YouTube Royalty-Free Music bank

May 1, 2014

When adding music to a video, there is always the point when you want to reach for your audio collection, be it iTunes, Amazon or that pile of dusty CDs and import your favourite song and use that.

Yeah, that’s called copyright infringement.  It’s so easy to do, but ethically and legally it’s a big NO.

Copyright infringement joke

The irony is not lost on me

The big problem is what do you do if you don’t (or know someone who does) have the talent  to create music for your video.  And let’s face it, even if you do, that’s a whole extra level of work.

There are royalty-free music websites out there, but whenever I’ve tried to use them, I’ve found it near impossible to find the right type of music for the mood I’m trying to convey.

The closest I’d found was Video Copilot, which sells a CD of audio effects and includes some music ambience tracks.   These tracks aren’t bad, but they are limited.

The Solution!

Last time I uploaded a video to YouTube* I noticed a new feature, Creation Tools.  And in there, is an Audio Library link.

YouTube's audio libraryThe mp3 files are catalogued by genre, mood, instrument, duration and sub-categorized as well.

And just like that, problem solved.  A decent, well organised collection of royalty-free music.

Thank you, YouTube*!

 

* It’s a video hosting website, some of you may have heard of it


Battle of the handhelds – iPod Touch 4 vs Archos 43

April 27, 2011

We’re investigating handheld tablets at the moment.   I know, all tablets are handheld, these are small ones.

The advantages of handhelds are fairly obvious.  They’re cheaper than computers, their batteries last at least all day, they are always on.  And I think most importantly, unlike Netbooks, tablets don’t suffer from “mission creep”.   Netbooks look like laptops and sooner or later you expect them to do the same things as laptops, but they’re underpowered and can’t cope.  With tablets, you don’t expect laptop performance and so, aren’t disappointed.

Archos 43

iPod Touch 4To the battle then.  Which handheld offers the most educational value.  iPod Touch 4 (Apple iOS4) or an Archos 43 (Google Android Froyo).  It took a little bit of research to find an equivalent-sized Android tablet.  HTC, along with all the major players, only produce phones. 

Archos have come from the other way, from the media player direction and have always had devices to compete with Apple.

Cost, specifications and battery life

It’s really awkward to compare specifications for these devices, as they are quite different.  What we’ve done internally for our evaluation is compare the iPod 8 Gb (~£160) to the Archos 16 Gb (~£150).  There is an argument that we should have bought the 32 Gb iPod (~£230) but then the iPod would lose out straight away for its high price tag.

The two tablets together, showing their relative sizes

The Archos is a bit larger than the iPod.  Its screen is noticeably bigger too, though the iPod has a much larger (and sharper) resolution.  Personally, resolution on a 3″ screen isn’t something I’m bothered about.

I’m not going to get into the processor specs as direct comparisons won’t highlight anything relevant given the different operating systems.

I will say both devices impressed me with their actual battery life, given how used I am to charging my HTC phone every other day.  I suppose not having to look for phone networks really saves the battery.

Out of the box

The iPod requires a computer connection straight out of the box.  You have to have iTunes installed and more importantly, I seem to remember I had to set up an iTunes account (yes, I already have one, but I wanted a separate account for this work-purchased pod).  Setting up an iTunes account requires a credit card, whether you ever make a purchase or not.  Big black mark there Apple.  If we want the students to purchase these devices, it means letting them loose with their parents’ credit card.  I’ll touch more on this later, when looking at Apps.

The Archos sucks right of the box.  Despite the specs on the website, ours came preloaded with Android 1.6.  The OS equivalent of a Vuvuzala.  I know, how many operating systems have I written?

The Archos can be “used” immediately, but the controls were unresponsive.  The setup didn’t include accelerometer calibration (that was hidden in the Settings menu).  The device had to be hit on the side to get it to turn the screen round – who knew Al from Quantum Leap was using Android 1.6! 

After about 30 minutes, the Archos detected that a new version of Android was available.  It downloaded 2.2 (Froyo), but truly annoyingly, after downloading it had to be plugged into a PC before installing.  Not being next to my laptop at the time meant cancelling the installation, returning to my desk and starting again.

Once Froyo was installed, the difference was night-and-day.  The responsiveness was vastly improved.

Two things that the Archos had that were better than the iPod.  OS Password boxes carry an option to unhide the result as you type, and the keyboard contains a Caps Lock option.  C’mon Apple, 4 generations in, and you still have to press shift each time you want a capital letter???

Apps

Again, out of the box, the Archos isn’t very impressive when it comes to Apps.  The device comes with a limited AppsLib, instead of the full Android Market.  It’s preloaded with some decent enough stuff, the music and video players are good enough as is the file manager and the dedicated Uninstall App, but Flash isn’t there by default.  That can be downloaded from AppsLib, unlike Adobe Air (the easy way to make Apps).

It is possible to get the full market however.  Which is exactly what we did.  After about 30 minutes research, we found ArcTools, which once installed, installs the Market.  But here’s the thing.  You don’t actually need a Market App for Android devices.  You can download an .apk file from anywhere on the internet, unlike the iPod. 

Once the Market, and Adobe Air was installed, the Archos began to feel a bit more useful.  And I was able to start comparing  the devices properly.

For comparison, I went looking for an education App, specifically a Periodic Table.  From the Android Market, I installed the free Periodic Table, which had quizzes, flash cards and pronunciation audios (very nice touch).   Looking in Apple’s App Store was a huge disappointment.  I only found 1 free App.  If we’re going to want kids to download specific Apps, we can’t expect them to purchase them.  The App, iTeachU Free, was next to useless. 

Android’s Apps seem to be of the free, ad-sponsored variety and Apple’s are of the cheap kind (the pay Apps were generally only 59p). 

The bigger issue with Apple is the credit card.  Even for a free App, you have to enter your iTunes password in order to install it.  This means the students will have access to their parents’ credit cards.  We may have to operate with a delay, wherein we ask the kids to ask their parents to install Apps for them.

Browsing

Here there is a big difference.   The Archos uses screen technology that can only handle 1 finger.  So no pinch-and-zoom.  This is a major problem for the native browser when looking at non-mobile websites.  The view constantly zoomed in and out when I tried scrolling as the browser couldn’t decide which function I was trying to do.   Eventually, I gave up and installed Dolphin HD, which gave me better options, including using the volume buttons to scroll the page.  Browsing still isn’t as slick as on the iPod though.

Complaining that a handheld computer can only handle one touch at a time should be like complaining my car doesn’t have a flying mode.  But the truth is Apple have been showing everyone two fingers for years now.  I own a Gen 1 iPod Touch, that has pinch-and-zoom.  I know Archos were probably able to keep the costs down by not including the same type of touchscreen as Apple, but it really hurts browsing.

Don’t be downhearted Android fans, as Apple sucks in its own way when browsing.  The “walled garden” of iOS prevents uploading images from the iPod to a website.  This is a major flaw (especially as it is designed in).  This is why you need an App to engage with most Web 2.0 sites.  Their own web browser isn’t allowed to interact with their device!?!

Camera

I’m not a photographer.  When I take photos I don’t spend too much time worrying about light conditions or focal length.  I just want to point and shoot.

Below are comparisons trying to replicate the sort of photos the kids might take.  I’ve deliberately avoided optimal conditions.

Archos 43 - Indoors

The Archos 43 comes with a 2 Mb camera.  The image has a little bit of noise to it and is appears a little bit darker than reality. 

iPod Touch 4

The iPod Touch offers a resolution of less than 1 Mb.  Given that the iPhone comes with a reported 5 Mb camera, putting the equivalent of a web cam in this device is pretty inexcusable.  The image is full of noise and really quite small.  It was rumoured that the iPod camera has a fixed focus, but this is untrue.  The iPod comes with a touch screen interface to control focus.  Tapping any part of the screen creates a focus box which the device then uses focus.  There appears to be no focus control with the Archos.

 iPod - Close up

Moving the camera closer to the objects, you can see what the handhelds are like picking up detail. 

The iPod appears to produce a richer colour, though the red felt tip was bright red, which I don’t think the iPod picks up.  The iPod’s image is also pretty noisy, though there is some blurring with the Archos.

 Archos - close up

iPod - outdoors

Moving outdoors and taking a photo of some flowers in the garden (don’t email me to tell me what they are – I don’t care. 🙂 ).  The colours from the iPod are much more vibrant (but if I’m honest, the colours are more accurately reproduced in the Archos).

Archos - outdoors

  The additional light available makes both pictures less noisy.

In conclusion

 I find that the iPod Touch is lacking in the terms of its specifications.  When I imagine guiding students through finding specific Apps and working out how to pay for them and how to build and distribute them, coupled with the woefully poor camera I find I cannot recommend iPods. 

I should point out that there is another method for distributing iPods, which is that we could buy 30 devices and use a syncing device to control them.  This takes the self-financing out of the situation, but adds its own problems of the school having to buy and maintain them.

Distributing Apps to students using the Archos is child’s play.  Once they are set up correctly, we can simply make a page on our VLE with a list of Apps linked in.  Building and distribution is also simple.

So on paper the Archos 43 is a superior device.  But here’s the problem; while watching TV, I’ll often reach for a device to look something up on the internet.  I find myself reaching for the iPod instead of the Archos. 

The Archos just isn’t as responsive.  The auto-correct keyboard on both my HTC Desire and the iPod Touch makes typing on such small screens as not only possible but quick.  I cannot get the auto-correct to kick in on the Archos. 

There are moments on the Archos when you click on an App or link and nothing appears to happen for a moment.  Even taking photos appears to do nothing at first. 

So in conclusion, like I said I cannot recommend the iPod Touch, but I’m not yet sure if I can recommend the Archos.  It’s a good device with plenty of storage space, better camera, easy to use (once set up right) but it’s touch screen just isn’t as good.


TV studio

July 29, 2010

So typical, after just promising that there would be no drop off in blog posts, I’ve been away from WordPress for a week!

I do have a good excuse though, we’ve spent the better part of the first week of the holidays rewiring our greenscreen TV studio.

Greenscreen TV Studio

I’m very proud of that studio, which unlike most school’s was entirely fitted by myself and colleagues.  There are some excellent companies out there, like PlanetDV who will do all the heavy lifting for you, but they do charge for the fitting.

Also, the majority of systems use professional software which adds another layer of complexity to the filming process.  With the best will in the world, students don’t need high-end products as a studio when used correctly is more about confidence building and public speaking skills.

The studio cost less than £7000 to fit completely (compare this to a nearby City Learning Centre’s £250,000).  I’ve often talked about sharing how we did this and so it’s about time I did.  

In the coming weeks alongside the 20 tips, I’ll be posting a breakdown of how I designed the studio, the choices I made and the impact it has had on teaching and learning.  Hopefully by the completion you’ll have a shopping list of everything you need to replicate the facility, if you so desire.  and if not, you might be a little entertained along the way.


Xilisoft Video Converter

July 5, 2010

In recent posts I’ve spent some time talking about getting videos off youtube, or old tapes etc…but not mention the best way to get them to your students.

There are dozens of video converters out there, but my preference lies with Xilisoft. (I pronounce it “zilly-soft”, but that’s a guess)

Xilisoft Video Converter

This software just works.   It’s $35 (don’t get confused by the Platinum and Ultimate additions – the standard does everything you need).  Just drag your video into the software, set your type of video output (it has dozens of optimised presets – everythign from iPad and Android phones, to general web video – even has MS Zune !!?)

Like I’ve said, there are plenty of video converters out there, some for free, but Xilisoft works and works well.  It especially good at keeping audio and video from YouTube synchronised.


Download Helper and/or KeepVid

July 2, 2010

After the extravangances of recent posts, I thought it best to redress the balance with a freebie or two.

Grabbing videos off YouTube is a very useful way of getting some really useful content and being able to rely on it not disappearing. 

Firstly, for your firefox users out there, there is a great plugin (sorry add-on) called Downloadhelper.  Once installed it puts a tiny button on the YouTube pages.  Clicking that button downloads the video.  Simple as that.

Downloadhelper for Firefox

But if you’re not allowed to run Firefox, you can always use KeepVid.  This website works in a very similar way.  Just paste the address of the YouTube video you want into the box on the front page and you get instantly download that video.

Personally, I prefer downloadhelper.  It’s quicker and easier, but if you not able to install Firefox, then KeepVid does the job.


Crazytalk Standard

June 4, 2010

Crazytalk logo

Reallusion’s Craztalk is an incredible package.  It can take any still image and animate that image based on your voice.   You record your script, either in the software, or something like Audacity

Animation has never been so easy!  It’s an excellent way of introducing tasks, presenting new information or turning it over to your students to allow them to produce presentations.

Crazytalk's interface

Ignoring this slightly strange looking gentleman, Crazytalk comes with a number of characters already for you to use, but I find the best way is to use it with images of famous people.  Your students will recognise them and immediately understand the context.

Here’s an example of what I mean:
Winston Churchill reading out one of his famous speeches for an English lesson 
(MediaFire download)

Crazytalk Standard costs $49.95.  If you’re buying it yourself.   You can apply for an educational discount, but personally, save yourself some $100 money and don’t buy Crazytalk Pro.  The features are fancier, but I’ve never used them.


iSpring Free!

May 23, 2010

iSpring is a great piece of software, it allows you to easily embed flash files into MS PowerPoint.   Now before anyone starts commenting that you can do this for yourself using the toolkit options of PowerPoint – it isn’t easy and it’s not always activated.   

iSpring Free's toolbar in PowerPoint

iSpring Free's toolbar

iSpring Free takes care of the hard work for you and comes with a bonus feature (and it’s main purpose) of allowing you to convert your PowerPoint files directly to flash webpages.   iSpring Free will even maintain links when it does so.

Why do you need to convert PowerPoint? 

  • Not everyone uses Microsoft Office so they need to be able to view your presentation in something more accesibly.   Adobe Flash is on something like 99.95% of the world’s computers (but not the iPhone – c’mon Mr Jobs, give up your anti-Flash campaign).
  • When sending your presentation to people via email or posting it somewhere online, PowerPoints can very quickly get very big.  If you incldue photos in your powerpoint, don’t be surprised when they top 50 Mb.   No one is going to thank you for trying to download that.   iSpring converts and reduces (I sound like an advert don’t I!? – I’m not being paid for this)

Ultimately, if you use PowerPoints (whether you’re in education or not) and you need to link to them via an intranet or VLE, give iSpring a try.   It’s free, easy to use, free and produces a good quality resource.   And did I mention it’s free?

Oh, and allows you to link directly to youtube videos inside your presentation, no internet windows that open behind your slides.