Gefen DVI Detective

Well, here’s a product I didn’t know existed but was happy to find. About a year ago I built a new machine for the studio, mostly to run Lightroom. I like Lightroom and want to love it, but have had speed problems with it since day one. So I built a quad core machine with 8gb ram, fast ATI card (had conflicts with the Nvidia) and a serious RAID 6 controller from Areca for storage and cache. For my viewing pleasure I got two 27″ displays from Doublesight and glued it all together with Vista 64. The problems began when I had to install a couple of DVI video extension cables to the monitors. Every time the screen blanker kicked in, or when the machine was restarted or came out of sleep mode, the monitors wouldn’t come up at the right resolution or even left to right sequence. About half the time I had to go in and reset the layout and resolution. It was one of those really frustrating things that I let go for two long.

While I was trying to get some HDMI problems solved (another day, another rant!) I asked John Johns, the video wizard at In-Sync, Inc. in Dallas, what he would recommend. He referred me to Gefen, a company that makes a crazy array of video conversion boxes. On their website I found a little box called the DVI Detective and an explanation of what the problem was with my monitors (and my HDMI troubles). Both of those connections transmit an EDID code. According to Wikipedia: “Extended display identification data (EDID) is a data structure provided by a computer display to describe its capabilities to a graphics card. It is what enables a modern personal computer to know what kind of monitor is connected.” As with many things electronic, that doesn’t always work out in practice. What was happening was the EDID wasn’t being picked up and weird things were happening.

The DVI Detective goes inline between the computer and the monitor. You power it up with the included wallwart, push a tiny button on the little box, a light flashes telling you the code is being received and stored, you flip a switch to lock the setting – and you’re done. The power can now be unplugged. I was hesitant to spend 2 x $60 (from Buy.com) on these little gizmos but my problem is completely solved. I love these things.

They are tiny boxes and come with nice, stout turn around DVI patch cables. A solid product that does exactly what it claims to with very little setup. This is what the mess looks like behind my monitors until I dress this up a little:

gefen-dvi-detective2-Dallas-Center-for-PhotographyUPDE: 7-4-09
I’ve been using the Gefen DVI Detective boxes for a few weeks now and I can happily report that they have completely solved the problems I was having! Money well spent.

Really big prints

I’ve had an Epson 7600 for a few years and always thought of it as a big machine with an appetite for ink and a producer of impressive big prints. Up to 24″ wide by any length. Boy, have I had to recalibrate that thinking! I just got through shooting a job for some interior banners that will hang at the newly remodeled downtown Dallas YMCA. They are being printed on an HP Scitex XL Jet which prints up to 5 meters wide (196″). The images will be full bleed and the size is 9ft x 18ft. I shot using a rented Nikon D3x. I’ve written about that experience here. The resolution of the D3x is roughly 4000×6000 pixels. The long dimension of the banners of 18ft, or 216 inches. Dividing the resolution (6000 pixels) by the printed dimension (216 inches) will give us the maximum pixels per inch that I would get on the print: 6000/216=28. If I crop the image I would have fewer pixels. Is 28 ppi (pixels per inch) enough? Absolutely, because of viewing distance.

When I do my own exhibition prints, I have found that anything over about 150ppi is seldom seen in the print itself. If the image is a technical or highly detailed shot involving product with sharp edges, a super high-res multi image panorama or overlayed vector art or text, then going to 200 or 250 ppi can make a difference. Those images are hung on a wall and viewed from a few feet away – unless you’re like me and always lean in, tip your head, and look to see what kind of detail there is in the print. Its sometimes an unkind thing to do, but I’m always interested in printing technique and it doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the image as art.

These large banners will hang overhead and the minimum viewing distance from a 6′ person’s eyeballs to the bottom of the banner will be 7ft, assuming they are looking straight up. To the center of the banner would be about 11ft. More realistically, the viewing distance as people move around the room will be well over 15ft. If 150ppi is great quality at a viewing distance of 3 feet, then what happens at about 15ft? Subjectively, I can tell you that they look great. I’ve seen the prints at Color Place, who is doing the printing, and was pleased with how crisp they look from a few feet away. The numbers support this. There is a simple, linear relationship here. A viewing distance of 3ft is 1/5th of a viewing distance of 15ft. Take our target high quality image of 150ppi and divide by 5 and you get, yup, 30ppi. There is a good article on this topic here.

The ink droplets from the HP Scitex XL Jet printer that Color Place uses are pretty big. Well, big in the ink jet world. They are specified at 80 picoliters. By comparison, my Epson 7600 has a minimum drop size of 4 picoliters. That’s billionths of a liter, which is small! What that means is that the image from the XL Jet, when viewed closely, has quite a bit of dithering, a kind of noise pattern that results from the low printing resolution. That is actually a very good thing in terms of percieved sharpness. At a distance, that noise actually sharpens the image. Try it yourself. Print a photo, then add noise to it in your image editor. Put them side by side and step back. Often the noisier image will appear sharper.

I visited Color Place when they were printing and finishing the banners. The printer is really big, and so is the head assembly. I complain about buying 220ml cartridges for my printer. These guys buy ink by the gallon. When the print technician saw me photographing the bottles on the floor he said “Oh, that’s just junk ink. We can’t use that. Here’s the new stuff” and then showed me the cabinet with the new gallon jugs.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is how inexpensive this kind of banner printing has gotten. It costs me about $2/square foot in ink and paper to print on my Epson printer. You can get banners made for around $3 to $4 per sq. ft. You aren’t going to hang them in a gallery, but it is a blast seeing images this size.

Laptop tripod tray

I wanted to be able to use my laptop tethered while shooting. I looked into a couple of commercial laptop trays, but they were kind of overkill. I used an extra Bogen Magic Arm and some plywood to make a usable platform. I cut a piece of 1/2″ plywood slightly smaller than the footprint of the Vaio laptop and inserted a 1/4″-20 threaded insert into the center, dressed it with some black gaffer’s tape, and made a strap out of velcro. It gave me a stable, adjustable platform for the laptop.

Warning, don’t try clamping something like this to a carbon fiber tripod. This is a stout, aluminum Gitzo which can take the compression from the SuperClamp at the end of the Magic Arm.