Sunday, 17 December, 2006

Film restoration with PFClean

I just saw a demo of a film restoration software callede PFClean. And I can't wait to get my hand on an eval version.

PFClean is a software made by Pixel Farm, a UK based company. It runs on a Macs and is ready for the Intel Macs. Pixel Farm sell it as software (really pricey) or a turnkey system complete with render processors. If you get the software-only, you need a really beefy new MacPro and fast hard disk arrays. And separate XServes or MacPros to render as well.

PFClean can open a variety of file formats but it really feeds of DPX. It can resolve time code as well as preserve directory tree structures so it integrates well in a DI pipeline.

What PFClean does is to open a set of DPX file sequences directly or via an EDL. It then analyzes these images for the usual scratches, dust, and other marks. It then repairs them and shows you the result. But it does this non-destructively. Meaning you can go over the corrections and choose to implement ot commit them or to tweak them and then apply. Or you can even choose to ignore them and do your own manually.

Apart from the obvious marks and blemishes, PFClean can also work on warps and shakes caused by sprocket damage or joints. It does this manually or can be set to do it automatically.

I didn't get a chance to actually measure how fast PFClean works. Maybe with an eval one can make it go through an entire jumbo reel and see how it does. Also, whether it works faster in HD or SD mode compared to native 2k files.

In the months and years to come, film restoration is set to become another important fact of the film and video post business, along with CGI/Graphics and VFX. Who knows, if we do it correctly we can actually be a worldwide centre for film restoration.

Sunday, 3 December, 2006

Apple Final Touch

No there's no such product just yet. So this is just a collection of three English words till now. But some weeks ago, Apple bought Silicon Color the company that makes Final Touch. There's no word yet on whether Apple will re-release this as their own product, or merge it with one of their own.

But ever since, Silicon Color have issued one update, so the product seems to be alive for now. But speculation is rife on what this acquisition means to us in video and film post.

Silicon Color had three colour correction or grading products - FinalTouch SD ($ 1000) to grade SD video projects, FinalTouch HD ($ 5000) to grade HD and SD video projects, and FinalTouch 2k ($ 25000) to grade HD/SD as well as 2k film projects. All three were closely integrated with Apple's Final Cut Pro editing system. So one could export a timeline as XML an import that into FT to grade from there.

So maybe Apple will re-release this as their own Apple Final Touch, just like they did with Apple Shake, and Apple Logic. Or they may change the name to something else like they did with DVD Studio Pro (I've forgotten what it was called) or Film Logic (now CinemaTools). Or they may merge it into their own products like they did with Astarte and Compressor.

There's speculation that the ability to work with DPX files and conform them against XML from FCP may be merged into FCP, and the grading technology might make it into a composiiting app that will replace Shake. If Shake is to be replaced and not just merged with Motion.

So interesting wait ahead. Especially for editors. And we move one step closer to the inevitable. Editing systems which develop the ability to grade. So far we've had most of the reverse - grading systems that have editing features added. Something that's drying up as most grading systems at their core don't have abilities that editing systems had for over ten years now.

Because ultimately the audience will always accept a well edited if averagely graded film over a well graded but poorly edited film. Which is what todays grading systems often result in.

Sunday, 26 November, 2006

Hindi movie DVD authoring

I've just finished authoring the DVD for a movie called 'Don' starring Shahrukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Isha Koppikar and Directed by Farhan Akhtar. The DVD is set to be released in the US in the first week of Dec, and a bit later in other parts of the world. An Indian version will release some weeks from now.

I used Apple DVD Studio Pro for the entire job and Final Cut Pro for the slight editing, sound syncing and other video processes. Its not all finished yet, but there were quite some learnings from this.

For one thing, Hindi movies are usually 170-190 mins in duration. Compared to most English movies which are between 90 and 130 mins. So the compression used is much greater. And the picture gets coarser. Further most post houses do a telecine to video for the DVD. This sometimes adds a small shake in the picture and that too adds to the quality hit since the compressor has to work harder.

And NTSC. For some reason all Hindi films have to be released in NTSC. So the PAL - NTSC or 24fps - NTSC conversion adds a further hit to the picture quality with the added interpolated frames.

For Don I made the DVD for from the original digital files that were created after DI and used to write to film for the final negative. So I had none of these problems. And the resulting picture looks definitely cleaner and sharper - no dirt, scratches and hair. And the colours are exactly what the Cinematographer and colourist set while grading the film.

The process is much slower however. Telecine could have been done in about half a day while this conversion can take many days of rendering. But the sheer quality gain makes it worth while. I believe Don is the first Hindi movie DVD to be made this way.

On DVDs. The structure of a DVD is governed by a DVD specification laid down many years ago. A lot of the visual effects that we're used to seeing on TV are simply not permissible on a DVD. Soft shadows, fast moving intros, transitions all are complex images that tend to break up into compression 'blockies' unless one is really careful.

A 'normal' DVD also called DVD-9 can hold about 8.5 Gb. This amounts to about 8200 Mb numerically. The data is spread over two layers both on the same side. So layer 0 is the bottom layer written from the inside to the outside. When the laser reaches the outermost edge it switched layers and starts reading inwards. This layer switch has to be at the same place on the DVD. Which means that layer 0 cannor be smaller than layer 1.

And there is a small pause between layers which depends on your player's ability to switch focus. Naturally the best point to place this break is at the interval. But for that the first half has to be longer than the second half. If your movie has a longer second half you have to make a break somewhere after the interval.

Add to this the fact that the company that markets the DVD add so many ads, trailers and promos that its not unusual to have to sit through 5-8 mins of promotionals before one gets to see the movie. And none of this can be 'fast-forwarded'. This could get very irritating. In Don, I've made most of this stuff skippable.

Finally, colours. As most users will see the DVD on just about any TV set - from a 5 year old CRT to a new large plasma - its really had to make a picture that will look universally good. Especially in India where the average home has a rather poorly adjusted TV set.

This is not the same challenge as telecast, Because in telecast at least the system sending out the signal is common and of good quality. Whereas in DVD, the source - a DVD player - is individual and different in every home. So its impossible to preview a DVD as it would appear in 'the average home'. For Don, I set my judgement to an 'average' DVD player, and a 'standard' broadcast monitor. And did a second check at home on a rather well calibrated 5 year old TV set.

But overall, this is not a very heartening experience. Add to this the fact that the authoring and QC process can take almost a week to 10 days and is not billed for as an additional service makes this a not very encouraging job. But some day I hope to be able to use these learnings in making DVD authoring a moe valued job function.

Tuesday, 26 September, 2006

Digital Cinema - still needs film

Yes Digital Cinema, DCinema, still needs film to get going.

I'm just wrapping up the DI (digital intermediate) for a major Hindi feature film. And they will release that film worldwide with about 800 film prints. Besides, one DCinema company will release the film digitally at hundreds of theatres all over India.

There's still a month for release, so I got into some testing with the Digital Cinema release company. It turns out they work like this...

1. Producer hands over a final negative. And Dolby sound tracks (on Hi-8 or some other medium)
2. They telecine the negative to D-5. Meaning 1:7 compression depending on how they do it.
3. Format is 1080p25. So film is run at 24+1 in telecine. Motion artifacts? Need to see this.
4. They capture this D-5 into their system. Its a PC so maybe they use something like Premiere.
5. Marry the Picture and sound and compress/encrypt.
6. Final MPEG-4 is distributed over satellite or removable hard disks.

The producer gets to pay a fixed sum for the telecine. So maybe they've got a good deal with someone with an old CRT telecine somewhere.

I got into this and offered to give them the movie digitally since we're grading on Lustre. And I have the means (and a good reason) to convert these through our look-up tables into a format of their choice. They chose QuickTime Uncompressed. I made a small 2 min sample (really huge and great looking file).

First we went into a back and forth because their cheap USB drives simply couldn't transfer this without errors. I offered Firewire hard disks at my expense.

After about 10 days they came back and said their method (neg to D-5 to compressed) produced identical results to my digital to digital suggestion.

Look at the chain in the method they follow...

1. Film originally shot on 35 mm film.
2. 35 mm film scanned to hard disk.
3. Graded on Lustre. Digital processing. Mostly lossless.
4. Digital files output to film. Some loss here from the original.
5. Processed film telecine'd. Colour correction and some motion artifacts.
6. Compression on tape. D-5, 4:1 or 7:1
7. Tape captured to disk. Decompression from tape for HD-SDI and further compression in capture hardware.
8. Compression to MPEG4 for transmission. More compression.

Sure they say this looks good. And sure hundreds of theatres have shown this to thousands of people. And sure most people won't tell the difference anyway. But hey, why don't we shoot VHS and distribute VCD? Most people can't tell between that and Betacam anyway right?

I'm running out of patience. So the end result is that this film will be released digitally but with the help of film.

Wednesday, 20 September, 2006

HDV in Quantel eQ, Autodesk Smoke, Flame, Lustre

HDV is to 'mainstream HD' what DV is to SD. A small, compressed, reasonable quality low-cost medium that brings tools of movie-making and general videography to the masses. And its not just weddings, birthdays, anniversaries that will be shot with HDV. TV shows, commercials and as I wrote last week, even full-length movies are being shot and will continue to be shot on HDV.

Almost anyone who's seen HDV will agree that it is no match for 35mm or even HD. But that won't stop anyone from using it. The lure of the medium and the promises are too much and most anyone will at least give it one try.

With HDV, after the shoot is over, the challenge of editing and finishing is a whole new enterprise. The so-called 'offline' systems like Avid XPress, Liquid, Final Cut Pro, Vegas, Premiere and others all can capture HDV directly from a camcorder/deck. But clients don't want to work on these systems alone. They want to finish their films on the so-called 'online' systems like Autodesk Smoke, Flame, Quantel eQ and even iQ. For colour correction, keying, stabilization, whatever.

But none of these can directly capture from HDV camcorder/decks. Unless one uses special converters and decks. Later this month I will be using a Miranda HDV bridge that converts HDV to HD-SDI and even sports RS-422 deck control. So with this and a HDV deck one will be able to capture to any of these online systems from HDV decks. As uncompressed HD.

Last night I completed a workflow where a client shot a commercial on HDV, captured to his FCP station as HDV 1080i50 (thats HDV native) and edited it. He then gave his rushes as one Quicktime movie and an EDL to conform it.

The rushes were one long 4o min Quicktime movie with the HDV 1080I50. Opening this in Autodesk Smoke/Flame/Lustre is out of the question. Those systems don't open these 'consumer' formats. So I took it to a Quantel eQ (new, ver 3.5 1.14 or something like that). This system can open Quicktime movies.

But even that couldn't do it. One issue is that Quantel systems (which are WinXP PCs) run Quicktime 6 and not later. And Quantel doesn't recommend Quicktime 7. Even if they did, HDV and Apple Intermediate codec doesn't work on QT Windows any version.

So I had to export the HDV 1080i50 movie to Uncompresssed Quicktime 1080i50. I did that using Compressor. Now the original 7 Gb file became 225 Gb. Just 40 mins of rushes. So thats another thing to think about when capturing from HDV to Smoke/Flame or eQ/iQ. Through the HDV bridge as HD-SDI, HDV quickly fills up hard disk space.

Even after exporting as Uncompressed HD, eQ couldn't really play it smoothly. Some field/frame rate issue cropped up. So the eQ artist had to do something like render it out so it could play smoothly. And incidentally, the conversion stripped the original HDV movie of its time code so the point of this excercise to conform rushes was lost. Hmmm.

Eventually we opened the conformed film in FCP, exported that out as one 30 sec QT, then manually extended all clips by one min head and tail and exported that 'spread out' edit. Converted both these to Uncompressed QT and sent that to eQ. So they would have handles there. What a drag.

So bottom line. If you're shooting HDV...
1. Check out the video quality against other mediums like DVCProHD, HDCam, HDCamSR, even DigiBeta.
2. Capture and edit on an 'offline' system.
3. Master back to SD DigiBeta or HD or whatever on the 'offline' system itself.
4. If there are shots needing work on an online system, then export them Uncompressed Quicktime, or DPX, separately.
5. Take the whole film as another large Uncompressed Quicktime, or DPX.
6. Work on the shots needing work and then assemble them with the full film in the 'online' system.
7. Master out of the 'online' system.

But there's still work needed. Some more research and trial and error before one can recommend this workflow. And for a film going out to 35mm? Will check that out soon.

And if you're looking at doing HDV, do take a good look at Sony Z1 alternatives like the Canon XL-H1, JVC GY HD-100 even Panasonic HVX-200. You might be surprised.

Sunday, 17 September, 2006

HDV to film

Yes, you read right. Shoot on HDV, grade and record out to film for showing in theatres. I've just concluded one such assignment. My role was to supervise the conversions from HDV to a form suitable for grading. The film was shot on a HDV camcorder. Then graded on a Lustre while monitoring on a large-screen projection. Some compositing required was done on Flame and Shake and in a few days from now we'll output to 35 mm film.

I'll have more workflow details as soon as I see results in a theatre and, of course, seek the producer's permission to write publicly about this.

Monday, 21 August, 2006

Film and DPI

How many dpi is 35mm movie film?

A film maker friend asked for stills scanned from his 35mm original movie film frames. For publicity. And the agency wanted 300 dpi. My million-dollar Spirit scanner does 4k. So it scans a 35mm frame in a size 2048x1556 or 4096x3112. So how many dpi is that?

I set about thinking. First off, dpi is dots per inch. It is a measure for printed material. As in printed on paper. Inkjet printers do 600 or more dpi. So whether you hold the printout an inch from your nose ot at arm's length there's still 600 dots in one inch. But film? How many dpi?

When working in Photoshop one often encounters a figure of 72 dpi for TV. That is arrived at by assuming a 14" TV set. Such a set shows a picture about 13" diagonal. Which by using Pythagoras gives you about 10.6 by 8 in. For a PAL 720x576 picture that's about 72 dpi. So TV is 72 dpi for a 14" TV set. For a 20" set it is 48 dpi and a 29" TV shows just 33 dpi.

So basically for non-print images dpi is not fixed, but varies by the size of the medium. So how about film? Better than 72 dpi? Can we get some 300 dpi please?

Here's my take and I may not be entirely correct. Here goes anyway...

35mm film scanners for movie production scan at 2048x1556 pixels (at 2k) or 4096x3112 pixels (at 4k). At 2k (2048x1556) a standard 35mm frame of 18x24 mm is about 2200 dpi on the film. At 4096x3112 you've got about 4400 dpi. Impressive, but noone watches film on film. They watch it projected on a screen in a theatre.

In a theatre the same 35mm frame gets blown up to a giant screen of, say, 20 feet across. Now since the number of pixels remain unchanged you have a picture 2048 pixels by 1556 pixels. At 20 feet across, that's just over 8 dpi. Even a scan of 4096x3112 (4k) yields only 17 dpi. Appalling!

But hey, you watch that screen from 50 feet away. So you're not going to see it as 8 dpi. Its like they print magazines at 300 dpi, but the same ads in a magazine are printed on hoardings not at 300 dpi, but much less, like 10 dpi or something.

So dpi is a measure for fixed size printed matter. Which can be viewed at varying distances even very close. But film and TV are not fixed and can be viewed in various sizes and distances. But never too close. So dpi doesn't apply to film at all.

Monday, 14 August, 2006

16mm vs HD for DI

Hardly a week passes when a prospective producer/director/DP calls and gets into a discussion on HD as a medium for film shooting. Resolutions, latitudes, sharpness, examples, dos and donts follow and the discussion always ends with the usual - "Sure its like film but..."

I spend a lot of time looking at digital film images. I work with a post setup in Mumbai which is the only one of its kind that has a 'near-2k' (soon to be full 4k) digital cinema projector. And this projector Is not your standard 'Powerpoint' projector, but a high resolution, Cinema-quality projector.
The point is, if you aren't looking at theatrical release bound images in a theatrical environment, you're always going to be surprised when it goes out to film eventually.

While debating the merits and demerits of shooting HD for theatrical release, many fall for the hard-sell of compressed 1280x720 HD formats. And some dabble with the latest compressed 1080 interlaced HDV.

But I have still to meet someone who even considers 1080p HD uncompressed - the only format that truly approaches film. But even 1080p uncompressed comes nowhere close to the sheer joy of a true 35 mm picture shot with a prime lens. Well graded and put out to 35mm. Nothing at all.

Sadly enough, budgets needed to film and finish in 35mm film are getting harder to find. And with 'let's do DI' mantra, nearly any of the benefits of shooting 35 are harder to sell. So HD seems extremely attractive alternative to 35mm flim.

Wait a minute. How about 16mm? It's film after all. The camera is small and quiet and doesn't need the complicated setup of HD cameras. Most DOPs are comfortable with the basic methodology of shooting 16 so they can concentrate on crafting great-looking shots instead of wading through menus and sub-menus looking for a setting to change something. Or fiddle with tiny controls and do colour tweaks that are easier to achieve in post. And while shooting HD, without a good calibrated monitor on set you just can't judge how your blacks are going to really look (and this is NOT racial).

And if you're doing DI scanning 16mm at 2k is as good as scanning 35mm at 4k. Yes sure, think about it. If your scanner - Spirit4k or Arriscan - scans the entire 16mm image area at 2k, its going to resolve as much detail as a 4k scan would see in a 35mm image area.

16mm stock is also cheaper by a third. 400 foot magazines run 11 mins so you're good to go for long scenes and multiple takes. Especially in songs.

Earlier this year, Arri introduced a new 16mm camera. The Arriflex 416. I've seen the 416 at an exhibition. Seems like everything a cinematographer would want in a movie camera. It does super16 so a naturally 16:9 frame aspect. Arri has done a great job of describing the camera as well as pointing out benefits in a digital world so I won't repeat it. Just head over to...

So the pros of shooting 16mm over not shooting film at all would be...
1. Small light cable-free camera.
2. Easy to use, imager (stock) well understood.
3. Clean sharp optical viewfinder.
4. High resolution nearly indestructive original (film, lasts a century)
5. Future progress in conversion can yield better results. HD will never increase latitude/resolution regardless of future processing.
6. Stock (film) less volatile than tape, Cannot be erased.
7. Gorgeous high resolution exhibition master (film print, in film projector, in theatre), as opposed to small screen TV viewing or unpredictable video projection.

And the pros of doing HD would be...
1. Video tape, instant gratification. No processing.
2. Economical stock, so "keep rolling", and "let's do another take" possible incessantly.
3. Interview based or extempore performances can be accomodated.
4. With good on set monitor, exact post-shoot look can be visualized.
5. On-set adjustments possible with near-post like creative possibilities.
6. Sound and picture on same stock means less hassles in post.
7. Multi-camera shooting feasible so shoot time can be optimized.
8. Medium is digital anyway so integrating with graphic elements better.

Bottom line... think for yourself, your project and its needs. 35mm and HD don't even compare. But 16mm and HD make film thinkable as an option. And even if you still select HD you don't need to feel bad as long as you don't go near compressed tape formats. In that case please do 16mm.

Sunday, 23 July, 2006

SAN and NAS - basically shared storage

Shared storage here refers to computer storage or hard disks.

Anyone doing film effects or film finishing knows that as the number of people working together on a project increases, copying from one computer to another is no longer very convenient. So one needs to keep data in one place and share it among different users accross the network.

There two kinds of shared data arrangements in use now - SAN and NAS. Plenty of definitions exist for these terms. I like to think of it like this. SAN is a network of storage and users. NAS is a storage attached to an existing network.

SANs consist of computers with high speed fibre channel cards installed. These connect to a fibre channel switch. The shared storage - SAN - ia also connected to this switch. And there is a server computer also attached to this switch that just directs what goes where. Hence, Storage Area Network - SAN.

This 'switch' is like a hub interconnecting on demand, all computers connected to it. And transmitting data from whoever asks for it, to who needs it.

SANs allow extremely high speeds of data to be transferred simultaneously accross computers connected to the switch. It is possible to have a SAN that can allow up to 4 computers play full reesolution film sequences (each about 300 MBytes/sec). On the flip side SANs are problematic to upgrade either in capacity or the number of users. And even the number of users handled needs to be small - like 4-8. And, of course, SANs are also very expensive.

NASs on the other hand consist of a bunch of disks attached to server computer which is attached to a normal Ethernet network switch. A normal Gigait switch. The switch also connects to all computers around. Any computer needing data accesses the server which fetches the data and hands it out.

Expanding a NAS is comparatively easy with disks just being added. Expanding the users is as simple as plugging the user into the Ethernet switch. NAS boxes are comparatively cheap. Some are so economical that they just connect to the network and one can attach any drive to them. Like a converter.

But NAS is not as fast because it works on a network at network speeds. And is subject to network conditions. Even with GigE, on a busy network you get speeds no better than 60 MB/sec. Means 1 Gb copied in 15 sec. With some switches under some conditions you can even go up to 80 or 90 MB/sec. But no more than that. Surely a problem for anything over standard video resolution.

The interconnecting electronics in a SAN is Fibre Channel. At the current state, each Fibre Channel can handle 4 Gbps - or about 500 MBytes/sec max. With multiple simultaneous channels, this figure increases.

The interconnecting electronics in a NAS is Ethernet. At the current state, each Ethernet port can handle 1 Gbps - or about 125 MBytes/sec max. In less than a year, there will be 10 GigE which means each Ethernet port will handle 1250 MBytes/sec.

Who knows, by then, NAS speeds would equal or better today's SAN speeds.

Tuesday, 16 May, 2006

My own Avid Media Composer... finally!

For a lot of us editors- and I'm not going to call us 'offline' we're editors - the ultimate editing machine is definitely an Avid. And when we say 'an Avid' we mostly mean a Media Composer. Not some watered down XPress or XPressDV or something like that. Though in the past 2-3 years the low-end Avids like XPress and XPRessDV have gotten pretty close to Media Composers in features.

But still a full-blown Avid Media Composer has always been something that someone else owned and we rented. At anything between Rs. 20-30 lakhs (Rupees 2-3 million), it has definitely been out of reach for most. I mean, you can get a rather good flat at Andheri for that kind of money. Or buy two luxury cars even.

So if any of us ever owned an editing system it usually was an FCP on a PowerBook or maybe a pirated copy of XPress on a cheap PC laptop. I must say though, that almost all the editors who I've seen get a PC and a pirated Avid XPress didn't eventually do much editing on it. The FCP-PowerBook people fared slightly better.

But now, finally many of us can actually afford our very own Media Composer. At NAB last month Avid announced that the software-only version of Avid Media Composer would soon be available for US$ 5,000 (About Rs. 2.5 lakhs with some taxes). Sounds like a lot of money still, but hey, it is a Media Composer. No excuses. It can do DV, all resolutions to 1:1, multi-track, multi-cam, film, anything a Media Composer can.

To be able to capture from Beta/Digi, you can buy the new Avid Mojo SDI for US$ 2,700 (About Rs. 1.8 lakhs with some duties and taxes). You'll need some fast storage for that, though. Mojo SDI has SDI, component analog, composite, S-video, AES and analog audio, all in and out.

So any of us can now finally own an Avid Media Composer. For about 2.5+1.8 lakhs=Rs 4.3 lakhs plus the cost of a good Mac or PC and some fast storage. A real Media Composer, a brand new one, that can open any old project even open old Meridien media.

And a dream system would be, a new Apple Mac G5 Quad, Avid Media Composer Software, Avid Mojo SDI, and some fast storage and a good monitor and speakers. Under Rs 8 lakhs. Add a bit more and maybe you can even run FCP on it. Of course you can get a PC instead of a Mac, but then you can't run FCP on a PC.

And by the way, this Avid Media Composer ships for PC as well as Mac in the same box. You can use either PC or Mac. No need to commit yourself to Mac or PC. Even have both and run it on either, one at a time.

One slight snafu is that this Media Composer will not run on the newest Intel Macs - The MacBook Pro, the iMac , or the MacMini. But Avid will be out with a Universal Binary version of Avid Media Composer in a few months, maybe end of the year.

And then, if the new Intel desktop Macs are available who knows... you can even get a Mac that runs Avid Media Composer, and FCP on a Mac partition and also boots in Windows in another partition so you can run Avid Media Composer, and other PC apps on the Windows partition, even play PC-only games. Mac and PC, Avid and FCP in one box. Now how about that?

Sunday, 14 May, 2006

8k Camera, 8k Projector, 8k Digital Cinema.

I visited NAB at Las Vegas this year. 24th to 27th Apr 06. Some of the biggest companies in broadcast, post production, audio, video and other film/video related disciplines exhibit there. For us Post guys, there's Discreet, Apple, Adobe, Avid, Sony, Panasonic, Thomson, Cintel, DaVinci and loads of others. Great if you're a techie or even if you're somehow connected to this business.

At one corner of the exhibition in the Central hall, just behind the LED lite panels, was an interesting display.

An 8k presentation. This was by NHK, the Japanese broadcasting company. A projection, at 8k. Yes 8k. Not 2k, not 4k, but honest to God 8k. There were two projectors. Something like one showing red/green and one doing blue. Both 8k. Maybe a Sony special edition by the looks of it.

There were shots of New York, Japan and other places. All on a large screen. And all the footage shown had been shot on 8k, digitally, and projected with music to match with an 8k projection.

Outside there was also the camera that shot it all. And the high speed storage, compression and transmission systems. These are installed at some museums and other such institutions in Japan.

Mind you, this is not some prototype, releasing in some summer or fall or spring. It is for real. Not that you can go out and buy any of this, but you can see and enjoy the results nevertheless.

And since none of the stuff shown seemed to be originated on film, one wonders... what if it had been? I doubt if film, scanned as 8k and then shown on that gigantic screen would have the clean sharp - maybe what some might call a 'digital look' - that these images showed.

If anyone is concerned about the done to death proclamation, 'Film is dead' then after seeing this 8k demo, I can assure you that neither HD nor even 2k film DI will kill off film. No sir, as long as you shoot film, you are bound by its limits. And yes these limits are for all to see when one sees an 8k DCinema demo.

Sort of like if one were to shoot on still 35 mm film and use the best possible scanner to get a high resolution image vis a vis shooting with the best possible digital still camera. Not too many will disagree that digital still cameras have more or less done away with film cameras.

By simply surpassing 35 mm film not trying to imitate them. I believe now that movie film will also be done for, by exceptional quality digital cinema cameras. But at the present time there's probably not one single camera that can honestly do that as easily as a film camera can. But it will be there surely in the next 1-3 years.

And oh yes. Just outside the theatre, was showing was a large 3D HD projection. Using cross polaroids. And a 3D display on LCD TVs as well. Both awesome. HD in 3D. What an amazing way to view it. SD in 3D probably would be a strain to watch because of the low res, but HD3D is something else.

Sunday, 7 May, 2006

The new iMac. First-hand info.

I've just got my new iMac. Its 1.83 GHz, Dual core Intel with 512 Mb RAM and a 160 Gb hard disc.
You take it out of the box, connect power, keyboard and mouse, turn it on and it starts up. Everything is already installed, you just need to put in your name and other details and it starts.

I had already downloaded Boot Camp and the drivers for Windows. And had a WinXP DVD ready. So the first thing I did was to install Windows - on my Mac.

I set aside a 32 Gb partition. The WindowsXP installation took about an hour. Then I went on to install an anti-virus and anti-spyware software. AVGFree and SpyBotSD. Then Quicktime, and Adobe Acrobat. All this took another hour. O still have to put Winzip and other stuff.

But the windows 'side' works just like a PC. I could use USB sticks, listen to music, watch DVDs burn CDs - everything. And pretty snappy too.

Anyway, why exactly did I install Windows on my Mac? The main reason was to be able to browse on certain sites that are just not Mac-friendly yet. For instance. The Indian Railways reservation site, that simply doesn't go past the password screen. And you can't book tickets on. The HDFC bank site that doesn't show icons. The Indiatimes briefcase and e-mail site. And lots more that simply don't work fine with Safari. And there's no one to complain about.

Most sys admins and webmasters at these sites aren't even aware that the Mac has a different operating system When you call or write, their replies usually start with a "Go to your start menu, select Control panel and...". Even if you interject and say you have a Mac, they simply continue "Yes I know, just go to your start menu, select Control panel and..."

Actually, come to think of it, I once showed a movie on my PowerBook to this young MBA from IIM who had also studied Computer and Software Engineering and was working as a software person in NY. And her reaction was... "No start menu and the menu always stays on, where did you get this theme?". She thought it was a clever question till I told her I was running Unix with a proprietary GUI. And she shook her head as though I was just masquerading a good looking Linux build. But she had no clue about the fact that this was the classic MacOSX interface for nearly half a decade.

Now one doesn't have to face all this anymore. If it doesn't work on your Mac, and the world doesn't understand, just try it on your Mac - with Windows this time.

Sunday, 9 April, 2006

Mac does Windows too.

Even CNN reported it as news. Yes, an Apple Mac can now run Windows. Would have sounded like sacrilege to the faithful some years ago. But the entry of an Intel chip inside a Mac has made this inevitable.

But before you go thinking the MacOS is dead, think again. First off there are currently just three models that can run Windows and only WinXP. They are the Intel iMac, the MacBook Pro, and the Intel MacMini.

Not the G5 new or old, not the G4, the PowerBook, the iBook, the iMac G5, the MacMini G4, not any other Mac but just the three new Intel Macs.

You need to have a licenced copy of WinXP. And this Boot Camp as Apple calls it, is just an 'experimental' thing that Apple will not technically support. And you better get a good anti-virus software since now your Mac can get a virus or spyware anytime - just in the Windows partition.

Speaking of which, you can only run Windows on a partition. Meaning this is a dual boot operation. You boot Windows when you need to run Windows applications, games anything. And when done you boot MacOS when you need to get any work done.

If you get a virus, just delete the entire Windows partition and start over. What about your data in the Windows partition? Hey this is just Windows right? You aren't supposed to use it for anything you can't delete. Anyway the virus won't touch the Mac part of your Mac.

To know the exact procedure head over to Apple's Boot Camp page. Follow the instructions and it should work.

I haven't done this myself (yet) but I know of folks who have. And who are running Tally on an iMac.

Sunday, 26 February, 2006

Watch DVDs on your iPod video.

there comes a time when one finds oneself saying. "I wish I could watch DVDs on my iPod video."

Far too many people I know are getting themselves an iPod video. And there's no ITunes store here in India where one can download videos or episodes of TV serials for 2 dollars per epi. Imagine what it would do to the store if one could download the saas bahu serials.

For those who came in late there is and has been an iPod video for some months now. This looks just like any iPod but the screen a bit bigger and can show video films. Not a very large screen, but then when held at arm's length, it looks just as big as my 25" TV across the hall when I sit on my sofa.

So, for the rest of us, after the novelty of the iPod wears off, there comes a time when one finds oneself saying. "I wish I could see DVDs on this thing." Hey, why not, after all you always have the iPod handy when you have lots of time on your hands. At airports, inside aircraft, at boring meetings, wherever.

Here's how to watch DVDs on your iPod. The process below is for an Apple Mac. If you have a PC, write to me and maybe I'll find a way.

The process consists of the following steps.

1. Converting the DVD tracks into MPEG-2 movies. .m2v for video.
2. Converting the DVD tracks into corresponding audio. .ac3 for audio.
3. Converting these .m2v into a Quicktime with, say, DV-PAL.
4. Converting the .ac3 into .aif
5. Merging the DV-PAL Quicktime video with the .aif audio into a 'merged' movie.
6. Converting this 'merged' movie into iPod video.

For step 1 and 2, load the DVD, let it mount and launch DVD Player on its own. Then quit DVD Player without seeing the movie. This steps is cometimes nbecessary for the system to 'register' the DVD.
Get an app called 0Sex from MacUpdate or versiontracker. This makes DVD tracks into m2v for video and .ac3 for audio.
Else use Mactheripper.
0Sex -
MacTheRipper -
Either of these make DVD tracks into .m2v and .ac3

For Step 3 use MPEGStreamclip or DivA, both free and from the aforementioned sites.
MPEGStreamclip -
DiVA -
Either of these convert .m2v to Quicktime .mov

For step 4 use mAC3dec.
mAC3dec -
This converts .ac3 into .aif

For step 5 use Quicktime. Open the video, then open the audio. Keep both open simultaneously.
Then do Edit > select all or cmd-A to the audio to select all. Then do Edit > Copy or Cmd-C to copy all audio. Go the the video QT, and do Edit > Add to movie or opt-cmd-V.
Save this married video either as self-contained or as a reference movie.

Use this to convert to iPod. File > Export. And 'movie to iPod (320x240)' in the export dialog.

Then with iTunes 6.0.3 or above you can send it to your iPod.

More on how to convert movies to iPod here...

and on how to send it to your iPod here...

All the links I've mentioned may have to be copied and pasted in your browser to make them work.

Happy movie watching. This is positively a defining moment in the history of cinema.

Sunday, 12 February, 2006

What's all the fuss on DI resolution?

It's been over 3 weeks since I posted. Just what I feared the most about maintaining a blog.

Anyway, while speaking to a film director the other day a colleague mentioned that there was no point doing a film digital post-production (called Digital Intermediate or DI) at a resolution of 4k because with conventional means when one finishes a film optically, one has a print that has a resolution of barely '1k'. The Director was aghast and I was apalled at this comment.

Later I discussed this with the DOP (Dir of Photography, or Cinematographer) of this forthcoming film. I explained that there is no real inherent resolution of 35 mm film that can be expressed as pixels, since it is an analog medium. It is generally assumed that scanning a film at '2k' or 2048x1556 yields a digital picture that captures all that the film 'contains'.

The later digital correction and compositing stages do not reduce this resolution like the conventional optical process can - the act of making prints or dupe negatives. So going digital may induce some losses at the initial conversion stage, but further work does not add losses.

And incidentally, on projection, '1k' doesn't look sharp enough, while '4k' doesn't seem to look vastly better than '2k'. In part because we don't really have any viable 4k projector or monitor yet.

Further, to put this '2k' and '4k' thing into perspective, I mentioned to this DOP that 2k while seeming like a lot, isn't much when you consider that it amounts to '3 megapixels'. And most any cheap digital camera can match that. And now, 5 and even 8 megapixel cameras are getting quite common. Even mobile phones have 1-2 megapixel cameras - which is nearly the resolution of HD. Suddenly HD which stands for 'High Definition' seems puny. Right?

Well, not quite.

While digital cameras can easily do 3 Megapixels or 2k, they cannot do it 24 times each second. And even if they did, they would run out of memory in seconds. They store images on memory cards, maybe a hundred to a thousand images to a card. Film digital post needs 24 each second, 1440 each minute and 86400 each hour of shooting. And all these images have to be uncompressed, not jpeg. And they have to be held securely for as many months as the post production takes. A tall order.

But when you come to think of that, this storage and access is the current bottle-neck in the progress of truly digital cinema. By digital cinema I mean 'filming', storing, editing, finishing, and releasing digitally. At full resolution, uncompressed, with full 16-bit (sort of like 16 stops) latitude, just like 35 mm film can do right here right now. And hey, HD does not come close to this, yet. Probably never will. I mean, just look at a 2k image projected on a large screen side by side to an HD image and you'll know what I mean.

It was a scant 3-5 years ago that people spoke the same about still photography going digital. They said, it didn't have the latitude, how would you store images, how would you process them? etc etc. And now, we have very few photographers, even pros, fashion and industrial photographers using still cameras with 35 mm film. I too have my Canon A-1 with a variety of lenses, locked up in a cupboard.

So it looks lik a matter of time before film will be truly dead. Which it surely will, but nowhere near when it was supposed to be. Like in 1986 when I first heard this 'film is dead' thing when U-matic machines were introduced for TV production. Seems really funny now. Its 2006 and film is still doing roaring business - in India at least.

But finally, when film is really dead, along with it will go the film scanners, the conforming and grading systems, colour management systems, processing labs, and all that paraphernalia. Don't count on it happening in 2006 though. I would say the process will be probably start by 2010 and happen gradually till 2015.

Just in case this word Digital Intermediate or its short form DI has you wondering, head over to my DI pages, the link to which is in the margin to the right 'My DI pages'. Or you can go here
you may have to copy and paste this link in your browser.

Wednesday, 18 January, 2006

PCIe cards for the PCIe G5 Macs

Its been a few weeks since the launch of the new G5s. The PCIe ones with the Dual Core CPUs. In case you don't know about it yet, these new Macs have expansion card slots called PCIe which is different from the slots that earlier macs used - called PCI and PCI-X. And different means that if you have a Mac with PCI cards line Blackmagic, Kona, or even plain Firewire or some other card, you can't put them into a new Mac G5.

So what are the cards available so far with the new Mac G5. PCIe cards that is?

1. Firewire cards - Aaxeon
2. Video capture cards - Kona 3 from AJA
nothing from BlackMagic or Aurora yet (18 Jan 06)
3. SATA cards - RocketRAID 2320 PCI Express SATA II adapter
4. SCSI cards - none
5. Fibre Channel cards - Apple
6. Ethernet Cards - none (why, the new G5 has 2 GigE ports)

So really, not a very wide choice, but not really a show-stopper. So go ahead and get that G5 Dual Cure. Maybe this is the last Mac G5 ever.

And I just checked. The new MacBook Pro (Intel laptop from Apple) does not have a PCMCIA or PC-Card or CardBus slot. It does have an ExpressCard slot. This is not compatible with your PC-cards. So if you have some of those, time to look for an ExpressCard version.

On the flip side this ExpressCard will be a faster serial bus -PCIe. So expect some innovative new cards like memory, video I/O, hard disks, flash readers etc.

And fianally even if, at first sight, many experts opined that these new Intel Macs won't run Windows because there's no BIOS or something, on second thoughts, opinions are emerging that it might just be possible to run Windows on a Mac. Why would you want to do that? To have the best of both worlds, I guess. Let's wait and see.

Tuesday, 17 January, 2006

What's your resolution?

No, this isn't about your new year's resolution but something a bit more technical.

It's like this. I went to see a movie in a theatre some days back. Before the main movie there were, as usual, commercials. All, absolutely all the commercials that were played were commercials I'd seen on TV. On closer inspection, I noticed they were identical to their TV counterparts.

Now, I know for a fact that ad agencies that make commercials for TV release them in theatres as well because theatre releases cost vastly less that TV releases. But wait, there's more. The commercials that play in theatres play out as 35 mm movie film in a projector, just like movies do. But they are converted from video to film. They call it 'reverse telecine'.

So here's how it works.

Ad films are shot on 35 mm film. After processing they run the negative in a telecine. Here they grade the shots to give the commercials a definitive look and mood. Often times, a graded commercial looks very different from what was actually filmed.

Anyway, after grading it is edited, then mastered to a Digital Betacam tape for submission to channels. So, what started out as 35 mm film with a resolution of at least 2k - meaning a frame size of at least 2048x1556 pixels - goes through the entire post cycle with a frame size of 720x576. Good enough for Television but coarse for film.

The actual process of telecine converts 2048x1556 pixels to 720x576 pixels. So a full three fourths of the picture resolution is thrown away. Then, for the film version, the very same 720x576 frame from a video cassette, is 'blown-up' to 2048x1556 pixels. This is called 'reverse telecine'.

No wonder ads in theatres look a bit fuzzy like the focus was out of whack or something. But strangely enough, I asked the people who went with me to the movie if they noticed something wrong with the commercials. Even after pointing out obvious lack of sharpness and strange artifacts, they simply couldn't see it.

The next time you go to the movies take a good hard look at the commercials. See if you can see what I'm saying.

What's your resolution?

Friday, 13 January, 2006

Final Cut Pro 6 (rumoured)

and the future of Digital high-end post.

OK that sounds like a really pompous title for something that is not even official ... yet!. Just up at rumour sites and being debated in forums. "Avid should be worried...", "Discreet should be worried ..." etc etc. Well, past history has shown that no such thing really happens. To Avid, Discreet etc, that is.

In brief, the rumour says ... (it's just a rumour, folks)
1. FCP 6 software will have a Final Cut Extreme version that will be US$ 10,000. About Rs. 4.5 lakhs in India - just the software. System, monitor, storage extra.
2. FCExtreme will enable 2k and 4k editing. Meaning it will handle film res scans like it does quicktime now.
3. Will work with a new, as-yet-unreleased nVidia card.
4. Will use a new super-huge monitor. 42" or 52" which will be able to show full 4k. At the moment Apple's 30" display can show full 2k at 1:1 resolution. I work with three. They're staggering.
5. 10Gig ethernet interfaces might be added to Mac Quads. This will enable transfer of 2k material over the network at near real time speeds or faster.
6. Storage will be new XRAID Extreme using dual infiniband. This is all frontier technology stuff. The as-yet-unreleased version of Lustre will use infiniband. At the moment it takes two XRAIDs RAIDed together to ensure 2k playback.
7. Some more features like 1080/24p DVCProHD, 5.1 audio native etc.
8. And I hope they fix the capture tool and media management.

So, at a very rough guesstimate, we're talking about Rs 35-40 lakhs for a system that can edit and online anything DV, SD, HD right up to 2k/4k. A poor man's DI system. Yes, I said poor man. Because rich-man's DI is done on a Lustre that runs Rs 1.7 crores, or Baselight for a little less Rs 1.2 crores, or Nucoda about the same, or even Quantel iQ for Rs 2.5 crores.

These figures are just top-of-the-mind Dollar/Pound plus Customs duty calculations. I seriously invite anyone who knows exact figures to comment.

Anyway, getting back to FCP 6 (rumored), this will have a definite impact. May take some time, especially in India, but it will happen. We are a film country still, for mass entertainment. meaning we still shoot film, post in film and show film in tens of thousands of theatres. And only a handful are finished digitally. So the market is open for systems at the mid and low end. FCP 6 (rumoured) can change that.

Feature film DI or digital intermediate, that costs (er... I cannot say it publicly) a certain amount per film, can now be done for a third or so. Yes sure it can.

But don't go running believing anyone and everyone with 35-40 lakhs and an FCP 6 system will be able to do it. Now way sir. The system setup is tricky at best. Performance of disk systems has to be tuned. Conform has to be skillfully handled. And grading. The actual grading is not something most editors are equipped to handle. You need a "real" colourist for that.

But it's doable. And one can start off with trailers, promos, teasers and such like. Small 60 sec to 2 min jobs. No big DI house really wants to touch those and will gladly farm them out to a small house. And gradually take up a small-time feature that doesn't really have the budget for DI.

So there is some scope here in the near term at least. And if film is outmoded as a distribution format, and DCinema is used at all theatres... no problem. FCP and Compressor can do compression to MPEG-2, MPEG4, H.264 even now.

I'd love to get my hands dirty and make this work. Anyone with deep pockets, a sense of adventure working with frontier technology, and a desire to make money do let me know.

Wednesday, 11 January, 2006

What can you do with the new Intel Macs

... right now.

Should you rush out and buy one of the new Intel Macs? Can you edit a movie on the new Intel Macs? Right now?

I did a bit of reading up on this and it turns out that Safari, Mail, and most other apps will run just fine on the Intel Macs. Like a lot of the shareware or freeware you own. Even amongst these though, some will work some may not. These systems use Rosetta, which is an underlying technology built into the new Intel Macs, which translates all the code to the Intel processors so they do their stuff. And the user doesn't have to bother with any settings or anything.

But if you plan on running Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Motion, Compressor, Soundtrack, LiveType, Aperture, Logic Pro, Logic Express, Final Cut Express and any other Pro application from Apple ... THEY WILL SIMPLY NOT RUN ON AN INTEL MAC !!! the new iMac or the new MacBook Pro.

To run these, you will need a 'Universal Binary' version of these. And they will be available only after March 31st 2006. In India, that means mid-April if you're lucky.

Here's what Apple says ...

quote --------

If you already own Final Cut Studio 1.0, Aperture, or Logic Pro 7.1, these applications are not supported to run on Intel-based Macs with Rosetta, but a Universal version will be available for $49. Logic Express will be $29.

If you own a Final Cut Studio application that used to be available individually, you can upgrade to Final Cut Studio for these prices.

If you own... Get Final Cut Studio for...
Final Cut Pro 5 $99
DVD Studio Pro 4,
Motion 2,
or Soundtrack Pro $199
Final Cut Pro 4/4.5
or Production Suite $199
Final Cut Pro 1/2/3 $699

To get these deals, come back to after February 1, 2006. Apple expects Universal application availability by March 31, 2006.

------ unquote

In other words you just cannot do any editing, titling, DVD authoring, professional sound on the new imac or MacBook Pro till the 1st week April. And further, after that date, there will be no such thing as plain Final Cut Pro, or just DVD Studio Pro or any app separately. You just have to buy the full Final Cut Studio.

Hmmmm. Looks like one needs to wait and see. Or, if one just has to start off now, then buy the existing PowerBook G4 or iMac G5, both of which are available and will be totally outclassed in performance by April 2006.

As far as desktop desktop G5s are concerned, there's a gotcha there too. The new G5s all use PCI-E slots, so your existing capture cards, SCSI cards, and other PCI or PCI-X cards won't work in the new Mac G5. And these desktop systems will also be replaced by Intel-based desktop Macs anytime in he second half of 2006. So if you buy one of these now, they'll become totally outclassed within maybe half a year or less.

And if you're setting up a system from scratch, then too, very few card manufacturers have PCI-E versions of their cards available now. HD and SD capture cards, SCSI cards, Fibre-channel cards (except Apple), sound cards for ProTools, none available for a video professional wanting to set up an editing setup right now.


New Intel Macs

Yesterday at an expo called MacWorld held at San Fransisco every year, Apple's head Steve Jobs announced new Apples. An iMac and a MacBook Pro. These are the first Intel based Macs.

Does this mean Macs will now run Windows XP ? Well .. not quite. These Macs just have an Intel CPU inside. They will still run the good old MacOSX Tiger. And all your existing Mac software. But to deliver their full potential, they will need applications that are 'Intel native'. Means written specially for this CPU.

All your current apps will run, but they'll be operating through a 'converter' or what they call emulator. In plain English, it means you won't get the same speed that your PowerPC Mac or the existing Mac can give you. How slow will the non-Intel apps run? And how much faster will new apps run? According to Jobs, the iMac will be 2-3 times faster than the existing imacG5 and the MacBook will be 4-5 times faster than an existing PowerBook.

I checked with a dealer and he said we'll see the first iMacs in India, later this month, while the new MacBooks will be on our laps in March. Much before that, other sites will be posting results, which I'll read, digest, and post here.


My Blog

Digital Post production, digital video, digital audio, digital intermediates, digital anything. My "vishesh tippani"

This blog will be mostly about what I've read, experienced first hand, or know someone who's experienced first hand - but confined strictly to a range of subjects in film and video post, digital photography, digital sound... anything digital. I generally stay away from the "I've heard ..." variety of comments as that spread disinformation.

Actually I've got into this blog thing after a bit of prodding from Dev Benegal (yes Dev "English, August" Benegal). And from other friends like Chhandita Mukherjee who believes that I write well. And Bimal Unnikrishnan who had set up where he allowed me to write a bit. And, of course former associates, superiors and colleagues at Nehru Centre who had to bear the brunt of my writing.

So let's see where this goes. Keep coming back.