The “Good Ol’ Days” Of Web Video?

Almost anything is good enough for the Web, and that lets almost anyone play with Web video. By accepting small windows for the video, the massive amount of bandwidth required for video goes away. A 160×120 video window at only 5 frames per second (fps) requires a mere 100,000 bps for video. With only a 2:1 compression, that fits comfortably into the bandwidth provided by a cable modem.

The high compression ratio of many of the current video compressors means that either the frame rate can be increased or the size of the window increased. Or sometimes both. The trick is always to create the best video, given the constraints.

CyberTainment CyberMail AV VIDEOemail

veFortunately, playing with video for the Internet has never been cheaper or easier. For around $150, CyberTainment  sells Cy-berMail AV. This is a product designed to make it easy to send video e-mail to anyone on the Internet, and CyberTainment takes an interesting approach with this package.

It comes with a PCI board to capture the video. So that you’d have something to plug in and get running right away, it also comes with a small video camera that sits on top of the monitor. To round out the hardware, a microphone is included.

On the software side, an easy-to-use application is included, which is optimized for sending video e-mail. CyberMail AV has only a few controls, so it is quick to learn. The Videoemail Wizard takes you step by step through specifying the type of mail, capturing the video, and sending the mail. It doesn’t take much time at all for surprisingly good results.

The heart of the system is a proprietary compression algorithm that the company claims can compress video by up to 900:1. At this level of compression, it isn’t an undue burden to have someone download a chunk of video with their mail. Once a video clip is recorded, it is compressed and packaged for delivery into an EXE file. This is actually a self-contained program that, when run, plays back the original video.

By packaging the video in this way, there is no need to guess at what kind of software happens to be installed on the recipient’s machine. All of the required software is built in. The recipient just opens the attached e-mail, and the video starts to play.

(Note: In these days of e-mail viruses, it would be a good idea to warn someone that you will be sending a video mail message ahead of time.)

The PCI video capture card is based on the popular Brooktree capture chipset and ships with a standard set of Video for Windows drivers. Not only will it work with the software shipped with the system, it will work with most other programs that can use Video for Windows. You aren’t restricted to using the little camera that comes in the package, either. The capture board has two NTSC inputs and one S-video input. (The included camera is NTSC.) You can easily hook up any other camcorder, VCR or even a video game.

The CyberMail AV software can squash the video enough to cram a 29-second video into a file of only 315K. If you are sending video mail to someone with a better Internet connection, you can adjust the quality to match. If you just want to send an audio message, the wizard will happily create an audio-only file. In the last step of the wizard, you are prompted for e-mail addresses, and, assuming that you are connected to the Internet, it sends out the video. It’s all quick, easy, and self contained.

Magix Audio & Video Office

Audio & Video Office ($99.99 MSRP) is the latest multimedia editing program from Magix Entertainment . (For the sake of my spell checker, I’ll be referring to this product as Audio & Video Office.) It’s a great way to manipulate your movies before sending up to the Internet.

Audio & Video Office uses a timeline as its main user interface. Audio and video clips are dropped on the timeline, previewed, and eventually rendered into a final format. Sound easy? Well, it is.

To get things started, Audio & Video Office comes with hundreds of audio clips and dozens of video clips. (The premium version on DVD comes with even more.) Magix makes it easy to be a composer by providing audio files of small musical chunks. By mixing and matching the various chunks, you can create an original composition without actually having to record anything musical yourself. It is easier than it sounds. First, you pick a style of music, such as Dance, Rock, or Easy Listening. Within each category, sounds are broken down into subgroups of Bass, Drums, Harmony, and Melody.

It is usually easiest to start with Drums. Drag a beat that sounds good onto the timeline. Repeat that beat two or four times, then pick another, related beat. Keep going until you have filled as much time as your presentation will need. Then start adding some Bass sound chunks to the drums. A little bit of Melody, and maybe a few sound effects, and you have a musical score. There is no restriction on using the audio files that ship on the CD. Any WAV or even MP3 file can be dropped onto the timeline.

Adding video to the timeline is also a drag-and-drop process. You can either use video clips that ship on the CD, or any others that you have captured or downloaded. Audio & Video Office does a good job of compositing video clips together. Clips can be scaled, rotated, and squashed. They can be keyed over one another, and they can have a number of image-processing effects applied. Titles can be added to the video. Any Rich Text Format (RTF) file can be used for the titles. Word and most other word-processing programs can save as RTF. There is also a built-in editor for titles.

There is a good selection of image-processing effects that can be applied to the video. Emboss gives the video the effect of being pressed into metal. This is particularly effective when used on a still of the first frame of a video clip, then released into the live video. Other effects include Blur, Kaleidoscope, Flip, Grain, and Whirlpool. Strobe settings and even a Fisheye Lens setting is included. A few clicks are all that it takes to alter the video.

Once your production is on the timeline, it can be exported to just about any format that you might consider useful. If you just want the soundtrack, it can be saved as an MP3, Real Audio, or a standard Windows WAV file. For a production with video, there are more options. The production can be saved as an AVI file, Microsoft ASF, Real Video or QuickTime. The ASF and Real Video formats are particularly well-suited to use on the Internet.

Don’t let the low price fool you. Audio & Video Office is a very powerful multimedia editing program.

Auto F/X Studio Pro 2 Bundle

Here’s another tool you will find helpful in preparing video for delivery to a Web site.

From time to time, I’ve written about the wonderful Photoshop plug-ins and graphics programs from Auto F/X. They tend to be inexpensive, but with so many of them, the money can add up. Now, there is some good news. Auto F/X has bundled together most of its software in a package with the amazing low price of just $199 (MSRP). This is nine CDs full of graphics, images, patterns, and programs. If you do much image processing, you should probably be writing the check now.

Well, maybe you’d like to know what you get for your two hundred bucks. OK, here goes. Typo/Graphic Edges, Ultimate Texture Collection, Photo/Graphic Patterns, Universal Animator, Universal Rasterizer, Photo/ Graphic Frames, Page/Edges, and WebVise Totality. That’s a mouthful.

Let’s start with Typo/Graphic Edges. This plug-in creates special effects with type. Starting with some text, you can choose from more than 400 styles to apply to the text. With the selected style, you can choose how severely to effect the text, and what the scale of the effect will be. The result is uniquely shaped characters, which are great for use in title screens.

Photo/Graphic Patterns provides a way to simulate some darkroom effects from within Photoshop. The basic idea is to take an image and apply it to a texture. This could be as subtle as crinkly paper or as severe as tree bark. In addition to the texture, Photo/ Graphic patterns can apply lighting to the scene. There are hundreds of textures from which to choose. While on the topic of textures, the Ultimate Texture Collection has more than 3,000 royalty-free textures.

Universal Animator and Universal Rasterizer are unusual programs. They each add their own printer driver to the system. For Universal Rasterizer, this means that any program that can print can create a bitmap graphic. Instead of letting the graphic go out to a printer, this “virtual printer” turns the would-be printout into a graphic file. Universal Animator goes a step further. Each print can be added as a frame in an animation. Frames can be added from any program running on the PC. It’s a neat trick.

Webvise Totality is a collection of six tools that are specifically designed to help with Web graphics. These utilities help create Web-safe palettes, optimize the compression of Web images, and can even add digital watermarking to the images. To help save time when working on many images, it provides the ability to batch up images for processing.

This is a great collection of Photoshop utilities and graphics that no artist or Web designer should have to do without.

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