Author Archives: Jim Hoerricks

Why PDF/A?

One of the more frustrating aspects of the forensic multimedia analyst’s world is dealing with legacy technology. You arrive at a crime scene to find a 15-year-old DVR that only accepts Iomega Zip disks, or CD+RW disks, or a certain size / speed of CF card. What do you do?

You curse and swear and scour your junk drawers. You call / email friends. You wonder why folks keep these systems knowing that there are newer / better / cheaper systems out there.

If you’ve ever worked a cold case, you know the problems interfacing with old technology. If you’re working at a large agency, chances are there are several old computer systems cobbled together with new middleware. Replacing systems is costly and time consuming.

For reports, agencies are faced with a similar problem. My old agency used a product from IBM that required a stand-alone program (PC only) to read / edit the reports when saved in the native format. That’s not at all helpful.

When generating a report in Amped FIVE, the user is given a choice in the production of the file between PDF, DOC, and HTML. Many states / jurisdictions require the user to output a PDF file for reports. But, PDF is a very robust standard with several variants. When generating PDF report files, it’s important to understand the variants and what they’re for.

According to the PDF Association, “PDF/A is an ISO-standardized version of the Portable Document Format (PDF) specialized for use in the archiving and long-term preservation of electronic documents. PDF/A differs from PDF by prohibiting features ill-suited to long-term archiving, such as font linking (as opposed to font embedding) and encryption.”

If you want to make sure that your report can be viewed now, and long into the future, by the largest group of people, choose PDF/A – the archival version of PDF. Understanding this, the report generated by FIVE is PDF/A compliant. We understand that many court systems and police agencies are standardized on this version of PDF because it’s not only built with the future in mind, it’s the cheapest to support.

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The problems of the GAVC codec solved

In my years of working crime scenes in Los Angeles, I would often come across Geovision DVRs. They were usually met with a groan. Geovision’s codecs are problematic to deal with and don’t play nicely within analysts’ PCs.

With Amped FIVE, processing files from Geovision’s systems is easy. Plus, Amped FIVE has the tools needed to correct the problems presented by Geovision’s shortcuts.

Here’s an example of a workflow for handling an AVI file from Geovision, one that utilizes the GAVC codec.

If you have the GAVC codec installed, Amped FIVE will use it to attempt to display the video. You may notice immediately that the playback of the video isn’t working right. Not to worry, we’ll fix it. Within FIVE, select File>Convert DVR and set the controls to Raw (Uncompressed). When you click Apply, the file will be quickly converted.

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What’s in a name? How to rename in Amped FIVE

I’ve been on the road a lot lately. By the end of this month, I’ll have spent two weeks with District Attorney’s Offices in New Jersey (US) training users in the many uses of Amped’s flagship product, Amped FIVE. Every user has a slightly different use case and needs. Prosecutors’ Offices are no different.

Field personnel / crime scene technicians / analysts might not be very concerned with trail prep and the creation of demonstratives for court. But, DA’s offices are. That being said, there are a few things that every user of Amped FIVE can do – beginning with the end in mind – to make the trial prep job a bit easier.

Hopefully, by now you know that you can rename processing chains in Amped FIVE to aid in your organization.

Right click on the Chain and select Rename Chain. Then, name it something unique that describes what you’re working with or the question you’re trying to answer in the file. Examples include camera number, vehicle determination, license plate determination, etc.

This is quite helpful. But, did you know that you can also rename the Bookmarks? Additionally, you can add a description to the bookmark. Let’s see what this looks like.

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To seize or to retrieve: that is the question

A crime occurs and is “witnessed” by a digital CCTV system. The files that your investigation wants/needs are in the system’s recording device (DVR). What do you do to get them? Do you seize the entire DVR as evidence (“bag and tag”)? Do you try to access the recorder through its user interface and download/export/save the files to USB stick/drive or other removable media?

Answer: it depends.

There are times when you’d want to seize the DVR. Perhaps 5% of cases will present a situation where having the DVR in the lab is necessary:

  • Arsons/fires can turn a DVR into a bunch of melted down parts. You’re obviously not going to power up a melted DVR.
  • An analysis that tests how the DVR performs and creates files. For example, does the frame timing represent the actual elapsed time or how the DVR fit that time into its container? Such tests of reliability will require access to the DVR throughout the legal process.
  • Content analysis questions where there’s a difference of opinion between object/artifact. For example, is it a white sticker on the back of a car or an artifact of compression (random bit of noise)?

If you’re taking a DVR from a location, you can follow the guidance of the computer forensics world on handling the DVR (which is a computer) and properly removing it from the scene.

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Using Project Files as Templates in Amped FIVE

People often ask, “How can we speed up the processing of files in Amped FIVE ?” (As if it’s not fast enough :). “Can we create actions/templates?” The answer is yes. Here’s how.

Load a video file. In this case, we’ll load a BWC file from an Axon Body 2 camera.

Then, we’ll rename the processing chain. Right mouse click on the processing chain – Rename Chain.

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What’s wrong with this video?

What’s wrong with this video? Hint: look at the Inspector’s results for width / height.

Unfortunately, the answer in many people’s minds is …. nothing. I can’t begin to count the number of videos and images in BOLOs that attempt to depict a scene that looks quite like the one above. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, it’s hard to say what’s actually wrong with this video.

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Hands-off the keyboard!

I’ve had a few questions about our tool’s reporting feature, so I thought a blog post would help explain and illustrate the philosophy behind our report creation process. Here it goes.

To understand why we format our reports in the way that we do, you must first understand the legal and regulatory environment in which forensic analysis exists in much of the world. We don’t just create tools in a vacuum. We didn’t make a tool for another industry and repurpose it for forensic science. Amped FIVE is purpose built for the forensic analysis of video and images.

Thus, we’ll start our tour at the ASTM. ASTM’s E2825-12 is at the heart of why our reports are formatted as they are.

More specifically, in Section 4 of E2825-12 it notes the following:

4.2.1 – Processing steps are documented in a manner sufficient to permit a comparably trained person to understand the steps taken, the techniques used, and …

Amped FIVE’s reports are created to satisfy this guidance – every time, automatically.

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The Temperature Tint Filter

We’re back from the Axon Accelerate Conference. What an incredible experience to meet so many law enforcement professionals who are enthusiastic about going from Capture to the Courtroom with reliable tools based in science and fact, not tools repurposed from the art world.

I’d like to share today the answer to a question posed to us at the Conference. The question was, “how do you quickly get rid of that annoying orange color cast that you find in images / videos taken in underground locations or grow houses.”

The answer is the Temperature Tint filter (found in the Adjust filter group). But, before we look at the filter and how it works, let’s talk about about Colour Temperature.

The chart above is from my old book, Forensic Photoshop. It’s helpful to look at colour temperature from the standpoint of the Sun as it rises – the horizon going from warm to cool. Another way to look at colour temperature is with the chart below that places temperature (the Planckian locus in Kelvin) as it relates to the CIE XYZ Color Space.

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The Flexibility of the Add Text Filter

If you’ve wondered at the filters in the Extract Filter group and asked yourself, what are these for, you’re not alone. Depending on your specific use case with Amped FIVE, there are likely a few filters for which you have no use in your current context. Others, you may use in a very specific way each time – but others may use them differently.

Thus it is that I encountered a request for a feature that’s been in Amped FIVE for quite some time. I’ve responded to the request with details on how to accomplish the task. Now, I’ll expand on the question and share a more detailed look at an often overlooked filter – Add Text. (click on the images to see the full-res versions)

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Changing a Video’s Frame Rate

The pace of change here at Amped Software is brisk. Each big update to our software brings new filters and updates based on user feedback and requests. Thus, it can be hard to keep track of what’s new and improved as time moves on.

In a recent conversation with a brand new customer, they noted that one of their pain points in using their old tools was changing frame rates. They’d get a request to slow things down and their tool would make the video look like a scene from a ghost movie. The results just didn’t look realistic – nor was the work handled in a scientific way.

I mentioned that Amped FIVE has the ability to change the frame rate of videos. It does so in an intelligent/scientific way. This functionality was added over two and a half years ago. Here’s the announcement from 2014.

Change frame rate in a videoThere are a number of reasons why one would want to change the frame rate of a video, beyond the usual trial-prep functions of “slowing things down.” Most of the reasons center on the quality of the encoding and the file’s having correct frame rate information within the header.

What you don’t want to have happen is to add/subtract frames when you change the frame rate. With Presentation > Change Frame Rate, no frames are added or removed. The playback rate is changed. That’s all – but that’s huge. If you have a file with 1500 frames and the time/date stamp shows that from start to finish, 5 minutes elapse, then you need a playback rate that tracks with the number of frames/time. What you don’t want is added frames. Amped FIVE’s Change Frame Rate is the answer.

5 minutes = 300 seconds. 1500 frames/300 seconds = 5 frames per second. Just click on Presentation > Change Frame Rate and choose 5 (or choose the value based on your file’s properties). Your video is now set to play back at 5 frames per second. When you write out the video file, it will be written out to play at 5 frames per second.

Simple things should be easy, and fast. With Amped FIVE, they are.

If you’d like more information about our products or training options, contact us for more information.