Life in HD

Published on Wednesday, December 19, 2007

After a long hiatus, I just got done working my way through a 6 month photo backlog, arranging and backing up photos and picking the best ones out for uploading to Flickr. You can find the new photos in the photo section of my blog. I was working my way through videos as well and preparing to convert some of these to Flash for uploading. If you look at the videos section of my blog, you’ll notice that there are no new videos. So what happened?

Although I’m really happy with On2 Technologies Flash encoding software, the process of importing and transcoding video is time consuming and CPU intensive. Then there’s the entire upload and markup creation process, which is a royal pain that I should have long since automated away – but I haven’t. What I’d really like is a process similar to the one that I have with Flickr: I upload photos using a OS-specific program (uploadr) and they just appear on my blog. I’ve known that this process needs to be replaced for a while, I’ve just been hesitant to pull the trigger. Enter Smugmug…

Smugmug, the family owned photo service that leans heavily on Amazon’s S3 service for file storage, announced last week a significant upgrade to their video hosting capabilities by supporting the H.264 video format. Right now, Apple’s QuickTime plugin provides the best support for H.264 but Adobe’s newest version of Flash will also be supporting H.264. If Microsoft wants to remain competitive with Silverlight, they’ll be following suit as well. So what does this mean? This means that Smugmug will automatically transcode your uploaded video. Depending upon your membership level, video can be encoded at DVD resolution (960×540, for power users) or HD (1280×720, for pro users). You upload it and Smugmug transcodes and hosts it, providing unlimited bandwidth and storage space. Since seeing is believing, click on the image below to see a sample SmugMug Thanksgiving video and tell me you wouldn’t like to have online video of this quality.

If you’re going video, you’ve got to go big and at $150/year, Smugmug carries with it a fairly large price tag. However, when I factor in that I can cancel my Flickr subscription, stop upgrading my Flash encoder, decrease my bandwidth utilization on my hosting service, and have a hassle free upload and transcode experience… in HD, I’m sold. As an added bonus, Smugmug has just added an adaptive imaging sizing capability they call “SmugMungous” that automatically selects the right size picture for your screen. To get the full effect, this needs to be tried on a fairly large monitor. And by the way, you can point to your smugmug gallery using a custom domain or sub-domain and you can share video updates as an iTunes Podcast that friends and family can subscribe to.

SmugMug is just one more piece in my grand attempt to upgrade my life to HD. We went with HD TV almost 3 years ago now and it’s hard looking at a normal signal now, especially on a large 16:9 screen. I’m strongly considering Smugmug for its HD capabilities but this is going to cause me to reexamine two other areas of my life that need HD upgrading: my HD recording capability and HD playback capability. I’m waiting for Santa Claus to drop an HD TiVo down the chimney. The $1000 dollar price tag for the original Series3 TiVo was a pill I couldn’t bring myself to swallow, no matter how much I love TiVo. AT $300 and almost all of the features of the Series3, the HD TiVo got my attention. I’m also looking at an HD camcorder, an essential item if I’m serious about the Smugmug thing.

That’s a lot of upgrading to do. Still, there are several areas that I’m not upgrading. I’m waiting for the Blu-ray / HD DVD war to show some signs of abating but this is definitely a medium worth revisiting in 2008. HD Radio – now I just don’t get this one!