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Producing Flash video screencasts on a Mac

On 03, Apr 2008 | One Comment | In Apple, User Experience | By Ryan Feeley

screenflowapp.pngIt’s been years since producing my last screencast and I still can’t believe how difficult it is to produce a screencast on a Mac and publish in Flash (FLV) format.

Vara Software’s Screenflow is an incredibly well-designed screencasting tool. Unfortunately it only supports Quicktime export, which just doesn’t have the install-base Flash does–if it did, a Quicktime-based YouTube would have happened ages ago.

Vara’s support recommended I try VisualHub which works beautifully. And for the embedded player we’re using Flowplayer. My original plan was to embed h.264 video in Flowplayer, but that codec is only available in the very very latest version of the Flash plugin.

Here are the Idée screencasts:

Google Talking in the iChat Theatre

On 04, Feb 2008 | One Comment | In Apple, User Experience | By Ryan Feeley

Ever wanted to play some video remotely for a friend over chat, but think .Mac is Apple’s worst invention since Phil Schiller’s mullet? Well you can if you’re a Mac user with Leopard and have a Google Mail account!

ichattheatre.png

Simply enter your Google account info into iChat Preferences, invite your similarly-configured friend to video chat, and you’re off.

The first time I tried it, I showed a friend travelling overseas the intro to the season premiere of LOST he had missed.

Gleechat

View enlarged. If that ain’t glee, I don’t know what is.

It also works with things less exciting than season premieres like images, and PDF files, etc. I have not gotten it to work with screen sharing yet, although video and audio chat has worked since at least Tiger.

TIP: If you had a .Mac account back when Apple promised, sorry strongly implied, that e-mail would be for life, it may still work in iChat. Mine does. If yours does, you’ll be able to do a few things you can’t do with your Gtalk account like File Transfers.

Wi-Fi hi-fi Chronicles

On 24, Jan 2008 | 4 Comments | In Apple, Hi-fi, iPod | By Ryan Feeley

I have been obsessing about the the latest and greatest digital music hardware and software possibilities for a while. Here’s a condensed version of my findings.

What’s the best sound system for playing MP3s?

a5n.jpgI have heard these in person, and can confidently claim that for both iPods, computer playback or any audio really, you won’t find a bigger bang for your buck than the AudioEngine A5 speakers. Designed by a team of former Apple, Gibson and Alesis audio experts, the A5 speakers have all the qualities of a great bookshelf speaker, but have an amplifier built right into them. Maybe Steve with throw out his iPod Hi-fi and get a pair of these.

Though the team originally set out to create speakers for sound mixing professionals, they quickly realized that with tuning, and extras like a USB port to keep MP3 players charged, their speakers would be the best system available. It’s an interesting story and the reviews are piling up.

If you’re in Toronto, Audio Oasis on Queen East has them for $389 (which is $60 less than Computer Systems Centre).

Should I be using the iPod headphone jack to send audio to the speakers?

pdlousb-demo.jpgNot really. Technically, the headphone jack is intended for headphones, not sending sound to a stereo. To get the best sound you would need a line-level signal, which is less powerful than a headphone signal. Apple sells [docks](http://store.apple.com/1-800-MY-APPLE/WebObjects/AppleStore?productLearnMore=MB125G/A ) for the iPod that provide a line-level signal, but even though they claim to be universal, they don’t work out-of-the-box with every iPod out there.

A more compact, compatible and economical solution is the SendStation Line Out USB. With one of these, you can keep your A5’s happy with a line-level signal, and your iPod charged via USB.

Can I play my iTunes on a sound system in another room?

a5_b_6_275w.jpgYes, and using the Multiple Speaker option in iTunes, you can even play the same music in multiple rooms. Probably the most affordable option is Apple’s AirPort Express. It’s been around a few years now and is for sale second-hand often for as low as $40. It works natively with iTunes and there’s software available called Airfoil that lets you send sound from any running application on your Mac. A nice design feature of the A5 speaker is that the AirPort express cradles right onto the back of one of the speakers, and also plug in for power.

Does the AirPort Express provide hi-fi grade sound?

Good question. Yes, and no. The device has it’s own built in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) which is rumored to be okay, but not great. Luckily you can even get a digital signal out of it which Stereophile magazine says allows it to assume a respectable role in a true high-end audio system. All you need is a TOSLINK cable and mini-adapter. Pretty smart.

d1-01.jpgOnce you do, and only if you really want to get fancy, take a look at Hong Kong exceptionally well thought-out iBasso D1.

This incredible little device which can optionally be powered by battery can serve a variety of functions.

Inputs:

  1. Digital optical (TOSLINK from AirPort Express, DVD player or maybe even your computer)
  2. USB (from your computer)
  3. Digital coax (from an older DVD or CD player)
  4. Analog minijack (like from the iPod)

Outputs:

  1. Headphone (big ones that an iPod is too weak to handle)
  2. Analog minijack (a stereo, or powered speakers)

So you can take a digital signal from basically any source and and play it through headphones too big for the iPod, or go right into speakers like the A5s. You can even use it along with the iPods line out to drive stubborn headphones too.

Can I use my iPhone/iPod Touch to play music from my Mac upstairs on the A5 speakers downstairs?

remotebuddy_splash1000_en.jpgYes, thanks to one of the coolest pieces of shareware for sale today, Remote Buddy. It runs on your Mac and makes it browseable on the web, specifically designed for Safari on the iPhone/iPod Touch.

I have been a Remote Buddy user for some time, while I don’t yet have an iPhone (oligopoly anyone?) I have been using it to power the normally useless white remote that comes bundled with Macs. It actually makes the little clicker quite handy. The iPhone functionality was just thrown into it, although I think they should have created a separate product line.

Do MP3s sound good enough?

Definitely not for a system like this. :)

Zunior Digital Music Downloads

On 20, Jan 2008 | One Comment | In Apple, Hi-fi, Ontario | By Ryan Feeley

ZuniorWhen I buy music I tend to lean towards purchasing local, independent music. Until recently I have been starved for an option that satisfies my embarassingly particular needs:

  1. Downloadable. Why take up any more space on the planet when we’ve long since moved on to digital formats.
  2. Lossless format. Why amass an inventory of MP3s that are less than CD quality? Sure, I might convert tracks to MP3 for my iPod, but I want nothing less than CD quality in the archives.
  3. iTunes and iPod-compatible. If I can’t get it to play in my iPod, it might as well be 8-track.
  4. Open Source. Music purchased from the iTunes Music Store will only play on devices licensing Apple’s technology. Cars for ages have supported MP3 CDs, but I’ve never seen one support AAC. Why build a library of songs that might not be future-friendly? No, transcoding is not an option.

Finally there’s Zunior. Canadian. Indie. And they offer FLAC for an extra $2 per album. Now that a solution exists to get FLAC into iTunes (which can be later converted to MP3, AAC or even Apple Lossless) I finally have a legimate source for the music I love in the format I love it. Thanks Zunior!

UPDATE: As expected a $10.42 charge for the album appeared on my credit card statement.