Click the "Detail" stopwatch provided underneath the "detail-preserving upscale" effect in the "Effects" panel.
  15. Increase the amount of the "Detail" to 100%.
  16. Click the "Alpha" stopwatch provided underneath the "detail-preserving upscale" effect in the "Effects" panel. (This step and 17 are optional, however, it does seem to look slightly better if done.)
  17. Change the value from "Bicubic" to "Detail-preserving".
  18. Go to Edit > Add to Render Queue
  19. Click it.
  20. The render queue window should appear in place of the comp timeline. Adjust your settings as preferred.
  21. Click "Render".

Note: While 4096 x 2160 is true 4K, many "4K" TV's only support up to 3840 x 2160. So, you may want to check which value you should use depending on your monitor or TV that will be used for viewing.

Note II: The stopwatch is usually not needed unless you plan on changing that selected item's actions during playback. However, I found that not clicking on it for this effect made it ignore the filter altogether when outputted from the render queue. For my tests, it seemed to work if I just did the stopwatch for scaling, but to be safe you may want to do the stopwatch for all the effect properties.

There is no perfect upscaling solution, such as that, this is not a perfect solution. But this is by far the best method I have come across, as well as the least time-consuming. There will never be a perfect solution for upscaling because your are taking something smaller and making it bigger, which will always cause banding and artifacts.

If you don't know much about video and are thinking you should use the above steps to downscale video, don't. It's really just a waste of time. Problems in detail and quality only happen when going from small-to-big, not big-to-small. Decreasing the size of something will retain its detail and not create any of the issues noted above. You can simply scale down the footage in any NLE and be fine. 

However, if you go from big-to-small, then attempt to go back by using small-to-big, the problems above will occur. It would be smarter to keep a backup of the full size as it will be perfect in comparison to trying to match the original with the solution I have presented.

4K You, 4K Me, 4K Everybody!
I have found other software to perform upscaling, but all have mediocre results and cannot come close to the quality retention Adobe After Effects provides. I should say that the larger the gap in dimensions, the less useful any of this becomes. If I try to upscale 480p to 4K, the results should look horrible regardless of what program is used. On the flip side, If trying to upscale from 4K to 6K, this method should still be valid. Because 8K is so massively large, this technique may or may not be valid when coming from a 4K source (certainly not 1080p).

If you need to test your footage, you can always upload it to YouTube where it should give you the option to use 4K when viewing. And if you need to keep the great quality of your 4K video, but need a more manageable file size for sending or uploading, check out "VP9 + Opus = WebM...", which will also have the 4K example I made.

Another thought to remember is that your footage is not 4K, just your outputted video is. For most of us, this method will suit us fine. Others may rather purchase a 4K camera for the real deal. But that doesn't mean to trade-in your 1080p camera, as you may need a dual-setup one day, and this technique can help produce a beautiful 4K video from that second camera that only offers 1080p...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Brand vs Generic: When To Go Generic & When Not To

People always worry about what product brand to buy. Should I go with a more expensive popular brand? Or should I save some money and get the cheaper brand that seems to do the same thing. I wanted to discuss some of my own experience and what I have learned. Most of what I'll discuss will pertain to devices, but the same knowledge can be applied to other purchasing areas.

What's In a Name?
Companies, big and small, are after one thing only, consumer money. So, one way to do that is through branding. Some businesses launch brilliant marketing campaigns to boost their branding, or to create a name for themselves. Others depend on word-of-mouth. In either case, the hope is to build a strong enough brand to have potential customers buy their product or service solely on their name. And while that is how many people buy items, the goal should be so much more research-intensive.

Brand Tiers
While most will consider only two categories (brand and generic), I feel there are at least four that come into play. I will describe each tier and give them a name that I use to differentiate between them.

Top Brands
 A "top brand" is what everyone refers to as just a brand name. However, a top brand is really a bit different from others. They are usually mid-to-large size companies that have spent tons of cash (or not if they are lucky) to build up their brand name and become common in popular culture. Brands like these have power, money, and the sway to take in large percentages of their consumer-base compared to competitors. Such top brands include Coca-Cola, Ikea, Samsung, Intel, etc. They are the top of the top and normally have little to fear from their competition. Conversely, there are top brands like Pepsi that ensure that Coca-Cola works hard to stay on top. Any brand can become a top brand, it doesn't only take a lot of work to get up to a top position, but to stay in a top position.

Base Brands
"Base brands" are still well-known brands, but would be considered to be at the lower-end of the totem pole. They have a name that is recognized, yet, they are not what people would normally consider a great or best brand. Some companies in this arena are Zotac, PowerColor, Garuda Indonesia, and Transcend. Zotac and PowerColor are both graphic card manufacturers that make decent cards but fall short in comparison to their competition. While there are many who will praise their products, sometimes they just fall short. PowerColor comes up short as they come out with graphic cards that have little-to-no frills. While Zotac tries to be a power player but can't quite dig it's way out of a base brand (which may be because of the lack of pushing their brand, or when they have horribly overpriced and low-performing products like the the GTX 980 Extreme). Garuda Indonesia is an airlines that has built itself up brick-by-brick to be a much better airlines than it was a decade ago. Unfortunately, there are still many other foreign airlines that are just better (for additional incurred costs). However, in terms of domestic airlines in Indonesia, it could be argued that it is a top brand... Transcend manufactures USB flash drives among other things, and has slowly built a good base of consumers while increasing their drives build quality and maintaining an inexpensive price.

Base brands can become top brands, and there have been many cases to support this. Acer was an okay base brand years ago. They were cheap, but they seemed to be of low quality, so there was some risk involved in buying one of their laptops. As of late, I would classify them as a top brand because they have become extremely popular due to their cost-to-performance ratio.

Generic Brands
Generic brands are common in any country you go to. Is there a tablet you want but it's too expensive? Try a generic brand! How about some expensive jewelry? Try a generic brand! How about that a new flat-screen TV? Try a generic brand!

The main issue with generic brands is build quality. Many of these items will be outsourced to cheap companies that cut corners or use inferior materials, increasing the chance of getting a faulty or flimsy product. Sometimes you can get a winner, sometimes you can't. These companies are trying to make a name for themselves, usually in an already saturated market. Their game plan is to flood the market with cheaper, similar items in order to boost their brand.

What is interesting about generic brands is sometimes they have superior internals. Case in point, I bought an external Fantom Drive many years ago. It was relatively cheap, and had power-saving features that I wanted to try. I have never had a problem with it and use it to this day. While running some experiments I realized I had a Samsung drive connected to my computer, but I have no Samsung branded hard drives... On further inspection, I discovered that the Fantom Drive was actually using a Samsung hard drive. What becomes really intriguing here is that I got a cheap Samsung drive, but (until recently) I really never considered a Samsung drive a good drive. Ever moreso, I was really just relying on its brand name to believe it is a good product. However, experience with it has proved it to be a good product.

Another quick example is the Indonesian brand, Polytron. They produce fridges, washing machines, and televisions. What many people do not know is that they use Phillips parts for their own TV's. Their televisions are normally cheaper than Phillips, likely due to the branding. However, as one might think that it is hiding quality, I don't believe so. I bought a Phillips flat-screen about a year ago and in comparison to LG or Samsung, it is vastly inferior. There are a lot of missing features, and even the comparable features are just weaker. So sometimes hiding a top brand within a generic isn't always a win for the consumer.

No-Name Generic Brands
When most of us think generic I believe we really are talking about "no-name generic brands". These are the items that have no branding on the actual item. Sure, they may have some packaging with some brand name on it, but nothing on the product itself to distinguish it from others. Think spoons, scissors, or other common household products that really have no name on them. This happens in other realms too, for example, USB flash drives. You can find thousands of cheap USB flash drives without branding. These may be companies trying to make money through cheap USB flash drives, or more likely selling these to companies with some brand that can profit off of their cheap costs. These are the items to be wary of as they can seem great, but will usually have very low quality build regulations.

When you think of no-name brands, we think China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, India, etc. And there are many items made there that do fall suspect to poor performance or simply bad quality. As I see it, it is all about the manufacturing process and quality regulations. Take iPhones, they are made in China but come out great. This in large part due to serious regulations that need to be followed in order to deem an iPhone and iPhone.

Many of the great and bad products are outsourced to countries with inexpensive labor to make their products more lucrative. Other brands avoid outsourcing their work and make better quality products for it.

Samsung creates almost every part of their Android phones in Korea, allowing them to better control input and output. Because of that, when I hear Samsung, I usually think great quality. But it should be remembered that it doesn't mean all their products are made in Korea. They assemble (and possibly create) their televisions for the USA in Mexico, because it is much cheaper than building them in Korea and importing them [NAFTA].

The Play
Now I'll go through the motions of what to do and consider when choosing between a top brand and a no-name generic brand. Recently I wanted to purchase a new USB flash drive, so I checked on Amazon for prices and deals. I immediately came across a 128GB USB 2.0 flash drive for about $10! It was a no-name brand and it shipped from China. After a bit more research the best top brand I could find was a PNY 128GB USB 3.0 flash drive for about $35. Both are a great deal and the only major (apparent) difference is that one uses a newer and better USB revision.

The Used
The next thing I wanted to look at was a used price for the PNY USB flash drive. There was no used drives, so I could not take this into account when purchasing. A used top brand will usually still be better than a no-name brand in most of my experiences. Even though it is used, you may still get better bang for your buck.

The Reviews
For top brands and base brands this may be easier to accomplish by finding articles and forums that delve into experiences with the product. For no-name brands I normally have to rely on the reviews given at the site I am purchasing from.

In Amazon, the PNY reviews were quite good. For the no-name generic drive the reviews were about 50/50. You also have to remember that some of these no-name generic brands are sold under companies that have generic brands. Pouring through some of those reviews brought the no-name drive down to around 40/60, 30/70 (in favor of not getting it).

The Support
The PNY drive comes with a limited 1-year warranty. The no-name drive comes without a warranty. You could get Amazon to refund your money if the product becomes defective within a month's time.

The Risks
So my first thought was the no-name generic brand USB flash drive is cheap because it was made in China, which in turn means it also runs a high risk of being built poorly. If the no-name drive dies, I am out $10. The PNY has the warranty, so I can always send it directly to them for a replacement. While not a true risk, I should consider whether or not I want to use USB 2.0 or 3.0 for my flash drive. If just for use at home, then the USB 3.0 would be the way to go. I would gain no benefits outside my home as many computers I would use are only USB 2.0 capable. The reviews lend a lot of weight as most people aren't trying to post fake reviews for these type of things, which are against the no-name in majority. The last and most important risk is price. Ultimately, $10 is not a lot for a USB flash drive of any size in this day and age, which helps minimize the other risks involved.

I decided to incur the risks and buy the $10 no-name generic brand USB flash drive. An extra $25 for a top brand product was not enticing enough as I travel a lot and would not likely be able to use the warranty if necessary. And a $25 discount for the risks involved seemed worthy of an investment.

Once in my possession, I immediately noticed some quirkiness in speed and stability when I finally started using the USB flash drive. I could ignore that for the most part since it was for a bargain. A month went by and things were going okay, but then the USB flash drive died. I was upset that it had perished so quickly, but satisfied in knowing that it only cost me $10 for the risk. Had it been $35, I would have been angry for not trying the alternative first.

Money Well Spent?
I had taken the risk and paid the price for it. $10 wasn't a lot to lose, but on the other hand, it could have gone towards a good deal. This should not deter people from taking a risk every now-and-then. I often buy used items and have great success with them while saving a lot of money. I generally stay towards generic brands if I do choose to spend my money on something I have no basis to trust, and they normally work out.

Who knows? You could find that cheap deal and end up buying a whole lot more of that item if it performs well.

Consider This
There are lots of things to consider, brand name, build quality, price, affordability, and even support. Each one should be in your mind when purchasing a product or service from someone. And while my experience did not end well, consider this: Bigger companies make more products that statistically reduce the risk percentage of creating faulty products. That is to say, that companies big and small can and do make inferior products from time-to-time, so don't consider a brand name to be the best way to seek out something.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

5 Google Secrets You Should Know

There are plenty of Google secrets out there, a lot involve changing the interface of the Google Search engine. Such as having it slightly tilted, a Star Trek theme, or using it in a purely text environment. But I wanted to present some tricks that aren't so much secrets as they are normal features that can be used in meaningful ways people often don't think of.

1. Google Images
Now, what this is good for is a couple of things. Sometimes you need to find articles on a particular subject that has certain images, but you don't know the correct search criteria to use. Chances are you can find it in Google's search results, but if not, you can use Google Images. If the article is mentioning specific, let's say a celebrity at a red carpet affair, you can type in something like "Kim Kardashian red carpet" into Google then select the Image tab. Hopefully it will return images of Kim on the red carpet. You can then click the image to not only enlarge, but to visit the webpage that is hosting the image which may be an article will all the gossip on her attire, or whatever.

Sometimes images are banned by certain ISP's (or countries). Instead of being met by blocked websites, you can type in what the pictures are about into Google and use its Image tab again. While the actual websites that host the images may be banned, the images should show up for viewing.

If you want to access the actual website check out my third "secret".

2. Google Image Search
Google has its own image search that is more along the lines of a reverse image search. You upload or take a picture and fill out what information you can on the image in Google Image Search. It will then try to find more images related to that image (with webpage links to sites hosting the related images). It is meant to be helpful when trying to find the name of something, where to buy it, who created it, etc.

My own experience has not been great with Google Image Search. A couple of weeks ago my wife received a belated birthday gift, which was a bag by Michael Kors. There were no tags so we could not easily discern what model and type it was. I uploaded a smartphone photo to Google Image Search and typed in "Michael Kors bag", along with the color. It came up with a lot of Michael Kors items, including bags and shoes, but nothing that was identical to the photograph...

3. Google Cache
I use this trick quite often. When you search on a desktop, you will usually see little green arrows next to the URL of each search result (under the title of a link). For mobile users, you will need to click on the settings of your mobile browser and request to view as a desktop site before you can see these little arrows. This will give you the option to view a cached version of websites.

This may seem unimportant, but it can be very useful. If your ISP (or country) bans certain websites, this is a way to get around their restrictions. You no longer have to use a proxy or VPN in order to access certain webpages. The only problem is trying to go to other links that are from within those websites. You will need to copy the link and post it in Google and repeat the process to view other pages in those websites.

Another way this method can be useful is for research purposes. Maybe you are looking for a certain webpage that no longer exists. If you're lucky, Google has a cached page of it. You would just insert the link into Google and see if it has it.

4. Index of
This would be considered a Google secret, and one I have used for years. Servers have the default name of "index of". Because of this, you can use this trick to search servers with that name for different files.

Type in:

"index of:" Example of File Name

That's pretty much it. Google will then search for your criteria and give you any results that gave hits.

If you want to get more specific, you can list file types to narrow down your search. For example, if you wanted to find a certain song, you could type:

"index of:" (mp3|wav|aac|flac|ogg|opus) Song Title

Notice that the file types are all separated by dividers. You can put as many or few file types as you want, and can even mix in video or other types into it.

5. Google Voice Number
If you have a Google account (Gmail, Google Drive, etc.), and you live in the US or Canada, you have the ability to add a phone number in Google Voice. The process is simple and will require a mobile number for verification. While this is not a secret, what you can do with it is.

If you travel a lot, or happen to move to a foreign country, you can setup your iOS or Android device to make free phone calls back to the US or Canada (as long as you have WiFi). On an iOS device you will need to download a free app called Talkatone. On an Android device you can download Talkatone or pay for Spare Phone (which is by far superior in audio quality). You then add your Google account information and it will allow you to make as many free calls as you want.

Alternatively, you can use your computer and login to your Google Voice account to make calls and texts. Gmail will work for just calls, but I have noticed that if you are using a certain theme you cannot get the phone icon to display.

BONUS: Aptoide
This is more of a secret for Android users. The Play Store is great for updating apps, but Aptoide can be better. Aptoide does host illegal apps, but you should only use this market store as a way to get the latest updates.

Aptoide can't be downloaded on the Play Store, so you will first need to ensure that the option to download outside sources is enabled in Settings > Security. You can then use any web browser to type in "Aptoide download" in Google, and click the first link which should be Aptoide's install page. Click the install button on the webpage, the app will download, and once done a prompt to install it will appear.

Open Aptoide and click the "Updates" tab. It should load up the newest versions of your apps, even Google apps like Play Store!

Note: This is not meant as a replacement for the Play Store, however, it can be if you have an Android device that does come with it...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Want to Make a RAID from USB Flash Drives on Windows? Ready for Disappointment (& Possible Solutions)?

Some time ago I had read an article about how someone made a RAID array out of some unused USB flash drives in Windows 7. I found it very interesting and recently realized I had a few USB flash drives I could use to attempt the same thing. After reading this article, and it hinting that using it on a "PC" (Windows) would be possible, I decided to try it out for myself...

Tip for Downloaders
A friend of mine and I were catching up on our lives over a phone call and we segued onto the topic of downloading. After a brief discussion he mentioned that his friend had told him of a good idea, which is really just good practice. If you are downloading small files (not gigs upon gigs, and even if so), it was smart to use a USB flash drive as the designated area for downloading. On browsers and download managers you can tell each where to write a saved file to. By default, these programs usually download to your C drive, or whatever drive your system is on.

You see, every time you write a file, it puts a bit of stress on your OS drive. Even if you have partitioned your one drive into two, and are downloading to the second partition that does not contain the system, it is ultimately still putting stress on the OS drive because it is truly one drive. While a file or two really does nothing, if you download often, you are essentially draining the life of your drive bit-by-bit.

Instead, you should be adjusting your downloads to go to a USB flash drive. USB flash drives are generally inexpensive, so if they die it's easy to replace. You can use an external drive, but those are normally a bit more pricey, so a USB flash drive is ideal for your downloading means. 

This does not mean that your drive will die anytime soon, as most of us don't employ this trick. However, it will help you keep that drive alive that much longer by doing so.

A Bit of Background
Ever since that phone call I realized how right my friend was (actually his friend). So, I made sure to use a USB flash drive for any and all downloads. I initially used a Toshiba 32GB USB flash drive that cost around $30-$40 at the time of purchase, which worked just fine. Once in a while I would run out of space before cleaning it out and decided to upgrade when I could. I then bought a generic 64GB USB flash drive that also worked great, and cost about $10 (due to a promotion). I soon began out of room again, which led me to a generic $10 128GB USB flash drive from China. It worked good to start...

I soon saw issues with it. While my 64GB would sometimes cause a slow down to the point of 30-60 seconds before opening folders inside it, that was survivable. However, the 128GB seemed to always work good after a format. But when I'm doing too many things with it at one time, it will slow down to minutes upon minutes! Testing it showed that it was working as well as could be expected. Not wanting to give up on my 128GB, I decided to try to put some of these USB drives into an array.

Note: All of my USB flash drives are USB 2.0.

The Mac Article
In the second article I read it explains how the author bought 4 PNY 128GB USB 3.0 flash drives and put them into a RAID using OS X. He did not have enough USB 3.0 ports available, so he bought a USB 3.0 hub to attach them all. Using Mac's Disk Utility, he chose RAID and placed each PNY drive into the selection area. He then created a RAID and unleashed some real speed! After doing some tests, he found that the optimal amount of USB flash drives (for speed) are four.

Food for Thought
There are a couple of things to note about this process. The author states that to use the RAID on a PC you would have to use FAT (FAT32) in order for a Windows system to recognize it. While FAT32 is usable, if you plan to move any files onto the RAID larger than 4GB, FAT32 will be unable to do this. And while you can get a Mac to write and format to NTFS or exFAT, you do not have the option to use these formats for RAID.

The author also bought all the USB flash drives, yet, this would be counter-intuitive. The cost for all of these would equate to purchasing a decent SSD, which should be able to top the speeds he gets even if used as an external drive via USB 3.0. On top of this, a SSD would be a much better solution.

RAID Knowledge
There are many types of RAIDs, but the ones we are concerned with are RAID 0, RAID 1, and JBOD. These are the options any OS X will give you in Disk Utility.

RAID 0 is also known as striped RAID. It is all about speed. One thing many people get wrong, including myself for some time, is that RAID 0 does not require same-size disks in order to be used. However, it is common practice to buy and use identical sized drives as the RAID can only be as big as your smallest drive. The downside from RAID 0 is that if one of the drives dies, then so does the RAID, leading to a loss of data.

RAID 1 is also known as mirrored RAID. It is all about data redundancy. For a RAID 1, you do need to have identical size drives to use it. In addition to this, your drive size will only be half as much as the total amount of storage space for all drives. For example, if you have 4 100GB hard drives in a RAID 1, it will show one drive as 200GB. Likewise, if you have 2 50GB hard drives in a RAID 1, you will only have 50GB. The upside to a RAID 1 is that if one drive fails, the data on it will still be present on the other drive(s).

JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) is also known as concatenated RAID. This is normally used when you have numerous drives of similar or dissimilar sizes. There is no advantage to using this type of RAID except if you want a bunch of drives to act as one drive. Maybe you have a 1GB, a 1.5GB, and 4GB drive. You need to store a 6GB video, and using JBOD would be a perfect example of how to accomplish this task.

So, just in case you're wondering how this would apply to the aforementioned article. The author is using a striped RAID for speed, so if one of those PNY drives dies, he loses all his data. If he were to use a mirrored RAID, he would not get a speed increase, and the setup would be that much more costly as he would only be able to use 256GB of that storage. He could use a JBOD, but then he would have no data redundancy or speed increase, just a large 512GB drive (that would cheaper to buy than create).

Mac on Win Pt. 1
So the requirements to do this are an OS X computer and at least two USB flash drives.

I no longer have a Mac, but I do have OS X on VMWare. This works great for me and will see any USB flash drive I put on. Unfortunately, VMWare will not recognize a USB hub, so I needed to directly connect my USB flash drives to my desktop.

As for USB flash drives, I have quite a few, but I decided to use my generic 128GB and 64GB USB flash drives. I measured them on write and read speeds beforehand and they were approximately the same.

Once I booted up my OS X and it recognized my USB flash drives, I went ahead and started experimenting. Immediately, I ran into my first problem. I had chose a FAT RAID and was trying to drop the drives from their volume names into the RAID selection area. A message would come up stating that I could not put them into a RAID because they used MBR instead of GPT (See my "USB 3.0 Hub Drive Fix..." for more information on this). I did not realize at the time that all I needed to do was to actually select the generic name (with the GB size) above the volume name and drop that into the RAID selection area to make this work.

Instead, I went ahead and formatted each USB flash drive as FAT in Disk Utility. I tried the (wrong) method of dropping the volume names again into the RAID selection area, and was met with the same error. I then decided to go back to Windows and change it from MBR to GPT.

Mac on Win Pt. 2
Back in Windows, I opened an elevated command prompt and started DiskPart (do not use this program unless you really know what you're doing). I went ahead and changed one USB flash drive from MBR to GPT and reformatted as NTFS.

I then went back into OS X to see if this would give the error message before converting the other USB flash drive. This time I could drop the volume into the RAID area. So I went back into Windows and did the same conversion for the other USB flash drive. I dropped the second volume into the RAID area and started the RAID.

Immediately I got an error. Confused, I tried again with the same results. So I decided to see if a HFS+ (journaled) RAID could be done, just to be sure OS X could at least perform that operation. It worked.

In Windows it is possible to read and write to HFS+ drives, but a RAID array is another story. If you have MacDrive 9 Pro, you can apparently read and write to RAID arrays formatted with HFS+. I downloaded the trial and disconnected the drives from OS X. MacDrive 9 Pro would acknowledge there was a RAID array present, but it would not show anything. I could see the two USB flash drives from MacDrive's format utility, and in Windows' Disk Management, but that was it.

Another program to just read HFS+ drives is TransMac. While it would recognize that both of the drives were in HFS+, it could not do more than that. It would throw out errors whenever I tried everything. I did notice that it seemed that the RAID array was connected to the 64GB USB flash drive...

Mac on Win Pt. 3
I connected the USB flash drives back to the OS X, they showed up again as a RAID. I went back into Disk Utility and then discovered I could make the FAT RAID if I used the generic names of the USB flash drives instead of the volume names.

I started the RAID and it finished successfully. It functioned perfectly on OS X, and I even threw on a file just in case there was something weird about it being empty when showing in Windows. I disconnected the drives from OS X and went back into Windows.

Again, the drives did not show. They would show in MacDrive (as just USB flash drives) and Disk Management, but not in Windows Explorer. I decided to try to see if I could do anything in Disk Management. From here, I could see the two drives, and the RAID drive it created.

I decided to delete the RAID volume and see if I could reformat it in Windows. It did delete, but it could not be reformatted. Since it was pointless to try anything further, as there was nothing else to do, I decided to delete the volumes in Disk Management...

Mac on Win Pt. 4
My mistake was trying to do anything in Disk Management. While it does come in handy, it somehow screwed up both the USB flash drives to the point that when connecting back to OS X, VMware would give errors when trying to connect them.

After a few tries (and reboots) I decided to use DiskPart. I deleted the volumes and converted both the USB flash drives back to MBR. I then was able to use Disk Management to reformat them, but the RAID volume would not disappear...

I performed another reboot in order to get the RAID volume to disappear from showing. I then used a third-party tool (MiniTool Partition Wizard) to reformat both drives as NTFS. I did this because Disk Management never seems to use all the space available, but third-party tools will allow this.

I did seem to have a residual empty volume after I restarted my computer, but I just used DiskPart to delete it and reformatted the USB flash drives again with my third-party tool. This fixed the issue.  

I went ahead and assigned different letters in Disk Management and made sure they worked before stopping as it had been an all-day event. Most of this ordeal is just summarized with frustration and agitation put aside.

Win on Win Pt. 5
So the next day I decided to see what else I could try since the Mac method was not working for me. I finally found an article where someone had used VirtualBox (like VMware, but completely free) to access their USB disk directly from the host OS (known as accessing a RAW drive), which would show the USB flash drives as fixed disks instead of removable. They were able to use another Windows OS in Virtualbox and with this technique created a RAID from two USB flash drives. For them, when they disconnected the drives from VirtualBox and reconnected to their host Windows OS, the drives showed up as "foreign" disks and they were able to allegedly complete the RAID...

In VirtualBox, this is somewhat a technical and tedious process. Fortunately, in VMware, it's a bit easier, or so I thought.

I first installed a copy of Windows 8 on VMware. I then upgraded to Windows 8.1 (which was troublesome due to an issue with the Windows Store and Windows Update). I then loaded up my two USB flash drives and checked their functionality.

The USB flash drives were working, so I turned off Windows 8.1 in order to setup the access to a RAW disk. I first selected SCSI, which is recommended by VMware, and selected the correct USB flash drives (as they are only listed as numbers, and I have a ton of drives connected). I started up Windows 8.1 and waited. I got the usual message that the drives were being disconnected from the host and then got an error. The system would boot but with the regular USB flash drives as removable.

Win on Win Pt. 6
I went through the RAW disk process again, using SATA, and tried started Windows 8 again. This time the system couldn't even get to the startup screen... I took some time to peruse the Internet and found out my first mistake. Apparently, you have to add your RAW disks, close VMware, then re-open VMware as an administrator (right-click on VMware and "Run as administrator"). That will allow the RAW disks to run properly.

Following this tip, I tried SCSI again, but to no avail. I recalled that sometimes IDE was needed for certain situations. So I tried IDE for the RAW disks. I used only one USB flash drive and actually got it to boot as a fixed disk! I shut down Windows 8.1 and tried the second drive, but it wouldn't boot...

I thought maybe it was a size or generic drive issue, but then realized my second mistake. The USB flash drives were already configured to automatically show up in Windows 8.1, so there was likely some conflict in Windows 8.1 during boot up. I deleted the RAW disks from VMware and booted up Windows 8.1. After ejecting both USB flash drives, I shut it off.

I made both USB flash drives RAW IDE disks and Windows 8.1 finally booted up with both drives as fixed disks! Success, but how much? I really had two options in Windows 8.1. The first was to use Disk Management and try a RAID 1, or I could use Storage Spaces and make what can be considered a RAID array. I opted for the first option as Windows 7 does not have Storage Spaces, so I doubt that it would be recognized by Windows 7 even if Storage Spaces were able to implement a RAID on these fixed disks. There might be a chance if I was running Windows Server 2012...

Win on Win Pt. 7
So I setup a normal RAID 1 from within Windows 8.1's Disk Management. It worked without issue and I now had a 64GB RAID array created by Windows. The hard part was done, but now the real test was about to begin.

I shut down Windows 8.1 and checked Windows Explorer. The two USB flash drives were shown, but they were inaccessible, and there was definitely no RAID array present. I checked Disk Manager and the two USB flash drives were there, but no third volume that would indicate a RAID was made from the two.

I had another trick up my sleeve, but I had spent some time before on it without success. Essentially, I needed to trick the USB flash drives into thinking they were fixed drives on my OS. There are plenty of tricks out there, but the ones I was able to perform didn't work. One was just impossible due to how Device Manager reacts to uninstalled drivers, the others always had me perform a reboot. Once done, the system would break and require a restore point in order to be fixed. Even if I had accomplished this trick, I would still need to convert the disks from basic to dynamic disks (read "Toshiba Canvio..." for more information).

Win or Lose Pt. 8
My final hoorah was using my two Toshiba 32GB USB flash drives. Oddly enough, they are about 100MB off from one another... However, I thought, why not try similar sizes as the original article had.

I started off with deleting their volumes from within Disk Management. No problem there. But now it was time to make the disks "active" (dynamic), and this I already had experience with so I could only presume the worst. There was no option given by Disk Management, so I tried the other two recommended options. The first was using MiniTool Partition Wizard, which should give you an option to convert from basic to dynamic disk if applicable. No such option came up. I then tried DiskPart, but messages came up telling me the USB flash drive was not an ordinary basic disk and therefore could not be converted to dynamic disk. Again, I had already tried these methods to convert the USB flash drives from basic to dynamic disks before, so this was no surprise.

My final attempt was using a special hex editor to open up and read/write to a USB flash drive. I needed to change a certain value from NTFS to a dynamic disk. I know, a bit odd since those two things aren't of the same subject matter, but from what I have read they use the same location for their values. The change was simple, but the risk was big since it could make my USB flash drives inoperable. I made the change on one USB flash drive and saved it. I ejected and reinserted my drive, which did not show up in Windows Explorer. This could be good or bad. I checked Disk Management, and saw the drive but only as a removable disk. I went into DiskPart which saw the drive twice, one as an error. I tried to change the USB flash drive back to a basic disk, which would tell me that changing it to dynamic had worked. DiskPart would not let me change it. I then reformatted the USB flash drive, took it out, and reinserted it in order to get it show in Windows Explorer again.

This brought me to the end of my journey.

So What Does This Mean?
This means that Windows cannot make a software RAID from USB flash drives. While it can be done within a virtualized environment, it will not carry the actual RAID array over to the host OS.

There are still some tricks out there for those who are willing: If you are on a Windows XP OS you have the ability to install CFAdisk as a driver to a USB. This requires going into Device Manager, finding the USB flash drive, clicking on Properties, and "updating" the driver manually to the aforementioned drivers. It should then change the USB flash drive to a fixed drive. To get back to a removable drive you need to go back to the Properties in Device Manager and uninstall the drivers. Windows XP should then reinstall the regular driver for it. However, allowing this to create a RAID is unknown to me.

Supposedly, there is a method to change FireWire devices to be seen as fixed disks. This entails a registry hack. Yet, I don't know anyone who still has FireWire ports, letalone devices that use FireWire. Again, I have no idea if this would work for a RAID array, but I feel that it could for external hard drives or SSDs.

Another, much more intricate, and pricey measure, is by using actual hard drives. Apparently you can put two hard drives (SSDs?) into a desktop system and RAID them. You can then put them in external enclosures and they will purportedly still be recognized in a RAID formation when connected to a computer. While this is better than buying an expensive hardware RAID setup, it seems like a lot of work.

What's more is that for a USB flash drive, this would be huge risk and a lot of work. You would need a USB female to SATA male adapter, which I don't exist. You could try a USB female to USB header cable, but that will only be seen as a USB connection. And if you could force a RAID, you wouldn't want them just hanging in your system, especially with all the heat accumulating. This means you need an external enclosure, which means you have a USB flash drive connected to the SATA adapter (if it were possible), that is connected to the external enclosure, which has a firewire or eSATA. I included firewire because of the trick above, but USB won't work as I have tried and failed with external drives connected via USB 3.0 (see "Toshiba Canvio..."). A RAID cannot be done over a USB connection for external drives, from what I have read. At the end of the day, even with all the right adapters, it may not work at all.

Another solution where the opportunity for a USB flash RAID may become possible is using the SanDisk Cruzer USB flash disks. Initially, when they came out, they would connect to a Windows OS as a fixed disk. This created an uproar in the user community as there was no way to eject it, causing data mishaps. SanDisk stated they had done so because it was required of Microsoft's licensing in order to officially add support for Windows 8. They have since changed their tune and made newer versions removable. If you happened to get a couple of these, you might be able to actually RAID them with as much effort it takes for actual hard drives or SSD's. To take this thought a bit further, and make it more complex, we could attempt to use an external enclosure that has inputs for a micro USB device. This creates a whole host of other problems that are unnecessary to state since it just won't be possible.

Note: It is not recommended to RAID SSD's. From the research I have seen it will at first give boosts in speed, then it will soon degrade past the point of what one SSD should be doing. In other words, a single SSD will maintain its high speeds a lot longer than if it is in RAID array.  

There is still the possibility of Storage Spaces, which is included in Windows 2012 and Windows 8+. Microsoft may be setting up to do away with RAID done through Disk Management, so maybe they will allow USB RAID at some point. While I have not tested this with Storage Spaces, as I have no host OS that supports it, I do not feel the results would be any different. I do know that Storage Spaces did not even see my USB flash drives in Windows 8... And even if it could be done through virtualization, I have a feeling you still will not get it to come up on your host system.

Lastly, there was trying to use identical size USB flash drives. Now, while my USB flash drive brand was the same, the actual storage size was not (for whatever reason). One was purchased a few years before the other, so that could be a potential reason. Regardless, as simple as the article made it sound, it did not work. I even made the two USB flash drives logical drives at one point (just in case), and still came to the same unsuccessful conclusion. Now, there is a very slight chance that they need to be identical USB flash drives, but I doubt it would matter. The article is from 2010, so the only logical assumption I can come up with would be that somehow the actual USB flash drives being used matter (or it was just author writing something exciting they hadn't actually accomplished). While I can't wholeheartedly admit to that, I can neither contest it as the drives used were a Geek Squad brand, that is no longer sold; so testing with the same hardware cannot be done. One final thought on this is that maybe the system was 32-bit. I use 64-bit, but again, this is just another thing I doubt would matter.

So, you pretty much have only seven options to do this. The first is to use a Mac or Linux. It evidently works and is not hard to setup (on a Mac). As a side note, Macs can also use a special PCI Express card that has RAID integrated and USB 3.0 ports, whether it works or not I have yet to discover. The second option is to perform it in a guest (virtualized) OS of Windows and only use in that environment. The fourth is to use one of the tricks I mentioned, which it seems only Windows XP can do. The fifth option is to find and buy the SanDisk Cruzer USB flash drives that come as fixed disks, but that will become increasingly difficult as time goes on. The fifth option is to use the USB flash drives designated in the original article (if you can find them) and try your luck. The last option is to try to use a hex editor, or a program, that will change a USB flash drive to a fixed disk instead of removable.

I should mention that Super Talent is coming out with the USB 3.0 RAIDDrive, which is supposedly already in a RAID array. But this really takes the fun out of trying! And I'll also add that I have no experience with Thunderbolt, but at those speeds and prices is it even worth trying?

What Did I Use?
I used Windows 7 SP1 x64, Windows 8.1, and OS X Mountain Lion. Again, the USB flash drives I have are USB 2.0. MacDrive 9 Pro and TransMac was used, while HFSExplorer is also another free alternative for viewing HFS+ drives. I also tried the free drivers from Seagate (through Paragon) to view HFS+ on a Windows system. These drivers will force you to uninstall MacDrive first, likely since it is also a Paragon product trying to perform some similar functions.

If you are a Windows XP user there are a set of drivers from Apple (meant for Bootcamp) that many people have said allow them to see HFS+ formatted drives. You can get the official drivers from Apple here.

That's really it. I have become dejected that only a Mac will allow this. While a USB flash RAID is not a widely sought solution, I personally would have some use for such a technique. There is no way to make comments on the original article for Windows 7. Yet, the author can be emailed from ZDNet as he is a contributing editor for ZDNet articles. I have asked a few questions and will hopefully get a response, but it has been a matter of days with no reply.

As for my 128GB USB flash drive, I was eventually able to mitigate some of the lag. You can read about it here at "USB Flash Drive Getting Sluggish?..."

Monday, November 17, 2014

How to Install Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop) on Nexus 7 (2012) without OTA or ADB Sideload + Root & Recovery! (UPDATE!)

UPDATE: Lollipop 5.1.1 has been rolled out to the Nexus 7 (2012) WiFi tablet. Google's page provides very little help in updating the tablet, and while there are a few articles that explain it better, it is still a hassle. The method described here is still the easiest and safest method to install the update...

I love the Nexus 7 (2012) tablet. Not because it's the best, or because it has features others don't. Simply because it has so much support, even from Google! There are so many good tricks for it such as gaining the ability to do Miracast, or enabling 3G data (on the WiFi version). The "trick" I'll be doing today is how to easily upgrade to Lollipop. Just remember, there are always some risk involved in these techniques, however they are minimal, and if you do everything correctly you should be fine.

DISCLAIMER:  This is for the Nexus 7 (2012) WiFi tablet. If you decide to try this with the mobile data (or the WiFi) version, you assume all responsibility.

OTA & ADB Sideload
When I first found out that the Nexus 7 had received Lollipop, I was pretty excited. I was already on KitKat, and wasn't sure that an official Lollipop build would even come anytime soon given its age (among other factors). I immediately looked up some articles to find an easy way to get Lollipop onto my Nexus 7. Many of the articles - which are usually just copies of each other - were stating two methods: OTA (Over The Air update) and ADB (Android Debugging) Sideload.

I had already rooted and was on a custom ROM, so OTA was out of the question unless I went back to a stock factory image and updated. The second method seemed a bit less time-consuming, but I was wrong. After downloading the files necessary and getting to my recovery's ADB option, the ADB interface would not start through my recovery. Just my luck.

I then figured out an even simpler method that should work for anyone, rooted or not...

Nexus Root Toolkit
The first thing you will need to do is download the Nexus Root Toolkit. It is a fabulous toolkit that works for all Nexus devices. It is fairly intuitive, if you are already familiar with the workings of rooting and ROMs.

  1. Download the newest file here.
  2. Install the program and allow it to check for updates.
  3. A message about choosing your Nexus device and ROM will come up. Choose "Nexus 7 (WiFi Tablet)".
  4. Click "Apply".
  5. It will then pop up with the main menu.

Google & ADB Drivers
The first thing you need to do in preparation for the below method, is to ensure that your computer can see your Nexus 7 when connected by USB. If you do not see it in Computer (My Computer), then either the drivers you have aren't working correctly, or you don't have them.

To install the Google drivers:

  1. Open Nexus Root Toolkit.
  2. Select the "Full Driver Installation Guide - Automatic + Manual".
  3. Click tab "Step 3".
  4. Push the "Google Drivers" button.
  5. Install the "Google Drivers" by clicking "Next" in the window that appears, and confirming any other prompts.

You should now be able to see the Nexus 7 from Computer as a viable device with storage.

If you already have ADB drivers installed, and cannot get ADB to recognize (authorize) the device, ensure that you have enabled USB debugging in "Developer Options" in the "Settings" menu. If not:

  1. Click on the Settings app.
  2. Select "About tablet".
  3. Click on "Build number" area 7 times (it will count it down for you).
  4. Go back into the "Settings" menu.
  5. Select "Developer options".
  6. Check off "USB debugging".

Note: If you already have "Developer options" as a selection, you do not need to perform steps 2-4.

If you still cannot get ADB to recognize your device, or you checked off "Always allow from this computer" on the RSA fingerprint prompt every time you plug in your Nexus 7 to your computer (as this caused a lot of issues with my LG G2), or if you have never done anything with ADB before, follow these steps:

  1. Download the ADB Driver Installer.
  2. Install the ADB Driver Installer.
  3. Once completed, a window should pop up showing your device. If there is an issue with it for ADB, it will show a red stop sign-like image.
  4. Click "Install" to give a successful green.

Note: If nothing shows up in ADB Driver Installer, or it is already green, then there are likely other issues going on (i.e. driver conflicts, faulty cable, etc.).

OEM Lock
If you are already rooted and/or using a custom ROM, you can skip down to obtaining Lollipop. Otherwise, we need to unlock the bootloader. You may also want to backup all your data first as this procedure will wipe all data:

  1. Open Nexus Root Toolkit.
  2. Click on the "Unlock" button.
  3. Follow and confirm any prompts.

Your phone will likely turn off and boot back up a couple times during this procedure. It should be completely automated, so you should not have to do anything but wait.

Android 5.1 (Lollipop) Factory Image
While there is already a ROM with the ability to keep your current root and recovery, it is not the official stock factory image. The OTA method is by far the easiest of the three to do, but it can be very time consuming, especially if you haven't been upgrading. The ADB sideload method should be the fastest, but if you are not experienced with it (or able to use it like in my case), then you might want something that is more automated. This method will use the official Google factory image to install Lollipop.

If you haven't already, download the Nexus Root Toolkit and install it or you will not be able to perform the following:

  1. Connect the Nexus 7 via USB to your computer.
  2. Click "OK" when you see the RSA fingerprint on your tablet.
  3. Open Nexus Root Toolkit.
  4. Click on the "Flash Stock + Unroot".
  5. Click "OK".
  6. Select "NAKASI-GROUPER: Android 5.1.1 - Build: LMY47V".
  7. Select " Automatically download + extract the factory image above for me." This is under "Choice". If it cannot, choose to download manually and it will provide a link to download from. A message to browse for the image will already have popped up. Browse for the downloaded image and select it. Then click "OK" to proceed. The image should then merge into the Nexus Root Toolkit.
  8. Click "OK". The Lollipop factory image will then download. Once done, Nexus Root Toolkit will check for ADB status...
  9. If successful, the Nexus Root Toolkit may also try to download TWRP recovery. If it is not, you will go through the same additional steps above required if you cannot download it automatically.
  10. The Nexus 7 should then turn off and go into bootloader as it tries to flash the rooted boot image. It will boot up again, but leave it alone. The tablet will turn off again and go into bootloader as it tries to flash the root kernel. Once done, it should temporarily boot into TWRP recovery.
  11. Finally, it should reboot into Lollipop. It may seem like it is stuck in a bootloop, but give it 5-15 minutes to load and it should finish.

Note: I already had the newest TWRP recovery image integrated with Nexus Root Toolkit, so I did not get a prompt to download it (step 9) during this process.

Root & Recovery
If you want your Nexus 7 rooted with recovery follow these steps. You can also just have it rooted if you don't want recovery. And if you just want to make a full backup (Nandroid) without recovery, you can actually perform a temp recovery:

  1. Connect the Nexus 7 via USB to your computer.
  2. Click "OK" when you see the RSA fingerprint on your tablet.
  3. Open Nexus Root Toolkit.
  4. Click on the "Launch" button.
  5. Select the "Boot (Temporary)" radio button under "Boot/Flash Image".
  6. Click on the "Recovery" button.
  7. Select "TWRP". This should start an automatic download. If it does not work, it may give a link to download it. If it just wants you to browse to a folder that has it (as I already had it before trying this), you can download the newest, official, working version of it from here.
  8. The tablet should then reboot into TWRP where you can make a backup or whatnot.

Note: If you already have the TWRP recovery image for step 7, then you can select "Manual" and browse for it instead.

If you want to root and add a recovery (or just root) follow these steps:

  1. If you do not already have the free BusyBox and SuperUser apps downloaded, you can save a little time by downloading them now. (You cannot use them until you are rooted).
  2. Connect the Nexus 7 via USB to your computer.
  3. Click "OK" when you see the RSA fingerprint on your tablet.
  4. Open Nexus Root Toolkit.
  5. Check off "Custom Recovery" under "Root" if you want to add root and recovery.
  6. Click the "Root" button.
  7. Click "OK".
  8. The Nexus Root Toolkit will then check for the root boot image. If not present, it will try to automatically download it. If it cannot, choose to download manually and it will provide a link to download from. A message to browse for the boot image will already have popped up. Browse for the downloaded root boot image and select it. Then click "OK" to proceed. The root boot image will merge into Nexus Root Toolkit.
  9. The root kernel will now try to download. If it cannot, you will go through the same additional steps above required if you cannot download it automatically.
  10. The Nexus Root Toolkit may also try to download TWRP recovery, and will also require the additional steps for the root boot image if it is unsuccessful.
  11. The Nexus 7 should then turn off and go into bootloader as it tries to flash the rooted boot image. It will boot up again, but leave it alone. The tablet will turn off again and go into bootloader as it tries to flash the root kernel. The turn off and boot off process will likely happen once more to place TWRP recovery permanently. Once done, it should temporarily boot into TWRP recovery.
  12. When you are back in Lollipop, Nexus Root Toolkit should tell you to get the SuperUser and BusyBox apps.
  13. Open the SuperUser app.
  14. Go to "Settings".
  15. Check off "Enable Superuser".
  16. Ensure to select "[Prompt]" or "[Grant]" under "Default access". "[Grant]" just skips asking you for superuser permissions when accessing an app.
  17. Open the BusyBox app. If you selected "[Prompt]" in SuperUser, you will get a prompt to give superuser permissions to BusyBox.
  18. It should give you some message about buying it, close it.
  19. Click "Install".
  20. Less than a minute later you should get a successful message.

Note: I had the tablet hang while trying to flash the root kernel during step 9. If it takes more than 5 minutes at this stage, then the procedure is stuck. To fix this, I rebooted the tablet then restarted the process, which then succeeded.

Obviously, the steps for the TWRP recovery won't be applicable to those who only chose to root the tablet. And you can delete the image files you downloaded once they have been integrated with Nexus Root Toolkit. To be safe, I would wait until the entire process is done.

Steps for Images Unsuccessfully Downloading
Reading those additional steps should be unnecessary as everything is meant to be automated. But for some reason my downloads would finish almost instantaneously [it should take some time] and then have a hash mismatch.

I partially blame my computer for this as it always has this problem with Nexus Root Toolkit for anything, including updating itself! Thankfully, it did download the factory Lollipop image without an issue.

Have Fun Nexus 7 (2012) Users!
I hope this helps anyone who find themselves in the same situation I was in. While there are a lot of steps, none are difficult to accomplish. So enjoy Lollipop, root status, and a custom recovery (if you went through everything like I did). I know I am!