… for Visual Effects

Tip #1185: What Does LiDAR in an iPhone 12 Do?

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

LiDAR is a key technology that makes AR believable.

(Image courtesy of Halide.com.)
iPhone LiDAR resolution may be better for mapping rooms, than portraits.

Topic $TipTopic

One of the key new features in the iPhone 12 Pro is LiDAR. Lidar stands for light detection and ranging, and has been around since the 1960’s. It uses lasers to ping off objects and return to the source of the laser, measuring distance by timing the travel, or flight, of the light pulse.

An iPhone sends waves of light pulses out in a spray of infrared dots and can measure each one with its sensor, creating a field of points that map out distances and can “mesh” the dimensions of a space and the objects in it. The light pulses are invisible to the human eye, but you could see them with a night vision camera. It works up to a range of 15 feet (5 meters).

The primary purpose of LiDAR in the iPhone is to improve augmented reality (AR) implementation. It will give apps more useful and accurate information about their surroundings, for smoother, more reliable AR. Even today, there is still a lot this technology can do, not just for augmented reality but games and shopping.

LiDAR actually has many uses across many industries. Archaeologists use it to prepare dig sites and autonomous vehicles rely on it to construct real-time 3D maps of their surroundings. LiDAR has even been used to create highly realistic and accurate maps of race tracks in video games, like Project CARS. Police speed guns also use LiDAR.

There’s an excellent article at halide.com, the developers of Halide, an iPhone camera app, that goes into much more detail showing what LiDAR can do and how it relates to AR and mapping the real world into your camera.

As the Halide authors conclude: “Photography isn’t traditionally taking photos anymore; it’s combining all the data and smarts in our devices into allowing totally new interpretations of what ‘photography’ can mean. And if you’re not excited about that, we’re at a loss!”


Here are the references I used for this article:

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… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1132: Not All Thunderbolt Cables are High Speed

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Thunderbolt 3 cables are not the same – and many slow your data down.

(Image courtesy of Intel.)

Topic $TipTopic

One of the most interesting things I learned recently is that not all Thunderbolt cables deliver the same performance. Even Apple’s cables have significant limitations.

I discovered this in an interview with Larry O’Connor, CEO of OWC, a company that specializes in Thunderbolt peripherals.

Here is an excerpt from our interview:

Currently, USB-C cables don’t support Thunderbolt and most don’t even support full USB 10 Gb/s data speeds. For example, the cable that Apple includes with its laptops only carries USB data at USB-2 480 Mb/s speed, not even USB-3 5 Gb/s!

Also, today, Thunderbolt 3 passive cables only provide 40 Gb/s at lengths up to 0.8 M and 20 Gb/s at lengths longer than 1 meter. (I should note that all passive Thunderbolt cables do support full USB-3.2 10 Gb/s speeds)

Sigh… It gets worse. Thunderbolt 3 cables 1 meter or longer are active, which means they have electronics in them to provide the full 40 Gb/s speed. But, while delivering Thunderbolt 40 Gb/s they only deliver USB-2 480 Mb/s speed (that’s a max of 60 MB/s of total data throughput vs. about 600 MB/s with USB-3 5 Gb/s or about 1,200 MB/s with USB-3.2 10 Gb/s)

So, if you are not getting the speed you expect from a Thunderbolt device, or a device connected using a Thunderbolt cable, the first place to look is the cable itself.

Read the full interview here – it is well worth your time.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1122: RPMs Really Do Make a Difference

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Faster hard drive RPM speeds equals faster data transfer rates.

7200 RPM drives are, on average, 30% faster than 5400 RPM drives.

Topic $TipTopic

I’ve spent the last two weeks optimizing my network and two of my locally-attached RAIDs. In this process, I found myself with two identical fully-optimized 4-drive RAIDs; except one was filled with 7200 RPM drives and the other with 5400 RPM drives.

So, I decided to test them to see how much RPM speed affects data transfer speeds.

What I learned is that 7200 RPM drives increase data transfer speeds by 30% on average. (See screen shot.)

For the complete details on my tests and the results, read this article.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1081: Improve the Responsiveness of a Server

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

An NVMe SSD cache card can speed file directory operations and make a server more responsive.

The Synology SNV3500-400G NVMe SSD.

Topic $TipTopic

I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about how to improve the speed and responsiveness of my storage. Here’s a relatively inexpensive way to improve the responsiveness of a server, especially for smaller workgroups. When it comes to storage there are three elements we can adjust:

  • Storage capacity – measured in gigabytes – is how much the device holds
  • Bandwidth – the speed it transfers data to and from the computer
  • Responsiveness – how fast it responds to requests for data

Looking at these in more detail:

  • Capacity – measured in terabytes – we are all familiar with. From experience, we know that we can’t have too much capacity. It seems that hard disks are either empty or full.
  • Bandwidth – measured in MB/second – is how fast we can move data from one device to another.
  • Responsiveness – measured in milliseconds – is how fast a storage device responds to a request for data.

Most older people celebrate a birthday with a nice dinner. Me? I upgraded my server. I have a Synology DS 1517+ that’s around 3 years old. I connect to it using 1 Gb Ethernet from a variety of different computers.

One of the problems with my storage is that, because my network only consists of 2-3 users, the server is not heavily used. Which means that a lot of the time the drives stop spinning, or spin slower, to save energy because there’s nothing happening across the network.

This means that when I access a server volume from my Mac, it takes several seconds for it to wake up and display a file directory or open a file.

Most of the time, while annoying, this isn’t a big problem. But, all my media is stored on the server, when I’m doing a live webinar this delay drives me nuts.

So, I finally decided to do something about it: I added an SSD card as a cache to the server. SSDs are marketed to database users as a way to improve the responsiveness of I/O operations. And I’m sure it does that. But there are also benefits to media creators in terms of making the server feel much more responsive.

NOTE: The specific hardware that I added were a Synology E10M20-1 Ethernet Adapter, which also holds a Synology SNV3500-400G 400 GB NVMe SSD to accelerate the storage cache. (The card uses an m.2 form factor.)

I was amazed at the difference. Folders pop open almost instantly, even though the disks are not yet up to speed. Navigating is almost as fast as the internal SSD on my computer. While I haven’t, yet, connected the 10 Gbps Ethernet port – though that’s coming – just adding SSD makes a big difference. I don’t feel like I’m waiting on my storage anymore.

NOTE: The SSD does not speed file transfers, but it does make moving around and finding things inside the server much faster.

If you feel that your server is a bit “laggy,” look into adding an SSD card as a cache. It will make your system feel much peppier, even if your server, like mine, still uses spinning disks for storage.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1082: Thunderbolt 4 is Coming!

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Thunderbolt 4 won’t be any faster, but it will be a lot more flexible.

The Thunderbolt logo.

Topic $TipTopic

When Thunderbolt first came out in 2011, it was a niche interface specifically designed for media creators. Why? Because Thunderbolt is optimized for large files, while USB is optimized for smaller files. Since most people using computers are more likely to be browsing the web, word processing or creating spreadsheets, USB was the perfect protocol for them. Plus, it was cheap.

However, Intel and Apple, the two co-creators of Thunderbolt, were not standing still. Currently, all Macs come bundled with Thunderbolt 3. In July, Intel revealed more of what will be in Thunderbolt 4.

As a reminder, Thunderbolt is considered a “universal” solution because it’s capable of delivering fast transfer speeds, charging and video output over a single connection. Thunderbolt 4 is compliant with USB4, DisplayPort and PCIe Express standards, and is compatible with previous-gen Thunderbolt and USB products.

According to LaptopMag.com, “Thunderbolt 4 isn’t any faster than Thunderbolt 3 when it comes to maximum transfer speeds but it brings additional capabilities. Among those is the ability to connect to two 4K monitors or a single 8K monitor as a minimum requirement, an upgrade from the single 4K output offered by Thunderbolt 3. 

“Maximum data transfer speeds remain at 40 GBps but can now be achieved using a 2-meter universal cable. For comparison, USB4 matches Thunderbolt at 40 GBps but has a minimum requirement of 20 GBps. Additionally, Thunderbolt 4 will introduce accessories with up to four Thunderbolt ports.  

“As well, Intel is requiring one Thunderbolt 4 port to drive power to thin and lightweight laptops that need less than 100 watts to charge. PCs will also need to let you wake them from sleep by touching a mouse or keyboard when they are connected to a Thunderbolt dock.”

Thunderbolt 4 devices should be released before the end of 2020.


Sections of this article were taken from LaptopMag.com, written by Philip Tracy.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #1037: On-set Wireless Video Monitoring

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

On-set video monitors can save time and improve collaboration.

(Image courtesy of Teradek.com.)

Topic $TipTopic

The folks at Teradek, who make wireless video monitors, created a blog illustrating the benefits of wireless video monitors on-set. Not just for the director, but other key production team members as well. Here’s an excerpt.

NOTE: Here’s the link.

Wireless monitoring is critical to many roles on set; but let’s face it, not everyone has access to one. In fact, on many productions big and small, priority for monitoring goes to the Director and DP, leaving other critical members to fend for themselves in an overcrowded video village with just a few monitors.

The goal, then, is to find a solution that lets everyone see the shot without having to fight for that premium video village real estate. That’s where personal wireless monitors come in.

The biggest benefit is allowing every member to see the shot so they can adjust their roles accordingly, making for a much more collaborative set. Another is being mobile, allowing the crew to maneuver around set with ease and remove as many obstructions as possible.

The seven roles that could benefit most are:

  • Director
  • 1st AC
  • Gaffer
  • Script Supervisor
  • Hair & Makeup
  • Clients & Executives
  • Boom operators

While only a select few people on set absolutely need zero-delay monitoring, by helping to cut production time, you end up saving tons of money.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #965: Thoughts on the Mac T2 Chip

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

The Apple T2 chip provides more than simple system security.

The Apple T2 chip

Topic $TipTopic

We first heard about Apple’s T2 chip with the release of the 2017 iMac Pro. Apple’s support pages wrote:

“The Apple T2 Security Chip is Apple’s second-generation, custom silicon for Mac. By redesigning and integrating several controllers found in other Mac computers—such as the System Management Controller, image signal processor, audio controller, and SSD controller—the T2 chip delivers new capabilities to your Mac.

“For example, the T2 chip enables a new level of security by including a secure enclave coprocessor that secures Touch ID data and provides the foundation for new encrypted storage and secure boot capabilities. And the T2 chip’s image signal processor works with the FaceTime HD camera to enable enhanced tone mapping, improved exposure control, and face-detection–based autoexposure and auto white balance.”

But, what you may not know is that the T2 chip also provides hardware-based encoding, such as 8-bit HEVC (i.e. the “Faster” setting) when encoding files using Apple Compressor. For those familiar with hardware-based H.264 encoding using Intel CPUs, Apple’s expectation is to have comparable results regardless of which hardware is used.

The T2 will become even more important to video creators as Apple shifts to Apple silicon-based systems in the coming year.


Here’s a Apple KnowledgeBase page from Apple with more details.

Here’s a Wikipedia article to learn more about Apple’s custom chips.

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #935: 8K is Coming – Time to Get Ready

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

8K is an issue of when, not whether. This article can help.

The Canon EOS R5 (8K video camera)

Topic $TipTopic

This article, written by Jourdan Aldredge, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt.

Larry comments: Jourdan has compiled an excellent discussion of shooting and editing 8K, even 12K, media. Are file sizes bigger? Yes, absolutely. Are images better? Also, yes. The issue is nuanced, but this is a short blog that’s worth reading.

Jourdan writes:

Believe it or not, there will come a day when filmmakers and video professionals look back at 8K and laugh. Not because 8K was such a hot topic, but because we’ll have moved on to 16K or higher! Seriously, if you look back at how the news of 4K cameras was handled, you’d think the video world was about to collapse under the weight of the increased pixels and file sizes.

Instead, we’ve all largely learned to embrace 4K, as it has truly been a game-changer in how video professionals and filmmakers frame their shots, manage their workflows, and handle post-production.

Even though the first 8K televisions were unveiled in 2019, 4K television is only recently starting to find its footing — sort of. The technology has been adopted by half the households in the US, and according to an article in Forbes, most people can’t tell the difference between 4K and 8K televisions in the first place.

His article (linked above) covers:

  • The Upsides of 8K
  • The Challenges of 8K
  • 8K for Visual Effects
  • Should You Shoot 8K

Larry summarizes: His answer is: Yes, but that doesn’t mean you need to switch to 8K immediately. However, 8K is coming and we need to get ready.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #940: Just How Fast is Apple Silicon?

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Apple silicon is hardware optimized for running software.

Topic $TipTopic

Jim Turley, writing for the Electronic Engineering Journal takes a deeper look at the upcoming Apple silicon transition and how an ARM CPU is able to run x86 software. This is an excerpt.

First, the basics. Apple has gone through at least five different processor generations by my count. The company started with the 6502, then 68K, PowerPC, x86, and now ARM. It’s always used ARM for its iDevices – iPad, iPhone, iPod, etc. – since the very first iPod almost 20 years ago.

What’s remarkable is that all three architecture changes supported the previous generation’s binaries. Users won’t be able to tell the difference. It just works.

How well does it work? Well enough that Apple’s emulation beats other systems running natively. Surprisingly, the DTK’s x86 emulation is faster than some real x86 processors.

The consensus is that Apple didn’t need to mess around with the ARM architecture – at least, not the visible parts of it. Instead, the company likely optimized its microarchitecture: the underlying circuitry that implements the programmer-visible parts

Apple is uniquely qualified to create an effective binary translator. The company has done it twice before, always in software. The initial results suggest that it’s pulled off a hat trick, even without any hardware assists. Rosetta 2 running on A14X should be even better.


This article is well-written and well worth reading for additional detail and commentary.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #941: Deep Dive into Metal on Apple Silicon

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Apple silicon seriously leverages the GPU.

Topic $TipTopic

Apple released a developer video focuses on the benefits and performance of moving to Apple GPUs for upcoming Macs. Hosted by Michael Imbrogno, Manager, CPU Software and Domenico Troiano, Engineer, CPU software, this presents how Apple silicon will improve graphics-intensive apps and games. Here’s the link

Apple’s Description

Apple Silicon Macs are a transformative new platform for graphics-intensive apps — and we’re going to show you how to fire up the GPU to create blazingly fast apps and games. Discover how to take advantage of Apple’s unique Tile-Based Deferred Rendering (TBDR) GPU architecture within Apple Silicon Macs and learn how to schedule workloads to provide maximum throughput, structure your rendering pipeline, and increase overall efficiency. And dive deep with our graphics team as we explore shader optimizations for the Apple GPU shader core. We’ve designed this session in tandem with “Bring your Metal app to Apple Silicon Macs,” and recommend you watch that first. For more, watch “Harness Apple GPUs with Metal” to learn how TBDR applies to a variety of modern rendering techniques.