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Smart Phone Video Enhancement

Friday, March 4th, 2016

snapshot-1-1419005We have hit the tipping point for smart phone video. Many people today own smart phones and use them for various day to day activities. Included with these tasks is the recording of video, which can come in handy in the event that an accident has taken place or a crime is being committed.

Many of our recent video forensic cases include video recordings that were created on a smart phone. Many of you reading this post may have an interest in learning more about smart phone video enhancement. In the following paragraphs, we hope to communicate some information that will guide you on how to handle recording an accident or illegal event taking place and what to do should you need enhancement of a smart phone video.

Since most smart phone video evidence is recorded freehand on a basic smart-phone camera, you can’t guarantee that the video evidence will be of legitimate quality. The video quality isn’t always the best, people may shake while recording or the placement of your subject can lead to lackluster video evidence.

When recording video on your smart phone, hold the phone horizontally when recording and do not zoom in. One of the most prevalent problems with the footage is that the shots are not stable. The chaotic motion of a cell phone video can make it hard to make out exactly what’s happening.

The two clips below will help you understand what can and cannot be done with video enhancement, including stabilization of shaky video. The first clip is of an iPhone video as it was recorded. No stabilization has been applied to this video.

In the next enhanced sample we apply warp stabilization. Notice how the frame follows the motion of the video, creating a more stable picture for analysis.

As you can see, the subject in the video was not close enough to the smart phone that was recording the video, making it difficult to make out the events as they occurred. Clip One is not very helpful in this condition for use in court. The subjects are very far away, making it difficult to make out what is happening.

Any digital video editing software will allow you to zoom in on a given shot. This will lower your overall video quality, and as CSI may lead you to believe, fixing it isn’t nearly as simple as pushing the “enhance” button on your computer.

The reason that the quality of video is reduced when you zoom in has to do with something referred to as “pixels.”

Simply put, pixels are the small boxes of color code that combine to make up a given image. Each image is composed of a series of pixels that display the image you see in front of you.

Expanding an image means also expanding the size of each pixel. Because each pixel is representative of one “frame” of a bigger picture, such as photos making up a collage, each individual square pixel will expand along with the image. The increase of pixel size can cause distortion to the image, therefore making it even harder to decipher the contents of an image.

This is where a video forensic expert comes in. We have training in video enhancement and experience using the hardware and software tools capable of clarifying and enhancing the events that occurred when recording your video.

As you saw in the second video sample above, the image has been expanded so that we can see the events that occurred up close. The quality of the video hasn’t been compromised. This is due to experience.

At the risk of being redundant, the biggest problem we see with smart phone video evidence is the orientation of the cell phone while recording. When we receive smart phone video evidence, many of the video recordings are vertically oriented. If your footage becomes evidence; not having a horizontal (or landscape) recorded video to work with really constricts your range of sight of a given event.

Utilizing the footage above as another example, notice that around the :25 second mark, the camera focuses on the Jeep pulling up, as another officer runs towards the scene. This takes our focus away from the scene, and we miss a substantial amount of the incident.

Had this evidence been shot horizontally, we may have been able to see what happened when that officer arrived to the scene, along with seeing the white Jeep parking in the background.

With the expansion of smart phone video technology, your smart phone can be of assistance recording crime and criminal activity. It is important to understand smart phone video enhancement from the forensic expert’s perspective. The highest quality video recording will reveal more in court. However, despite the quality, it is crucial to employ a video forensic expert to make the most out of your smart phone video.

Forensic Video Enhancement

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

forensic Video enhancementOne of the activities we perform daily at Primeau Forensics is Forensic Video Enhancement. Video enhancement is one of our most requested forensic services.

Forensic video enhancement can help litigators understand events that have been recorded on video but are difficult to see because of movement or shaky cameras, the subjects distance from the camera or video is too dark. During the Boston bombings for example, CCTV cameras outside retail stores helped the FBI capture the terrorists who were responsible.

Some of the reasons video needs forensic enhancement is because too often cameras are not properly maintained. This is a huge problem that is not noticed until after the crime has been committed. Or, worse yet, the cameras are not installed or positioned properly.

In the following blog post I will provide you with a few particular tips when performing forensic video enhancement.

• Original Video- Always begin with the original video recording. If you have to export an AVI file to provide to police, keep a backup on thumb drive for insurance. If you have is a copy on DVD and not the original, then load the DVD copy of the video directly into your computer for forensic video enhancement.

• Computer Software- Use professional forensic software program to enhance like Adobe Premiere Pro and Clear ID. Primeau Forensics uses these as well as Adobe Photo Shop to enhance images exported from the video for forensic video enhancement. Remember, you can also export frames as still images to identify activity and other video components.

• Color Correction- Perform a color correction process first before performing any other forensic enhancement process. This is especially important if your video recording is dark and or was recorded at night. Be careful not to add too much brightness.

• Enlargement- If you need to enlarge a portion of the recorded video viewing area, apply after you review the footage on a large video monitor. At Primeau Forensics we use minimum 27” professional video monitors. Remember, the larger the playback monitor, the better you can see events in the video and the less you need to enlarge your video as an enhancement step. This is even more important in the courtroom.

• Equipment- If the recording system that made the recording you wish to enhance, before contacting a video forensic expert, learn the type of equipment that made the video you are enhancing. Often times a poor CCTV video export may be to blame for the poor video quality.

Forensic video enhancement is an art as well as a science. It is important to understand that you should use different filtering to get different results. Always begin with the largest file size and structure as close to original digital video recording as possible.

Before buying forensic video enhancement software, download a trial version and determine if you are comfortable using the software or would rather contact a video forensic expert to perform your forensic video enhancement.

The Video Recordings of the Shooting of Laquan McDonald

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Laquan McDonaldOn November 24, 2015, police video that captured the shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Illinois was released to the public, almost 13 months after the incident took place. There has been a public outcry regarding not only the death of McDonald, but also the videos themselves.

The following blog post clarifies why there could be an absence of audio during the multiple videos released by the city of Chicago from the Laquan McDonald shooting.

Dash Camera Surveillance Systems Record Video and Audio

Video surveillance systems are closed circuit video recording systems that keep a pre-determined area under security by recording video and audio. Surveillance video cameras aid in deterring and documenting crime and other activity.

Some video surveillance systems record audio, others do not. Video surveillance systems in many department stores do not record audio. Video surveillance systems in gas stations, convenience stores and banks often do record audio, as well as video.

Police car dash cam surveillance systems record both audio and video for two reasons:

  1. To protect the police officer
  2. To deter profiling

Video Surveillance Systems like the ones used by the Chicago Police include Audio Recording

The question remains, why do the videos released by Chicago authorities of the Laquan McDonald shooting lack audio? What are the sounds heard on the video recordings that sound like sirens or whining?

If you watched the videos that have been released so far, electronic noise can be heard. This is defined as electronic cross talk. The digital video recorder in the squad car was recording audio, that is why we hear that whining sound. The problem is that no audio signal was being sent to the recorder. Was it a technical glitch or did the officers elect not to activate their body microphones? Perhaps they were all muted? Was there a problem downloading the digital recordings from each police car? Who has the chain of custody logs for the handling of this evidence?

In an interview for the Associated Press, our lead Audio Video Forensic Expert, Ed Primeau, comments on the lack of audio from multiple police cars being a red flag.

In a second interview for the Associated Press, published by ABC News, fellow Audio Video Forensic Expert Gregg Stuchman comments that ‘It’s plausible for a single squad car to have a glitch preventing sound recording.’ How could multiple cars not have recorded audio?

“I’ve never heard of it before,” Stutchman said. “It raises a red flag. The more likely explanation is that audio was intentionally switched off.”

The reality of this situation is that a full forensic investigation needs to be performed by a neutral, independent Audio Video Forensic Expert in order to determine the reason for the absence of police dialogue and radio communication from the audio portion of the digital video recordings released in the Laquan McDonald shooting.

We have examined thousands of police dash cam systems here at Primeau Forensics. Some include audio, others do not. There are three methods of activating dash cam video and audio.

  1. The officer activates the recording manually
  2. The squad car reaches a certain, predetermined speed for recording to begin
  3. The video is engaged in record when the squad car flashers are activated

One important note; the officers have the ability to mute or not activate their body microphone transmitter should they decide. However, the in car microphone almost always remains on.

YouTube Fake Squad Car Video

The Associated Press asked Primeau Forensics to examine a YouTube video of the Laquan McDonald shooting that has audio. After careful forensic examination of the  video, Ed Primeau concluded beyond a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the audio track on the video is fake. Careful analysis of the audio spectrum contained on the video indicates many signs of post event alterations.

We hope this blog post about dash cam video and audio surveillance recordings will help clear up any misconception about the absence of audio on the Chicago Police Dash Camera Videos.

Video Enhancement: What is and is Not Possible

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

video enhancementAs a video forensic expert I am asked, on a regular basis, to enhance images that have been recorded. One of the goals of video enhancement, in some cases, is to be able to see persons faces better than they are when viewing the video under normal circumstances. Other times I am asked to enlarge and clarify a video in order to identify, for instance, the license plate on a car that is driving by that is alleged to be involved in criminal activity.

With video enhancement, as a forensic expert, I can only do so much with what has been given me. In a lot of cases, the video that has been exported from the surveillance system is small and when I enlarge it, or zoom in on the objects of interest they become very blurry and distorted. Even with some of the best software programs available today a full enhancement isn’t always possible. So, when receiving calls from attorneys or government agencies, as well as private individuals who are involved in litigation that has video evidence, what I’ve learned to do is to ask to see the video first on a pro bono basis before being retained as an expert. Because that way I can determine what is and is not possible before taking money from a potential client.

I feel this is important not only from an ethical standpoint but also from a practical one. Meeting any client’s expectations in any business is extremely important. Taking money from someone that you can’t help is not good business practice. At Primeau Forensics, I am assisted by a team of investigators that can load the video and perform some processes that I’ve trained them to do to prepare the video for a pro bono viewing and at that time I can look, make some suggestions, and determine whether or not I feel I can help the person enquiring about the video enhancement.

One tip that I can present to you, reading this blog, is to make sure you always have the highest possible quality export from the surveillance system. Police departments often send me video from a surveillance system that was not exported through the system but rather recorded from the VGA ‘out’ or video monitor output to a portable digital video recorder. There are several companies that manufacture this type of turnkey evidence retrieval system. And, in some cases, that video is better than what the system is capable of exporting. And, when in doubt, send the video forensic expert both files: the screen capture VGA out or video out from the system, as well as an export from the system. And by ‘export’ I mean, the process used from a CCTV surveillance system to officially export video from the system to a thumb drive or DVD.  And if you have the option to choose a thumb drive or DVD, oftentimes the digital file onto the thumb drive is better than the DVD. And when in doubt, send all three: the screen capture, the thumb drive and the DVD, because then we know up front what is and is not possible for video enhancement.

A DVD is NOT an Original Video

Monday, November 25th, 2013

DVD EvidenceMore often than not, a DVD is not an original video. Many law enforcement organizations create DVD copies for defendants because they are much easier to play than native digital video formats. This can be confusing so allow me to further explain. Over the last 30 years as a practicing audio/video forensic expert, I have experienced many digital file formats, as well as analogue tape formats, used in litigation. Usually, they are able to successfully serve a purpose by showing the facts as they occurred. These videos help bring the scene of the crime into the court room so the Trier of Fact and the jury can make decisions more accurately. People alter video and eliminate sections they do not want the court to see. This is why as a video forensic expert, I am asked to examine and authenticate video evidence when one of the parties in the litigation disagrees with the contents of the video.  When the video evidence is presented on a DVD as a VOB ‘burn,’ it is nearly impossible for me to authenticate because the meta data has been stripped. When digital video is created, the meta data in the digital video file has information about the equipment that made the digital video file, the date and time the digital video was recorded and most importantly, a footprint of any video editing software that was used before that video was admitted into evidence. All of this meta data information is stripped from the digital video recording if the video has been burned to a DVD. Part of my job is to investigate the history of the video in evidence and help attorneys and prosecutors obtain originals or better understand the video evidence before any due process begins. One of the biggest problems I find is that most of the video entered into evidence is on a DVD and is not original. When either of the litigators question the contents of a video, they ask for my help to determine if any editing or alteration has occurred. I always encourage prosecutors and lawyers to maintain the original video evidence in the recorder that created it because that way, a full forensic investigation is easily executed. Once that original video is deleted, it becomes much more difficult to investigate forensically. In some cases, a properly made copy of the original evidence will include the important meta data necessary for the authentication process. Leaving the digital video file in its native format is much better than converting the video format to a DVD VOB file through the burning process.

How to Enhance CCTV Video

Monday, September 30th, 2013

CCTV enhancementAs a video forensic expert, I have enhanced CCTV video from both digital and analogue CCTV systems. In the following blog post, I would like to provide you with some steps you can take in order to assure the best results for CCTV video enhancement.

First, take the necessary steps to preserve your original CCTV recording. You may have various export options for removing the CCTV video from your system that you are not aware of. By preserving the original footage you have proof that the CCTV video has not been altered or edited after it was removed from the CCTV system. You can also consult a video forensic expert about the best methods and file format of exporting that your CCTV system is capable of.

Second, if a crime has been caught on a CCTV video system, you will want to export a copy for the local police. Most consumer CCTV video systems have easy to follow instructions for exporting AVI files from your CCTV system. Most consumer CCTV systems require a 4 GB thumb or flash drive to export to. These drives are easily available at any office supply store like Office Max or Staples. This export video is also a good way to have a video forensic expert provide a pro bono review of your CCTV recording and determine how well the information can be enhanced.

CCTV video enhancement is done using various software programs by a trained video forensic expert. Pixels are enlarged, or otherwise adjusted, in order to bring out the necessary details or information about the crime that was committed. Most CCTV systems and their cameras have night vision that will record clear images of events as they occurred for forensic enhancement.

If you would like to know more about how to enhance CCTV video recordings, give us a call at 800.647.4281, or if calling from outside the US, +1.248.853.4091. You can also email us at PrimeauForensics@Gmail.com

How To: CCTV Enhancement; Improve the Quality of My Video Evidence?

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

CCTV EvidenceYou have a video and the quality is poor. You need to see the events recorded in the video more clearly than what is currently available. Chances are that your video is probably part of a court case and has a critical impact on the judge and jury better understanding the events as they originally occurred. Video is a very powerful tool and helps law enforcement display criminal activity in the courtroom. Video also helps keep businesses secure through the use of surveillance video. When a crime is committed and caught on CCTV video, video forensics experts can help clarify and enhance that video so the court and other litigators can see the events more clearly during the court proceeding. On the other hand, maybe you have an old video, like a wedding video that has aged and damaged from poor storage or became over heated on the dashboard of your car in the hot sun. Video forensic experts have the hardware and software tools available to restore that video to a playable condition in most situations. The success of the restoration, clarification and enhancement, depends on two things; how damaged the tape is and your expectations of what is possible. Many video recordings are too far gone for the forensic expert to properly restore. However, I have found over the years that experimenting with various restoration tools, hardware and software, in various combinations, yield results. You have to have a starting point to work from to achieve results. What may seem impossible can be very possible when using various tools in various combinations. If you have a video that needs the quality improved, call us for a pro bono consultation (800) 647-4281.

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