Archive for the ‘User Interface’ category

The Zen of Trim

April 20, 2010

I had an interesting debate with a music editor friend the other day. Frustrated (as we all are) with the hoops you have to jump through to move material back and forth between Media Composer and Pro Tools, he suggested that MC simply start using Pro Tools as its audio engine. And not just the engine — the whole UI. MC just synchronizes with PT. End of story.

I completely agree with the need to move sequences/sessions and media back and forth without conversion. But much as I envy the Pro Tools toolset (as I describe in this post), I don’t want to rely on the PT interface. Why? Because I’d have to give up Trim Mode.

My friend wouldn’t have it. “I can do anything you can do,” he insisted. I tried to explain that he can’t trim while watching picture or listening to sound. He said he didn’t need that — he just drags things around and hits play to check the work. Or he trims using PT’s trim tool. No problem staying in sync.

I wasn’t making any progress, so I finally pulled out the laptop and made a single dialog cut. My point was this: Most of my cuts are overlapped. When I adjust picture, I usually want to adjust sound somewhere else to stay in sync. With MC, I can trim all parts of an overlap while playing and watching any one of them. When I stop, I’m done. The ability to see realtime video while the cut is made, and to observe what’s happening at any part of the cut, audio or video, a-side or b-side, while keeping everything else in sync, is something I can’t get anywhere else. Not to mention the ability to do asymmetrical trimming, or trim two heads or tails, slip or slide, etc., all while watching, or listening to, any portion of the cut.

I had to show it to him three times. Each time he scratched his head, thought for a minute, and said, “well, I can do that, too.” And I kept insisting that he couldn’t. Finally, on the third go-round, came the reply, “Lemme see that again.” And then, finally, “Wow — I guess that IS pretty cool.”

His conclusion? Digi should add a trim mode and then Avid could merge the two UIs. My conclusion? Video and audio editors need different tools.

The discussion also gave me new insight into the other major editing applications, and how difficult it is to explain the power of Avid’s trim model to somebody who’s never really used it. I know, I know — plenty of people have switched from MC to FCP and have never looked back. But for a lot of us, trim mode is the holy grail. If I had to, I could work without it — I just don’t ever want to.

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Editing on an iPad, Anyone?

March 24, 2010

Call me slow, but I finally watched Steve Jobs’ iPad keynote last night (it’s now available on Apple’s home page — or here). The iPad looks like it’ll be a very nice way to watch movies or read digital books, and Jobs offered a typically masterful demo of those capabilities. But what I didn’t expect was the focus on content creation. That came from Phil Shiller, who showed Pages, Keynote and Numbers.

Apple made a radical decision with the iPad, focusing entirely on a touch interface. That may seem like a natural extension of the iPhone, but you’re going to do different things with an iPad, and your fingers work differently than a mouse. A mouse is way more accurate, but it’s monotonic, with only one active region at a time. With multi-touch, you lose precision but you gain the ability to track gestures and activate multiple contact points. In terms of human-machine bandwidth, it’s probably a wash — but to make touch work you need an interface that’s tweaked differently. So Apple has quietly redesigned all of its core applications with bigger buttons and new interaction models that let you quickly do what you want with your fingers. There’s a focus on presenting you with exactly and only the tools you need for any particular task, and that ain’t as easy as it looks.

Watch, for example, how Shiller selects multiple slides and moves them around as a group (at about 1:01:00). Or how he matches the size of two images by touching them simultaneously. Or does live wrapping of text around an image (at 1:05:00). Or moves columns of figures, or uses a soft keyboard with just the symbols you need.

There’s no version of iPhoto for the iPad yet — editing an image will certainly take some unique UI work — but it seems clear that we’ll see one soon.

And so, we come to the question of post production. Would the iPad work for heavy duty editing? Unlikely. The screen is way too small, and there’s no disk interface, no Finder. But for putting together home movies while on vacation and uploading them directly to Youtube? It seems like a natural.

The question is what might happen when pros start playing with an interface like that. As the song says, once they’ve seen gay “Paree” — how ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm?

The Mouseless Interface

January 25, 2010

Some of you would probably kill for the user interface that Tom Cruise employs in “Minority Report,” with big images displayed on transparent screens and a gestural language that interprets your body movements. My sense is that an editor could get pretty tired working that way all day, but the giant canvas and the shear flexibility and organic quality of it are very compelling, to say the least.

Until now, interfaces like that required the user to wear motion capture gloves that are seen by cameras installed in the ceiling. But Microsoft is working on an add-on for XBox 360 that uses a single camera under the monitor. I was pretty skeptical about what this could do, but an article in this month’s Scientific American made me think again. The system, called Project Natal, is remarkably sophisticated, watching your body in three dimensions at 30 fps, and matching the movements of your skeletal joints to a database of biometric data they’ve developed.

Of course, we’re not playing video games in our editing rooms. And the demos Microsoft has come up with aren’t exactly my idea of an editing interface. But games mean sales volume and volume drives down costs. I could easily imagine a more focused incarnation of this technology based on the motion of your hands working in a more confined space — say the area above your keyboard. That might get pretty interesting as a way to interact with a machine.

Sony says that its similar “Motion Control” technology will be the primary interface for the upcoming Playstation 3. And other companies are working on the idea, too, including Canesta, Hitachi, GestureTek and Oblong Industries (they were technology advisors on “Minority Report”).

Video games have been a big driver in pushing down the price of graphics processors, which in turn has helped empower our editing applications. With competition between Sony and Microsoft heating up development, this technology might work the same way. The mouse has served us well for a long time now, much longer than its developers at the Stanford Research Institute probably imagined, but it can’t be the best we can do.

Multi-Touch Gets Cheaper

January 4, 2010

Computer scientists from N.Y.U.’s Media Research Lab have formed a company called Touchco to make a new kind of touch panel that will cost less and be more powerful than the ones you’re familiar with. The new technology allows for unlimited touch points, compared to the current capacitive technology that maxes out at five. And it’s pressure sensitive, so an appropriate application can respond to not only the position of your fingers but how hard they are pressing on the panel. Best of all, it’s cheap — about $10 a square foot.

Think of it as a big, infinitely configurable editing controller. Scrubbing by moving your fingers over a surface, dragging to control multi-speed playback, adjusting visual effects by touching — these are the first things that come to my mind, but I’m sure you can think of other possibilities. Check out  this video on YouTube or the many videos on the Touchco home page and imagine it working in your favorite editing application.

Details and pictures are in this NY Times Blog Post.

Year End Wrap Up

December 31, 2009

Looking back, maybe we could say 2009 was the year the playing field got a little more level. It was the year competition seemed to return, the year some of the hoopla subsided and people settled in around the idea that no single application is perfect and that each has its strengths and weaknesses.

For my money that’s a very healthy development, one that can only improve our tools. Competition drives innovation, and our applications are anything but finished. Most of us are eager to see improvements in simplicity, transparency and responsiveness.

In my dreams I hope for an interface like that in Minority Report, with a huge canvas on which to work and a lot of physical feedback. But even without such a fundamental re-imagining, there are big strides that could be made in terms of an interface that’s always on, so you could make changes and continue to work without stoppng video playback. And I look forward to what’s been described as “common timeline,” where all our tools operate on the same sequence and where exporting and importing, when needed, are so transparent that you barely notice them and collaboration becomes a lot simpler.

So, here’s to a brighter year, where our newly flattened playing field will result in significant innovation. I hope you all have a happy, healthy and safe New Year.

Collapse the Composer Window

November 13, 2009

I explained in the last post how you can hide the Source Monitor, but you can also collapse the  Composer window, hiding video entirely and showing only buttons, menus and tracking information. This can expand your screen real estate mightily, making room for a much-enlarged timeline with plenty of room to manipulate audio keyframes and see waveforms. If you’ve got a client monitor, you’ll view video there.

mini-composer-2

This view was once called the “mini-composer.” To invoke it on a Mac, simply hit the the green “+” button at the top left of the Composer window. Or right-click on a video image and select “Hide Video.” To go back to your regular Composer view, hit the plus button again or deslect Hide Video.

You can do anything in the mini-composer that you could do in the regular composer. Trim mode is available, for example, and works as you’d expect. You can even drag from a bin to the source or record monitor. Just drop your clip onto the mini-composer window.

Of course, you wouldn’t work this way all the time, but for audio work, it can be very useful. I make it part of my Audio Toolset. (For more about Toolsets see this video post.)

Clean the Mouse

June 16, 2009

I know it sounds faintly ridiculous, but cleaning your mouse can make a real ergonomic difference for your wrist and forearm. I’m often amazed at what people will put up with in a mouse. It seems like this is the most basic connection you make to the computer. Many of us are dragging and clicking on it non-stop, and it ought to feel as good as it can.

I’ve got a Microsoft Intellimouse Optical, which I love for it’s low profile (easier on your wrist), very smooth travel, flexible software, and the presence of five, easily distinguished buttons. It only touches the surface on four small feet, but they can get gummed up. The deposit can be nearly invisible, but it can produce a noticeable increase in the effort needed to move the thing precisely.

I’ve been working pretty hard lately and thought I was feeling resistance in the mouse. The feet seemed okay on quick inspection, but a couple of minutes of scrubbing made me realize just how bad they were — it felt totally different. I use rubbing alcohol for this purpose, available for a buck or two at any drug store. It’s best to get the concentrated, 91% version, which contains less water and makes it safer on equipment. And be sure to unplug the mouse before you start!  It’s tempting to just turn the thing over and look at it, but you don’t want to be looking into the laser.

Your mousepad is also critical. They may look similar but small differences in the surface texture can dramatically change the way a mouse will track and feel. There’s some kind of alchemy that occurs between the composition of the mouse feet and the surface of the pad. A pad that works best for one mouse may not work so well for another.

You may not be as persnickety about this as I am, but if you’re having wrist or forearm pain, you might be surprised by how much a good mouse — or a clean one — will help. Go to your favorite computer or office store and check them out.

Finally, a suggestion: I program one mouse button as a double-click (a single click on this button has the effect of a double-click). It seems like a small thing, but I do an awful lot of double-clicking to load source clips and this has made a very noticeable difference in the way my arm and wrist feel at the end of the day. It’s also more positive — when you hit the double-click button your clip loads every time. Not all mouse software can be programmed this way, but the Microsoft Mouse driver makes it easy.