May 10th through the 14th of 2021, Amped Software offered a live online training course for their Amped FIVE Forensic Image and Video Enhancement product. This five-day beginner to intermediate level course was designed for investigators and forensic analysts looking for a well-balanced course in the field of image and video forensics. Starting with fundamental basics and an overview of image and video theory, through challenges in forensic analysis, all the way to reconstructing, enhancing and reporting, this course has got it all. Amped FIVE is packed with so many features, it’s like having a version of Photoshop on steroids, but with so much more included. It is a very powerful single software solution for both image and video analysis and enhancement.
The course materials were provided well in advance of the start of the class, which gave me a little time to read through some of the material beforehand in order to get a better grasp of what was in store. The trial version of the software installed without issue and worked seamlessly on my standalone forensic machine throughout the course.
The live online instruction was to be set up through Zoom, and since my forensic machine is an offline standalone system, I set up the live instruction on a laptop, all of which worked perfectly throughout the course. The live online course was a plus, since it could be attended from the comfort of participants’ own homes or offices. I have attended many forensic courses in person, this being my first live online, but I felt no disadvantages at the mode of instruction.
The instructor was extremely friendly, knowledgeable and highly experienced with the inner workings of the software and course materials. He fit perfectly in the role, by providing the information in an easy to comprehend fashion, incorporating real life experiences, analogies and comical anecdotes to keep everyone’s attention. He also took the time to make sure everyone was up to speed before moving on to other topics or practical exercises.
The other students were great, they all came with varying levels of knowledge and experience with the use of Amped FIVE. The examples provided for the practical hands-on workshops worked hand in hand with the inner workings and features of the software.
Day one started off with an intro from the instructor, leading into the usual introductions around the class, and then a brief overview of the software and history of the company. Amped FIVE’s GUI is very simple and easy to navigate. It is loaded with over 100 types of filters, and includes detailed descriptions of the capabilities of each one.
The day continued on with lectures (and some real-life experiences) on fundamental basics and an overview of image and video theory. Although the content could be seen to be quite dry, it was actually very informative and presented in an easy to comprehend way. This kind of information is a necessity, especially if you will be called upon to testify in court. How do you think you would be perceived by a jury, when asked to define what an image is, and you respond “an image is a picture”? Instead, you could respond by saying “an image is a picture that has been created or copied and stored in electronic form.” It sounds much better presented that way, it explains it in a simple and technical way which gives the jury a better understanding of the case you are presenting.
As day one was coming to an end, so did the lectures, and we moved on to start learning about a group of filters called the Adjust group and getting into the practical examples. The Adjust group consisted of fourteen filters which allow the user to correct issues with contrast, brightness and color to render the image to be viewed more clearly.
The Histogram Equalization filter was used to correct the contrast in the following image. I have placed the images side by side to show the before and after using another filter called Compare Original. The Histogram Equalization filter improves the image contrast by uniformly distributing the pixel values.
The Retinex filter was used to correct an uneven illumination in the image, as you can see in the side by side comparison below. It maintains the proper lighting in the view outside the window and corrects the interior of the room so that it can be viewed more clearly.
Day two picked up where we had left off the previous day, digging into the filters. The instructor started off introducing various filters and giving step by step instructions while we followed along with the practical exercises. I enjoyed all of the practical exercises, and I continued practising after the class was over.
The Correct Perspective filter from the Edit group was another that I believe would end up being used many times during investigations. This filter removes the perspective effect on a plane of interest in the image, allowing you to place it into a position that makes it easier to view for presenting. Below is a before and after comparison of an image that has been treated using the Correct Perspective filter.
The Deblurring group of filters is also a useful set of tools. This group of six filters are essentially designed to bring frames into a more viewable focus. The optical deblurring filter corrects the blur of objects that are out of focus (big blur). The motion deblurring filter corrects the blur caused by linear motion, or something moving through the scene. Usually, the camera is stationary and there is an object moving through the scene. The nonlinear deblurring filter corrects the blur caused by nonlinear motion, typically caused by a moving camera.
Example of optical deblurring, before and after
Example of nonlinear deblurring, before and after
Day three and four consisted of more in-depth instruction on many more features of the software, such as Denoise filters which are designed to reduce image noise; stabilization filters to stabilize shaking video frames; and a 3D measure tool, which extracts real-world measurements from images, providing you have at least one real-world known measurement starting on the same plane at the subject. There was also plenty of instruction on video enhancing, playing, cropping and recording into different formats.
In the past I have run into issues with proprietary video files being submitted for review or enhancement, without the proprietary video player being provided. Many hours have been wasted attempting to look for a proper codec to play the video, or finding third party software capable of converting the video to a playable format. Amped FIVE has the ability to either play proprietary video files directly or convert it to a playable format. You could then combine specific filters from the Load group along with the Write group when it is necessary to convert a sequence to a video, or a video to a sequence, or a video from one format to another.
As for day five, the course concluded with bringing all the instruction together into one full case scenario practical, for which I will definitely not be providing any spoilers!
Throughout the course the instructor was able to move along at a good pace, as the students seemed to grasp the material and complete the practical exercises quickly and accurately. If there were any questions, or if anyone needed extra help going back over the practical exercises, he was more than happy to assist.
As with any software, there is a learning curve, but if you follow the instruction closely and practise the practical exercises, you will start to get a better feel for which filters to use in each instance. There two additional very helpful features built into the software within the help dropdown menu, called Tutorials and Quick Start Guide. They are both web-based html documents that provide step by step instructions for features such as using specific filters, generating reports, loading files, modifying filters, processing video, exporting video and more.
Overall, I had a very positive experience with the Amped FIVE training course and would highly recommend this course to anyone in the digital forensics field who is in need of enhancing image and video footage. Having never used Amped FIVE prior to the start of this course, I feel very confident walking away from this course with the knowledge I obtained about the software features, and being able to use it on my own in real world situations.