The Making of an HD Screen Grab

After my last post, you may be asking how I do an HD screen grab from a recorded TV show. If there is such a thing as a rabid fan of my blog, you may remember a similar post from back in the day (it was Feb 12, 2006!). That was back in my PC days and I did the digitizing via a firewire cable from my cable box to a firewire card in the computer. A program called Nero played the video and it provided a button to take a still frame from the recorded video. So what has changed in the 4 years?

Let’s start with the computer setup, which is a Mac Mini that has a Hauppauge HD-PVR. What this little beauty does is allow me to connect component cables from my FIOS set-top box to my Mac (via USB). Yes, I did say component and not composite, so I get full HD quality up to what the programming is broadcast in. I can get up to 1920×1080 pixels in an image from 1080i video. I can record any HD content from FIOS using the Eye TV software from Elgato. There is also more simple recording software (but not as feature rich) known as HDPVRCapture that could be used. For $30 you get basic recording from the HD-PVR, and conversions to QuickTime compatible files.

Once you have your Eye TV recording*, you need to transcode it to a non-proprietary format for the Mac, typically an h.264 QuickTime video. This is not a full blown conversion so it doesn’t take hours (like a Handbrake conversion). Now that the video is in a QuickTime compatible format, you open it in the VLC media player, play the video to the point where you would like to grab a frame, and then choose Video>Snapshot. This will save a .png image file on your desktop, ready for you to post to whatever website you choose.

Now the actual procedure that I followed was needlessly convoluted however. The Colbert clip was crashing VLC, and so I couldn’t even get to the snapshot step. So I decided to use a combination of QuickTime Pro, and Preview. VLC is definitely the preferred way to go because it is free, and as it turned out, upgrading VLC to the latest version fixed the problem. However, if you do have a registered version of QT Pro you can do it. You open the video file in QT Pro and then navigate to the frame of video that you want. Click on the File menu and choose Export… then select Movie to Picture. Unfortunately, no matter what you change in the Options area, the file will be saved as a .pct file (a “pict”). You should be able to open it with the Preview program and then save it out (File>Save As…) as a .jpg or .png. Then use it how you wish. However, a 64-bit issue read its ugly head. In Snow Leopard, Preview is a 64-bit program, but it gave an error (see below) when I tried to view the .pct file that suggested I open the file in “32-bit mode”. To force Preview to run in 32-bit mode you need to go into your applications directory, click the Preview icon and choose File>Get Info from the Finder menu. Check the box labeled Open in 32-bit mode and then close the window. I could now open the file and save it out as a jpeg image. There, that was easy wasn’t it.

* I have since discovered that the Eye TV software has a snapshot feature, so I just find the frame I want in the original recording and make a snapshot. In other words, never mind. Still, the feature in VLC to take snapshots is applicable to many other projects. As I stated in my post from long ago, Hi-Def television is a great resource for high quality images, keeping in mind copyright issues, of course.

Oh, and I fully expect people to comment on other programs that can play the video and take a snapshot from a frame, so let’s have at it.

cc licensed flickr photo by Tyler Howarth:

What is HD video? Even Mark Cuban gets it wrong

Tekzilla screen grab

Mark Cuban has lots of ideas. His best one was back in the late ’90s when he decided to create a webcasting business that was ultimately sold for millions of dollars to Yahoo! Cuban may well have another great idea to save Internet video, but I’ll leave commenting on his ideas to a possible future post. Mark should know something about HD video. He is the Chairman of HDNet, a cable television network that broadcasts exclusively in high definition (HD).

HDNet is one of the few networks that has original HD programming, and by that I mean an independent network broadcasting exclusively in HD. HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports is an example of original HD programming. Depending on who your cable provider is, you may or may not have HDNet available to you. Without getting into the sordid details about why, you likely will have either HDNet or a network known as Mojo available with your cable or satellite provider, or with fiber-optic systems such as Verizon’s FiOS, or AT&T’s U-verse.

So Mark Cuban started a business and is one of the leaders of a company that produces HD video. It is with that knowledge that makes this statement so confusing:

100pct (sic) of the internet video that you see offered on the net as HD, is not HD. Plain and simple.

He then offers the following definition (of sorts):

What is HD video ? HD Vidoe (sic) is video you can watch on a screen of ANY size and say…”that looks good, almost as good as it can get “.

My purpose here is not to picks nits, but if that is his definition of HD video, then by who’s standard do we define “looks good” and “as good as it can get”? Look, there are lots of sites, services, and networks trying to distribute HD video on the Internet, or at least what they self-define as HD video. I should also point out that high definition video on the web is mostly a buzzword, and Cuban’s definition doesn’t help.

Here, let me define HD video. It is digital video that is represented by the minimum dimensions of 1280×720 pixels (720p). Now was that so hard? You can also take a look at the Wikipedia entry for high definition video for many more details. Having tendered those definitions, it should also be said that like all things digital, there is a quality factor that can affect how good HD video looks.  It is generally represented by what is known as bit rate. It is also something that most directly relates to the fudge factor that gets used on some supposed HD video sites. Again, the details start to get way too complicated in terms of what makes good (and bad) HD video, so let’s just stop before we hurt ourselves.

What makes Cuban so wrong is that there are good, and successful, attempts at providing HD video through the web. The screen grab at the top of this post is from one of these Internet TV networks called Revision3. The show is called Tekzilla, and by every measurement that I know of it is high definition. The basic specs of the video are, 1280×720 pixels (again 720p), h.264 video codec, AAC audio. It’s video quality that I’ve raved about before.

There’s a great way to check out more HD content by using software called Miro. It is similar to iTunes, but geared toward online video, and it provides good quality HD programming. If you check out their Miro Guide, you can check out some of the HD choices. I use it on my home theater PC which is connected to my Pioneer Plasma and it looks good, almost as good as it can get. Oh, sorry. That definition is taken. So what’s with Cuban’s 100% not HD statement? Is it because it’s not Blu-ray quality? Well, it will be a while before we are downloading 20GB files to watch on our HDTVs. Is it because it isn’t the same quality as HDNet? Well, no, Tekzilla probably doesn’t use XDCAM HD (cameras that still sell for over $20,000). However, it looks as good as a lot of the broadcast HD content out there, because it not further compressed by the cable or satellite company. All of this technology (do I have to say it?) is constantly improving. Codecs are being developed that will surpass what we have today that will deliver higher quality at equivalent bit rates. Cuban’s standard sounds like something that we may never achieve, and when it comes down to the basic definition of HD video, he’s wrong.