Archive for December, 2009

Comments Off on Google Public DNS, Open DNS – Should You Switch?

So you read about Google’s new Public DNS service, or maybe you’ve heard of Open DNS and you know DNS has something to do with your internet connection. So should you “switch your DNS”? What does that even mean?

DNS – What Is It?

The quick and dirty explanation is: Domain Name System aka DNS makes it possible for you to type in a domain name into your address bar, instead of an IP address. DNS translates the domain name back into its IP-address equivalent. There’s more to what DNS does but for our purposes here, this is what matters.

Why a third party DNS?

One reason for using a service like Open DNS is because it lets you do some things like filter out certain sites at the DNS level (popular with schools and corporations), among other control-y things.

What’s the fastest DNS then?

Sometimes an ISP’s DNS service happens to be slower than another one. Sometimes your ISP is just fine. If sites are coming up slower than usual, or not at all, a variety of reasons could be to blame, one of them a problem with the DNS service. By the way, a neat way to see if a site is having problems, or just you, check out http://downforeveryoneorjustme.com/ . It does exactly what the name says.

Switch? Yes? No?

So if your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is already doing this then why would you want to switch to another DNS service? You probably don’t need to.

But how do you know if your DNS is the fastest one? What about Google’s new Public DNS. Or Open DNS? Those are not necessarily faster for you and in order to find out you can download a free program/app that runs a test to see which DNS service is faster for you. It’s called Namebench.

Find the fastest DNS

Namebench is free (Windows/Mac/Linux) and runs for a few minutes before showing you a detailed page with the fastest DNS service, and slower ones in ascending order below that. For example, running Namebench on one of my machines I found out that my ISP already offers me the fastest DNS service, far faster than Google’s Public DNS or Open DNS.

Namebench DNS results

Check out the screenshot above: in my case here, you’ll see Primary Server which is actually my gateway’s (router) IP address, under “Recommended configuration”. Below that it lists my ISP and the IP address it has assigned to me at this time. I blurred that out because I don’t trust none of you motorscooters. :)

In the Tested DNS Servers section you will again see your IP address, as well as all the other DNS servers tested for you. Look in the “Avg (ms)” column. The lower the number the faster the connection. In my example, my ISP-provided DNS connection is already faster than any of the other servers tested. Good news for me!

If you scroll down further, Namebench gives you a bunch of graphs that give you more detail about the test results than you need. Point is, pick the fastest DNS service if you are unhappy with your current DNS’ performance. If you do want to switch from your ISP’s DNS to another one do a quick Google search on how to do that. It’s much easier than it sounds, but unless you are constantly experiencing problems, or wish to explore some of the more advanced options a DNS service like Open DNS offers, you probably won’t need to.

Comments Off on Free Video Encoders and Converters – Mac – PC

Free video encoder Xilisoft converts only to Windows Media 8 (wmv2)VIDEO ENCODING – WMV and FLASH

I just want to mention something in regards to video encoders because I get a lot of questions about that stuff. If you are at all serious about encoding WMVs and FLVs, please forget about free encoding programs. This is especially true for the Mac. Even with paid-for program be very careful…

The Short Answer

If you want to publish the best quality WMVs or FLVs forget about free apps. All of them. If you’re on a Mac you’re especially screwed. Read on…

If you are going to publish videos to a large number of people and make a living doing it, like if you’re operating a paysite, you absolutely need to offer the best possible expected quality WMVs and Flash movies.

This means your WMVs need to be encoded to Windows Media Version 9 (four letter code: wmv3. Part of the VC1 specs), and your FLVs need to be encoded with On2’s VP6 codec (H.264 is now possible too but I won’t get into that here).

The old (outdated) way to encode WMVs is with the codec named wmv2 ( aka Windows Media 8). And prior to VP6, one would usually use the Sorenson codec to create FLVs. Both methods are obsolete now if you expect the best quality.

By the way, many server-side transcoders use some command line magic with FFMPEG to make FLVs because On2 VP6 is proprietary and would cost money. Creating FLVs with FFMPEG is free but those files don’t look nearly as good at comparative bitrates as FLVs created with VP6, for the most part. This is why the stuff on porn tube sites looks so bad: it’s usually encoded using “free methods”  (because thieves don’t like to pay for encoding either) and at low bit rates.

GET TO THE POINT! WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

The problem: Most encoders you can download for free, and even many non-free converters, encode your files using the old codecs. That’s a big deal if you want to make a living with your content. FFMPEG-encoded FLVs might be okay for free tube sites but if you’re selling your stuff your videos better look GREAT. And for that you need On2 VP6. The same is true for WMVs – encoding your files to the old Windows Media 8 is just not acceptable any longer. It needs to be Windows Media 9, especially if your WMVs are supposed to be High Definition.

THROW ‘EM ALL AWAY

Forget about Xilisoft Media Converter, Any Video Converter, and all that other junk. Only people who don’t know enough about proper encoding love these programs, mostly because they’re free. If you’re a pro, or want to be, skip ’em.

If you’re in the early stages of looking for a good encoder please save yourself the time and headaches and read the following: Virtually all free encoders lack support to encode files to Windows Media Version 9 (wmv3 codec; VC1). With the exception of the overpriced (and buggy, at least for me) Flip4Mac WMV Studio Pro HD, all encoders I’ve come across for the Mac encode to the old wmv2 (Windows Media 8 ) standard, which, pardon my french, is bullshit. WM8 is old and inefficient. It’s almost 2010, Windows Media Version 9 has been out since 2006 yet almost all the encoders for Mac still encode to Windows Media 8.

I can somewhat understand free encoders only converting to outdated codecs. But unfortunately even a lot of paid-for programs/apps do this stuff and you won’t know until you actually start converting. It’s misleading and probably illegal but they get away with it anyways (“convert to highest quality WMVs with our encoder”…yeah right.)

Yes, some apps you have to pay for still encode to Windows Media 8, like DV Kitchen on the Mac. That’s simply not acceptable.

So far NONE of the free encoders do this right.

SO WHAT SHOULD I DO THEN?

If you are encoding your videos for your personal enjoyment or to share with a few friends, go ahead and use one of the free encoders. If you are doing this for commercial reasons, expect to shell out some money for a decent encoder like Sorenson Squeeze, Cleaner, or some of the other professional encoders. By the way, Adobe’s Premiere Pro, Flash Professional, and the respective Creative Suites that offer those programs come with the Adobe Media Encoder. It technically can convert almost anything to anything else, and it does use all forms of VC1 (wmv3 /Windows Media 9) and the On2 VP6 codec. When it works it’s excellent. Unfortunately there sometimes are some bugs depending on your source files and hardware, so be prepared to fork out additional cash for supplemental encoders if you are one of the unlucky few to encounter these problems.

Alwasy TRY before you buy. There are lots of variables, particularly in term of your systems’ specs. Make sure your chosen encoder works for you before you commit the funds.

If you need to convert to FLV-only you can get Flix or Flix Pro ($$$) which is made by On2, the company that created the VP6 codec in the first place. Flix Pro is not cheap but an excellent stand-alone converter and if you want to do batch encoding then Pro is your only choice.

MAC VS PC

I’ve tried most commonly known encoders on both Windows and Mac over the years. Virtually all major free ones, and premium professional programs such as Sorenson Squeeze, Cleaner, Episode, Flip4Mac HD, and many others. Mac has the worst selection of them all. For a platform that’s supposedly so media creation oriented it’s astoundingly bad at creating the most basic and widely used forms of media. No-cost simply does not exist on the Mac if you want quality output files. None of the free apps do Windows Media or FLVs right. Even expensive “pro apps” are oddly buggy. I’ve had incredibly bad experiences with Flip4Mac Pro HD, and Episode, but some Mac-loving folks I know swear by it so YMMV.

On the Windows side things are a little better but not much. You might point out that I’ve written about the free SUPER encoder in the past. Frankly, SUPER is fine for personal use, or if you are encoding to a format other than Windows Media, or FLV. It does a good job converting to MPEG1, and various phone formats. Even its MP4/x.264 is okay in many cases, and I love its media info feature. But SUPER is not the way to go if you are encoding to FLV or Windows Media. Oddly enough, earlier this year SUPER supposedly made it possible to convert to Windows Media 9 but I was not able to get it to work properly on any of my workstations. The recent versions are also crashing frequently, especially on Windows 7 64bit.

In short, free converters on Windows usually face the same problems as on the Mac side of things, although a few programs at least do one of the two (WMV, FLV) right. Well, sometimes. Kinda. And that’s where the trouble begins because ‘sometimes’ and ‘kinda’ just doesn’t cut it if you’re trying to create good quality media consistently and under deadlines.

WRAP-UP

For my professional work I always go back to using professional programs because the difference is just too great. Unfortunately, even pro (read: expensive) programs have their problems, as I pointed out earlier. For example, the Adobe Media Encoder does a great job most of the time but I’ve encountered some bugs with it too. Discrete Cleaner is okay on Windows but outdated and slow on the Mac. Squeeze has gotten quite good with its latest version but to me it didn’t feel good enough to replace Adobe Media Encoder. So in short, try them all and see what works best for your particular system and input files. Just make sure your program of choice encodes to Windows Media and FLV files correctly. Windows Media Version 9 (wmv3) and On2 VP6. Keep those two in mind.

I hope this helps someone looking to step up encoding quality, and maybe it’ll cut down on encoding questions I get. :)~

NOTE: I’m sure some smart ass is going to say he tried XYZ’s free program and it was great. Someone else is going to point out how one can tweak the heck out of server transcoders and make FLVs created with FFMPEG look good. I don’t care. I’m talking about standalone programs for workstations and desktops, and the fact that virtually all of those supposedly great free programs really are junk when it comes to creating WMVs and FLVs. Especially Mac fanbois tend to take it personally when I point out the flaws and the fact that the Mac, or rather the OS X platform, simply is not nearly as conducive to professional content creation as Apple’s marketing likes to claim. Macboys, I dare you to show me a free app on the Mac that encodes to Windows Media 9 and On2 VP6

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