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Product Spotlight a Safe Harbor blog

Adobe Photoshop CS6: Video Previews and Sneak Peeks


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Posted by Marc Leitner
February 9, 2012

[Updated 3/8/12]

With the latest edition of Adobe Creative Suite well on its way, weve rounded up a few sneak peeks at the highly anticipated Photoshop CS6. While theres no clear answer as to when we can expect an official release, it’s also no secret that Adobe has historically planned major announcements around large industry events such as NAB. Rumored for an April 2012 launch, CS6 will likely be no exception. On June 21, 2011, CEO Shantanu Narayen said during an Adobe conference call that the CS5.5 launch in April, 2011 was the first release in our transition to an annual release cycle, adding, We intend to ship the next milestone release of Creative Suite in 2012, and it will include an updated version of Photoshop.

The first preview comes to us from Adobe MAX 2011 in the form of image deblurring technology. Analyzing how the image was originally captured, this feature allows the user to remove blurriness caused by camera shake.

Next we get a look at some of the improvements being made to Camera Raw, as well as a darker, customizable UI that integrates nicely across Premiere Pro, After Effects and Lightroom.

Those following Adobe on Facebook may be familiar with the background save option as a popular fan request. Heres a look at how it works, as well as the new real-time editing capabilities of the liquify tool utilizing the GPU.

Adobe has also been working on a few vector improvements in Photoshop. Featured in the video below, you will soon be able to create dashed and dotted lines with just one click, directly in Photoshop.

Content-Aware Fill, arguably one of the best new features to Photoshop, has been a tremendous time-saver since its introduction in Photoshop CS5. Here are a few advancements that Adobe has been making to the Content-Aware technology.

If losing some custom settings during the upgrade process frustrates you, take solace in the fact that that you will soon be able to automatically migrate your settings, presets, workspaces and preferences from the current version to the new version. You will also be able to export this information for easy sharing between computers or other individuals.

In need of a tool that will add blur to any image without masks, layers or depth maps? Check out the new Iris Blur to easily add shallow depth of field to any photo.

The following video states that it was created entirely in a future version of Photoshop. Get an inside look at how Adobe is stretching features across multiple apps to take on a more universal approach.

Want more? Be sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ to be notified every time we update this post with official previews from Adobe.


Maximize Benefits of Avid Open I/O with Bluefish444 12 Bit Video I/O Cards


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Posted by Marc Leitner
February 3, 2012

Bluefish444 has worked closely with Avid engineering and product management to tightly integrate Avid Media Composer 6, Symphony 6, and NewsCutter 10 with the entire range of Epoch and Create video cards. Full support for Avid's DNxHD codec combined with Bluefish444's bundled Symmetry capture, review, and playback software provides an end-to-end, extremely flexible post-production workflow solution with ultra high quality 12 bit processing.

We recommend the Create line as the ultimate video I/O solution for Avid editing systems:

Why Bluefish444 is the Best Choice for Avid

Video I/O cards represent a small fraction of the total cost of creation tools and turnkey solutions used in production. Processing of video at less than 12 bit by the video I/O card derogates the preview and master copy of a project. An 8 or 10 bit processing video I/O card thus becomes the weakest quality link in an ideal workflow.

12 bit processing is essential to maintain the original image - be it from camera, tape, or file. Using uncompressed 8 or 10 bit processing saves a little on the cost of the video card while costing dearly on image quality. Think of Bluefish444 12 bit processing as insurance to maintain the quality acquired from an expensive, high-quality camera.

12-bit Processing

All Bluefish444 video cards process uncompressed video frames in 12 bit - irrespective of whether the frame is an 8 bit, 10 bit, or 12 bit frame. Every RGB ↔ YUV color space conversion and 444 ↔ 422 sampling change is converted at 12 bit which is 4,096 levels of red, blue, and green per pixel versus the 1,096 levels of red, blue, and green per pixel of 10 bit processing. Bluefish444 competitors implement 10 bit processing.

12-bit Capture

All Bluefish444 video cards support 12 bit I/O for very high end SDI equipment that caters to 12 bit capture.

Real-Time, Hardware-Based Video Resolution Scaling

The quality of Bluefish444 video scaling is unparalleled in the industry. All up, down, and cross conversion between 2K, HD, and SD is done in hardware on the video card; the CPU and GPU are freed up for other tasks.

Bluefish444 has engineered the highest quality resolution scaling in the industry using:

  • 12 bit processing to scale each frame
  • 1/128th subpixel accuracy
  • Sync(x) video interpolation algorithm with 25 X 25 TAPS
  • Up, down, and cross conversion of each individual frame: 17.85 X better quality than the nearest competitor.

For more information, please visit http://www.sharbor.com/vendors/BLU.html.


Everything You Need to Know About the Atomos Samurai (video)


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Posted by Marc Leitner
December 29, 2011

The highly anticipated Atomos Samurai has finally made its way into a number of production workflows. This portable touchscreen 10bit HD recorder, monitor, and playback/playout device captures pristine video and audio direct from any camera with HD/SD-SDI. It encodes in real-time onto low-cost, removable 2.5" hard disks, directly to ProRes LT, 422, or HQ, at data rates of 100, 145, or 220Mbps respectively. You can then review your footage in real-time onto the pristine 5" display or out onto any HD-SDI capable device, including directors monitors and broadcast equipment. With up to 10 hours of battery life from the 2 included Lithium Ion Camera batteries, you truly have a deck and monitor in the palm of your hand.

Today’s solid-state HD video cameras are capable of shooting some incredible images, but ultimately this quality potential is limited by the compression codec used to save the video to the memory card. Most cameras are using AVCHD, or some other variant of the H.264 codec, to compress the video at a data rate of 24Mbps or less, using 8-bit 4:2:0 color. At first glance, the video playback may look quite good, but scenes with complex detail and high motion can exhibit compression artifacting. And then there’s the issue of color detail.

Science has proven that the human eye is much better at seeing differences in brightness, or luminance, than it is at seeing color detail, and that’s why 4:2:0 color is often used, because "no one will really notice anyway." The problem is that your editing and compositing software WILL notice. When it comes time to do color grading, keying, and compositing, 4:2:2 color produces results superior to 4:2:0, making it much easier to pull a clean key or do precise color correction.

On top of that, 10-bit color produces much smoother gradients than 8-bit color. Have you ever tried to color correct a blue sky, only to run into banding issues? 10-bit color gets around this by offering 1024 levels each of red, green and blue, versus just 256 shades with 8-bit color. That’s over one BILLION (1024^3) possible colors versus 16 million (256^3). I know 16 million seems like a lot, but when you get into editing color, 8-bit really doesn’t go very far. Remember in grade school, when it was preferable to have the 64-count box of Crayolas? Same thing.

So what if you could take the stunning HD imagery coming into your camera lens, and bypass the negative effects of compression, capturing the full fidelity of the video signal with 10-bit 4:2:2 color as uncompressed QuickTime or the visually lossless Pro Res codec? Today, you have the option to do just that.

See the video below for some RED camera workflow benefits:

The Complete Bundle comes in a custom Samurai carry case adorned front and back with "Atomos" and "Samurai" medallions. Organized neatly into die-cut foam, everything needed is included in the kit with the exception of the actual HDDs or SSDs:

  • Samurai Unit
  • HDD/SSD Master Disk Caddy (x2)
  • 2600mAh Batteries (x2) - for continuous battery operation
  • Battery Charger
  • Docking Station (and cables) - to connect to Mac or PC via Firewire 800 and USB2/3 for downloading or editing immediately from the Samurai Disks
  • Samurai Carry Case - Tough, light and portable carry case to protect your investment

SSDs are recommended for situations where shock and/or vibration could cause a spinning hard drive to skip. For most applications, the inexpensive laptop drive will work fine. A 500GB laptop drive can hold from 5 to 11 hours of ProRes 1080i HD footage, while a 128GB SSD holds from 77 minutes to 3 hours of HD video. It is important to note capacities will continue to increase while prices move downward, especially for SSD drives, so it will be up to you to evaluate current storage costs at the time you read this.

See the video below for a complete unboxing of the Atomos Samurai:

The 5" 800x480 interface is simple to use, with a no-nonsense, intuitive touchscreen that also doubles as a playback monitor and preview monitor. It definitely has a nice feel to it – you have to press an icon for a very brief moment - just a fraction of a second really - before it registers, but not so long that it would be considered waiting for a result. Hard to explain, but it just feels right. This helps to avoid accidental changes from less deliberate contact.

See the video below for a complete walk-through of the user interface.

All in all, the Atomos Samurai is a dream in today's tapeless workflows, eliminating the need for capture cards and wasted time logging and capturing. Plus, with support for the Avid DNxHD ® codec on the way, users will have yet another high-quality 4:2:2 codec to work with.

The Atomos Samurai is currently available by itself, or bundled with a 10 in. articulating monitor arm from ikan or 500GB hard drive, only from Safe Harbor. If you have any questions about these products, or video workflows in general, please contact Safe Harbor at (800) 544-6599 and we’ll be happy to assist you.

You can also connect with us in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


NewTek 3Play In Action


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Posted by Marc Leitner
November 15, 2011

Safe Harbor Computers recently provided some local support for the NewTek 3Play 330 and NewTek 3Play 820 instant replay systems, shown below providing big-screen replay in a live sports venue. These affordable solutions are used by sports broadcasters, teams, leagues, schools, and other organizations to enhance production with portable, and professional, instant replay capabilities.

For a more in-depth look at the powerful features available with NewTek 3Play systems, check out the video below, view available solutions, or give us a call and speak with our knowledgeable sales staff at (800) 544-6599.


Portable Video Recorders - HyperDeck Shuttle versus Ninja and Samurai


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Posted by Jeff Pulera
October 19, 2011

Safe Harbor Computers offers 3 great portable video field recording devices, but which is right for you? The Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle records uncompressed video, while the Atomos Ninja and Samurai units record to the Apple ProRes codec. This is not meant to be a review of any of these units – rather, I wish to explain the compression and storage methods used by each, along with the associated storage costs, to help you decide which might best suit your particular workflow and budget.

To learn more about the ProRes codec and uncompressed video, please see one of our previous blog posts, Apple ProRes 422 codec vs. Uncompressed HD.

Of Color and Compression

If you’re not familiar with what 4:2:2 and 4:2:0 refer to, please see this link - http://blogs.adobe.com/VideoRoad/2010/06/color_subsampling_or_what_is_4.html

Today’s solid-state HD video cameras are capable of shooting some incredible images, but ultimately this quality potential is limited by the compression codec used to save the video to the memory card. Most cameras are using AVCHD, or some other variant of the H.264 codec, to compress the video at a data rate of 24Mbps or less, using 8-bit 4:2:0 color. At first glance, the video playback may look quite good, but scenes with complex detail and high motion can exhibit compression artifacting. And then there’s the issue of color detail.

Science has proven that the human eye is much better at seeing differences in brightness, or luminance, than it is at seeing color detail, and that’s why 4:2:0 color is often used, because "no one will really notice anyway." The problem is that your editing and compositing software WILL notice! When it comes time to do color grading, keying, and compositing, 4:2:2 color produces results superior to 4:2:0, making it much easier to pull a clean key or do precise color correction.

On top of that, 10-bit color produces much smoother gradients than 8-bit color. Have you ever tried to color correct a blue sky, only to run into banding issues? 10-bit color gets around this by offering 1024 levels each of red, green and blue, versus just 256 shades with 8-bit color. That’s over one BILLION (1024^3) possible colors versus 16 million (256^3). I know 16 million seems like a lot, but when you get into editing color, 8-bit really doesn’t go very far. Remember in grade school, when it was preferable to have the 64-count box of Crayolas? Same thing!

So what if you could take the stunning HD imagery coming into your camera lens, and bypass the negative effects of compression, capturing the full fidelity of the video signal with 10-bit 4:2:2 color as uncompressed QuickTime or the visually lossless Pro Res codec? Today, you have options to do just that!

BlackMagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle - $345

At just $345, the Shuttle is by far the least expensive of the trio being discussed. The Shuttle unit records 10-bit uncompressed 4:2:2 QuickTime files onto user-supplied SSD drives from SDI or HDMI sources. For green screen compositing, commercials, features, or any other short-form recording needs that demand the ultimate in quality, uncompressed is definitely the "no compromises" way to go.

Keep in mind that uncompressed HD video chews through storage very quickly, so if you are shooting stage events, weddings, or other long-form videos, then Shuttle is probably not a good fit. A 128GB SSD drive starts at around $200, and will only hold about 12 minutes of HD video, so remember to budget for multiple SSD drives beyond the cost of the Shuttle itself. The SSD contents can of course be off-loaded to another hard drive in order to re-use the SSD, but you may wish to have extra recording capacity available in the field.

The Shuttle offers video playback capability via HDMI and SDI outputs, but to edit the captured videos, you’ll need to pick up a third-party hard eSATA drive dock ($30-40) to connect the SSD to your edit rig. You can then edit direct from the SSD drive, or copy the contents to your video editing hard drive. The Quicktime files will work in any editing software, Mac or PC, but keep in mind that high-speed RAID storage is recommended for smooth playback of uncompressed HD footage on your computer.

Power for the Shuttle is provided by the internal rechargeable battery, or the included 12V adapter can be used with available AC power. Recording and Playback functions are controlled by physical buttons on the sides of the unit.

Atomos Ninja - $995

The Ninja accepts an HDMI video input and records 10-bit ProRes with 4:2:2 color. Three quality levels are available – choose from ProRes LT, 422, or HQ, at data rates of 100, 145, or 220Mbps respectively. ProRes is often called "visually lossless", and with 10-bit 4:2:2 color and data rates far greater than camera-native codecs, it’s a vast improvement.

For storage, either an SSD or a laptop hard drive can be used. SSD drives are recommended for situations where shock and/or vibration could cause a spinning hard drive to skip. For most applications, the inexpensive laptop drive will work fine. A 500GB laptop drive retails for under $80 and can hold from 5 to 11 hours of ProRes 1080i HD footage! A 128GB SSD (about $200) holds from 77 minutes to 3 hours of HD video.

A hard drive Dock is included to connect the drive to your Mac or PC, and includes USB 3.0/2.0 and Firewire 800 connectivity. Video can be edited direct from the drive, or may be copied to your edit system. Although ProRes is an Apple codec, it works just fine in Premiere Pro on the PC. As long as QuickTime is installed, you should have the ProRes codec on your system, ready to edit with.

As mentioned, the Ninja can record several hours of footage to a single drive. To assure uninterrupted recording for long durations, Ninja uses dual Sony-style camcorder batteries that auto-switch and are hot-swappable, so power should never be an issue on all-day shoots.

The Ninja features a 4.3" color LCD screen to view the video you’re capturing, and it is also a touch-screen to control all functions of the unit. Lacking a video output, playback review is limited to the onboard screen.

The Atomos Ninja is currently available by itself, or bundled with a free 500GB hard drive or free 6 in. articulating monitor arm, only from Safe Harbor.

Atomos Samurai - $1495

The Samurai is the Ninja’s "big brother", featuring SDI input rather than HDMI, an SDI video output for playback review, and a larger 5" screen. The ProRes compression and hard drive options are the same as the Ninja, but Atomos has announced that they will soon be offering Samurai users the option to purchase the Avid DNxHD ® codec, providing users yet another high-quality 4:2:2 codec to work with.

The Atomos Samurai is currently available by itself, or bundled with a free 500GB hard drive or free 6 in. articulating monitor arm, only from Safe Harbor.

Recap

These portable recorders will allow you to take your existing camera to new levels of recording quality. This can be especially beneficial to owners of older HDV camcorders (with HDMI), where the quality improvement can be dramatic since HDV tape records at just 1440x1080 using old Long-GOP MPEG-2 compression technology.

The HyperDeck Shuttle will provide the least expensive start up costs, but purchasing several SSD drives can quickly add up. If the short recording times offered by the Shuttle suit your style, then there is no substitute for uncompressed video quality, and you’ll be very happy with this professional unit.

For users than can benefit from extended record times, the Atomos Ninja and Samurai models can meet those needs. The laptop hard drives are so inexpensive, that they can actually be put on the shelf to archive important footage just as you would with tape! As for drive costs, capacities will continue to increase while prices move downward, especially for SSD drives, so it will be up to you to evaluate current storage costs at the time you read this.

If you have any questions about these products, or video workflows in general, please contact Safe Harbor at (800) 544-6599 and we’ll be happy to assist you.


Matrox MXO2 – To MAX or not to MAX, that is the question


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Posted by Jeff Pulera
September 13, 2011

We’ve had a lot of inquiries lately from customers interested in Matrox MXO2 hardware who are unsure if they need to get the "MAX" option or not. I’d like to share some information here to help you make an informed decision on this for yourself.

Quite simply, MAX is for H.264 export and capture. It provides hardware-accelerated H.264 output of your finished edit sequences to formats for Blu-ray, web, and mobile devices using a dedicated compression chip in the MXO2 box. Using the new Matrox MAX H.264 Capture application with MXO2 with MAX hardware, video can also be captured direct to H.264, skipping the two-step "capture and export" process.

MAX does not accelerate the rendering of any effects – it only kicks in for the final export to H.264 and assumes any "red bar" areas of your sequence have been pre-rendered. Therefore, the export performance of Matrox MAX has remained constant since its introduction. Whether using a laptop or desktop, PC or Mac, MAX converts video to H.264 at, or a little faster than, realtime. All users should expect to see the same performance with MAX, and this compression technology can also be had without the MXO2 by ordering the Matrox CompressHD card.

When MXO2 with MAX was introduced a couple of years ago, H.264 encoding was taking several times longer than realtime in most instances, and MAX brought that encode time down to realtime or faster – a HUGE time-savings! With the introduction of Adobe CS5 and the Adobe Mercury Playback Engine, exports suddenly became a lot faster natively when using a high-performance workstation.

This means if you have a Core i7-2600 PC workstation with NVIDIA graphics, such as a Safe Harbor Tsunami Riptide, you’re likely already getting very fast encodes from Adobe Media Encoder 5.5. I’ve found that while web formats may be close to realtime, export to Blu-ray still takes maybe 1.5x realtime, so MAX would definitely help if doing a lot of Blu-ray encoding on long projects.

While the H.264 encoding may be fast in Adobe CS5.5 natively with the latest PC workstation configuration, this will not be the case with laptops, older computers, or Apple Compressor, so the MAX option is still very viable in those situations to decrease encoding time.

As for the MXO2 hardware itself without MAX, PC users will benefit from Matrox RT technology which provides acceleration for Matrox effects, as well as many Adobe effects. Hardware up/down/cross conversion is also provided, along with the video monitoring and HDMI calibration features. Recent drivers now allow the MXO2 hardware to be used as an input device for live video streaming software such as Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder.

With all the benefits the MXO2 hardware brings to Premiere editors on the PC, I think most users would see the value of having an MXO2 device, and many of those users would benefit from having the MAX technology available for super-fast H.264 encoding.

If you should have any questions about Matrox products, Tsunami workstations, or any of the hardware and software solutions that Safe Harbor offers for video editors, please feel free to give us a call at (800) 544-6599, send us an email at sales@sharbor.com, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

If you're interested in learning some tips and tricks to utilize all the features and benefits that the MXO2 hardware has to offer with CS5, be sure to check out our exclusive tutorial, "Mastering Matrox MXO2 with Adobe Premiere Pro CS5," or watch the short preview below.


ikan See Clearly Now, the Pain is Gone!


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Posted by Jeff Pulera
June 21, 2011

The new ikan VL7 portable 7" LCD display has given my video productions – and my career – a new lease on life! More on that in a moment — but first a bit of history about "portable" monitors. I began filming weddings and events in 1992 with a Hi8 camcorder that had only a small black and white viewfinder, as color LCDs were not invented yet. Not only was it hard to frame and focus using the small b/w viewfinder, but it was also difficult/impossible to know if the white balance was accurate. One could very easily get back to the studio only to find orange or blue people on the video tape!

I’ve always had to wear eyeglasses and never got along very well with a viewfinder, especially when shooting stage events for hours on end. Back in the "olden days," a portable color TV or production monitor was a part of my kit to be lugged around to every wedding and event shoot, connected to the camera via composite RCA cable. Having the larger, external display allowed me to do a better job with framing, focusing, and white balancing the camera.

Years later, Sony came to my rescue by putting a nice little pop-out color LCD on the sides of their popular VX-2000 and PD-150 cameras. No more lugging a monitor and extension cords with me everywhere I went! No more eye strain! No more purple people! The Sony LCD even got a little bigger and better on my newer Sony FX7 HDV camcorder in more recent years. Everything was going great…and then middle age reared its ugly head.

I’ve been "north of 40" for some time now, and I’ve had increasing trouble the past year or so focusing on things very close to my eyes, with or without glasses. Focusing on the camera LCD for long periods causes eye strain, sometimes resulting in blurred vision. Realizing that an AARP membership is perhaps just around the corner, with some reluctance, I got my first pair of bifocals. Unfortunately, they really don’t help with viewing the camera LCD, which is neither close enough for the bifocal lens to work, nor far enough away for "normal" viewing.

I recently had a very big weekend shooting 6 dance recital shows at 2.5 hours each. In my experience, shooting dance recitals is more challenging than any other event I do. With a wedding ceremony, I can frame and focus a subject, and then relax for a bit before moving to the next subject, allowing my eyes to look around the room for the next shot, but not so with recitals.

When taping dance recitals, there are really no breaks other than a few seconds between each act. I have to focus intently on the LCD image as I simultaneously zoom and pan smoothly to keep all the performers in frame, at the same time riding the exposure control to keep up with the constant lighting changes, and of course sharp focus must also be maintained. It’s infinitely easier to frame and focus a close up of a stationary bride than it is to follow 20 kids moving around the stage when they’re the size of ants on the screen!

I determined that the camera LCD is just too tiny to stare at all day and thought it would be a wise move to invest in a portable LCD monitor. I’d looked at ikan monitors before, and while I’m sure the high-end models are very nice and worth every penny, they had features like HD-SDI, blue gun, and video pass-thru that I’d likely never use, and thus didn’t want to pay for. More recently, ikan released the VL7 monitor with HDMI input which seemed a perfect fit to my needs - and my budget.

The VL7 has a 7" diagonal screen with 800x480 resolution, switchable between 4:3 and 16:9 display modes. It weighs just over a pound, and one HDMI and two mini-jack composite video inputs are available, with one headphone output. The lower front panel features backlit buttons for power and input, and menu settings which provide onscreen feedback to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness. Underscan and Peaking functions are also available.

The base VL7 comes with an AC adapter, swivel shoe mount adapter, and two AV adapter cables for the composite AV inputs. A Deluxe Kit is available that adds a battery plate (your choice of Sony, Canon, or Panasonic), battery, charger, and case, but I opted for just the monitor and optional Sony battery plate, as I already have plenty of Sony L-series batteries and chargers that are compatible with the VL7.

The standard ¼-20 mounting threads in the bottom of the VL7 allow it to be mounted directly to the camera accessory shoe using the included swivel-mount shoe adapter so that the VL7 can be turned side to side or tilted to provide the optimum viewing angle. Constructed of metal, the adapter seems very sturdy compared to a similar mount I got recently from the local camera shop, which turned out to be mostly plastic.

For most stage events that I tape, I’m seated on a tall folding stool. This has the dual benefit of being more comfortable than standing for hours on end, while also keeping my head (and tripod) lower for the benefit of folks seated in the first couple of rows of stadium seating to my rear. If I am seated, mounting the VL7 atop the camera would force me to look up the entire time, and would also have the LCD sticking up into the view of those behind me, causing a distraction.

I decided to also purchase an ikan Articulating Arm to provide an alternative mounting solution. I was torn between getting the 6" or 10" model, but decided on the latter and am glad I did. Both models have ¼-20 studs on ball swivels at either end, and the arm itself pivots in the middle. If you’ve never used one of these devices, they are just really neat! Loosening the knob at the arm’s pivot point simultaneously loosens the ball swivels at both ends, so you can really achieve practically any mounting position you need very quickly, then lock all 3 joints with a simple twist of the knob, and it’s very rigid when locked.

The arm comes with a shoe mount attachment, which I didn’t use since I didn’t want the monitor on top of the camera. I tried the shoe mount in the studio and found that when hanging the VL7 off to the side using the arm, the added leverage put a lot of stress on the camera shoe and was actually flexing the plastic top part of the camera if I put any pressure on the VL7 with my hand!

This was on a prosumer Sony FX7 camera – more professional models should have more robust mountings, but I learned I would have to just use some caution and common sense when mounting any larger accessory on a shoe. To be clear, there was no issue mounting the VL7 directly atop the shoe. It was only when I extended the articulating arm out to the side with weight on the end of it that I became concerned with the structural integrity of the camera’s carry handle.

Since I wasn’t using the shoe mount adapter, I needed a way to mount the arm to my tripod. The ikan rep told me they’ve developed a universal clamp for this purpose, but that it wasn’t quite shipping yet, so I ordered a clamp from another vendor. The one I got will mount to any tripod leg, pole, table edge, or similar sturdy attachment point with a diameter between .5" to 2.5", and provides ¼-20 female threads to connect the ikan Articulating Arm (as we go to press, the ikan "Elements Pinch Clamp" is now listed on ikan’s website).

Clamping to a tripod leg, I was able to securely position the VL7 at a comfortable height, angle and distance that provided the perfect viewing experience, just below my line of sight to the stage. I’m very pleased to say that I made it through the entire weekend without eye strain and was able to work very comfortably using the VL7, in a situation that would otherwise have been uncomfortable at best, and likely would’ve affected the quality of the production at worst.

How is the image quality? Well as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, meaning quality is a very subjective term. Personally, I’m very happy with the picture quality and feel that the VL7 was an excellent investment. ikan makes other LCD models with resolutions from 1024x600 up to 1366x768, but without doing a side by side comparison with resolution charts, I can’t say how much different they would look from a VL7. If you’re working on high-end productions with high-end gear, then you’d likely opt for a higher-end ikan display to suit your needs and budget.

The image on the VL7 looks very good to me. I see no pixelization or "stairstep" edges on the video or text overlays coming out of my camera. The picture looks clean and sharp and provides several times the real estate of the camera LCD. In other words, even though it is not a full HD resolution, the image is very clean and makes it easy to verify focus, which is much more critical when working with HD. I feel that the size of the VL7 image is more of a benefit to me than resolution is – it just makes a big picture that is so much easier to see! My camera has a menu setting to toggle the overlay info text on and off for the video output, and I chose to leave it on, so I had the camera settings, timecode, audio meters and other important data overlaid on the big VL7 screen, easily readable at a glance. I’ve noticed that some LCD screens in my studio will smear or leave trails with fast panning motion, so I tried doing some exaggerated side to side whip pans and saw no smear at all with the VL7 – the image remained sharp and clear.

Overall, I’m very happy with the VL7 and the 10" articulating arm. I had one problem at the recital shoot, and this is my fault for not taking more time to familiarize myself with the VL7 since I ordered late and it arrived just the night before the shoot. All of the built-in camera LCDs I’ve worked with always show an overscan image – some of the image is cut off behind the plastic bezel of the LCD, providing some extra safe area when framing subjects.

With the VL7, I realized (too late) that it displays nearly the entire video image edge to edge, with little or no hidden margins outside the screen bezel. I had continued framing my subjects on the VL7 as I had for many years with the camera LCD, not taking into account the larger image I was seeing, so some of my shots are framed tighter than I’d like. Thankfully, I figured this out before I’d done too much shooting.

The VL7 does offer an "underscan" mode, but it doesn’t show any additional image; rather, it just shrinks the whole picture down enough to put some black border around it, so I have to remember to be careful with the framing and leave some extra room at the edges! I’m tempted to take a fat black marker and trace around the outside edge of the screen against the bezel edge to get me back into my comfort zone. Of course I don’t recommend that, nor would I actually do it, but that should give you an idea of the extra area being displayed.

I was using the 1080i HDMI output of my HDV camcorder into the VL7 for the recital shoot, but the VL7 also accepts composite video inputs, so I tried the composite feed from my FX7 camera and there is an appreciable quality difference. The image was somewhat softer, which is expected since the camera is converting down from HD to SD, and composite video is the weakest type of analog connection, below S-video and component.

HDMI will of course be my first choice for monitoring, but I appreciate the option to view one or two additional video sources, available by toggling the INPUT button, when I want to verify what the other camera(s) are recording. There is also a headphone jack that provides audio monitoring for any of the video sources, an unexpected bonus on such a reasonably-priced portable display. While there is no volume control, many headphones have volume control built into the cord, or it can be added inline easily enough.

If you’re working with any camcorder with an HDMI output, or even composite output, and need an affordable, lightweight LCD that can run off AC or battery power, consider the VL7. And don’t forget the ikan Articulating Arm, which can be used for mounting just about any accessory like a light, digital audio recorder, video recorder, microphone, or of course an LCD. I showed the VL7 and 10" Articulating Arm to an associate the other day, and he is also impressed with the quality, features, and pricing of both items, and they are now on his short list of "must have" gear!

To learn more about ikan products, visit: http://www.sharbor.com/vendors/KAN.html.


Hands-on with Atomos Ninja: First Impressions


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Posted by Jeff Pulera
April 7, 2011

An out of box experience

Safe Harbor recently received our much-anticipated first shipment of Atomos Ninja 10-bit ProRes Field Recorders. Our shipment included a demo unit for evaluation, which I quickly grabbed and opened up. I’m a videographer myself, so I tend to get more excited about these things than the typical sales guy.

In case you’ve been off the planet the last few months and had not heard any of the pre-release buzz about the Ninja, it’s a portable, battery-powered unit that takes the live uncompressed HDMI feed from your camcorder and saves it to a 2.5" hard drive in the 10-bit ProRes format with 4:2:2 quality, bypassing the compression cameras use when saving HD video to tape or memory card. The captured ProRes files can then be immediately edited in Final Cut Pro without Log and Transfer or any type of transcoding needed! For PC users, I found that the ProRes clips play well in Premiere Pro CS5 also.

The Ninja Complete Bundle comes in a custom Ninja Carry Case adorned front and back with "Atomos" and "Ninja" medallions. I popped the dual latches, but the case failed to open, even with some gentle prying. I then noticed a small knob, front and center, beneath the rubberized carry handle. I turned it counter-clockwise until I heard a gentle hissing sound, and after a few seconds, the lid magically popped open. It’s nice to know the case is designed to keep the outside environment away from the tech goodies inside, and probably due to a pressure differential during shipping, the Ninja case had become vacuum-sealed! This says something about the quality of the case, having an airtight seal.

Inside the case I found the kit components neatly organized into die-cut foam. The kit includes the Ninja Unit, two 2600mAh NP-type batteries, dual charger unit, two Master Drive Caddies, Mac/PC Docking Station, Firewire 800 and USB 3.0 interface cables, and a USB power cable for the Dock. A Quick-Start guide and warranty card are also included. Make sure to register your unit online to increase the one-year warranty to three full years!

An HDMI cable is not included, as everyone’s needs may vary for length and style. You will also need a 2.5" hard drive, either SSD or spinning disk. The SSD will be preferable where shock or vibration might be a factor, though many newer laptop drives have great shock-protection built-in to minimize possible recording issues.

Power system

The two included NP-style batteries are said to power the unit for up to 5, 7, or 9 hours, recording ProRes HQ, 422, or LT respectively, and of course larger batteries can increase those figures. Currently, Ninja displays current battery voltage, but not a remaining run time estimate. Atomos’ website says that will be addressed by an upcoming firmware update.

The batteries come partially charged, so I attached them both onto the back of the Ninja so I could begin testing it. The battery mounts are very tight and feature positive locking, so the batteries are definitely not going to come off in the field until you want them to. The Ninja will operate with a battery in Slot 1 only, but mounting the second battery doubles operating time and Ninja will then auto-switch the power source when one battery runs down. The only button on the Ninja is the recessed POWER button, and it needs to be depressed for 4 seconds to turn the Ninja on or off, making it nearly impossible to do by accident.

I powered up the Ninja, and the 4.3" color LCD touchscreen came to life. I didn’t have a hard drive yet, or a camera to connect for that matter, but I was able to at least familiarize myself with the menus and settings using the touchscreen controls. I wish all devices were so intuitive to use – no buried options or folders to dig through, just clean and simple controls with most settings accessible with only one or two touches! While it was fun to play with the touchscreen controls, I was eager to actually record some video with it.

Ready, Set, Record!

I charged up the batteries overnight using the included dual charger unit, and brought my Sony FX7 1080i HDV camcorder with me to the office the next morning. The Western Digital Scorpio Black 500GB 2.5" laptop drive that Safe Harbor ordered for my evaluation purposes also arrived, so I was ready for some real testing. I chose a spinning disk for review because the SSD drives are assumed to be totally shock-proof since they’re solid-state; I wanted to see how much movement the spinning disk could realistically handle while recording.

Using the included screws, I mounted the drive into a Master Drive Caddy, and then slid the Caddy into the slot on the left side of the Ninja until it clicked, firmly locking in place. I powered up the Ninja and went to the Drive Info page and chose FORMAT, which only took a few moments. This sets up the drive for use with the Ninja, using the FAT32 file system.

While FAT32 has a 4GB file size limit, I came to realize this is actually a good thing, since I wouldn’t want to lose a long recording if the unit were dropped or lost power. I like to think of it as an "auto save" feature that saves my work every few minutes for peace of mind, since moving to a tapeless workflow does take some getting used to mentally, whether recording to a memory card in-camera or a device like the Ninja.

I connected the HDMI out from the camera into the Ninja, and it auto-sensed the video format as 1080i 59.94 and presented this info at the top left of the screen. The top center of the screen lists the ProRes preset being used, and a simple touch toggles through the three recording options of ProRes LT, ProRes 422, and ProRes HQ. The bottom right of the screen features a countdown timer showing record time remaining on the drive at the current ProRes quality preset. Hitting the red REC button immediately began recording the live camera feed - what could be simpler?

Seeing is believing

While recording, I touched the onscreen MON button, and this replaced the control button interface with a full-screen live image of the video being recorded, with overlays showing the running timecode and active audio channels.

Tapping on the screen once toggled all overlays off, providing clean full-screen video. This is a good way to verify if the camera itself is overlaying any data on the HDMI output, as you wouldn’t want that recorded! For video cameras, the status overlays on output can be disabled, but some DSLRs always show some info. Connect your camera direct to an LCD display and check your HDMI output quality before investing in the Ninja, as some DSLRs have permanent overlays and/or limited resolution via HDMI out, making the camera’s HDMI output unsuitable for recording.

While the 4.3" screen is not HD-resolution at 480 x 270, it does have a 16:9 aspect ratio. I found the colors and brightness to be very accurate, and more than sharp enough to assist manual focusing. Being much larger than my camera’s LCD, I prefer the look of the Ninja preview screen. The brightness can be adjusted, but in normal room lighting, the Ninja display at full brightness very closely matched my camera’s LCD, with the colors on the Ninja being just a bit more realistic perhaps. Get a Ninja for its recording capabilities, and think of the preview monitor as a fringe benefit!

The touchscreen has a nice feel to it – you have to press an icon for a very brief moment - just a fraction of a second really - before it registers, but not so long that it would be considered waiting for a result. Hard to explain, but it just feels right! This helps to avoid accidental changes from less deliberate contact. I should note that Power Off does require a press of 4 seconds to engage, for obvious reasons.

Can you hear me now?

Two audio channels are normally recorded from the HDMI input, but Ninja also has a 1/8" stereo line input jack, providing optional 2-channel analog audio recording. The analog input gain can be adjusted for the line input, and you can choose to record HDMI only, analog only, or both at once to four mono audio tracks in your ProRes clip.

Headphone monitoring is provided via a 1/8’’ stereo jack, and on-screen controls allow volume adjustment and toggling between monitoring the HDMI or Analog source. There’s also a LANC jack with loop-thru for cameras that support it for remote record stop/start.

There are 4 audio level meters onscreen, and while perhaps too small for determining proper recording levels, they do turn orange when peaking. It’s always a good idea to use headphones to monitor the sound quality being recorded, and of course most video cameras will have decent level meters and audio controls to pre-adjust proper levels before the signal ever gets to the Ninja. I wouldn’t be surprised if a firmware update provided better level meters at some point though.

Where’s that clip?

To organize your Ninja recordings, you can assign SCENE, SHOT, and TAKE numbers via touchscreen prior to making a recording, and these correspond to the folder arrangement then created on the hard drive. Each recorded ProRes clip is saved within the folder structure as 000.mov, 001.mov, and so on, with recordings over 4GB being sequentially numbered and saved seamlessly.

After making recordings, files can be played back on the Ninja screen, but as of this writing, this preview offers only a low frame rate with reduced resolution. Worth repeating is that the live view during capture looks very good when in MON mode. Atomos has said the playback will be improved with a future firmware update. Other forthcoming fixes include support for recording of 1080p25 and 1080p30 sources. Please check Atomos.com for current specs to make sure your format needs are currently met.

Load ‘em up!

After making some test recordings, trying all three ProRes recording modes, I was ready to view the results on our in-house 12-Core Mac Pro machine. While pressing the release lever on the Ninja, I removed the Master Drive Caddy and then slid it into the Caddy Docking Station and connected that to the Mac Pro using the included Firewire 800 cable, which also supplies power. The Docking unit also works with USB 3.0 or 2.0 (cable included), and draws power from the USB bus. If there is not enough power available, a USB power cable is included to connect to your computer to run the Dock.

After a few seconds, the Mac recognized my drive as "Ninja." From there, I opened Final Cut Pro and was able to Import the folder of ProRes clips directly from the drive and drop them right into the FCP timeline for playback, with no Log and Transfer or transcoding necessary! This is a huge timesaver, especially with Same Day Edits becoming popular with many wedding videographers. From camera to timeline, almost instantly! Of course the files can be transferred from the Docking Station drive to a video drive in the editing system if you choose, but the 7200rpm Scorpio Black drive had no trouble providing smooth playback via FW800 in FCP.

When thinking of ProRes, most people will immediately think ‘Apple,’ but Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 also accepts ProRes clips! I was able to connect the Docking Station to our Tsunami PC workstation and import the ProRes clips right into Premiere Pro CS5 for the same immediate playback as experienced with FCP.

Atomos has suggested that with 2.5" drives being so inexpensive, that they could be archived on the shelf just as tapes have been in the past. Copy the ProRes files to your main editing drive, and put the Master Caddy on the shelf then for backup, at least until the project is delivered. This is truly less expensive per hour of video than just about any HD tape or memory card solution if you think about it. Atomos offers additional Master Drive Caddy 5-packs, with slots for 5 Caddies in the carry case.

Ninja goes anywhere

For mounting, Ninja has standard ¼" threads top and bottom. I picked up an inexpensive hot-shoe to ¼" thread adapter at the local camera shop and mounted Ninja directly atop the camcorder, but if you have some sort of camera accessory mounting rig like those offered by iKan, you will have plenty of off-camera mounting points available. I weighed the Ninja at about 1.3 pounds with hard drive and batteries installed, so keep this in mind and make sure your mounts are sturdy enough to safely support Ninja, as it is more substantial in both weight and value than the average microphone that might sit atop your camera.

All you need is a suitable HDMI cable between Ninja and your camera, with no power cables to worry about. Make sure to tie up your HDMI cable to reduce stress at the connections, and also to keep it from getting pulled out by accident.I’m sure that enterprising camera people will find many innovative places and methods for mounting their Ninja recorder. I’d expect that Atomos may well be offering some accessory items in the near future themselves.

Drive it home

Atomos recommends SSD drives for situations involving shock or vibration, but of course they’re more expensive and have less capacity than a spinning disk drive. As such, I was very curious to see just how much abuse a spinning disk would take before aborting a recording. I’m quite impressed with the WD Scorpio Black 500GB drive’s ability to withstand quite a bit of rough handling! Results may vary with other brands of drives, but Atomos had given high marks to this particular drive in their testing and I can see why. Atomos says the Ninja does have some internal buffering, so this apparently takes care of minor interruptions without issue.

From my experience, I’d have no hesitation in specifying the spinning disk hard drive for use on a tripod, or for most handheld shooting that doesn’t involve shock. Handle Ninja with the same care that (I hope) you provide your camera, and you should be fine. If doing sports or outdoor video work when you might be running, jumping, or riding in or on a vehicle, then you’d likely want, or in fact need, an SSD unit to ensure reliable recording.

The Scorpio Black spinning disk is inexpensive enough that I’d suggest you just get one to start with and do your own suitability testing. If you find that you need an SSD for certain situations, then get one with the knowledge that the Scorpio drive will always be available for other situations.

Atomos is a brand-new tech company, but they seem to have a great deal of engineering and innovation behind them. They’ve already announced the Atomos Samurai, similar to the Ninja, but offering HD-SDI input, a larger 5" screen, and the ability to do 3D recording using twin Samurai units.

The hardware inside Ninja is fully-programmable using FPGA technology, so future firmware updates offer a wide degree of flexibility in offering new features using the existing hardware. Atomos has already offered three firmware updates within days of the initial product release, fixing minor bugs and adding additional features.

Just this morning, I updated the Ninja firmware and it couldn’t have been easier. I downloaded a small .zip file from Atomos.com to my Mac, unzipped it, and copied the resulting ATOMNJA.FW file to the Ninja drive in the Docking Station, then moved the Master Caddy to the Ninja main unit and powered up. Within a couple of minutes, the unit had been updated, and checking the Info screen in Ninja verified that I was indeed now running version 1.04 firmware.

As a videographer, I think the Ninja is an amazing device, and the sub-$1000 price point for the entire kit is even more amazing. There is simply no better value to be had for this type of hardware, and I can’t wait to see what new features will be added with future firmware upgrades, as Atomos has hinted that they have many things in the works. I look forward to getting my own Ninja so I can put tapes, memory cards, and capturing behind me once and for all, allowing me to focus on the creative side and just edit! Check it out for yourself, and I’m sure you’ll agree that Ninja is THE ANSWER to today’s tapeless workflows.

The Atomos Ninja Complete Bundle is currently available from Safe Harbor for $995. Pre-orders for the Atomos Samurai Complete Bundle are also available, with an expected 2011 Summer ship date.

See the introductory video from Atomos below and be sure to subscribe to our blog, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook to see our hands-on video review coming soon!


Matrox MXO2 Mini with MAX Essential to Video Journalist's Kit at UNICEF


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Posted by Marc Leitner
March 21, 2011

Bob Coen is a video producer and global correspondent at UNICEF, the United Nations agency dedicated to upholding the rights of children around the globe. He's responsible for shooting video and producing stories for UNICEF's global website about the organization's work supporting education, health, and sanitation initiatives in developing countries and providing emergency relief in natural and man-made disasters.

"I work as a 'one-man-band' - shooting, writing, editing, and transmitting my stories on the road via FTP to UNICEF headquarters. The videos are also made available to international broadcasters and news organizations through UNIFEED, the daily satellite news feed from United Nations Headquarters in New York, "Bob commented. "So, the quick turnaround of broadcast quality video from remote and difficult locations is an essential part of what I do."

"I shoot primarily to AVCHD files with a Panasonic Lumix HDSLR camera and edit on a MacBook Pro running Final Cut Pro and Compressor. Most of the time I need to turn around stories quickly, in challenging conditions further complicated by a multi-step post-production workflow and very slow Internet connections in the places I work. Using the Matrox MXO2 Mini with MAX technology helps me save precious time producing my broadcast-quality H.264 encodes."

"In 2010 I made several trips to cover humanitarian disasters, including the famine in Niger as well as the post-earthquake recovery and the cholera epidemic in Haiti. The unit was especially useful during my most recent trip to Haiti in late 2010. I was typically working 18 to 20 hour days - shooting all day, then spending long hours at night, editing, encoding, and transmitting. Using MXO2 Mini with MAX cut my H.264 encode times by up to 90% compared to when I previously used either Compressor or QuickTime to do it. I was assured of quick, high-quality encodes that also allowed me several extra hours of precious sleep!"

"I have also used MXO2 Mini for Apple TV and YouTube encodes and have been equally impressed with the speed and quality of the results. I plan to explore the unit's HD monitoring capabilities in the future."

"In my opinion Matrox MXO2 Mini with MAX is an indispensable piece of equipment that should be an essential part of any travelling video journalist's kit."

View some of Bob's work:

For children and families in Haiti, the long road from relief to recovery
UNICEF - Executive Director brings a message of hope to Haiti's most vulnerable
UNICEF - Supported campaign raises awareness about cholera prevention in Haiti


Safe Harbor TOP 10 products for 2010


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Posted by Jeff Pulera
January 6, 2011

2010 really flew by, but not without some major happenings in the video and animation products world, so the Safe Harbor staff has put together a short list of products that we felt worthy of a Top 10 listing. Inclusion in the list is based on a variety of criteria and does not necessarily reflect sales numbers. So let’s take a look at the Safe Harbor "Top 10 for ’10," in no particular order.

Mac Pro - Mac users had Christmas in July with the highly anticipated release of the new Mac Pro workstations with up to 12 processing cores, more memory, and updated display card offerings that have proven very popular with HD editors seeking more horsepower. Fingers crossed for a new FCP for 2011!

EDIUS 6 - Grass Valley fans finally got their EDIUS 6 upgrades towards the end of the year, adding more than 100 new features, including 10-bit editing, 2k/4k resolution, and 16-camera multicam editing. EDIUS 6 provides native, realtime editing of many new tapeless HD video formats including Sony XDCAM, Panasonic P2 and Canon XF.Adobe CS5 - One of the biggest hits of the year may very well have been the release of Adobe Production Premium CS5. True 64-bit coding and the Mercury Playback Engine powered by nVidia GPUs have brought extraordinary speed improvements and increased productivity for Premiere, Photoshop and After Effects users.

Adobe CS5 - One of the biggest hits of the year may very well have been the release of Adobe Production Premium CS5. True 64-bit coding and the Mercury Playback Engine powered by nVidia GPUs have brought extraordinary speed improvements and increased productivity for Premiere, Photoshop and After Effects users.

Quadro by PNY - Speaking of nVidia, the new Quadro by PNY graphics cards have more CUDA cores, new Fermi architecture, and massive amounts of memory to provide amazing performance for video and graphics applications. Quadro cards were especially popular in new Tsunami workstation builds featuring Adobe CS5.

modo 501 – Billed as "the next evolution in 3D modeling, animation and rendering," modo 501 upgrades were a hot commodity, offering cleaner, faster rendering with speed improvements of 30-40%, simplified animation rigging, and more included content, among other new features.

Osprey 240e - The Viewcast Osprey 240e was a hit with school, government and business users looking for great performance and value in a PCIe analog video streaming card for the PC. The optional Simulstream software allows encoding of multiple codecs at once to reach a broader audience.

Cintiq 21UX - Graphics professionals were grabbing up every Wacom Cintiq 21UX we could get our hands on, as demand exceeded supply for many months. The newly-redesigned 21.3" drawing tablet allows users to draw directly on the screen with precise 2048-level pressure control using the advanced pen technology. If I had a nickel for every inquiry I got about this item, I’d be writing this from a beach somewhere rather than watching it snow outside. :)

Maxwell Render 2/RealFlow 5 - Next Limit is tied with itself, treating users to long-awaited updates of both Maxwell Render 2 and RealFlow 5 for amazingly realistic simulations of light and water, with support now for more host applications. RealFlow has been used extensively in many recent blockbuster movies such as "Avatar," "District 9,"and "2012."

Cinema 4D R12 – Maxon offered a great 50% discount on new C4D R12 upgrades when bundled with the Maxon Service Agreement. Cinema 4D R12 is a powerful 3D modeling and animation program which was used for many of the VFX shots in "Iron Man 2." The R12 version is loaded with new features like Linear Workflow, Camera Deformer, Color Profile Support, and Render Queue.

Matrox MXO2 Mini – Last but certainly not least, we have the MXO2 Mini to round out the round up! The stylish little aluminum breakout box has been exceedingly popular with users of Mac and PC, laptop and desktop, and supports Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro CS5, and Avid Media Composer NLE editors. Who wouldn’t want one to provide video capture and preview, 10-bit hardware up/down/cross conversion, and hardware-based realtime H.264 encoding (with the MAX option)?

I can only imagine what amazing new hardware and software offerings I’ll be writing about 12 months from now. Thank you to our loyal customers for a great 2010, and we look forward to serving you all in 2011, our 24th year of providing tools for video, animation and graphics professionals worldwide!

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