Monday 26 September 2016

Sharing a drive between a Mac and a PC

Best practices that I follow when I need to share a hard drive (or even a USB 'pen' drive) between Mac and Windows.
I format the drive depending on which platform (Mac/PC) is going to do the maximum read and write with data on the drive.
So, for example if I'm going to do a lot of work on a Mac, I format the drive on a Mac (as HFS+ with GUID Partition Table), and then on Windows use HFS Explorer or MacDrive to do the occasional read/write on a PC.
Conversely, if I'm going to do a lot of work on a PC, I format the drive on a PC (as NTFS), and then on Mac use Paragon NTFS to do the occasional read/write on a Mac.
This applies to editing with FCP7/X or Premiere Pro on Mac, or even working with Photoshop or Excel/Numbers.
If at all I run into a problem with files on a drive, I usually repair it on the native platform. Meaning, if an NTFS drive has problems, I repair it on a PC. Or, if a HFS+ drive has problems I repair it on a Mac. Never vice versa. To repair a drive on a Mac I use Disk Utility, or if that fails, then I use Disk Utility.
And, all my data is usually backed up in two places. I use Carbon Copy Cloner or ChronoSync to keep two drives or even folders on drives synchronised with the same data. For smaller files (like FCP/Prem projects or spreadsheets, documents, or even pictures) I use DropBox, Google Drive, or iCloud to keep a copy safe.

I completely avoid MS-DOS or ExFAT for shared drives, as they are problematic over a long period.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Importing custom built (CTO) Mac systems - are they worth it?

In countries where Apple does not have an official online store, like in India, Apple sells Mac computers of certain fixed configurations. These can be seen on their country specific web site. So, if you wish to buy a Mac - MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, or MacPro - in India - you will need to choose from these configurations. 
But, in places where Apple has an online store, you can buy higher configurations called CTO (configured to order) systems.

First let's look at the highest configuration Mac you can get in India (with comments on upgradeability by the user)

MacBook Pro 15”
2.5GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD
 - Rs 1,99,900
(You can’t upgrade RAM or GPU but you can upgrade the SSD yourself)

iMac 21.5
3.1GHz quad-core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB 5400rpm drive, IrisPro 6200 GPU shared VRAM
 - Rs 1,23,900
(You can upgrade the drive but you can’t upgrade the RAM, CPU or GPU yourself)

iMac 27
3.3GHz quad-core i5, 8GB RAM, 2TB fusion drive, R9 M395 GPU 2GB VRAM
 - Rs 1,88,900
(You can upgrade RAM and drive but you can’t upgrade the CPU or GPU yourself)

3.7GHz quad-core XeonE5, 12GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Dual AMD D300 2GB VRAM each
 - Rs 2,49,900
(You can upgrade RAM and SSD but you can’t upgrade the CPU or GPU yourself)
3.5GHz six-core XeonE5, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Dual AMD D500 3GB VRAM each
 - Rs 3,29,900
(You can upgrade RAM and SSD but you can’t upgrade the CPU or GPU yourself)

But, from an Apple online store (Dubai) you could get

MacBook Pro 15”
2.8GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD
 - AED 12,699 - Rs 2,33,045

iMac 21.5
3.3GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 2TB fusion drive, IrisPro 6200 GPU shared VRAM
 - AED 8,799 - Rs 1,61,480

iMac 27
4GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB fusion drive, R9 M395 GPU 4GB VRAM
 - AED 12,799 - Rs 2,34,880

3GHz 8-core XeonE5, 32GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Dual AMD D700 6GB VRAM each
 - AED 27,199 - Rs 4,99,120
2.7GHz 12-core XeonE5, 64GB RAM, 1TB SSD, Dual AMD D700 6GB VRAM each
 - AED 38,399 - Rs 7,04,640

There is no dealer who sells these CTO Mac in Rupees here in India. The only way to get one of these is to either import them from a dealer in, say, Dubai, Singapore, or Hong Kong - the nearest online Apple store to India. Or to fly out to one of these countries and bring them back with you. You will, however have to pay customs duties on return and even possibly excess baggage on the flight (in the case of the iMac). The MacPro could be carried as hand baggage, since its small and not too heavy. (5 kg)

Customs duty is between 17%-28% as far as I can ascertain from websites like or duty calculator. Depending on what the machine gets classified as. That is, 17%-28% of the value as fixed by the customs person on arrival. If you have an invoice they may consider that as the value, or else they will do a lookup and fix a value to it. So, for instance if they fix a value of Rs 2 lakhs, then you’re looking at Rs 34,000 - Rs 56,000 customs duty. 

So the price of the above CTO configs with 28% Customs duty will be…

MacBook Pro 15”
2.8GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD
 - AED 12,699 - Rs 2,98,298

iMac 21.5
3.3GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 2TB fusion drive, IrisPro 6200 GPU shared VRAM
 - AED 8,799 - Rs 2,06,694

iMac 27
4GHz quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB fusion drive, R9 M395 GPU 4GB VRAM
 - AED 12,799 - Rs 3,00,646

3GHz 8-core XeonE5, 32GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Dual AMD D700 6GB VRAM each
 - AED 27,199 - Rs 6,38,874
2.7GHz 12-core XeonE5, 64GB RAM, 1TB SSD, Dual AMD D700 6GB VRAM each
 - AED 38,399 - Rs 9,01,939

So, is getting a CTO iMac really worth it?

In my opinion, for a MacBook Pro and iMac 21.5” the extra cost is not worth the performance boost you will see even in the most demanding applications. However, in the case of the MacBook Pro 15” you’re most likely to get out of Customs without paying duty as one laptop is duty waived. Even then, it’s not such a good deal.

In the case of the iMac 27” you’re going to have to pay Customs duty. But you may have to pay only 17%, or the Customs officer may assess it as the highest value iMac available in India since he cannot see the machine spec without turning the machine on which he’s unlikely to do. In which case it could cost as less as Rs 2,21,000 including duty. That is a good deal and the performance increase with an iMac i7 with a 4GB GPU is noticeable.

However, compared to carrying an upgraded (CTO) iMac 27” for 3,00,646 from Dubai to India, against getting a 4-core MacPro in India for Rs 2,49,900 and adding even a 4k display, I would go with a MacPro 4-core against a CTO iMac 27”

By the way, there are resellers who sell the iMac i7 in India on eBay. I saw two
Apple iMac 27” Retina 5k Display 4.0ghz i7 3tb Fusion 32gb, M395X 4gb - Rs 3,31,398 all incl
27" APPLE iMAC 4.0Ghz i7 RETINA 5K 512GB PCIe+6TB HD (6512GB) 32GB RAM M395X 4GB - Rs 4,20,353 all incl
Straight to your home by courier.

Here too, for these prices, a 4-core MacPro bought in India against Rupees is a better deal.

One more thing. Buying a CTO iMac in foreign currency and carrying it in, or even buying it online, may not let you claim depreciation or income tax benefits in India. This could be a big consideration. Besides, maybe there are warranty issues to consider for self-imported Mac systems.

So, bottom line. Most CTO Mac configs aren’t worth the trouble and expense of importing into India. 

What about a hackintosh - meaning, an assembled PC hacked to run the MacOS. Is that a good deal? Many say they are, and some say they aren’t. I have very little direct experience and the few occasions I saw a hackintosh running an editing software like FCP or Avid, it was not stable enough. This was a few years ago, and maybe things have changed now. One of these days I might find time and build one myself. If and when I do that, I’ll share the experience. 

Till then, my vote is for getting a ‘real’ Mac made by Apple. In India and in Rupees.

Friday 15 May 2015

What is this 23.98 fps and 24 fps confusion?

First off, 23.976 fps and 23.98 fps is the same thing, One is just showed as rounded off to two decimals.

There is some confusion on this 23.98 fps frame rate. Many, if not most prosumer cameras - like the Canon 5D MkII and MkIII, Nikon, Sony, Olympus HDSLRs, GoPro, Sony XDCam and NXCam, Panasonic cameras and such like record 23.98 fps, not 24 fps. What makes it confusing is the the menus in some of these cameras show 24p or 24 fps but actually shoot 23.976 fps. 

Further, even some NLEs like FCP or Avid, have 24p settings which are actually 23.98. And, in forums and articles particularly those originating in NTSC countries like the US, people refer to 23.976 fps as 24 fps. 

So, why 23.98 fps? What purpose does an odd frame rate like that serve? This is a question many in the PAL world, or those coming from film (24 fps) backgrounds ask. 

The short answer is that 24 fps video does not play on 29.97 fps TV sets or TV monitors. But 23.98 fps can be made to play on 29.97 fps monitors. But the whole world does not have 29.97 fps TV monitors, only the US and NTSC countries have 29.97 fps TV monitors. That’s why people from NTSC countries cannot fathom 24 fps video. They only understand 23.98 fps video. And people from PAL 25 fps countries cannot fathom 23.98 fps. They only know 24 and 25.

Where did 23.98 fps come from?


Television originated in the US. Initially, there was only live TV (video recording came later). So, there needed to be some way to ensure that TV cameras in studios and TV sets at home remained in perfect sync. The only way for the technology of the day, was to sync to electrical mains. And mains in the US was 60 Hz. So the original fps of TV was set to 30 Hz or 30 fps. 

When colour TV came about, a small adjustment had to be made to transmit the colour reference signal. This needed the frame rate for colour TV (in the US) to be set to 29.97 fps. Which is why NTSC is still 29.97 fps. And there’s no such thing as 30 fps any more. Even in HD, 1080i60 is actually 29.97 fps.

In the PAL world, meanwhile, TV began as 25fps since electrical mains in UK and other European countries, was 50 Hz. So, PAL countries adopted 25 fps for TV.

Coincidentally, all cricket playing countries, also have 50 Hz mains - England, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, UAE, Netherlands, even Afghanistan are all PAL and 25 fps. Canada isn’t PAL, and they play cricket, but who really cares about watching Canadian cricket.

Film and TV

What happens to film which is 24 fps? Film has always been 24 fps. Exactly 24 fps.

When film was shown on TV, it was shown using a machine called ‘Telecine’ which converted film to Television. In NTSC countries, this was done by repeating 6 frames every second so 24 fps became 30 fps in the Black & White TV days. For colour TV (NTSC - 29.97 fps), film was run at 23.976 fps and 6 frames repeated every second to get 29.97 fps.

In PAL countries, film was either run at 25 fps (4% faster) to get a 25 fps TV signal, or one frame was repeated every second to get 25 fps from 24 fps. So, in PAL countries film was 24 fps in a cinema and 25 fps on TV. No in-betweens like 23.98 fps.


When video became digital, it still had to follow existing frame rates. And when SD got upgraded to HD, we still followed old frame rates so that old SD material could be used for HD TV. Today, we have TV sets which can play any frame rate, so there’s no need to have a distinction between video and film rates. But its too late to change now. 

So now, we have 
1080i50, 1080p25, and 720p25 all at 25 fps
1080p50 at 50 fps
1080i60, 1080p30, and 720p30 all at 29.97 fps
1080p24 at 23.98 fps
1080p50 at 59.94 fps

and there’s also 1080p24 in the PAL world at exactly 24 fps. 

Movies are watched in cinemas on digital projectors showing DCPs (Digital Cinema master files) playing out of DCP ‘servers’. These servers support all frame rates, but theatrical ‘film’ is generally 24 fps. At least in all Indian cinemas, and in most film festivals worldwide.

Blu-ray disks are either 24 fps or 23.98 fps. Or even 25 fps.
DVDs are NTSC or PAL, so 29.97 fps or 25 fps.

Professional video cameras like the Arri Alexa/Amira, Red Epic/Dragon, Sony F65/F55/F5, Blackmagic Ursa/Production 4k, Aja Cion and others offer 23.98 fps, 24 fps, 25 fps, 29.97 fps, and higher frame rates. So they offer 23.98 and 24 fps as two different menu items.

How about 4k?

4k also preserves this 23.98 and 24 fps distinction and both exist. 4k cinema DCPs are 4k at 24 fps. And 4k TV, also called UHD (the TV form of 4k) will exist as 29.97 and 25 fps. And even as 50 fps and 59.94 fps.

So that’s the story. 23.98 fps, is not the same thing as 24 fps. Both will be around and both will co-exist. And depending on who you ask, or what you read, some will distinguish between the two and some will refer to only one. And those that refer to only one, will most likely mean 23.98 fps. That’s just the way it is, and for the foreseeable future, that’s how it will remain.

Saturday 11 April 2015

NAB 2015 - what I'm looking out for

It's NAB time once again, and I'm back in the US. Spending the weekend away from Las Vegas, unwinding, reading up, preparing, and getting over jet lag just before I go into Vegas tomorrow.

This year, the things I'm paying attention are...

4k - where are we so far? 4k Recorders, recording software, formats, codecs.
New cameras for prosumers, docu and independent film-makers Canon XC-10, C300, and others.
Wireless video - not the streamed low-res stuff, but full res HD and uncompressed.
Disk Storage - of course, disks will be larger than last year, faster perhaps, but what's new?
10 GigE - faster networking and sharing for small groups.
VFX software - what's new in this field where no one seems to be making money.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

FCP 7 on Yosemite and new Macs

FCP 7 still works, and can be installed on any new Mac even one which ships with Mac OSX 10.10 Yosemite, as this link shows...

FCP 7 on Mac OSX 10.10 Yosemite

I've tested this on new MacBook Pros, older MacPros, and new cylinder MacPros, iMacs, and FCP 7 continues to work. So, while Apple officially discontinued selling and even developing for FCP 7 (and Final Cut Studio), the software still works. Of course, any bugs or issues present in FCP 7 as of June 2011, will still be there and never get fixed.

I've found some issues in DVD Studio Pro like colours of buttons aren't visible in the drop down menu, and Cinema Tools is often unstable. But otherwise it works.

Blackmagic Digital Fusion the new compositing software

Eyeon Digital Fusion, a compositing and FX software, is now Blackmagic Digital Fusion. Its also free to download and use. Advanced features are in the paid version which is under Rs 65,000.

Its for Windows only at the moment, but a Mac version might be possibly in the works. Or, maybe, compositing features might find their way into DaVinci Resolve. Let's wait and see.

Saturday 2 August 2014

Which iPad (Aug 2014)

There is a comparison of all current iPads at Apple India site with prices...

There are four models available (as of Aug 2014)
iPad Air
iPad with Retina
iPad mini with Retina
iPad mini

Prices for all models and variants are on that page too. Here's what MRP in India as in Aug 2014 look like...

From this, here are things to consider when choosing an iPad…
  1. There are two ‘mini’ models and two full size models.
  2. The full-size iPad with Retina is the older model with the older processor. Means, slower.
  3. The full-size iPad Air is the newest model. Fastest.
  4. The full-size iPad Air and the small iPad mini retina are identical except for size.
  5. The full-size iPad Air and the small iPad mini retina models differ by Rs 7000 across all variants.
  6. The two full size models and the mini retina have the same resolution.
  7. All models with Wifi+3G cost Rs 9000 more than the corresponding one with Wifi only.
  8. The full size iPad retina (not Air) and iPad mini (not retina) are available only as 16 GB.
So, which one?

If you need… 
Internet everywhere, then get any Wifi+3G variant.
to play fast games, then get iPad Air or iPad mini retina.
don’t need to work on large documents, have lots of photos or music then get higher memory.

My recommendations…

Larger screen, tight budget, basic documents, Internet, some music, Skype, wifi always available 
 - iPad retina 16 GB Rs 29,000 - add 3G for Rs 9,000 more
Ultra portable, basic document work, some photos, movies, occasional games
 - iPad mini Retina Wifi 32 GB Rs 36,000 - add 3G for Rs 9,000 more 
Lots of games, music, movies, need continuous Internet
 - iPad Air 64 GB Wifi+3G Rs 59,000 - 32 GB enough, deduct Rs 7,000

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Alexa transcodes and MPEG Streamclip

There seem to be a few ‘DITs’ in Mumbai who are in the crooked business of converting Alexa files using MPEG Streamclip and creating files with no timecode or reel name match with the original Alexa files. The result of this is that, after the editor finishes editing, the DI house cannot match the EDL to the original files. Editor gets the blame, and he/she or his/her assistant has to rematch the entire film. Days of wasted labour for no fault of theirs.

DI houses, to their credit or discredit sometimes perpetuate this “editor is to blame” myth and even go on to do the rematching on a Smoke system and charge the poor producer. For an activity that was not even necessary.

Here are details…

The picture shows Alexa original files in an FCP project side by side with MPEG Streamclip transcodes. You can see clearly that the transcoded files have no timecode (Media Start and Media End) and no Reel.

If you make an edit with these clips, and try to make an EDL, you get a missing reel names warning like this one.

If you continue, you get an EDL with warnings.

The exact same clips, if correctly transcoded with timecode preserved, will make an EDL which has the exact same timecode of the original. See this comparison on both EDLs.

As you can see, the EDL made with MPEG Streamclip transcodes don't carry original time codes, and have no Reel info, so they will never match back to original files.

So, if you’re an editor who has to edit a digitally shoot movie, please first check all the transcoded files for the presence of reel name and timecode. If there's no reel name and the timecode doesn’t match the original file, please bring it to the notice of the producer, quote this article if needed, and let them know that this could be problematic when doing DI.

If you haven’t started editing yet, get the files transcoded again before you begin. And, if you’ve already finished the edit, then there is still a way to mathematically calculate the cut start and end times and recreate EDLs without having to eye-match the whole edit.

Thursday 29 May 2014

Sony FS-100 compatibility with FCP 7 or X and Premiere Pro

Tip for Sony FS-100 camera users. 

Sony FS-100 shoots a format called AVCHD. This can be edited on FCP 7 (7.0.3) or FCP X (10.1.1). 
In FCP 7 you import clips with 'Log & Transfer'. In FCP X just import clips.

If you shoot HD PS (28Mbps) 1920x1080 50p or 60p, then FCP 7 will not be able to import your files. 
But FCP X (10.1.1) or Premiere Pro CC will.

If you need to edit in FCP 7, you'll need to shoot 
HD FX (24Mbps) 1920x1080 25p or 
HD FH (17Mbps),1920x1080 25p, 
or if you must have 50i/60i, then shoot 
HD FX (24Mbps) 1920x1080 50i or 60i, or 
HD FH (17Mbps) 1920x1080 50i.

In FCP 7 or X, convert to ProRes LT is sufficient, ProRes or ProResHQ is overkill for this format.

Either way, always copy the entire camera card to a folder on your drive. Not just some folder. Copy the 'PRIVATE' folder and any other folder to you drive. Copy to a new folder each card. To avoid dupe clips, use a card, transfer it to hard drive, return it to the camera, format it and use again. Reusing the card will create duplicates on your hard disk.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Digital camera post data workflow

For shoots on Arri Alexa, Red Epic, Sony F65, Canon 5D, Phantom, or any such digital camera, is there a preferred workflow for the post?

When the edit is complete and its time to extract files for promos, for VFX, or even for the final DI, most producers send the original hard disks (al 20, 30, 50 or more drives) to the DI facility. Places  like Prime Focus, Reliance, Prasad or wherever. 

In these studios there are a bunch of very over worked in-house data managers and conformists who use the hunt-and-copy technique to copy the selected files from original disk to their own Baselight or Resolve or whatever. 

Delays, wrong files, confusion, tempers… and other such dramas end up happening.

What’s the best way to do this? Is there some kind of data or file management in post? Can someone who can handle this workflow more elegantly?

Over the past few years, and after doing it for a dozen films, I’ve worked out a cleaner method.

  1. First, I make a database of all your hard drives. Which should be anything between 10 to 20 to 50 individual drives. And data spanning anything between 10 Terabytes to 100 Terabytes. All this happens at the producer’s office, or they can send drives to my place. I save only the file names and paths, no pictures. Or sounds.
  2. Then, as and when files are needed, I call for the Avid or FCP sequence. No need to make EDLs or XMLs or anything. 
  3. Then, my software scripts go through the Avid or FCP (or even Premiere Pro) sequence extract needed files, and search my database for the needed files. No need to access the hard drives yet. So all this can happen at my place and you can simply email me the Avid or FCP sequence.
  4. Then I build scripts to automatically copy the necessary shots to another hard disk for sending to Promos, VFX, DI or wherever.
The result is that instead of carting all your tens of hard disks to the DI place, you only send out a small drive containing only the used shots and nothing else. And, to save space and time at both ends, I can even ‘trim’ the original shots to the required duration plus handles.

Sending me a reference mov helps me to confirm that I have the right shots. But that’s optional. If the original conversion from camera files to FCP or Avid files was done accurately by the data manager on location, then my systems and software usually pick the shots fine.

As an example, for a movie that released last week, the original F65 data was spread over about 15 drives, about 30 Terabytes. The sorting took just about 2 days. And the sorted reels were ready at about 4-5 hour intervals. So, 4 hours after I got the edit, the DI could begin.
And the total sorted data with 1 sec handles was just 4 TB. And this is the archive the production needs to keep a backup of after the film is released.

Conversion, transcoding, dailies

After the shoot one needs shooting files need to be converted (or transcoded) to something before editing can begin. That something can be Apple ProRes for FCP or DNxHD for Avid. 

This conversion is usually done by the on-location data manager. But, with the sheer volume of shooting, multiple cameras being used, time to backup being huge with older laptops, data managers often find the task daunting. So, they sometimes end up with errors like not passing the original timecode, reel names, or even at times messing up file names.

If I or my systems do the original conversion on a daily basis, then the database of your drives is built as we go. So, in the end, shot spotting and copying is much faster and more accurate. So, productions send me one copy of the shooting drive on a daily basis after packup each day. And I do conversions overnight and you have editable dailies the next morning. For outstation shoots, they cargo the drive to me every few days and I do the conversions.

So, digital shooting need not be a nightmare in post and DI. Some planning, some competence in data handling, and its a breeze.