Studio711

Gadgets

Davinci Resolve

One of the big reasons I built a new PC recently was to make it easier to edit 4k video footage as more and more of my devices are able to record it. I’ve been using various versions of Adobe Premiere Elements for 10 years, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve outgrown it. The problem is that the next level of video editors is the same stuff the pros use which means it’s complicated and expensive. The main contenders are Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro from Apple. Thankfully there’s a third option: Davinci Resolve.

Resolve initially started as a color correction tool but evolved to include a full editor and special effects tool. The best part is that it is FREE. That’s right. Free! Or at least it’s free until you start editing the next Marvel movie and then you’ll want to shell out a few hundred bucks for the Studio version of Resolve. But there’s no way a mere mortal at home is ever going to get that far.

One downside to Resolve is that it has a very steep learning curve. Thankfully I’m not totally new to editing and our library also includes a free subscription to Lynda.com. I took a ~5 hour course, learned the basics, and then plunged into my first video: a full church service.

Because we’re staying home, we decided to publish as much of a normal church service online as we could. Pastor spent many hours at church recording the various segments and DaveK recorded some organ pieces from home. I was able to get it all pieced together and posted. You can find it on our Facebook page and our YouTube channel.

Other than having to do some searches to find a few very basic things, the experience was good and it didn’t add a huge amount of time to the way I did things before. As I get better I’m confident that I’ll be able to make them look even nicer and do it faster than before. Specific things I’m already enjoying:

  • It has a feature that syncs separate audio and video tracks with a single click! This was a constant source of pain for me before because even if I got them synced up, at some point they might start to drift by a couple frames.
  • The titles are done through their full-blown effects system so the sky is the limit. I stuck with the built-in titles for this first video but I thought even those looked very nice.
  • Rendering is FAST. This software uses both my CPU and video card to get the rendering done as quickly as possible.

The three of us put in a huge amount of time getting this one service done, but it looks like we’ll have a lot more chances to optimize our workflow. The biggest hiccup was transfering ~12GB of files around but it turns out that just dumping them on the PC at church and letting Backblaze put back them up was the easiest and most reliable solution. The upload speed there is very slow (2Mbps) but reliability proved more helpful than raw speed.

It was also really tempting to try to use the special effects to light the candles, but I resisted. We’ll get those lit in real life and made some other small tweaks for next time, but if you’re using these videos and there’s anything we can do to improve your experience, please share them with us!

4k Video Editor Build

When we got our new Go Pro 8, I learned that my PC wasn’t new enough to play back the HEVC encoded video, much less do any editing with it. Sure, I could save the video in a different format, but I’ve been itching to upgrade my PC at home and this, combined with the 2.7K video that my drone records, was a good reason to go for it.

My requirements were that I wanted to be able to smoothly edit 4k video, view video in 4k resolution, and render edited videos as quickly as possible.

Every PC I’ve built or purchased before this point have been Intel CPUs, but lately, AMD has been kicking Intel around the block in terms of price to performance ratio. Just check out what the stock market thinks about the two companies over the last 5 years. The Ryzen 3770 seemed like a good price point for my build. It has 8 hyper threaded cores running at up to 4.4GHz. I built out a nice system around it with 32GB of DDR-3600 memory and an NVMe SSD. I’ve had no personal experience with that kind of SSD but wow, it’s FAST! Remember how much faster your computer was when you switched from a spinning hard drive to an SSD? This new drive is 10 times faster than the SSD in my last desktop. It reads data at a speed of 2.5 GB/second!

Here is the full parts list:

The build went pretty smoothly. The pcpartpicker.com website helped me avoid some incompatibilities. Once I got all the parts together, I flashed the BIOS, tweaked a few settings to get my RAM clocked up to the right speed and then installed Windows. Or rather, I tried to install Windows. It kept getting to about 60% of the way through and dying. As an “I don’t know what else to try” step, I rebuilt the installation media on the USB key and voila, it worked!

I capped it all off with a 4k monitor, the Asus MG28UQ. That felt like a splurge because my existing monitors were plenty good (though not 4k), but wow, once I got this all assembled, I ended up staring at YouTube demo videos and being amazed at the clarity. Plus it’s fun to see my drone footage in its full glory.

For a perf test, I fired up Handbrake on my old desktop and this new one, gave it a beefy video file from the drone and adjusted Handbrake with the same settings on each machine. This new machine got through it almost exactly 3 times faster than the old one. It’s not all roses though. I had a much nicer CPU cooler on the old machine and this new one is noticeably louder (but it has built in RGB leds… oooooo.)

It’s fun to have this new machine and it’s certainly going to make editing all those videos for church less painful. I’m also very excited to start watching things in 4k. I expect this will translate into a 4k TV before too long and then a 4k projector once my current one dies.

As a small reward for reading through all this nonsense (or at least scrolling to the bottom), here’s the first video I edited on the new machine. It’s all 2.7k footage from my Mavic Mini. Elijah and I went down to 60 Acres and took turns flying it around.

Seatback Phone Holder

I spent a few hours watching my phone on a recent flight before and ended up with a sore back from looking down at my phone for so long. That’s when I got the idea to make some kind of a phone holder hanger that would attach to the seatback tray table when it’s folded up.

But of course someone has already done it.

The good news is that there are a few different approaches to the scenario so you can pick your favorite. I used this Unitron World model on my flight to and from Israel and loved it. It worked quite well on all the flights I was on and it made it a lot easier to power through 34 hours of flights. They’re fairly inexpensive it’s not a huge deal if you want to try a couple different versions, but I really liked how solidly this one held my phone at any angle and how small it folded up.

Mavic Mini Review

Thanks to everyone who pitched in for my Christmas present this year: a Mavic Mini! Some of you may remember that I built my own quadcopter back in 2015 and while it worked well, I didn’t use it a ton and ended up selling it.

Fast forward to 202 and a few things have changed. Technology has improved dramatically and now you can fly 4k cameras around with high quality image stabilization with GPS signals feeding a bunch of automated flight algorithms. Also, I’ve given up on “quadcopter”. Fine. “Drone”. Whatever.

DJI makes a lot of very high end drones and the Mavic Mini is one of their entry level models. It was getting enough good reviews that I jumped in and went for it without doing a ton of research into the competing brands. Also, since this drone is only 249 grams, it’s on gram under the point where lots of additional FAA laws apply so you can skip some things like registering the drone.

I bought the “Fly More” kit which comes with some extra batteries, a carrying case, extra propellers and a few other things. I highly recommend it because while the batteries give you ~25-30 minutes of flight time, it’s pretty easy to burn through one before I’m ready to be done flying.

I saw a bunch of review videos online before I got mine, but actually witnessing it in person was still surprising. The video while it’s flying is rock solid. It’s like a tripod in the sky whether you’re hovering at 2 feet or 400 feet. (The drone will go up to 1600 ft by the FAA limits you to 400.)

There’s a remote that communicates with the drone but then my phone plugs in to give me a live view from the camera and adjust settings. Flying it is pretty simple as there are a lot of computers on board helping to hold you in the same spot when you let off the sticks and the gimble on the camera does a great job of removing vibrations or even large changes in direction.

I’m exited about the small size of the drone. I can easily fit the drone, batteries and remote into my hiking backpack so as long as I’m not violating any laws, I look forward to taking this on hikes. I should also be able to travel with it pretty easily so I can take it to Indiana and fly around home, fulfilling some childhood dreams of seeing my house from the sky.

The video from the camera is 2.7k at 40Mbps so the image is beautiful. It’s not a full 4k but it’s better than any monitor I own can display.

I put together a quick video from my first time flying it down at the school by our house. Prepare for gratuitous use of the drone in upcoming videos.

IFTTT

Home automation is a never ending rabbit hole. I love gadgets and it intrigues me, but I also try to make sure that anything I do is transparent to Tyla. I used to make use of a Samsung Smart Things hub. It was a nice way to bridge all the various home automation technologies like Zigbee, Z-wave and WiFi. It unceremoniously died a few months ago and I had never been thrilled enough with it to want to buy a new one. Most of my devices were WiFi anyway so I decided to go all in on that.

You need something to execute all the programs (e.g. When I get home, turn the thermostat back up and turn on the Christmas tree) and there are plenty of gadgets that live in your house, but I decided to try using IFTTT for everything. The acronym stands for “If This Than That.” It’s a really simple way to set up triggers and actions across hundreds of different services, the vast majority of which have nothing to do with home automation. I’ve used it a bit for years but I’ve never fully relied on it.

After a month of transferring my home automation actions to IFTTT I have to say I’m very impressed. It works really well and it’s super easy to adjust/tweak/configure as needed. So for now I say goodbye to custom in-house solutions and hello to more generic cloud offerings. Let’s see if I still feel the same way in a year.