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Palette’s Lego-like controls made me a faster video editor

Until robots take over video editing, you’ll still have to fiddle with cuts, colors and sound levels. A keyboard is not always the best tool for that, and many control surfaces, like Loupedeck, are strictly targeted at Lightroom users. So what’s a video editor to do? One of the more interesting controllers on the market is Palette Gear — it’s expandable, flexible, programmable and looks cool. As I discovered, if you’re willing to spend some timing learning and programming, it can make you a faster and better editor, too.

As with other niche products, Palette Gear began on Kickstarter. It was a decent success, earning $150,000 or so, but most important, the company actually followed through and shipped it to buyers. It’s now a commercial product that you can buy at B&H Electronics and elsewhere, and the company has consistently added more functionality. For video editors, Palette recently unveiled advanced integration with Adobe Premiere Pro CC.

With video-editing control surfaces, the choices are narrower than for Lightroom. Blackmagic Design makes very powerful control surfaces for its DaVinci Resolve video-editing software, but the cheapest — the Micro Panel — is $995. You can also go with the Behringer BCF-2000, a motorized $299 audio mixer that can be programmed for video. For the $300 price, Palette’s Expert Kit is ready to go and is one of the most, if not the most, cost-effective options.

The folks at Palette shipped me the “Expert Kit,” complete with three dials, two sliders, two buttons and a central “brain” controller. The company advised me to try it with Lightroom as well as Premiere, saying that “we’ve still got some ways to go before [Photoshop and Premiere] are as complete of an integration.” The company needn’t have worried — I found the Premiere app covered just about every function I needed, and I didn’t experience any major problems or bugs with it.

The system works like electronic Lego, snapping together magnetically and using pogo pins to link the modules. All are controlled by a central “Core” brain that displays the current profile on a nifty LCD screen and attaches to your computer (Mac or PC) via a USB cable. Modules include a button, dial and slider, and you can chain together as many as you want, adding more modules at $50 each.

The $300 Expert Kit had enough functionality for me, but if I ever went back to doing video editing, I’d opt for the $500 Professional Kit, with six dials, four sliders and four buttons. There’s also a starter kit, with two buttons, a slider and a dial, priced at $200.

The software setup instructions were a bit vague, not telling me whether to install the app or hardware first. So I installed the software to start with, and after arranging the modules in a square as shown above, plugged them in afterward. That seemed to work just fine.

Next up, I launched the main app. Palette is set up with a number of “Quick Start” profiles based on your kit: Edit Starter, Professional and Expert, along with Grade, Vignette and Motion. It requires Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015.3 or later, and I used the latest 2017 version. You need to first load the profiles you want to use, then stack them in tabs on the app. Once you launch Premiere Pro CC, you need to make sure that the Palette controller is enabled in the preferences.

Then, I was all set. After using the quick-start “Edit Expert Kit” profile for a bit, I quickly changed it to suit my own style. I used the dials for jogging, next or previous edit and zoom in/out on the timeline; the sliders for volume and mixer active track volume; and the buttons for start/stop playback and switching between Palette’s Premiere Pro modes (Edit, Grade, Vignette and Motion).

The quality of the hardware is good for a consumer product, but not at the same level as an expensive control surface from BlackMagic, for instance. I found the dials worked great, operating smoothly and allowing a press to reset. The sliders felt similarly good, but because they’re not motorized or mechanical, they could really use a button-like “reset” option like the dial — motorization would be ideal, though. The arcade-like buttons were fine, but one of mine had a quality-control issue, activating the control with just a slight touch instead of a full click.

I set up the “Grade” profile with the dials targeted to exposure, white, and blacks, the sliders set to temperature and saturation, and the buttons set to “next edit point” and, again, next profile. I left the “Motion” setting, which I primarily use to add pans and zooms to still images, on the default profile, and did the same with “Vignette.” If you use other functions often, you can create, save and export custom profiles. For folks who do a lot of audio editing in Premiere Pro CC, I could easily see setting up a profile for that.

Programming your own style is essential to making Palette useful. Every editor has his or her own workflow, so you have to figure out whether to use the keyboard, mouse or Palette for specific functions to be as efficient, precise or speedy as possible. If you can’t figure out how to create a decent profile for yourself, other users have created and uploaded them for Premiere, Lightroom and other apps.

For editing, I chose functions that I absolutely hate doing with a mouse or keyboard, like moving between edits, jogging and tweaking volume levels. I also tried to eliminate the keyboard as much as possible, as I’ve never been a keyboard person. After some practice, I believe that the Palette controller made my editing around 10-20 percent more efficient.

Because it was conceived for Lightroom, the Palette Gear really shines for Premiere Pro color-grading. With version 2015, Adobe overhauled the video app’s color controls with Lumetri, which is like a mashup of its Speed Grade color-correction app and Lightroom.

I can get a shot about 90 percent right with just a few controls (exposure, whites, blacks, color temperature and saturation), so I programmed those into the Palette “Grading” profile. One suggestion for the Palette folks: It would be nice if the “switch profile” button could also change the corresponding profile in Premiere Pro CC, selecting “Color” or “Effects” for Grading and Motion.

The Palette Gear’s other main Premiere profile, Motion, is also dramatically better than just using the keyboard and mouse. That’s because Premiere’s interface for Motion is pretty crappy, requiring lots of fiddling with the mouse. Using Palette, you can adjust X and Y position, along with scaling, and then easily set a keyframe.

What’s nice about the Palette controller is that it can also be used for other apps, and I found it to be just as effective as the Loupedeck for Lightroom, once you get the hang of it. As with Premiere, you must create profiles customized to your workflow for each app, and program a button to switch between them.

As for downsides? Professionals will find the hardware a bit cheap, but it’s actually not bad for a consumer-level product, and comparable to the Loupedeck. The company needs to do something about the sliders, though, and either add a reset clicking option or motorization. Software-wise, the new Premiere Pro advanced app was solid and bug-free while I used it, though the company could make the installation process a bit clearer.

Overall, I found that the Palette Gear Expert Kit made me a better editor, and actually made Premiere Pro CC a lot more fun — especially color correction. The fact that it’s programmable, works with different apps and can be snapped together in whatever configuration you want makes it particularly useful for do-it-all graphics pros. Don’t expect it to do everything out of the box, though — you have to put in some time to learn and program it.


Tap your phone to withdraw cash from Wells Fargo ATMs

Wells Fargo enabled smartphone-only ATM withdrawals back in March, but the need to punch in both an app-specific code and your PIN partly defeated the convenience of the feature. As of now, though, it’s decidedly easier: the bank has enabled NFC access at more than 5,000 of its ATMs across the country. As with Chase, you just have to tap your phone (using Apple Pay, Android Pay or Samsung Pay) and enter a PIN code to start a transaction at a supporting machine. Suffice it to say this is considerably faster than entering two codes just to withdraw some cash.

The main catch at this point is simply availability. Wells Fargo touts NFC support at over 40 percent of its ATMs, but that still leaves most of its machines working the ‘old-fashioned’ way. Tap-based access at every ATM is expected to come by 2019. Even so, it’s a big step toward a day when you can ditch plastic cards as long as there’s a phone in your pocket.

Via: 9to5Mac

Source: Wells Fargo (1), (2)


Snapchat just made tagging places a lot more useful

More and more places are getting their own Snapchat location filters, but what good are they? Well, now they link to further information about where your pals are sending evaporating updates from. The ephemeral photo app is calling them Context Cards. The video filled with very attractive twentysomethings below shows restaurant reviews from TripAdvisor, how much it’ll take to get to a destination either in your own car or via Lyft or Uber and will add your location to a map, Foursquare style. It looks like you can even make hotel reservations without leaving Snapchat, too — all based on the location filter you pick.

Additionally, you can link with OpenTable to book a restaurant reservation, and there will be more location-based stories and snaps listed as well. While the app started out as a way for sending risky photos, Context Cards are the latest step into turning Snapchat into a full-blown social network. It’s only a matter of time before Instagram tries something similar.

Source: Snapchat (YouTube)


Samsung’s new robot vacuums banish Darth Vader to cleaning duty

If you’ve lamented the lack of Star Wars-themed home cleaning appliances, then Samsung has just the robot vacuums for you. Today they announced limited editions of their POWERbot VR7000 vacuum cleaner inspired by the iconic sci-fi franchise. There are two different designs: Darth Vader retails for $799, while his Stormtrooper counterpart retails for $699. You can preorder both now at the Samsung website; the estimated ship date is November 5th at the time of writing.

Both robot vacuums feature 10-Watt suction power, CycloneForce technology and the ability to clean close to walls and edges. It uses mapping tech to remember your home and discover the fastest cleaning routes. A sensor ensures that the robot vacuum will clean around personal items as small as 10 mm. They both also have onboard Star Wars sound effects. The Darth Vader unit comes equipped with Wi-Fi and a remote control, hence the higher price.

The merchandising for Star Wars is a bit out of control, from Ubtech’s Stormtrooper bot that will yell at intruders, to flash drives, USB car chargers, bluetooth speakers and much, much more. (R2-D2 screwdriver, anyone?) But hey, if you’re a Star Wars fan who’s in the market for a robot vacuum, why wouldn’t you want Darth Vader cleaning your carpet?

Source: Samsung


Uber’s app will stop UK drivers working excessive hours

Earlier today, executives from Uber, Deliveroo and courier company Hermes addressed the UK government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which is investigating how it might be possible to balance the flexible “gig economy” working model with fair pay and appropriate benefits. While discussing employment practices, Uber’s Andrew Byrne was quizzed on passenger safety, at which point he revealed the ride-sharing company is testing a system that automatically logs off drivers deemed to be working excessive hours.

Uber already tracks the hours of UK drivers, who are called directly and reminded of safe driving practices if they are clocking up serious hours over short periods. The feature in development sets a strict logged-on limit, expected to be between 10 and 12 hours within any one, rolling 24-hour period. This would be impossible to breach, as drivers would be booted off the app for a mandatory rest period — that doesn’t stop them working for a different private hire operator in between, of course. A similar system was introduced in New York City early last year, stopping drivers from working more than 12 hours per day.

When asked about the pressure drivers may face to log on when poorly, Byrne mentioned the subsidised illness and injury insurance policies Uber offers drivers through the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE). While the government committee is looking at the gig economy as a whole, news of in-testing safety measures could have a direct impact on Uber’s current issues with Transport for London (TfL), which recently decided not to renew the ride-hailing company’s private hire licence in the capital.

In the shock announcement, TfL noted several safety concerns among a broader criticism of Uber’s business practices. The service is still allowed to operate beyond the expiry of its current licence while it exhausts the appeals process, expected to take several months at least. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has already flown over to meet with TfL, and it’s likely a strict limit on driver hours will form one of many concessions Uber will make to show it’s a “fit and proper” operator worthy of a renewed private hire licence.

Via: Huffington Post

Source: The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee


NVIDIA opens up its Holodeck VR design suite

Hardware makers have figured out that enterprises are the best way to make money off of VR and AR, not consumers. NVIDIA, a company that does both things well but has been particularly strong on the business side lately, has just opened up its Holodeck “intelligent” VR platform to select designers and developers. First unveiled in May, it allows for photorealistic graphics, haptics, real-world physics and multi-user collaboration.

That helps engineers and designers build and interact with photorealistic people, objects and robots in a fully simulated environment. The idea is to get new hardware prototyped in as much detail as possible before building real-world models. It also allows manufacturers to start training personnel well before hardware is market-ready. For instance, NVIDIA showed how the engineers that built the Koenigsegg supercar could explore the car “at scale and in full visual fidelity” and consult in real time on design changes.

Holodeck is built on a bespoke version of Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 and uses NVIDIA’s VRWorks, DesignWorks and GameWorks. It requires some significant hardware, either an NVIDIA 1080, Quadro P600, NVIDIA 1080 Ti or Titan XP GPU, but the firm says it will eventually lower the bar. It’s not clear what kind of headsets are supported, but both of the major PC models (the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift) will likely work.

NVIDIA is already using its Holodeck as a way to train AI agents in its Isaac Simulator, a photorealistic machine-learning environment. With Holodeck, NVIDIA is taking on Microsoft and its Hololens in the enterprise and design arena — though the latter AR system is more about letting engineers interact with real and virtual objects at the same time. Another player in the simulation scene is Google with Glass Enterprise, a product aimed more at training and manufacturing than design.

All of this doesn’t seem like it’s going to help you game or be entertained, but there is a silver lining. Much of this very advanced tech is bound to trickle down to consumers, hopefully making VR and AR good enough to actually become popular.

Source: NVIDIA


Apple Music’s latest short stars Niall Horan from One Direction

Niall Horan might be a member of the celebrated boy band One Direction, but he’s ready to strike out on his own with the release of his first solo album Flicker. Now, Billboard reports that thanks to Apple Music, Horan will debut a short film called On the Record: Flicker, which will take viewers behind the scenes of recording the album. It will feature both footage of rehearsals, as well as interviews and a look into Horan’s creative process. The film and album both debut on October 20th. You can see the trailer below.

This isn’t the first venture Apple Music has made into short film documentaries featuring musicians. Megastar Pink is releasing her seventh studio album Beautiful Trauma this week, on October 13th. Apple Music will also release On the Record: Pink — Beautiful Trauma, a short documentary about the making of the album. Apple Music is doing well with these documentary exclusives, and it will be interesting to see if these give them an edge in the music streaming wars.

Source: Billboard, Facebook


Dubai airport will scan your face as you walk through a video tunnel

A lot of passengers come and go through Dubai airports and by 2020, they’re expected to play host to some 124 million people. So in an effort to increase the efficiency of security checkpoints, Dubai International Airport is installing a tunnel outfitted with 80 facial recognition and iris scanning cameras, The National reports. The tunnel’s walls can display things like virtual aquariums or deserts as well as advertisements and passengers would just have to walk through as they normally would. At the end of the tunnel, a display will either tell the passenger to have a nice trip or will alert officials to take another look.

“The tunnel has not come out of nowhere, without any foundation,” Obaid Al Hameeri, the deputy director general of Dubai residency and foreign affairs, told The National. “We have been working for about four years to transform the procedure from the traditional counter and in the future we will not need the counter at all.” And the images displayed on the walls aren’t just there for decoration, they serve a purpose. “The fish is a sort of entertainment and something new for the traveller but, at the end of the day, it attracts the vision of the travellers to different corners in the tunnel for the cameras to capture his/her face print,” said Al Hameeri.

Dubai isn’t the first place to turn to biometrics in order to improve airport efficiency. Delta has been playing around with the technology as an alternative to boarding passes and traditional luggage checking counters. And the US has been testing the use of facial recognition as a part of the security measures international travelers to the US have to go through. Australia is interested in biometric identification as well, having proposed a plan to use facial, iris and fingerprint recognition in airports so passengers wouldn’t have to show their passports or even interact with airport officials.

The first virtual border tunnel will be installed in Dubai International Airport by the end of next summer and additional tunnels will be added throughout the airport’s terminals by 2020. The tunnels will initially conduct face scans, with iris scanning capabilities being added later on.

Via: The Verge

Source: The National


‘Gilmore Girls’ creator’s Amazon series debuts November 29th

If you were wondering how Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino would tackle her Amazon original series beyond the pilot episode, you now have a good idea. Amazon has posted the first trailer for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and you can tell that Sherman-Palladino is taking advantage of the creative freedom that comes with an internet-only show. Where Gilmore Girls was best described as quirky, Mrs. Maisel is gritty and raunchy. Its namesake ’50s comedienne doesn’t shy away from exploring sex and swearing at a time when the media pretended they didn’t exist.

The show premieres as a Prime Video exclusive on November 29th. And remember, Amazon has already committed to offering a second season — you won’t be left wondering about the show’s fate like you often do with streaming-only productions. That’s a reflection of Amazon’s confidence in the show, of course, but it also indicates Amazon’s determination to counter Netflix’s Gilmore Girls revival. It doesn’t want Netflix to have a well-known figure like Sherman-Palladino all to itself, and guaranteeing a second season is an obvious way to do that.

Via: Entertainment Weekly

Source: Amazon Video (YouTube), Amazon


After 10 years, I’ve finally accepted that ‘Half-Life’ is dead

Ten years ago today, Valve released Half-Life 2: Episode Two. It was the second of three announced games that directly continued the story that started in 2004’s heavily lauded Half-Life 2. Episode One and Episode Two were released in 2006 and 2007, respectively, with the second ending on a major cliffhanger. Unfortunately, this is where the Half-Life universe ends.

The first Half-Life and its sequel had endings that wrapped up the main story in each game, though both games left players with plenty of unanswered questions. Episode Two, on the other hand, had a very Empire Strikes Back ending that begged for resolution. Throughout one full game and two episodes, protagonist Gordon Freeman is accompanied by scientist and all-around badass Alyx Vance, who has worked with her father, Eli, to help humanity resist the aliens that have enslaved the species. At the end of Episode Two, Freeman, Alyx and Eli experience a temporary victory, closing a portal that traps the Combine aliens on Earth and giving humanity a last shot at freedom. The success is short-lived, however — two nightmarish aliens capture and kill Eli and are about to kill Freeman and Alyx until a last-minute rescue leaves them safe but devastated as the game fades to black.

With an ending like that, the game’s legion of fans were primed and anxious for the trilogy’s conclusion. We waited. And then waited some more. We got our hopes up, made jokes about how a full-fledged Half-Life 3 must be right around the corner, and got angry with Valve. Eventually, we knew in our hearts it was never going to happen. (Some fans are stuck on “angry,” though, and I don’t blame them.)

Valve hasn’t commented on the game in years, and the silence speaks volumes. Combine that with the departures of everyone who wrote the earlier Half-Life games, this summer’s “leak” of a detailed plot treatment for Half-Life 3 from one of those former writers and Valve’s focus on Steam over developing games and it’s hard to imagine the series ever being revived.

One of only a few official pieces of concept art released for Half-Life 2: Episode Three

At the risk of sounding like a whiney, entitled fan, I still have a hard time letting this go. Of course, Valve owes me and other fans nothing. But there’s something especially cruel about teasing fans with an ending like the one in Episode Two and then never following through. It’s sad for the players who love the Half-Life universe and the characters that inhabit it to get no resolution. I’m talking about the in-game events, but that comment could easily apply to the way the series has been handled the last 10 years. Essentially, Valve got us to buy game that ends two-thirds of the way through — that’s a pretty big slap in the face.

Naturally, myriad theories abound as to what happened to the franchise. Valve is notorious for its essentially flat corporate structure, something that allows for great creative freedom, but also makes it easy for projects to fall by the wayside. Steam also became a huge priority at the end of the last decade, reaching a point where it basically prints money. It seems obvious that more and more resources have been devoted to it, putting more traditional game development on the back burner. Valve has significantly slowed down the number of games it launches over the last five years in particular.

Much of the last five years or so has been devoted to the Steam box hardware, Steam OS and its SteamVR platform that works in conjunction with the HTC Vive headset. Simultaneously, Valve has spent plenty of its resources pushing Dota 2, a massive multiplayer battle arena that has become one of the best-known eSports titles. The game has a massive following and Valve has continued to put development resources towards it since it launched in 2013 — it’s fair to say that Dota 2 and Steam are the company’s priorities, and it’s hard to imagine anything else getting through at this point.

Yes, it’s possible that Half-Life gets revisited at some point. There’s clearly still demand for another game in the franchise, and we’ve seen plenty of long-dead titles brought back to life. But after 10 years, I think I’ve finally reached the “acceptance” stage of grief . When I think about the formative gaming franchises in my life, the ones that really stuck with me, that I turn to as gaming “comfort food,” Half-Life is near the top of that list, and that’ll probably never change.

I still have a blast replaying Half-Life 2 (though the original is showing its age after almost 20 years). But the sequel still delivers a great mix of tension, action, mystery and wonder. (Also, has there ever been a better weapon in a first-person shooter than the gravity gun? I think not.) I’m just not going to expect this story to get a conclusion. But like Gordon Freeman in Half-Life 2, I’m ready and waiting for the G-man to call me out of stasis again. Maybe someday, I’ll wake up and smell the ashes once more.

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