Avid Quicktime Codecs

This one is for me as much as anyone else.

Once every six months or so I find myself in a situation where I need to either play an Avid Quicktime or convert it to another codec that’s more useful to me (like MJPEG A), and I’m on a system that doesn’t have the Avid codecs installed.

Yesterday I had to do it again. And I had a hard time finding the right codecs on Avid’s website again. So here they are in all their glory:

Avid Meridien Quicktime Codecs for Mac OS X, Mac OS 9, Windows XP, and Windows 2000. These are the latest versions.

Avid Quicktime Codecs for Media Composer / Film Composer 10.5 and Xpress 4.5 (Mac OS 9). This includes ABVB 9.3 and Meridien 9.4.1.

Avid Quicktime Codecs for Media Composer / Film Composter 10.1 and Xpress 4.1 (Mac OS 9).

Avid Quicktime Codec ABVB 8.0.2 for Mac OS.

Avid’s software download page. Though for some reason you can’t actually find the latest Meridien drivers on this page.

Don’t forget to put your Quicktime codecs in the right place! In OS X, they need to go in /Library/Quicktime. In OS 9, they need to go in System Folder/Extensions. (Windows users, I have no idea. Sorry.)

Codecs for OS 9 will not work in Classic under OS X!

Lossless Is Good

If you keep up with Apple developments at all you probably already know that today is the one year anniversary of the iTunes Music Store. In honor of that Apple released iTunes 4.5 and Quicktime 6.5.1.

The new version of iTunes includes features like the Party Shuffle, Jewel Case Insert Printing, and iMix. You can read about all that stuff over at Apple’s site or pretty much any other Mac news website.

The feature that I found most intriguing is the new Apple Lossless Audio Codec that comes with Quicktime. MP3s and AACs have revolutionized how we think about music. But let’s face it, they are compressed audio files. Any CD will sound better. iTunes and the iPod will quite happily play uncompressed AIFF files but they are much larger. You are probably familiar with an MP3 at 128 kbps. An uncompressed AIFF file runs at 1411 kbps. In other words, 0.94 MB per minute versus 10.33 MB per minute.

So I pulled out my CD of Jet’s “Get Born” and decided to do a little experimenting with “Are You Gonna Be My Girl.” Marc Heijligers did some excellent qualitative studies of various types of audio compression in “Encoding Observations.” I used a method similar to his to analyze Apple’s Lossless compression.

I used Peak to rip an uncompressed AIFF of the track. I opened that file with Quicktime Player Pro and exported it to a movie with the Lossless codec. (Unless I missed something, it seems that only the “export to Quicktime Movie” option allows you to use that codec.)

Export to Quicktime Movie with Apple Lossless Compressor

Just to be completely legit, I exported another movie with the audio uncompressed. The first thing I noticed was the difference in file size. At 3:33 long, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” was 36.1 MB uncompressed and 27.1 MB with the lossless compression. The compressed file was 25% smaller. Again in comparison, a 128 kbps MP3 is 91% smaller. For this song it would be about 3.3 MB

Obviously an MP3 or AAC is a lot smaller, but you also lose some of the sound information in the process. This new Apple Lossless codec promises to save 25% in file size and is supposed to sound exactly the same. To test this out I opened both the uncompressed movie and the lossless movie in Peak.

Visually the two files seemed to have identical waveforms.

Uncompressed Audio
Uncompressed Audio

Lossless Compressed Audio
Lossless Compressed Audio

With a quick listen on my studio headphones, I couldn’t tell the difference. I needed to be sure though that there was literally no difference. This is where I used a method that Marc talked about in his article.

I inverted the phase of the Lossless compression file.

Invert Phase

Then I copied the entire file to the clipboard, and using Peak’s “Add” DSP function, I mixed the phase inverted Lossless audio with the original uncompressed audio.

Add Function

The resulting audio file was completely silent.

Silent Audio

A sound waveform looks a squiggly line drawn along the X-axis of an X/Y graph. You might be familiar with a Sine wave from trigonometry. A simple tone looks like that. When a sound is phase inverted, the peaks and valleys of that squiggle are swapped. So where the original sound might have a peak at 4 on the Y-axis, the inverted sound would have a valley at the same point in time at -4 on the Y-axis. Obviously if you add 4 and -4 you get zero. So a phase inverted sound mixed into the original sound should give you a silent audio file.

Since I phase inverted the compressed file, mixed it in with the uncompressed file, and wound up with a silent file, the codec truly is lossless. The two files are sonically identical.

Out of curiosity, I imported the original AIFF file into iTunes. I went into the preferences and changed my import settings to “Apple Lossless Encoder.”

iTunes Importing

Then I used the “Convert” function under the Advanced menu to convert my AIFF into a compressed file using the new Lossless codec.

Convert Selection

The resulting file was an AAC file with the same .m4a extension as my other AACs. When I got info on the new AAC, I found that it was 1061 kbps.

Info for Uncompressed Audio
Uncompressed Audio

Info for Lossless Compressed Audio
Lossless Compressed Audio

With a space savings of 25% and truly no loss of sound quality, Apple’s new codec is definitely something to take a look at for both sound professionals and audiophile consumers.

Great Googly Moogly!

… or How To Blow Your Website Statistics Right Out Of The Water.

I’m a sound guy. They pay me to put funny noises in movies. I like to play with computers. I watch Star Trek, and I love fantasy books and video games. It’s a simple life, but I enjoy it.

So I decide to put up this website because maybe there’s that one other person out there who finds anything I have to say moderately interesting. Yesterday was one month to the day that I started tracking my weblog’s statistics with Site Meter. In one month I had 400 visits. Something like 14 visitors a day. And I know that at least one of them is my friend, Ariel, from college.

Last night I decided to do a little playing with the new iTunes that Apple released, and I posted an article about some things I discovered. It is now after 9pm here in the West Coast and I have had 834 visits to my site! In one day! Someone must have thought my look at Lossless compression noteworthy enough to post it to MacSurfer this morning and I have had a steady stream of traffic ever since.

It’s truly amazing. Maybe this graph can show you the huge difference.

Number of Visits Per Day For the Past Month

Prior to today, I had about 25% of my traffic from Macintosh computers. I know that a nice chunk of that was my own since I’m often checking and rechecking spelling, grammar, or finding an article reference in a new post. After today however… well, I’ll just let this one speak for itself.

Percentage of Visitors by OS

Well I’m flattered. Thank you all for visiting. Feel free to drop by again in the future. Though I will understand if I don’t have another 800+ day for a long time.

A Prayer To A Supreme Being

Dear God, Baby Jesus, or which ever higher power has executive control over Tom Cruise’s movies:

Please make him stop.

I finally watched Dances With Bravehearted NinjasThe Last Samurai” last night. I know, I’m late. I was kind of busy in December.

Anyway, we need you to make him stop. It’s bad enough that he has to use the patented Tom-Cruise-Is-Really-Emotional-And-Here’s-A-Close-Up-To-Prove-It shot in every other scene. Not to mention the “plucky American gets beat down again and again but keeps getting back up until everyone gains some respect for him” scene. But what’s really infuriating is that somehow we are supposed to believe that the Japanese cannot possibly appreciate their own rich cultural heritage until Tom Cruise explains it to them by handing over an ancient sword.

And speaking of that, how come a thousand samurai can get blown up with cannons, and riddled with Gatlin gun fire, and only Tom Cruise is able to survive? And he just has a slight limp? What’s up with that? I think you’ll agree that this kind of thing can’t go on.

If that’s not enough for you, don’t forget that he gets to kill a proud warrior from a family that has defended Japan’s honor for a thousand years, and within like a month is raising that man’s children as his own, and playing “hide the katana” with that man’s wife.

Please for all of us. Oh, and we’ll be talking later about that “strict” translation of Homer’s ancient Greek in “Troy.”

And The Winner Is

One of the fun things about keeping statistics about my website is seeing how people managed to find it. Referrals will tell me which pages linked to me when someone clicks that link to get to my site. It also tells what words someone entered into a search engine thereby finding my site. Today I believe that I have found my favorite search that resulted in someone getting to my little corner of the web:

Effect of brain eating amoeba

Thank you person from the domain il.us for visiting my site at 5:17pm PDT on April 26, 2004 after using that search phrase at askjeeves.com. I hope I was able to help.

Hints And Allegations

No one is going to come out and say, “Guess what? We only have enough oil left on this planet to last another 75 years.” At least no one in the U.S. government or in the U.S. main-stream media. The evidence is there but they try to deny it or only hint at it.

Now of course I don’t know that we actually have 75 years worth of oil left, maybe we have more like 100 years left or maybe only 50. The fact is that we’ve been using oil for 150 years and a lot of signs are pointing to the fact that we have reached or are nearly reaching the peak of oil production. If we continued with the same amount of consumption spread out over the same amount of time, that would mean that we have enough oil to last another 150 years. But we know that’s not the case. Every year we need more and more oil to live the life we want to live.

So where are those hints? Reuters published an article yesterday about the G7 conference that just wrapped up. The body which represents the financial chiefs of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan agreed that “the global economic outlook had brightened significantly”, but as France put it “The principal risk is the oil price risk.” Now why is the price of oil a risk to the future of global economics? Here in the U.S. the industry analysts that are called upon to make a statement whenever there is another hike in gasoline prices often cite increased demand. In fact over the last few months there have been several increases in gas price, and the increased demand of the summer driving season has been regularly suggested as a reason.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m a crazy or I don’t really understand global economics–and believe me I don’t pretend to understand global economics–but that does sound like a drastic over-simplification of the situation. The kind of “sound bite” material that the American press loves to make use of. Not to mention that I’m not sure that the U.S.’s summer driving season (which if I’m not mistaken we haven’t even hit yet) can be the sole reason that the entire world sees increased gas and oil prices.

It seems much more likely that in addition to increased demand world wide–don’t forget that China and India are rapidly industrializing a large scale–a decrease in the amount of readily available oil, or an increase in cost to get that readily available oil, would be just as much if not more of a factor in the increased price of oil.

Take a look around. You’ll see hints of it everywhere. Today, one day after the G7 conference, Reuters published another article about yet another gasoline price increase. The national average price of gas went up another $0.03 in the last two weeks.

Badges? We Don’t Need…

A few pictures of the room I stayed in at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Sitting room of mini-suite at The Hotel
The sitting room / office of my mini-suite.

Office area of mini-suite at The Hotel
The office part of the room.

My NAB badge
My NAB badge and a kazoo I got from Location Sound.

I took pictures of the bedroom and the bathroom as well but they came out even worse then these. Suffice to say that they are really nice rooms.

Digital Audio Field Recorders

For many years the DAT recorder has been standard for both timecode and non-timecode field recordings. Now that Digital Audio Workstations are supporting file standards beyond the 16 bit, 48 KHz limit of DATs, it makes sense to look at other options. I was able to check out 3 cool new recorders at NAB.

Deva V

Zaxcom’s Deva recorder is in essence the grandfather of the hard disk field recorders. There have been others but they are the first to really offer one that has gained widespread use in production sound.

Their latest recorder, the Deva V, which is due “any day now”, is a big improvement over the 4-track, 24 bit, 48 KHz Deva II. The new recorder offers 10 tracks of audio at up to 192 KHz. It also has a touch screen menu which offers much better access to functionality than the few buttons of the Deva II.

In the demo I saw, the Deva V has an on-screen keyboard which allows you to enter text like track name information, and scene and take, which was only previously possible through an external digital mixer with a built-in keyboard. The Deva V also allows you to route any input channel to any record track (or number of input channels to number of record tracks for internal mix-downs). The older Deva II had a similar functionality but the new track matrix screen makes it much easier to see what’s going on. (Ask any Deva II user about their first time with the machine and they will probably admit to multing Input 1 to every record track for a while. It was a common mistake.) The only problem with these on-screen functions is that the screen is quite small so you need a pointer similar to a PDA pen to select many of these functions.

They’ve also added a Firewire port to the device and and optional internal DVD-R. The DVD-R is a smart move away from DVD-RAM. If you’ve read my previous article on the headaches of DVD-RAMs in the Mac, or you’ve experienced it yourself, you know what I’m talking about.

It’s a cool device and I’ve only just touched on some of the new features. It is a bit pricey though. It will set you back about $13,000.

Sound Devices 722 and 744T

These two recorders are very impressive. They are extremely small–a little larger than a VHS tape. They have a very clean and simple interface. According to the reps I talked to at NAB, they are 60 days away from release.

The 722 is a 2-channel recorder, while the 744T is a 4-channel timecode recorder. They both do 24 bit recordings at up to 96 KHz. The 722 has an internal 20 GB hard drive which would give you about 30 hours of stereo recordings at 16 bit, 48 KHz, or about 10 hours at 24 bit, 96 KHz. The 744T has a 40 GB hard drive, so it would give you about the same amount of time but with 4-channel recordings. (Or double the times of stereo.)

It has a Firewire interface, so that when you plug it into your computer, it shows up as a hard drive on your desktop for transferring files. It also has what they call a C-Link interface which allows you to daisy chain multiple recorders together and have them all going into record at the same time with the push of one button.

The price is right on these as well. The 722 will go for about $2600 and the 744T for about $4200.

Fostex FR-2

This is the recorder that impressed me most. It’s about twice the size of the Sound Devices recorders but it is very light. Like the others it records 16 or 24 bit sound files, but it can go all the way up to 192 KHz. It’s only a 2-channel recorder, but there will be a timecode option available later this year. It is also in stores right now.

It only has a USB interface to attach it to your computer and transfer files, so it is not as fast as the FIrewire of the other recorders. However, the $1300 price tag more than makes up for a little extra transfer time.

The one caveat is that it doesn’t have a built-in hard drive. You have to purchase that separately. This is can be seen as a bonus though too. It supports recording to 1.8″ Type II PC Card hard drives. Many of the 5 GB models now go for about $250. The other option is that it supports Compact Flash Type II cards for recording. The same ones used in some digital cameras. The 2 GB cards go for about $400 right now. It is an additional expense, but there are no moving parts. Plus by recording to compact flash, you can pick up a $20 USB compact flash reader and transfer your recordings to your computer without eating up your recorder’s battery time. With a 2 GB card, you can get about 3 hours of 16 bit, 48 KHz stereo recordings or 1 hour at 24 bit, 96 KHz.