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Amazing Media Player Brings PDA Video to Life

07/31/2001

Back in May 2001, the filmmakers for Moulin Rouge made news in the PDA world by distributing a promotional clip for their movie on Palm Vxs to 50 VIPs at the Cannes Film Festival. To play the clip, the Vxs were loaded with Generic Media's gMovie Player that could display silent, grayscale video on these devices.

Unfortunately for the makers of Moulin Rouge, the top prizes went to The Son's Room by Nanni Moretti and La Pianiste by Michael Haneke. But the notion that PDAs could be used as portable movie-playing devices caught the eye of many of us in the digital community.

What Generic Media has done is create a companion desktop environment that allows you to convert your existing QuickTime movies to .pdb files that can be read by their gMovie Player on the PDA.

Because Palm OS PDAs generally only have 8MBs of onboard memory, Generic Media wisely struck a deal with Portable Innovation Technology to have the gMovie Player bundled with the popular MemPlug SmartMedia and Compact Flash adapters. The result was that Handspring Visor users could convert QuickTime videos with gMovie Maker, transfer the .pdb files to MemPlug media, then play the video clips on their Visors right off the removable media, sparing the precious onboard memory.

I never really liked silent movies, though

I got my hands on the .pdb Moulin Rough trailer and played it on a Visor Platinum. Even though I was impressed with the creativity of the project, there were a couple of problems, most of which were the result of the technology limitations at the time.

First of all, the video clip had no audio. If you've seen Moulin Rouge, you know that the audio is an important aspect of the movie. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. So right off the bat, the trailer lacked a key strength of the full production.

Comment on this articleMultimedia on PDAs is more than just showing the latest Budwiser commercial to your friends. Digital filmmakers can now author short pieces and share them via beaming. Do you think this is the start of a new medium or just a fleeting fancy?
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If you want to see live demos of gPlayer, gMovie Maker, plus the original Cannes Moulin Rouge trailer, register for Derrick's Mobile Multimedia class at Web2001, the week of Sept. 4-8 at Moscone Center in San Francisco, CA.

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The movie also relies on fast, precise editing, cutting quickly from one angle to the next. The PDA trailer did reflect this style. The problem was, however, that the quick cuts on a tiny screen displaying 16 shades of gray left me in the dust. I just couldn't tell what was going on. I'm sure the VIPs at Cannes had the same reaction.

So even though I admired the vision of the Moulin Rough marketing staff, the actual product left me somewhat bewildered. Too bad Cannes didn't hold its festival just a few months later because the Moulin Rouge folks could have had a whole new presentation.

The amazing new Generic Media player

Not long after Cannes, Generic Media released version 2 of their gMovie Maker and Player. This new version added audio capability, full color, and a number of presets for the most popular PDAs.

I went back to some of the QuickTime video I had ripped with version 1 of gMovie Maker, and reprocessed the clips with version 2 for playback on a Visor Prism with a MemPlug adapter. What a world of difference!

First of all, I had never heard any audio emitting from my Prism other that the usual alarm sounds. Now it was playing soundtrack music and voiceover in tandem with 64,000 color video at 15 frames per second (fps). Admittedly, the audio is not THX quality, but it's amazing how much impact even tinny music adds to the overall presentation.

The desktop editing environment is clean and easy to understand. You can start with a preset of the PDA that you're preparing the video for, then open the advanced settings to make minor adjustments.

Screenshot.
The gMovie Maker desktop environment for converting QuickTime movies to .pdb files.

One tip that I want to share with you along these lines has to do with frame rate. You'll get the best results for converted clips if your frame rate is the same, or if it's a factor of, the original frame rate of the clip. For example, if the original clip is 24 fps, then I'd choose 12 fps for the conversion because it is a factor of 24.

If you don't have a perfect factor available, such as 24 to 12, then go to the next best offering. In this case, 8 fps would work nicely also as long as the video didn't have too much fast movement.

Beam your videos to others

Not only is QuickTime playback on a PDA extremely portable, you can beam short clips to others. If they don't have the player, you can beam the player first, then the accompanying video.

This opens up a whole new world for QuickTime authors. If you have a Visor, Palm, or Clie, I suggest you download the trial version of Generic Media's software and give it a try. Even on grayscale devices, the end result is impressive now that audio is included. Full registration is USD$30 if you get hooked.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.


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