Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Divergence from Open Source

I'm ashamed to admit it, but the one area where Open Source has defeated me is in the area of video processing. I was looking for a means to convert MPEG-2 videos that I had captured from my Hauppauge (pronounced HOP-hog) WinTV-PVR-USB2 to MPEG-4 for serving to my clients. (This is the reason for Darwin Streaming Server, by the way.) The best Open Source software for video conversion apparently is FFmpeg, but this thing is so darn complicated--and no one has bothered to write a user-friendly GUI front-end for it--that I simply couldn't figure out how to use it. And as is typical of most Open Source projects, FFmpeg doesn't have any friendly documentation for newbies. Yes, there *is* detailed documentation, but it reads like a Grumman F-14 operational manual.

I was also looking for a way to add a digital watermark to these videos. There are very few products on the market that do this. And zero products from the Open Source community.

Fortunately, in the Windows world (blech!), there is a solution...sort of. It costs US$70 and it comes from Deskshare. It's called Video Edit Magic. This program is pretty straightforward to use and it has all kinds of nice features and options. It's actually quite versatile. Video Edit Magic should be a bargain at $70. The only problem is, Deskshare technical support is crappy. They rarely respond to my email requests for help and they don't provide telephone support (so you can't really pester them). When you submit an email request, they claim that they'll get back to you within one business day, but they always take longer than that if they even deign to respond. (I've submitted at least half a dozen requests over the past couple of months.)

What kinds of problems do I have with this software? Well, for starters, it won't run under Windows Vista, despite their claim. I initially purchased the program for a home-built Vista box (Antec Sonata II case, 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB DDR2, 500GB hard drive). Video Edit Magic would occasionally crash for no apparent reason.

On a second machine that I subsequently bought from Dell (Dimension 9200, Core 2 Quad-Core, 3GB DDR2, 500GB hard drive), Video Edit Magic won't let me open any files! Whenever I click on the Open File menu or icon, the program would immediately close!

(On my aging Windows XP laptop, Video Edit Magic works just fine. So this is clearly a Vista issue.)

Video Edit Magic also has a bug with the digital watermarking feature: it won't let me alter the opacity of the watermark, even though there is a slider to vary the opacity (which is permanently stuck at 50%). Deskshare says they are aware of the bug but they can't give me a timeline on when it'll be fixed. So what am I supposed to do in the meantime??? I have important work to do!

My project is Open Source on the server side, but because of video processing requirements (Hauppauge support, Video Edit Magic) it has to be Windows on the client side. The only thing I can do is wait for Deskshare to come out with a new release sometime in the next couple of months. (Historically, their release schedule is once every four or five months. But I understand their next release represents a significant rewrite of the code base. This doesn't bode well.)

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