Today, I received a press release whose title was "FixMyMovie Launches with James Bond-Style Video Enhancement".

This did not fill me with joyous anticipation. "Video enhancement" is one of those ridiculous action movie cliches - any old security camera footage can be "enhanced" to hundred-megapixel detail whenever it's necessary to move the plot along.

FixMyMovie does not, however, actually make such stupid claims. It would, in fact, probably be perfectly useless to James Bond.

What it aims to do is apply MotionDSP processing muscle to low quality video, to make it better looking without losing detail. At the moment you can make a free account on and upload any video clip smaller than 352 by 288 pixels in resolution and 20 megabytes in file size, and see what transpires.

So I did.

When I reviewed the Aiptek Pocket DV2 toy digital video camera back in early 2003, I strapped it to the top of a model tank and took it for a drive around a park. The Pocket DV2 produces grainy, fuzzy, nine frame per second 320 by 240 video, which is pretty much on par for cheap phone cameras these days. FixMyMovie is specifically designed to enhance phone camera video, so I figured one of the Aiptek clips would be a good sample.

Here's a Google Video version of the clip. [UPDATE: Now moved to YouTube.] Video of this quality is one of the few things that GooTube compression won't make a whole lot worse, but it's still lost some quality; you can download a DivX-compressed version of the original footage, which looks almost exactly the same as the original Motion JPEG video but is quite a bit smaller, here.

Here's the FixMyMovie-d version. If you can't see it, you probably need the latest beta Flash plugin. [UPDATE: This post is years old now, and the above FixMyMovie player code doesn't work any more. The YouTube version of the stabilised video is below.] If you've got the right plugin already, you've probably noticed that the FixMyMovie player currently has a MySpace-style auto-play function, which you can't turn off. Sorry about that.

The difference really is quite impressive. FixMyMovie has gotten rid of the prominent blocky compression artefacts in the original video, without noticeably blurring it. It's not an amazing, incredible, action-movie-bulldust improvement, but it's very worthwhile. Rapid camera movements - an acknowledged weakness of the enhancing technique - leave noticeable ghosts from previous frames. But they're only noticeable if you're trying hard to see something wrong with the video. The improvements far outweigh the problems.

The deal with FixMyMovie - once it leaves its current beta state - is that it'll only enhance the first ten seconds of any clip for free. If you like the look of it you can "Order" a fully processed version, which will cost money - 99 US cents, to enhance this clip.

(It took quite a long time to process this clip, presumably because people are already hammering the FixMyMovie server. You get an e-mail when processing is finished, though, so you don't have to sit there refreshing the My Videos page.)

At the moment, you get $US25 credit when you create a free account - and no, you don't have to give them a credit card number; use a disposable e-mail address if you're really paranoid. $25 should plenty to try the service out.

The player lets you play the whole clip even when only ten seconds have been enhanced, seamlessly connecting the enhanced beginning to the unprocessed rest of the video. Click the bar on the right-hand side of the video and you can compare processed and unprocessed still frames with a nifty mouse-drag interface.

As the FAQ explains, once you've fully processed a video, you can download it in various popular formats, including native h.263-encoded FLV flash video format, for upload to YouTube, which will then not recompress the video.

Here's the video on YouTube - I only just uploaded it, so it ought to be viewable in a moment. If you can't be bothered installing the new Flash player, or if it's not available for the computer you're using, this is pretty close to the version.

Google Video and YouTube still aren't completely harmonised; you can upload FLV-format video like this to YouTube, but not to Google Video.

The enhanced WMV and MOV versions of this dinky little one-minute clip were fifteen megabytes in size. They've got a bit more detail than the online Flash version - they look a bit better than the 7.5Mb FLV-format version too - but they're not nearly better enough to justify that huge file size.

The FixMyVideo enhancement hasn't done anything to the frame rate (which is good), but it's blown the file resolution up to 640 by 480, which along with 64 kilobit per second audio (which the crappy-camera original didn't have) accounts for the file size inflation.

The smaller FLV-format version is 320 by 240, as it should be, because that's the native resolution of GooTube.

The big file sizes aren't really a problem, because this enhancement technique is based around interframe interpolation; it tries to find the same image components in different frames, and overlay them to leave the image data and eliminate various forms of distortion. So it's kind of like speckle imaging and image stacking, but for motion video. Sticking with the original resolution would have thrown away some of the interpolated detail.

In brief, though: Yes, FixMyMovie works. I don't know how much value it'll have for video that looks OK to start with, but if you've got some crappy phone, web or toy camera video that you'd like to improve, check FixMyMovie out while it's still free.

Signs you may be the right man for the job

My little photo session for the Kittenwar book I just reviewed was somewhat delayed...

Inconvenient cats

...because there were cats in the way.

Inconvenient Millie

Millie finds the photo tent quite cosy.

(The other one is Joey, who features in the sparky video here.)

Polarised plastic

My turn to hop on the polarised-photos bandwagon.

Polarised plastic cups

An LCD monitor is an excellent source of polarised light, and lots of see-through things also polarise light to different degrees as it passes through different parts of them. For this reason, you'll see faint rainbows around the edges of various clear plastic things if you hold them up in front of a plain white LCD screen. Put a second polariser over your eyes or camera lens, though, and things get trippy.

(If you see someone looking at an LCD through polarised sunglasses and doing the Indian head wiggle, that person is not necessarily on drugs.)

When a local discount store was closing down, I seized the opportunity to buy a lifetime supply of little plastic shot glasses. It struck me that they might be good for mixing glue, holding small parts, reenacting the drinking contest scene from Raiders, et cetera. They are also good candidates for polariser photography, especially if you stick a few of them together.

One day, I'll get around to making a cup sphere, in which you glue or staple disposable cups together to make a globe. Stapled paper cups are probably the fastest way to do it. I've got a lot of magnets here, though, so I decided to try sticking the little shot glasses together temporarily with those.

Polarised plastic cups - rear view

I got 24 cups together before the process started becoming really difficult, with the structure shifting around and magnets snapping onto each other and the wailing and the cursing, glayven.

New horizons in cat photography

A while ago, because nobody sensible stopped me, I bought a Game Boy Camera to go with the clear-cased original Game Boy we've had for a while.

The Game Boy Camera may be the lowest fidelity digital photography device ever made. I'll leave it to others to explain its magic.

If you've got the Camera, though, the logical next step is to get a Game Boy Printer.

If you don't have a Printer, you can get images out of your Game Boy Camera by using a cable that connects to a PC and makes the Game Boy think it's connected to the Printer.

Old school digital photography

Or, as I did, you can improvise.

But I needn't scan the Game Boy any more, because yesterday I took delivery of my very own Printer!

With no paper.

Like lots of other old crummy printers, the Game Boy Printer uses thermal paper. The special little narrow rolls are now very hard to come by.

All thermal paper is, however, very much the same. So I rifled my wallet for an ATM receipt, cut it to fit the printer...

Cat on an ATM docket

...and made my first print!

The "KATOOMBA" is from the original ATM printout, as is everything else except the black-framed picture of Joey and, at the top right, the greeting from Mario that you get when you turn the Printer on with its Feed button held down.

The image area inside the print's black "NINTENDO" border is 21.5 by 18mm. About 410 such prints would fit on one of the "Super A3" sheets that're the biggest my Stylus Photo R1800 can accept.

Dan's Unrequested Panorama Stitching Service

I don't know about you, but the obvious question that popped into my mind when I discovered that there's "A 360 degree view in 71 photos of Will Self's writing room" on Self's site was "what'll happen if you feed those photos into panorama stitching software?"

Will Self's office


(If clicking on the above image doesn't work because Coral isnt' answering hails, here's the direct link.)

Lots of the images don't actually match up, but Autostitch knows to discard the puzzle pieces that don't fit. The result also has quite a few dreamy spots in it, like any close-range indoor hand-held panorama. But, y'know, that's just a bit cubist, innit?

It's still not half bad, if you ask me.

Another monster board-scan

A reader took my lead on the polluting-Wikimedia-with-old-drive-circuit-boards idea, and came up with this most excellent image of a 44Mb MiniScribe's underside:

MiniScribe drive underside

(Now someone needs to slap an eight inch drive on an A3 scanner and make a really big file.)

Thanks to my Pocket PCRef, I know that the above drive is a 5.25 inch half height (which is to say, the same height as a modern optical drive) ST-506 3600RPM unit which reported 5 heads, 1024 cylinders and 17 sectors per track.

This information is, of course, almost perfectly useless these days, as is most of the rest of the content of even the current edition of Pocket PCRef (mine's the 1999 ninth edition). Connector pinouts and ASCII codes and such are all very well, but it's not as if all of those aren't at your fingertips anyway if you've got an Internet connection. The same goes for keyboard scan codes, paper sizes, number base conversion tables and error beep codes for various old BIOSes - though if you work with PC hardware every day, a Pocket PCRef will still probably help you out a few times a year.

More impressive is the original Pocket Ref, old editions of which are far less obsolete.

Pocket Ref has close to nothing about computers in it. It's more about every single piece of basic engineering information you'd need to reconstruct society after the inevitable happens, all in a very literally pocket-sized book.

Advertisement concludes.

Resistors 400 pixels long

Apropos my previous post about file hosting services, the perfect repository for at least some big files occurred to me.

Wikimedia Commons!

And so...

Circuit board scan


It's a 1200dpi scan of a 5.25 inch hard drive controller board, from this scanner review from almost eight years ago. The board is of course rather older than that; it's from the days before surface mount (OK, nitpickers, before everything was surface mount), when electronics took up more room and looked much cooler.

That cheap little scanner did a quite commendable job. Not quite 1200 whole dots per inch of detail, but still a whole lot of it in this 66 megapixel (!) image. Which ought to be quite enough for anybody's desktop wallpaper.

If you've got some giant image, sound or video file that meets Wikimedia's rather loose requirements, you can upload it to the Commons and be reasonably sure that it'll be speedily available to the world for the foreseeable future.

The one caveat, of course, is that uploaded content must be covered by one or another free-use license. That rules Commons out for the 1337 w4r3z and pr0n that comprise most of the data uploaded to file-dump sites, unless you expend an unreasonable amount of effort in hiding your pirated content in something legit, and then hope they don't notice that myadorablekitten.jpg is 702Mb in size.

There are various other stock photo repositories out there; Morguefile is a good one, and you can share big images on Flickr as well if you pay for an account (otherwise the biggest dimension of your pictures is limited to 1024 pixels).

I thought I'd stick with the big guns for this image, though, because it's 12 freakin' megabytes.

(Actually, the original was even bigger. This is my second attempt - I uploaded the original untweaked scan first just to see if Wikimedia would barf on the file size, then made this prettier, slightly smaller version that benefits from some Photoshop features introduced over the last eight years. Since my Wikimedia account is younger than four days - Wikipedia and Wikimedia accounts are separate - I can't replace the old one with the new one, so I uploaded the new one as a separate file.)

Uploading your backups to FTP sites may be the really studly way to do it, but for this one niche - unreasonably large pictures of things that belong to you - Wikimedia looks pretty cool.

I hope to see many more scans of improbable objects there in the near future.

K800i or N73? Neither, thanks!

A reader asked me what I thought of Nokia's N73 and Sony Ericsson's K800i, two fancy mobile phones with autofocus 3.2-megapixel cameras in them, which make them quite different from the awful crunchy fixed-focus phone-cams of old.

(Note: Picture not to scale. I just stuck two press photos together.)

I can't honestly say that I can recommend either of them.

I thought they both looked pretty decent when I started writing this, and I still agree that they're better than run-of-the-mill cameraphones. But I think you'd have to place an unreasonably high premium on single-unit integration to make them really worth having - especially considering how much they cost (immediately when purchased outright, or eventually in service fees).

This isn't to say that either of them are rubbish, though.

Most of the sample pics I can find from the N73 look OK. There are some problems, though. The N73 doesn't seem to have a huge amount of exposure latitude, so you get blown-out highlights in a lot of pictures:

N73 sample

N73 sample

N73 sample

N73 sample

(Click through to the larger versions to see what you're meant to be paying for in these more expensive cam-phones.)

When there's less image brightness variation to worry about, though, it's quite good:

N73 sample

Note that it's doing the standard consumer-camera thing of punching up colour saturation in every image...

N73 sample

...which can sometimes combine with exposure problems in unfortunate ways:

N73 sample

...but, by and large, it seems to be up there with lots of OK cheap compact digicams.

Except for the lack of optical zoom, of course.

One other pitfall in many consumer cameras is that they have lousy light-gathering ability - a high minimum F-number. Since small-sensor digicams also can't do high ISO settings without lots of noise, this can matter a lot for many ordinary medium-to-low-light situations, including most indoor photography.

Nokia don't seem to even publish the F-number for the N73's lens, which is extremely remiss of them; I had to look at the press photo of the lens to read the "2.8/5.6" from around it.

I presume that means it can do f2.8 wide open and f5.6 with an aperture reduction doodad switched in, and that's it. That means max aperture f2.8, focal length 5.6mm (real focal lengths for small-sensor cameras with reasonable field of view are very small; that's why they're usually specified in the marketing bumfodder with "35mm equivalent" focal length specifications, which leave purchasers mystified when they notice that the lens itself has some tiny number printed around it.)

F2.8 is OK, but it means that non-flash indoor shots, even during the day, will be grainy, blurry, or possibly both.

On to the K800i, which gives some great examples of this.

Its F-number is a freakin' secret, too. Again, I had to turn to press pics to find it. F2.8, again (that's what the "1:2.8" around the K800i's lens means).

I'm being careful not to make snap judgements from Flickr pics, because people may have processed them poorly or fiddled unwisely with camera settings. When cameras only have digital zoom, though, it's possible to make truly awful pictures by using lots of said zoom.

K800i sample

Dear god.

Ignoring those sorts of pictures, there are plenty of decent K800i pics, too.

This is pretty good - not horribly crunchy or blurry:

K800i sample

Mildly blown highlights, but they're no biggy.

Here we go again with the highlights, though:

K800i sample

And look at the crunchy stuff and noise reduction artifacts in this, when you view the larger versions:

K800i sample

Then again, this is quite good:

K800i sample

Again, it's got unnaturally high colour saturation (though the reason why consumer cameras do that is that people like these "punchy" results out of the camera, even if they throw detail away), but there's only a little blue fringing on the high-contrast edge at the top of the building, and no horrible distortion or sharpness loss at the edges.

But then again, look at this.

K800i sample

It was obviously not dark when this picture was taken, but look at the big version and you can see that all of the fine detail has been "watercoloured out" by noise reduction, because the camera decided it needed to keep its shutter speed up by cranking the ISO (the EXIF data says only ISO 80; if that's the truth then something really awful is going on...), and then noise-reduced the result.

And bang, there goes most of your resolution.

You can get lost in all the technical bulldust about cameras and ignore the fact that the above picture really is a very good photo, which you unquestionably would not be able to take if your phone was just a phone and that was all you were carrying.

But when your camera deliberately destroys most of the detail in the pictures you take, leaving you with something that can't be printed any bigger than an old 110 negative without looking strangely flat, you may still feel ripped off.

And when there's no zoom, this is more important, because you'll be cropping pictures more often. (The digital zoom crops the picture for you, of course.)

Regarding the deadly combination of low ISO sensitivity and high F numbers, check this out:

K800i sample

It's a daylight shot (unless I, and the camera time stamp, am very much mistaken), but the camera still went to ISO 200 and 1/13th of a second for it, and as a result created a blurry mess.

This comparison figures that the K800i is more like a real camera than the N73 or N93, but their example pictures are pretty bloomin' ordinary. They're what I'd expect from a good compact camera in 2001, at best.

Overall, the most I'd pay for the camera portion of either of these cam-phones, in today's market, is $US100. OK, there's the one-device convenience factor that might make the camera worth much more to you - but you can buy really excellent compact cameras for $US300, these days, and the over-the-counter price for the K800i is, what, $US500? The Nokia's not much cheaper.

Given that there's an embarrassment of choices in the ultra-compact-under-$US200 market sector these days (go nuts with the DPReview comparator...), I really couldn't justify paying any significant premium for a camera of the quality of the ones in these phones.

I mean, you can pay less than $US200 and get a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX8 (combined review of it and its siblings here) these days. That's got not only real zoom, but also a proper optical image stabiliser, not just one of those phoney baloney high-ISO modes, which Sony brazenly try to palm off on you with the K800i.

Yes, these cam-phones do beat the hell out of old-style fixed-focus cameraphones with no flash, plastic lenses and webcam sensors. But so does a Box Brownie.