Category Archives: Research

Converting AIPTEK 3D HD Camcorder i2 photos for 3DTV

Years ago, I posted some articles on the AIPTEK 3D i2 camera.

I *finally* got to hook this camera up to a 3D TV and see the videos and images in full color 3-D (instead of the red/blue anaglyph conversions I’ve been doing). It works amazingly well!

I will soon post some tips on converting these images to play off of a USB stick (they do not, directly)…

Stay tuned.

Fix a 1998 Furby that won’t wake up or start up (without disassembly)

  • 12/2014 Update: I keep planning to take some pics of the “screw thing” to post with this, but keep forgetting. Sorry about that.
  • 11/2015 Update: This is the most viewed article on my site. Who knew there were so many folks out there with bad Furbys!
  • 12/2016 Update: A year later, and folks are still finding this article. There were about 300 views of it on Christmas day. Retro presents, I guess?
  • 01/24/2017 Update: Commenter Samuel submitted a photo of the gear. It doesn’t look like the spiral gear I remember, so either there is another gear I missed, or there was a variation of the Furby

If your old Furby won’t wake up or won’t start up and appears dead, you may be able to fix it in a few seconds without having to take it apart.

I recently tried to get my original 1998 Furby to work, and found that it was dead. I spent some time doing unsuccessful web searches, with none of the tips (“try new batteries”, “press the reset button”) helping. A second Furby has the same issue, and it looked like it might be related to a jammed motor, per this tutorial:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Push-Start-a-Comatose-Furby/

This procedure involved all kinds of disassembly, sewing things back together and hot glue. A similar YouTube video shed more light on the problem off the stuck motor:

http://youtu.be/fNaNM4_fKTo

I suspected you could just get to the motor using a small screwdriver and going in around the eye or beak, and indeed, it works. I was able to use a tiny flathead screwdriver, inserted above the beak and in to the left to gently rotate the corkscrew spiral connected to the motor a few times and within seconds, the Furby was alive again. Both units were fixed this easy, with no disassembly required.

Update: Thanks to Samuel (http://twitter.com/samsearight), we now have a photo. On my Furby, there is a corkscrew spiral gear I moved, and not this normal gear. I don’t know if the gear is also in mine or if this is a different revision. It looks easier to work with than the gear I found in mine. Thanks, Samuel!

P

2012: The Year of 3-D

RAR (Random Apple Rumor, see 2007 post) of the day…

Apple will announce its 3-D imitative. “3-D is big in the movie industry right now, but it hasn’t made it successfully to the home. Other companies have been trying 3-D for years, but we think we can do it better.”

1. The Apple TV that is an actual TV will be a 3-D TV. Since 3-D TVs already carry a premium price, having one that also does Apple TV stuff won’t seem to have too much of an “Apple tax” associated with it. Killer industrial design AND “Apple Eye” glasses that will be better and cheaper than existing ones will be the feature that makes them better.
2. The iTunes 3-D Movie Store will provide content.
3. The new iPhone 3D and iPod Touch 3D will allow consumers an easy way to record their own 3-D movies.
4. iMovie 3-D will allow easy 3-D processing, including adding 3-D titles (user selectable depth).
5. Output to red/blue anaglyph (or direct uploading to YouTube, since they support 3-D) will be part of it.
6. 2012 will be the year of 3-D.

Based on nothing. (Well, except a supposed “next iPhone” case photo that shows a hole in each corner, spaced like they are spaced on the 3-D Aiptek/Viewsonic cameras… Sure, they said it was for a flash, but…)

AIPTEK 3D HD Camcorder i2 & Mac p2

Updates:

  • 2017-01-10: Reformatted for WordPress.

Here are some things I have learned so far:

See also: Part 1

My camera shipped with FW Ver 1504, Jul 23 2010. HWVer 10B1.

  1. There is a firmware update (build 160) available on the European site for AIPTEK, but not on the US site. It fixes a frame rate issue that reviews seem to complain about. Why this update is not available in the US (the archive comes with English and it appears to work fine) is unknown. You can find it here.
  2. My unit had a color issue, where the right side image (right eye/camera) had a reddish tint to it. I wrote tech support and they responded within 24 hours, and we had a few e-mails back and forth during the day. They provided me with another firmware update (180, Ver 1803 Oct 11 2010) but it did not resolve the problem. They suggested I return the unit to Amazon, so I did. I requested an exchange on Friday, and Amazon shipped out the replacement “next day” (via Amazon Prime of my original order I suppose) and I picked up the replacement and shipped back my original the following Monday. (Wow, Amazon!)
  3. To install updates, you copy two files to an SD card (the instructions say to use 4GB or smaller, but it worked fine on my 16GB card — to be safe, follow their instructions). One file is an .elf (probably the standard debugger file format) and the other is AipFwUpgrade.txt, an empty file that is probably a trigger file the camera will look for. The card is inserted back in to the camera, and when you power it up and the update will proceed. Once complete, you have to remove these files from the SD card via a computer else the update will happen every time you power up. I found that you can mount the camera and copy the files over to it, directly, then let it update, but you still need to put the SD card in a card reader on a computer to remove them.
  4. There is also an update to the Windows PC software that comes on the virtual “CDImage” you see when you plug in the camera to a computer. This update can be found here too. Just like the firmware update, you copy two files over to an SD card (a .iso CD image file, and AipUpdateISO.txt trigger file) and put it back in the camera then turn it on. When done, you have to delete these files (just like with the firmware updates). This is a very decent system for doing updates.
  5. The files uploaded to YouTube (videos) are split screen squished — meaning for a 1920×720 image, you are seeing two 640×720 images squished together. YouTube can handle 3-D video if you add special keyword tags — in this case, the tags added by the AIPTEK ArcSoft software are “yt3d:enable=true”, “yt3d:swap=true” and “yt3d:aspect=16:9”. These are added by the ArcSoft software on upload, which means the software is not really doing anything special. I confirmed this by trying to upload the same .MP4 file directly to YouTube via the website, and received a “duplicate file” warning.
  6. YouTube will display the split screen file as various forms of red/blue anaglyph, interlace or checkerboard formats. This is nice, meaning you can let them do all the translations for your friends to watch however they want (even side by side or cross eye formats for viewing without glasses). BUT, viewing these files outside of a web browser (iPhone, iPad, etc.) will display only the split screen squished video as, apparently, the 3-D stuff is not handled by mobile devices (yet?).
  7. There is no Mac software, but it is quite easy to convert the video inside of Final Cut Express by layering the video on two tracks, applying the Levels filter to the top track and setting Red output tolerance to 0, then applying two instances of Level filter to the bottom copy, and setting one to Blue tolerance 0 and the other to Green tolerance 0, then setting top track to a mix so it shows through. This requires rendering and is slow, but produces good red/blue anaglyph results. Details on how to do this I found on this DVINFO.net message board years ago. Their suggestion of using “Screen” composite mode did not produce good results for me, but using Overlay worked fine.
  8. Conversion of photos on a Mac is my next project. There are quite a few programs out now for dealing with the Fuji W3 3-D camera, but I have not checked any of them yet to see if they also handle the side-by-side split screen format.
  9. There is no adjustment (seemingly) for parallax on the Aiptek. Back when I was using the NuView 3-D camcorder lens adapter (see also: Stereocam), there was a knob you turned to adjust the distance of the image. You would basically line up the two ghost images of whatever you wanted to be on the surface of the TV — anything in front of that would jump out of the TV, and anything behind it would recess in to the TV. This meant you could record something five feed away and adjust it so 4 feet popped out, and 6 feet went in. Or if you recorded something 20 feet away, you could set that as the neutral “flat” part. The Aiptek has no such adjustment (the W3 apparently does). The default distance appears to be around 10 feet, so trying to record anything too close (like something within a few feet) causes very bad ghosting — so this is best used for wide shots, and not close ups.

I will post more updates when I have time. I have to charge up the replacement camera and see if it handles color any better.

AIPTEK 3D HD Camcorder i2 & Mac

Two days ago, a random Google search led me to discover a cheap ($199 list price!) 3-D camcorder now for sale. This AIPTEK 3D HD Camcorder i2 model was not a camcorder like I think of the term, but more like one of those Flip video memory card cameras. It shoots video and takes digital pictures in 2D and 3D. The camera has 25MB of internal memory for taking a few shots, but an SDHC card is required to do anything more substantial than test it.

I placed an order via Amazon Prime and had the camera the next day — thanks, Amazon! If you wish to buy one, the model I got was $183

The camera comes with an HDMI cable (there is a mini HDMI port on the camera), NP70 battery, a USB extension cable, a set of nice plastic red/blue 3-D anaglyph glasses, a wrist strap and carrying pouch. When the camera is plugged in to a computer, it mounts as a “CDImage” virtual CD with Windows software, and a flash drive with the standard DCIM folder structure on it.

The software is used to download video and photos from the device, and then upload them to Facebook or YouTube. YouTube has support for 3-D video files, and will display them dynamically as either side-by-side format or several types of red/blue anaglyph (color, greyscale, optimized).

The raw 3-D JPG files that come out of the camera are 2592×1944 and they are two images squished side-by-side. Videos are in MP4 format and 1280×720, left and right images side-by-side. The conversion software (ArcSoft TotalMedia HDCam for 3D) will split the two images out and process them as a red/blue anaglyph image (for viewing with the old style paper glasses).

There is no Macintosh software, and thus this post.

Without the software, you are stuck with a cheesy 2-D camera of questionable resolution. It should be very easy in Final Cut Express to convert the MP4 video files, but I am not sure what software exists for handling the still photos.

I will add a new post when I get it figured out. I just wanted this here so Google could find it and maybe someone out there could help on this project.

5.1 surround sound in iMovie

From a series of messages I posted to the Apple Discussions forum

Original Problem:

I have tons of video shot on Sony HDR-CX7 and HDR-CX12 camcorders (AVCHD) in 5.1 stereo. iMovie ’09 and Final Cut Express import the audio as two channel stereo, which is normally fine for a consumer app.

I use a Sony wireless microphone to record interviews, and I normally set the camera to record only the monophonic microphone audio. But, there is also a setting to let the camera record 5.1 stereo from it’s built-in microphone, and use the wireless mic as the center channel audio.

I have footage recorded this way, and I find that when I play it back in stereo, I get a slight delay/echo caused by the wireless mic recording voices, and the camera recording voices (slightly offset). I cannot use the audio this way.

I want to extract the center channel audio from the AVCHD .mts files. I can then line that audio up with the video in Final Cut Express (or even overlay it in iMovie ’09).

Does anyone know of a free utility that can strip out audio from AVCHD files?

It looked like Handbrake might work, but it errors out when it tries to convert more than two channel audio.

I believe the AVCHD audio is AC3 format, so if I can strip that out, Quicktime is able to mute the other surround channels.

Any tips?

First Research:

Some updated research:

1) Sony suggests their Vegas Pro editing software ($$$). The demo will indeed access the center channel, but I have not had time to figure out what to do with it (running via Parallels and Windows XP).

2) eac3to – Windows Command-Line program (free) that can read a .mts file and export an .ac3. It shows up in QuickTime with 6 channels of audio, but the “center” channel is not center — it contains a mix of other channels.

3) VideoPier – $85 program that seems to work. It can output/convert the .mts file to a .mov, and if you open in QuickTime, you get 6 audio channels all set to “mono” — that seems to be a bug. Mute all but the center (second channel, I think) and that IS the isolated center channel.

4) VisualHub – tries to convert, but no go.

5) VLC – can export to a file, and there is a multi-step sequence using this and ffmpeg that supposedly will work, but too much work and too many steps for me to try.

6) VoltaicHD – $35 program that looks promising, but it creates a .mov with 6 audio channels and they have the same issue the eac3to program has. The “center” channel is not center.

So far, VideoPier is close, and the Sony product works (but both too pricey for such a simple task).

The quest continues…

Final Solution:

Here is my current status, and a work-around method to accomplish this.

First, using “ffmpeg” it is possible to extract just the .AC3 audio stream from a .MTS AVCHD camcorder file. I have tried to do this with the Mac OS X GUI version, ffmpegX, but it errors out. It looks like it is sending the wrong parameter to ffmpeg internally (or perhaps it is using a different ffmpeg command I have on my machine). Anyway, the command looks like this:

ffmpeg -i 00000.MTS -acodec copy audio.ac3

That will extract just the audio stream from within the MTS file (which is an AC3 file). By default, you cannot play .AC3 files in QuickTime. It turns out, I had “Perian” installed, which is an extension for QuickTime that allows it to play a bunch of other files. One of the settings was a Stereo mode, which was causing anything I tried to play mix down to stereo. Aha! So, I could toggle that off and actually get to the audio track I wanted.

BUT, since native Mac OS X does not read .ac3, my workaround is to again use ffmpeg to convert the .ac3 file to a .aac:

ffmpeg -i audio.ac3 -acodec ac3 -ab 512k audio.aac

Since the source AC3 file was 448kb/s, I just manually chose 512k as the conversion rate, so it shouldn’t lose too much quality. That value can be changed to decrease file size.

The end result, “audio.aac”, is now a 6 channel 5.1 audio file. You can open it in QuickTime, and go to Window->Show Movie Properties then select the “Sound Track” track, and the “Audio Settings” tab of that track, and you will see tracks 1-6 (Left, Center, Right, etc.). You can toggle the tracks off to get to the one you want (in my case, just Center).

From there you could export this out to a file with just the track you selected, or drag the .aac file in to Final Cut Express.

If you drag in to Final Cut Express, you will see it takes up five audio tracks. I drug this under the original imported video track, and was able to mute the ones I did not need. I also found I could unlock the audio from the video, and then delete the ones I didn’t want, just to clean up the edit window a bit.

The end result is now I can import the AVCHD file in to Final Cut Express, and bring in this converted AAC under the video to access just the center audio I wanted.

When I have time to streamline this process a bit more, I will update this topic.

Hope this helps someone else…

GraphicConverter to the rescue!

Thorsten Lemke, author of GraphicConverter, seems to be very responsive when it comes to feature requests and bug fixes for his product. When I earlier encountered an apparent memory leak with the “JPEG -> Remove double orientation tags and reset them” feature, he quickly provided me a beta to try out, which helped somewhat with this problem. (It will still crash on tons of photos, but not for the same reason. The memory leak seems to be gone.)

Anyway, after posting to the GCMAC mailing list, I have been contacted by two folks from Lemkesoft, and now I am trying out a new beta which seems to make the routines that normal just see EXIF also see the “PictureInfo” date. In the “ExifTool” window of GC is a section for File (with modification time), then one for JFIF (resolution and such), then PictureInfo (which has the info from my old Epson camera — I specifically see the date/time and “Sierra Highland” which is a string the camera embedded in the pictures, and one you could customize with the PhotoPC software.

Using this new beta, I can now simple select some photos and do “JPEG -> Set EXIF Date to File Creation Date” which seems to honor the PictureInfo date (though the wording implies it would use the file system Creation Date, so maybe this needs to be changed).

There may still be some issues — in testing, I find it is now adding multiple “File data and time” entries to EXIF, so I’ll work with Lemkesoft on this until we get it hammered out.

Very nice response!

JFIF in iPhoto

EXIF is a specification for digital camera files that allows them to store information in the photo, like when the picture was taken and if the flash was used. Before the EXIF standard, early digital cameras (circa 1996) would use a JPEG header extension known as JFIF to do something similar. My understanding is that this was not standardized.

Here is the Wikipedia article on the JPEG, which mentions JFIF.

Older photos I took with my Epson PhotoPC do not have EXIF information in them, and the camera import software back then defaulted to a DOS-style naming convention of MMDD_NUM.JPG. (MM was the month, DD was the day, then a three digit incrementing counter. I guess they never expected someone to take more than 999 images in a day, which was difficult since the PhotoPC could only store up to 99 images before you had to download using a slow serial cable connection. But I digress…)

Because of this naming limitation, looking at a file like “0503_001.JPG” doesn’t tell you the year it was taken. Over the years, I accumulated thousands of photos taken in May, and when they are imported in to modern software like iPhoto (which supports EXIF, but does NOT see the embedded JFIF codes), the pictures all get lumped together on the date the file was last modified. (In the included screen shot, a photo I have from June 11th 1997 shows up on August 21 2001 since, I guess, that’s the last time I did any copying of these images files or something.)

To make matters worse, many of my photos got renamed to things like “DL0004.JPG” (a batch of photos from Disneyland) with no indication of the month or date. Good luck!

The problem is that modern software, such as Apple’s iPhoto or Lemkesoft’s GraphicConverter do not look at JFIF information (nor should they, since we now have the EXIF standard to support). What is needed is a way to convert files with JFIF information in to files with EXIF headers.

If you have an image without any EXIF data, GraphicConverter and iPhoto will let you modify the date and embed an EXIF header. This is required for any photos that were scanned (thus no EXIF or JFIF), or maybe had JFIF/EXIF but were manipulated with older graphics programs that did not honor it and thus destroyed it. (Any photo I rotated, for instance, lost any JFIF information, so I have thousands and thousands of photos with absolutely no indication of when they were taken inside the files.)

Nothing but manual editing can be done about files with neither JFIF or EXIF data, but for the old pics that at least have JFIF I have found a few steps, using a few programs, that will get all my old non-EXIF images converted to images with EXIF. The EXIF data will either be the correct information brought over from JFIF headers, or it will be some bogus information based on a file timestamp or whatever. In that case, manual editing is the only thing you can do.

Here is what I posted to the GCMAC (GraphicConverter) Yahoo! mailing list today documenting my steps, and it ties in to my previous post.

1) Use EXIFrenamer to set the "Creation Date" of all my files to whatever JFIF information it can find. Some
files contain none, so the creation data will be left unchanged (whatever date I copied the files over originally, I guess). Some files have bogus JFIF dates set to 1969 or other weird years.

1) I will use GraphicConverter’s "JPEG -> Set EXIF Date to File Creation Date" option to recurse through all my files. Now each JPG will contain either a valid EXIF (along with a valid JFIF?), EXIFs with bogus dates brought over from the JFIF, and EXIFs that are just whatever file system timestamp unknown files were given.

To verify, I drag the entire batch over in Mac OS X’s "Preview" app and open up the Inspector (Tools -> Inspector, or Apple-I). I switch to the center "! in a talk balloon" icon tab where I should see: "General | JFIF | Exif | TIFF" I quickly page through my images making sure all have EXIF sections now, valid or otherwise.

3) I import these images in to iPhoto, which now can rely on the EXIF tag instead of some filesystem date.

I just tested these three steps "fresh" and imported them in to an empty iPhoto Library. It seems to have worked!

Now I have three smart albums, one for 1997, one for 1998, and one for 1999 photos, then I created one called "Before 1997" and one called "After 1999" which will contain the photos I need to manually adjust.

I hope this information helps someone else! Contact me if you have any questions. I’d be happy to help.

Epson PhotoPC and EXIF JFIF dates

What you will need:

* EXIFRenamer – from qdev.de (shareware).
* GraphicConverter – from lemkesoft (shareware).
* iPhoto – from Apple (free with Mac)

Once again I find myself searching the internet to solve a particular problem that I seem to be the only one trying to solve, so I will share the problem here, and my solution, in hopes that it may help someone else.

In 1996, I purchased an Epson PhotoPC digital camera. At that time, no one had ever heard of a “digital camera.” I had to call it a “computer camera” when explaining what it was to folks who asked.

Between 1996 and 2000 I used this camera and took thousands of photos as I travelled for work, sharing them on my sites DisneyFans.com (theme parks) and AtTheFaire.com (renaissance festivals). Today, several camera models later, I have well over 100,000 photos online.

In the early days of digital photography, there was not yet a standard to how cameras were going to embed information about the photo inside the JPEG file — such as the date and time the image was captured. With no displays on the early cameras, the only way camera time was set was through a serial cable hooked up to a PC or Mac. In the case of the Epson PhotoPC, it used some form of JFIF header information for the date/time. If you try to view a picture taken by the EpconPC in modern graphics software such as GraphicConverter or iPhoto, it will not show any date information. Apparently, there just is no EXIF data in the file.

I have found that the excellent EXIFRenamer utility for the Mac can parse the JFIF information, allowing files that have it to be successfully renamed and even have the date created filestamp updated.

BUT, I found out too late that early graphics programs would destroy this information when an image was rotated. Modern utilities know about all this stuff and will preserve EXIF data, but back then, it wasn’t well supported.

So now I find myself trying to finally sort thousands of my old personal photos and get everything all updated. A huge portion of my old photos no longer contain JFIF date information (due to being rotated) and none contain EXIF. They might as well be scans from paper pictures!

I began importing my entire picture collection in to iPhoto and noticed immediately the pictures showed no date information — just a date the file was “last modified.” This caused a ton of pics to appear in year 2001 for me. I then proceeded to spend all night trying to manually adjust dates using the iPhoto feature that will do this (a very powerful option, indeed!).

The end result was hours wasted trying to figure out if “0403_004.jpg” was taken in 1997, 1998 or 1999 with some success, and many obvious failures. It was a painstaking process of visual clues — did I have eyeglasses on? Full beard or clean shaven? Which apartment was I living in at the time? After finally getting about 95% “confirmed” (and finding out I have several galleries on my photo sites labeled by the wrong year), I decided there had to be a better way before I tackled my next batch of photos.

So here is my down and dirty solution to this challenge, using iPhoto, GraphicConverter and EXIFRenamer.

1. Some photos DO contain JFIF date code information, which neither iPhoto or GC can read, but EXIFrenamer can. So, I begin by using a feature of the renamer to rename all images to a temporary name (prepending an “_” to each file) and updating the creation date of the file. Set up a simple custom rename style of %P%o%C%S%F (it really only needs %P for prefix and %O for complete filename, but I use this for other things too):

Be sure to set the Processed Files tab to “Change File Creation Date to EXIF Date”:

2. Rename using EXIFRenamer and this setting. After the files dates have been updated, I then process them through renamer again to get rid of the “_”, setting them back to normal. (I couldn’t find a way to process them without renaming.)

3. Above, “%1U%F” uses a substring then the file type extension, and below you set Substring #1 to “mid (pos)” with “1” for par1 – this starts from the first character, so it skips the “_” character.

4. I then use a feature of GraphicConverter to adjust the modification date of files to the creation date.

5. Lastly, I import things in to iPhoto, which will then honor the modification date (it does not seem to care about creation date).

From here, I can then go back to using iPhoto to adjust the images that are showing up with undefined dates (1969, for some reason, or times in 2001 which must have been the last time I copied all these files over or something).

It’s a huge amount of work, still.

What I Need

I am still looking for a tool that will recursively add EXIF information to JPGS that do not contain EXIF, by using JFIF header information (if available). There is bound to be something out there that does this. Right now, I’m doing the above steps, then using iPhoto to manually set datecode on “missing” photos, which means only they now have EXIF and this process will need to be repeated for the other files if they are ever touched in a way that loses their modification date, or sorted in another tool that relies on EXIF.

Anyone?

Some Screen Shots:
Original image using old file system date:

New image after process (ignore the long filename):

Note that the date is wrong and bogus (1970) but it has at least been updated. For photos that still have correct JFIF date information in them, it will be as accurate as the camera’s timestamp was.

EXIFRenamer settings – two things must be set to do the rename and adjust the file creation date:

EXIFRenamer settings – two more things must be set to create a pattern to rename, but ignore the leading “_” character we just added to all the files:

GraphicConverter – open the folder containing all the images you wish to process, and Apple-A to select ALL, then do a right-click “DATE->Set Modification Date to Creation Date”. (iPhoto uses the modification date, so this extra step is necessary.)