Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Struggling with Sonic Software

At last... I kind of hope... the DVD project will come to an end... maybe...

Having solved the jittery problem with Sonic DVDit Pro [no thanks to tech support who were hopeless!] The next thing that happened was I got some wierd problem when I get half way through the project re-rendering etc [ie a week for full time work later] is that it crashes with a 'error in source code WaveDump.cpp line 244, -1' code. Eventually be reverse engineering finding where they store temporary files and finding out which file was being accessed at the time it brings up this error I found that one of the video files had a corrupt audio file with it and that was crashing the system... why can't it say something useful like 'Problem with audio file cp2.mp2, cannot continue' - at least then I would know which file was faulty!

Then... find that there is a specification limit to how much of a DVD can be used for menus, and because there are so many animated menus we are over the limit. Of course... the program only tells you this too late. If you duplicate and edit a menu it allows you to go over the limit, then on one change it suddenly says ''Ooops you are way over the limit, no changes..." or rather the 'way over' part is missing so you have no idea how many changes you need to make to allow it to work.

I hate computers at times like this. I mean if this was a cheap domestic package we were using then what would you expect, but this is the second to top software for making DVDs on Windows machines... wish we had money to go MAC totally... next video machine will certainly be a MAC! Each time I need to make a test DVD it takes between 2-4 hours for the machine to make it.

I got the new dual layer DVD blanks on Monday - we need double layer ones for this project to fit it on and they are not so easily accessible and about about 6 times the cost [approx 3.50 GBP each out here]. Overnight Monday night I rendered a DVD image, was going to check it then add the final audio tracks today and make DVD overnight.

But... this yesterday morning when I came in I found the RAID controller showing an error [the RAID controller makes two hard disks into one very large and very very fast hard disk which you need for video editing]. Yuk... But the disks were bought on 3rd Sept so they are just within warranty... contacted the supplying company who said 'Yes, we will test them, then return to manufacturer, then when they return new disks to us, we will send them to you'. [Approx 4-5 weeks from past experience].

So we bought a couple of new hard disks... this project is proving expensive to us what with new software for the captions [which we then discarded] new DVD authoring software for the number of clips, loads of DVDs as tests for the new software, new DVD writer [because it failed] and two new disks for the RAID system. Please I want a MAC video computer for my birthday and forget about all this Windows rubbish ;-)

Anyhow... have managed to coax some life back out of the disks, put them on another computer [that is identical to the video one and we happen to be borrowing from another organization at the moment] and yesterday I copyied all the files that are not corrupted between the two computers.

Today I made a full project DVD... YIPEE!! Ready to send off to our partner. After it was finished I started going through checking the menu orders and... you'd guessed it I now get a 'menu out of order error -45633' come up on screen. I don't believe it :-(

I have had an email from Tech Support at Sonic, saying if there are further questions please reply on the website. So I went to the website [almost every day for a week] and cannot login because it doesn't recognise my password so I clicked in the 'email me my password link' and... nothing comes! So I look up the 'Contact us' page and it links to the login page that doesn't work and requires the 'email me my password' to work. So... no contact with Sonic. Thanks guys... not!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mobile Phones

Today we had a strange thing happen... two of the desktop mobile phones used for incoming and outgoing SMS messages were working and two were not. Finally traced to a very wierd problem... on one of the non-working desktop mobiles there was an incoming SMS message with the phone number showing a something like 3C487A068FD298 - nothing at all like a normal number which should be something like +441211234567. This strange and wrong number crashed the mobile phone, which crashed the program importing it, which locked up the USB connector to which all the mobiles were connected, stopping two of them working, but allowing the other two to continue. Very strange.

Lost blog

Hmmm... last week I wrote an entry which has mysteriously disappeared into the ether. Rather like emails seem to sometimes. Strange. When I first started using the Internet and in the old days BBSs email was somewhat unreliable. Then about 5 years ago things seemed pretty reliable most emails seemed to deliver and responses were quick. Now we seem to have drifted back to the 'bad old days' of unreliable email.

Anyway... now I forget what I wrote last week about the previous week's activities. I do know I eventually solved the problem with making good DVDs, no thanks to the Technical Support Department of Sonic [we use DVDit 6 pro which is very powerful and good].

They suggested we had the wrong/old display drivers [we were using the latest, which were old but there were none newer and it was a problem with playback on a set top DVD player anyhow]. They then suggested that the problem was due to having old firmware on the DVD writer [we had almost the latest version - but later found another problem - and it had been working fine with DVDit 2]. Finally they suggested that the DVD stock we were using was bad [we had been using the same DVDs successfully prior to switching from DVDit 2 to DVDit 6].

Eventually I found the problem was that Premiere or the Matrox capture card was somehow changing the DV tapes interlace from bottom dominance to top dominance. Why DVDit version 2 didn't object but DVDit Pro version 6 did I fail to understand. Great... now working fine... almost... in checking everything the last few DVD burns got worse and worse and eventually the DVD burner [a Pioneer A03 which we paid 700 sterling for when it first came out] died. Hah... found the problem... the stock was new stock and unless you had upgraded to the latest firmware [which they hadn't notified us of] then new stock burnt out the laser! So new DVD writer needed.

Anyhow what has happened for the last week is that I have been re-editing and re-editing the material for a project we started 12 months ago [and had too many changes en route]. I am now 50% through the final re-edit and hope by next week I can tell you all I have completed it.

What I can say is that as soon as possible we shall change from using Microsoft Windows for our editing computer to a Mac using Final Cut Pro. We have had three or four Windows based editing systems and they have always been unreliable. The reason for staying Windows had been simple - cost, but now Apple Macs are cheaper and so no reason not to use them. I have a Mac notebook which I have had for 9 months now and it hasn't had any 'blue screen of death' or lockups or anything... and it's lighter than any Windows notebook I have seen!

I wonder how many weeks of my life I would have saved if we could have afforded a Mac based video editing system... could have been out sailing instead of fighting a silly computer!

Friday, August 04, 2006


Having got the servers working more reliably today all three of us in technical support spent the day re-wiring the bay that the servers live in. In big organizations, which both Peter and I worked in, there are people who are 'wiremen' people who are very good at the detailed wiring of connectors. No such luck here, so we do it. It's nearly complete and tomorrow we should finish it. The target: Prepare the equipment for the next 3 years service.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sprocket holes

When I started at the BBC all the news was shot on film. The first sequences I directed were on film. Film is a nice medium - when you hold it up to the light you can see little pictures and with a magnifying glass you can see exactly what you have. Between each picture there is a nice little sprocket hole for the projector [or telecine machine in television] to align the each picture.

The ongoing saga of making DVDs makes me long for the 'good old days' of film. With all this 'top field' 'bottom field' stuff it is complicated and invisible. However, today I have cracked it [I hope]. Although DV tapes are recorded with bottom field first, somewhere in the import process this gets converted to top field first... but... Premiere seems to think it hasn't so says 'export this bottom field first'. I don't know how many places you can change the field order... too many for my liking, but at last I have found the right combination and I am busy making a final trial DVD.

Switch over

So why did clustering not work? We [two of us] tried everything we could for a week to get clustering to work. Sadly we couldn't make it work with the resources we had. Reading what other people were doing online with clustering I found that most people had 30 Gig RAM or more in their servers [we have 1 Gig in ours and many home machines have half that].

To get that amount of RAM you need four 8 Gig RAM cards. Each 8 Gig RAM card costs approx 11,000 US dollars... yes, you do did read that right, so to have 32 Gig in two servers would cost just under 90,000 US dollars, that's just under 50,000 pounds sterling! So, assuming the price would drop within the lifetime of the servers we investigated... only to find our servers would only take 4 Gig RAM and to get more powerful motherboards would cost another silly amount of money... so forget that.

So we then spent two more days rebuilding the system to be a 'replication pair' of servers. This is not as powerful as a cluster but works well with the resources we have available. And we have now switched over to the new system.

Alongside this, the video editing project needed a new DVD authoring program - that's the software that enables menus and other clever things to be added to DVDs. The new software refused to work properly, producing very jittery images. I tried all things to make it right and nothing seemed to work. So... reluctantly I phoned technical support in the USA. This is a charge service so I was trying to do every option before incurring extra costs.

Tech support was not very helpful. Having asked all the options about what I had tried they then suggested that the display adaptor software on the computer was out of date [we had the latest software] or maybe the DVD burner needed new firmware [we had the latest firmware] or maybe the DVDs themselves were bad [we have used them successfully for months] - everything but a problem with their software of course. Not helpful.

This morning I woke up thinking maybe there was a problem with the GOP structure of the files. Oh, yuk this is really technical! GOP stands for the highly technical phrase 'Group of Pictures' and what happens on a DVD is that every so often they have a complete picture but within the 'group of pictures' they only have the differences between the pictures. This saves a huge amount of disk space. Hmmm... but... the GOP structures were correct.

I then read somewhere online that somehad had a problem with the 'field dominance order' of some video capture cards... I wonder??? 'Field Dominance Order' really is too technical to explain simply. But basically normal TV has the top field first but DV tapes have the lower field first. OK, strangely... very strangely... very strangely indeed... it appears that if I invert the field dominance order in the program making the video files and then invert it again [ie put it back where it started] in the program making the DVD it works! But... the quality is not quite what is needed as I had to convert the file to Quicktime and back again. So... more investigation.

Third breakthrough... Peter had been struggling with some computers in our 'lab' which were refusing to work. They are regular desktop computers, but he found today that if he turned off the battery saving system [normally only of use on laptops] they work correctly. As the Americans say 'Go figure'.

So we move on... this is really boring but necessary stuff.