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December 27, 2005

Table of Contents

Glass Houses: Indie Bands Are Doin’ It For Themselves
GV Expo: HD Camera and Deck Report
Rimage Introduces Producer Software Suite 7.0
DVD, CD, BD, HD DVD Quality Seminar Announced
Avid Ships DekoMOS 3.0
ATI’s Newest All-In-Wonder Delivers Multimedia Features With Higher Image Quality

Glass Houses: Indie Bands Are Doin’ It For Themselves

The Internet doesn't have to be the enemy for duplicators and replicators. The name of the game is finding ways to make the technology work for you. While music CD sales are down (except for Christmas 2005, when replicators saw some surprisingly high numbers), the lower sales are mostly for signed bands on major labels. The Internet has given unsigned bands a forum for their work, and they can get a fan base just by selling their music at gigs and off the Internet. Who will manufacture these discs? You will!

One unsigned band whose singer has a lot of name recognition told me that a fairly large indie label, which will go unnamed, signed them, did nothing for them but distribute their already completed disc, then dropped them and ran with the money. The band didn't get a penny. Subsequently, they learned from their mistakes and handled the next project themselves. I hear similar stories all of the time. While many disc replicators are leery about dealing with this type of client, Disc Makers. Pennsauken, NJ, has made very successful business of it.

To be involved in this market, there are two important factors to remember. You have to spend money to make money. Be prepared to market your services extensively, and to build up an infrastructure that will offer "awesome" (for lack of a better word) customer service. In 2005, Disc Makers' music business is up in double digits, according to Tony Van Veen, vice president of sales and marketing. That's all from a combination of small indie labels and individual bands. The vast majority of orders, he says, are really from the artists themselves.

Marketing is key to success in this arena. Disc Makers has eight sales offices in many of the major metropolitan areas. "We do direct marketing. I mail catalogs. I advertise in dozens of magazines. I attend dozens of trade shows. I have a studio partner referral program. I have a Web site where we actively work on our search engine optimization that gets a lot of hits. I've got a complete marketing machine," he says.

Van Veen is not worried about the Internet stealing business. In fact Disc Maker gives clients coupons for free album postings on iTunes, Napster, and other major download sites. For indie artists, the more they can use the Internet as a tool, ultimately the more CDs they are going to sell. "For an indie artist, the best way to monetize their music is to sell it at their performances. You can't very easily sell downloads at performances," he says. The CD is still an extremely effective way to get noticed. It holds a lot of music and it is cheap. That's something that artists need and will continue to need," Van Veen says confidently.

Another duplicator who had the idea of working with bands and the Internet is SRT in New York. President Jeff Bitsimis described the program. Bands posted their music on the company's Web site, and when someone wanted to buy it, SRT would burn the disc. At one point, 14,000 songs were available on the site. While the program offered a lot of potential, it never really got off the ground and he has since pulled back on it. "The problem was lack of marketing. You just can't put the music up on the Web. You have to get the word out there. We had this great mechanism that was met with great enthusiasm at trade shows around the country and in Europe. But it never really got to a critical mass." While it might not have been suited for his company, I really think Bitsimis was on the right track, and he agrees the potential is still there. Perhaps charging bands to put their music on the site would have encouraged more marketing on their part, he says.

What about DVD? The vast majority of work coming from the indies is still CD, though replicators are seeing some movement to DVD, both as combo packages and concert videos meant to supplement CDs. "As an artist, the more titles they have to sell at performances, the more likely they are to make money," Van Veen comments.

One gripe that manufacturers have about indie bands is that there is very little repeat business. "There is repeat business when the bands are doing small runs of 50 or 100. They may come back and buy 50 or 100 more. They're hoping to find that one someone to listen, and hopefully finally lead them to the promised land. Rarely to we get orders in the thousands," says Mike Weiss, COO of Video Labs.

Has your interest in the indie music business been tickled? If so, one important thing to remember, according to Van Veen, is that this business requires a lot of customer service. You need a big staff of telephone sales reps to educate the clients. Since most clients have never done this before, you have to help them get their master ready, get their art work ready. Then you need a bunch of customer service reps that can hold their hand, answer questions even after the orders come in. You have to have the infrastructure to handle the business correctly."

While Mica Lee Williams has been involved in group projects with her former band, Mighty Charge, Lucid Dreaming High (www.micaleewilliams.com) is her first solo CD. Unfortunately, she knew nothing about CD manufacturing, and had to learn a lot the hard way. She wholeheartedly believes customer service is key for the indie artist. During the time she was trying to get her CD manufactured, Williams was misled about uploading music files directly to the manufacturers' system. It did not specify that they wanted MP3 files. "Who would put out their CD with MP3 files? It doesn't make sense," she says. "I called and told them they should be more specific in their Web site explanation because it cost me valuable time thinking I could upload the .AIF information. The guy on the phone gave me a bad attitude instead of great customer service, as if I was out of line. I was dishing out a lot of money and attitude wasn't helping me get my product finished on time. I then had to take a master down to the plant by hand, which by the grace of luck was where I live." The bottom line, she says, "it is monumentally important not to be unprofessional and be able to make your customers happy."

Ron Kaplan and Weber Iago's Saloon is Kaplan's fifth CD on his own label, Kaplan Records (www.ronkaplan.com). He said much the same as Williams. "I chose my manufacturer, not only based on price but also because of the additional services they offered in terms of perks, which is invaluable to newbies."

If you don't believe there is money to be made here, take a look at magazines such as Singer & Musician, which offers pages of CD reviews based on indie artist releases. Also, think about this: smaller independent labels haven't seen the same loss of business that the major labels have. "While the overall (CD music) pie is shrinking," says Van Veen, "the independent slice is getting larger and growing faster than the overall pie is shrinking." You do the math!

Back to Contents...

GV Expo: HD Camera and Deck Report

With all the small HD camcorders introduced over the last few months, Government Video Expo in Washington, D.C., provided an opportunity to get my hands on several of them.

JVC
I appreciated that JVC had no fewer than six different configurations of their GY-HD100U HDV camcorder on display. Most of these camcorders were outfitted with very sturdy battery mounts for Anton/Bauer and V-lock batteries. It was clear that these mounts were part of the design. Part of the mount slides in to power the camcorder like a small lithium ion battery, and locks into place. Another part attaches to the top rear of the camcorder with two screw mounts. Altogether, this provides a very solid way of outfitting the camcorder with serious power and a place for accessories.

One of these very handy accessories on display was Focus Enhancements FireStore mounted-on panel that comes off side of the battery mount and then can perch behind the battery. One rig set out for people to handle was set up with a small AB battery and the FireStore mounted behind the camcorder body.

I was very pleased to put the rig on my shoulder and find it perfectly balanced, front to back. All the weight was on the shoulder, where it should be. While this may have been designed to be perfect for the demo, we all have microphones and other accessories that can be used in lieu of the FireStore and achieve the same weight balance.

I spoke with the JVC engineers for some time about the camera, the HDV codec, and interoperability. Thinking back to the dawn of DV, we had various interoperability issues with both formulations of DV tape and with the additional variants of DV recording (DVCAM, DVCPRO). It seems we may be in for another round of trouble, as JVC confirmed that their ProHD decks will not play back Sony's 1080i HDV. They said that there is now HDV1 and HDV2, with variations on the way the HDV is recorded on tape. Because the various DV decks can now play each other's tapes, you'd think that the manufacturers would have learned that interoperability is a key feature and built it into their HDV decks from the outset. We can only hope they'll get it right soon.

In terms of usability, the color LCD viewfinder is a little rough for critical focus. To address this issue, JVC has designed Focus Assist. There is a Focus Assist button in two places on the camcorder. One is easy to reach with my thumb while my fingers are focusing. The JVC rep explained that the monitor goes to black and white and shows peaking in color. The important part is that the peaking detail you see in the viewfinder is based on the HD information, not the normal viewfinder feed. This assures you that the HD focus is where you want it to be. I found it very easy to activate, use, and turn off.

The color viewfinder's eyepiece does not open up like that of most pro camcorders. The camera features a swing-out LCD which offers a very convenient way to monitor the camera's activity from farther away. For instance, audio meters can be put on the screen full-time, not just when audio is in a manual mode, like on the Sony FX1.

For the icing on the cake, the JVC has a little speaker right next to your ear when you are shouldering the camcorder. This is a real "pro" touch. Even though I found the speaker a little small, it has a mount and basic 1/8" jack connection that allows it to be replaced by better third-party products with ease. There's even a second headphone jack under the jack for the earphone. This camera just oozes with well thought-out little touches like this.

The reps explained that the stock lens can be replaced with a T13x35, which is a $13,000 piece of glass. "The camera is absolutely able to make better images with the better lens," says JVC regional sales engineer Ken Freed. Considering that it makes some pretty nice 720p images right out of the box, you're good to go here.

Canon
Over in the Canon booth, they were showing off footage from their new XL-H1. I have to give them credit because they were not using footage acquired by the camera and recorded on a better HDTV format using the Canon's HD-SDI output. They were playing back HDV tape in the camcorder itself. However, the footage was shot elsewhere and featured many locked-off shots of buildings, streets, etc., little video postcards that looked great on a small 17" LCD. They took the HD-SDI output of the H1 through an Aja converter to the DVI input of the LCD display. It looked very pretty.

I was disappointed that the video demo lacked motion--cars going by, trees blowing, water—i.e., stuff that would stress the codec and demonstrate the camera's ability to create pretty pictures "under load." I look forward to seeing more of this camera and the footage it creates to see if they made the jump to HDV as solidly as they could have, considering this is now the fourth-generation XL camcorder. The camera's pretty 20x lens produced some decent images (with no adjustments) on the show floor. The long optical zoom shined and, in the hand, at that zoom range, the image stabilization really helped produce usable images. The viewfinder is basically unchanged and has the convenient flip-up eyepiece in front of the color LCD.

At the booth, I also asked about another unique aspect of this camcorder: four-channel audio in HDV. Chris Hurd, whom any XL user should know from his online watchdog Web sites, was staffing the Canon booth and explained that the Canon records four channels of 16-bit 48k audio. Admittedly, it's compressed as part of the HDV stream, but this offers higher quality than DV's 12-bit 32k and the convenience of digitizing all four channels at the same time as the video.

If you are shooting events and not thinking about acquiring more than just mono or stereo sound, it's time to step up your game. This camcorder makes it easier. Now, they just need to put four audio meters on there.

Sony
Sony did not have the XDCAM SR camera they showed at IDX in Europe, but they did have HDV onsite in force with the FX1, Z1U, the HVR-M10U deck and the diminutive HVR-A1U. The A1U is the single-chip, CMOS-based HDV camcorder based on the consumer HC1. It was difficult to assess both the Z1U and the A1U side by side due to their placement in Sony's lengthy booth, but the A1U looks like it could be a solid, inexpensive "B" camera for multi-camera event shoots.

Sony's M10U deck is much smaller than you would think if you only saw it in pictures--only slightly larger than Sony's DSR-11 DVCAM deck. When put next to Sony's half/rack DSR-45 DVCAM deck, the M10U HDV deck looks like a baby. However, it piles on the features¬ from that nice-sized screen, with multiple settings for both DV and HDV. Unfortunately, it only holds a MiniDV cassette so it offers no more record time than any of the HDV camcorders.

Across the aisle, however, JVC's BR-HD50U HDV deck features both small and large shell-cassette recording. Despite the JVC deck's larger size (more akin to the Sony DSR-45 than the M10U), it lacks the built-in LCD monitor. The deck appears to be the next generation of JVC's half-rack DV deck. With large shell-cassette capability, and using a DVCAM 184, you can get about four and a half hours of HDV on one $30 cassette. For longer events, this is currently the only game in town.

Panasonic
Panasonic still had their HVX200 P2-based camcorder under glass. The multi-format capability is a very exciting opportunity that has many shooters energized. From 720p DVCPRO HD to 1080i HD and DVCPRO 50 SD and even DV, there doesn't really appear to be a single format that was left out. It has true 24p and can even under- and over-crank like a film camera.

The part that has most of us concerned is the limitation to P2 media, which currently costs more than $2,000 for an 8GB card that records just 8 minutes of 1080i, according to Panasonic's Web site. While the cards are reusable, and proponents like to talk about the cards' durability, one would have to wonder about the camera's durability withstanding any shock that the card could handle. I've not had a problem dropping my $3 DV cassette and continuing to use it, so the value of spending for the durability of a $2,000 P2 card is lost on me. Plus, I wonder about wear and tear from the increased rate of insertions and removals of media in the PC card mount on the camcorder.

Some talked about treating the P2 media like a film workflow, constantly switching out media to a "loader" who copies the footage off the P2 media to a hard drive or a laptop. These are some of the hidden costs associated with P2--additional crew and the additional gear that would enable a single person to keep shooting during an event as cards are swapped in and out every few minutes. These are also problems that tape does not have.

Thankfully, Focus Enhancements has partnered with Panasonic to offer a hard drive solution for the HVX200: the FS-100. I wouldn't care if it were more expensive than P2 media given the time and effort it saves by recording right to a hard drive--it's worth it. You can acquire hours of footage to the FS-100, and edit right from the drive. Then consider the FS-100, which will ship in March, has an MSRP lower than the street price for one 8GB P2 card. You have to wonder why Panasonic didn't provide such a simple, functional, and capable solution in the first place.

Part of the P2 system is that the camera also provides lower-resolution proxy clips and it looks like the hard drive recorder will get all this extra data too. This is the way partnerships should work. The FireStore makes the HVX200 into what it should have been in the first place. Unfortunately, it also means we are now back to a two-piece camcorder system, which I thought we left behind over a decade ago.

That's my view from the GV Expo floor. The JVC looks like a real winner. The Canon looks like it is coming on strong, while Sony maintains its early lead with the FX1 and Z1U. Panasonic has an amazing camera hobbled by flash media, while Focus Enhancements' DTE add-on may actually make it usable.

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Rimage Introduces Producer Software Suite 7.0

Rimage Corporation has announced the immediate availability of the Producer Software Suite 7.0 for its family of automated, on-demand CD/DVD publishing systems. This software increases the value of Rimage Producer II and DiscLab hardware, simplifying and accelerating the process of automatically burning and printing CDs and DVDs.

Producer Software Suite 7.0 represents a major upgrade of the innovative client/server software for Rimage CD/DVD publishing hardware. New features include improved reliability and error management, expanded system status feedback and accelerated DVD burning performance.

The Rimage Producer Software Suite 7.0 offers the perfect combination of superior control, ease of use, and reliability needed to automate the on-demand creation of CDs and DVDs for all the markets that Rimage serves. The Rimage software suite includes a system monitoring tool, QuickDisc, the disc creation tool and CD Designer, the intuitive label creation software as well.

www.rimage.com 

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DVD, CD, BD, HD DVD Quality Seminar Announced

Media professionals can achieve higher quality and lower cost by attending the knowledge-packed CD+DVD Institute seminar on Feb. 28-Mar. 2, 2006. Presented in Santa Clara, CA by Dr. Jerry Hartke of Media Sciences, this comprehensive three-day class highlights interchange tests that can pinpoint defects and avoid user problems not detected by data verification or playability tests. Methods taught in this seminar can detect non-conforming discs that function in some drives but fail in others.

CD+DVD Institute teaches quality indicators and evaluation methods for all recordable, rewritable, and ROM structures. New sections cover basic Blu-ray and HD DVD technologies. The seminar begins with an overview of optical technology, continues with drives, physical and logical structures, error correction, and quality indicators, then concludes with a discussion of key test methods. Limited class size facilitates personalized instruction by an instructor who is seasoned in quality evaluation and media troubleshooting. A free reference manual not available elsewhere is provided each day.

Visit www.mscience.com/train.html#CD, e-mail jhartke@mscience.com, or call +508-480-9338 to enroll or to obtain additional information.

www.mscience.com

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Avid Ships DekoMOS 3.0

Avid Technology, Inc. has announced the availability of DekoMOS 3.0, a software option for enhancing workflow in broadcast newsrooms that use Deko on-air graphics systems. DekoMOS 3.0 works with newsroom computer systems, such as Avid iNEWS, and allows virtually anyone in a broadcast newsroom to quickly insert up-to-the-minute Deko news and information graphics into stories. This enables broadcasters to use Avid Deko character generators to automatically play back graphics with real-time motion on air.

With DekoMOS, newsrooms can promote station brands and create more appealing visuals. Journalists, operators, and producers can use DekoMOS to select pre-approved graphic templates, as well as to add text, still images, or video clips to those graphics - all from within the Avid iNEWS or ENPS newsroom computer interface. The completed graphics automatically become part of the rundown without requiring any intervention by technical staff.

DekoMOS 3.0 features a new playback controller that improves control room efficiency by remotely triggering Deko graphics. Now a production switcher or other control system can activate sophisticated Deko graphics - complete with motion, effects and clip playback - without needing a graphics operator to intervene. The playback controller supports up to nine channels of Deko, placing each channel under automatic or manual control. Every channel provides an independent preview and status for comprehensive quality control, rundown management, and enhanced monitoring.

Pricing for a 25-seat client license of DekoMOS 3.0 is $9,995. The software is now available.

www.avid.com

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ATI’s Newest All-In-Wonder Delivers Multimedia Features With Higher Image Quality

ATI Technologies Inc. has announced All-In-Wonder 2006 PCI Express Edition. This new multi-function video card offers consumers an easy choice when it comes to playing great games, listening to FM radio and watching/recording/pausing live TV. Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 is bundled with the product to help edit professional style videos.

All-In-Wonder 2006 PCI Express Edition offers budget-minded consumers an affordable multimedia card with Avivo for outstanding video playback, amazing color resolution and connectivity to big screen displays. Joining the previously announced All-In-Wonder 2006 Edition (AGP), this new multimedia video card rounds out ATI's offerings for mainstream consumers. Powered by Radeon X1300, All-In-Wonder 2006 for PCI Express is designed to give consumers a wealth of multimedia features at an affordable price.

Now available, All-In-Wonder 2006 has a manufacturers suggested retail price of $199. Visit ATI.com for more information.

www.ati.com 

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