Sunday 4 November 2007

Really portable film editing

I've been using all kinds of external Firewire hard disks for editing with FCP systems. Since 2003. LaCie, Maxtor, Western Digital, Seagate. But Firewire. Not USB. USB has ben believed to be unsuitable for film editing work because of the continuous throughput that editing demands can't be supplied by USB. I thought so as well.

Editing on the go with laptops - has been possible for some years now. But the older G4 PowerBooks were underpowered for anything but the shortest of edits - commercials, music videos - no more. I've done a fair bit. But no feature films - 3 hrs long, tonnes of rush clips.

For storage I've used normal desktop hard disks which had power supplies, cables, quite a mess. I've just finished editing a feature this way.

The smaller 2.5 in. hard disks lacked the capacity and speed to be considered for any feature work. But now, I think I've just found one.

I went out and bought a Western Digital WDPassport 250 GB drive. I bought it online on eBay India (formerly baazee.com) for just under Rs 10,000. a bit steep, my friends tell me you can get one on Lamington Road or Nehru Place for under Rs 8,000.

Anyway, I bought it online, it was delivered to my home, much simpler than finding parking at Lamington Road and walking in the Sun. Worth the premium.

I transferred all the film rushes from my LaCie 500 GB drive to the WD Passport. 183 GB. It took about 3 hrs. So the disk can write sustained at 1GB/min. 17MB/sec sustained write. Pretty good.

I opened my film edit project, reconnected to media now on the USB drive. And stitched all the reel sequences together. So I had a sequence of a little over 2 hrs. 24@25, DV-PAL with over 1500 cuts. And all sound was from separately captured clips from a Nagra. And some music and SFX tracks. Video was on one layer except for some dissolves and a very few two-layer supers.

All these was playing off media as DV-PAL clips all on the WD Passport 250GB connected via USB and powered via USB as well - a truly portable little drive.

I kept the stop playback on dropped frames warning on. And played out the sequence full screen. And let it go. 2 hrs later, the sequence finished playing and had played through without a hitch. An entire film edit.

So I have no doubt I can edit on this as well. Because during edit one is playing in bursts. Often playing the same segment over and over again with small changes.

So I think I've finally found a truly portable, USB-powered large capacity but small size hard disk. Capable of being used as main storage for editing an Indian feature film.

Caveat is I've only used this for a day. I haven't used it in a really hot place. Subjected it to heat and vibration. And done an real edit with it. But at least it can play our randomly spread out clips in a sustained manner for 2 hrs.

If it fails, Western Digital has a great exchange under warranty policy in India. Just go to their web site, enter the drive number, our name and address. And a courier picks it up from your home. After they get it. they ship a new one back to you.

More on the drive from Western Digital web site.

And a review and comparison with other drives at Tom's hardware.
This review on Tom's hardware is about the actual hard disk that goes inside the WDPassport 250 GB. But good enough. And I read the review after buying the drive.

Another review is here...
The actual model is WDXMS2500TN. And Western Digital sell it online at their site for Rs 8,000.00

Great drive. Does the job. Reasonably priced. But don't buy it for over Rs 8,000.00. Its available in 5 colours.


The drive sitting on my MacBook Pro. Its that small.

Sunday 30 September 2007

But does it look like film

After I described by IBC Red experience to friends and colleagues here, and after I posted a small note on it. One of the commonest questions I get are "But does it look like film?" meaning the Red camera's images.

People ask this of not just the Red camera, but also the Viper, Arri D-20, Dalsa, Si2k, CineAlta even HDV camcorders. I think we're getting close to the point where this will not really matter. I've seen images from all these cameras, not all off film. And I can say that they all have a 'certain look' about them. It is not consistently 'not film' nor consistently 'exactly like film'. But distinctive.

So also the Red camera. It has a 'certain look' about it.

To make this a bit clearer, lets draw a parallel from still photography. For still photography not too many people are using film cameras any more. Even in India. Some years ago, as digital still cameras got better and better, one often heard this question "But does it look like film?" Asked of non-film still cameras.

When was the last time you heard someone ask this of a digital still camera? For holiday pictures, weddings, events, sports, news, even fashion photography. Does a digital still camera's 'looking like film' or not come in the way of its use. For that matter, who remembers exactly what film looked like? For stills, I mean.

So also digital movie making. We will get to the point when people will stop asking "But does it look like film?", simply because not too many will remember. And you will select the Red or any other digital camera because...
it helps you tell your story
it is possible to shoot digital
is convenient to shoot digital
it saves some money to shoot digital against film
the post production is convenient and predictable especially grading
your film will be shown digitally in a digital theatre
your film will be sold as DVD maybe HD-DVD and/or purchased as a download

Some of these reasons are valid today some aren't. especially cost, not yet. Eventually they all will. And then we will make an occasion of watching a weaving and bobbing, centre-hot, scratched and dirty print in a 'period theatre' and probably ask "How did people see this stuff for eighty years?"

As an aside, after my post on the Red, one company in California kindly offered a Red on rent. Link here...

http://www.elysianpictures.com/red-rental.htm

I'm not sure if they will come over to India. But if you are shooting in the US this is a thing to try. Shoot on their Red, bring back the files, and I'll manage the post here in Mumbai.

Sunday 23 September 2007

The Red camera is real

Just back from IBC 2007 at Amsterdam. I saw the Red camera up close.

First, I saw a large screen presentation of 'Crossing the line' a film shot on the Red camera. Directed by Peter Jackson, its a war story. The film was shown in a large theatre - as large as Metro in Mumbai. Really huge screen.

But the 'Red film' was not on film 35 mm. It was a digital 4k screening off the new Sony 4k digital projector. Presumably playing 4k files from a Clipster. It looked great, really good. No grain, no scratches or spots of dust, clean sharp picture, great contrast and saturation. But did it look like film? More on that later in a separate post.

I also went up to the Red stall and saw their presentation on work flow. As well as a small presentation at Apple's stand and Assimilate Scratch.

Here are some work flows...

For now, the camera shoots 4k RAW files to a memory card. later it will shoot to a removable hard disk. So it will shoot to 8 Gb CompactFlash cards. It shoots as RAW images just like Digital SLRs do for still photography. An 8 Gb card is good for 4 mins. I need to re-check at what res its 4 mins.

After the shoot you connect the card via a card reader to FCP and you can 'transfer' not capture these files via a new 'Log and transfer' window. Here you see all your shots as clips. You choose shots even mark in and out, and transfer them to your hard disk. The raw files are transferred and there's a reference Quicktime that opens in FCP as a 2k Quicktime clip.

Then edit away at 2k or even downres to Pro-res, Apple's new nearly lossless codec. After you are done, you can make an EDL and send it to Assimilate Scratch. Scratch, is a grading system running on Windows. Scratch connects your EDL to the original 4k files. And you can then grade 4k.

Once done grading, you can export to dpx, 4k or 2k depending on your film recorder. Then record out to film.

All this is work flow that's here and now and demoed. No one has actually done all this for an entire feature length film, so one doesn't know how it will all hold up to the rigours of a real schedule.

And other manufacturers - DaVinci Resolve, Nucoda Film Master - told me they were in talks with Red to use the Red codec in their app so they too can work with Red RAW files. The months to come will show interesting work flows. Maybe even FCP-Color will show up a complete Red work flow.

Examples of Red images
http://gallery.mac.com/videoresources#100050

Thursday 19 July 2007

Editing on the cheap

As part of supervising the film DI process at a post facility I often visit editing suites all over Mumbai, where film edits are done. And I can't help thinking that editing systems - especially those used for editing feature films - are getting more and more 'on the cheap'.

Time was when - only a few years ago - if you wanted to set up a film edit suite, you had to get an Avid Media Composer. Avid charged a lot of money for those systems, but for the money they really gave you the goodies. Money's worth.

Large 20 in. monitors - NEC or Mitsubishi, the best. Good quality speakers. Fast and reliable Avid SCSI drives, and the latest fastest Mac with loads of RAM and a huge internal disk. You had to get all of this from them.

Then came the Media Composer ABVB systems. And the 'cheaping out' began. You could chose your monitor so many people got the cheapest TVM or ACI 14in monitors. some noname computer speakers or even a cheap amp and speakers, and 'assembled' beige SCSI cases with ugly ribbon cables.

FCP came along and the cheaping get worse and today its gotten really really low. FCP meant for the first time you could buy the Mac of your choice, start with the least amount of RAM and after the first few slow-downs add a gig or two. Few people even pirated FCP.

They got the cheapest monitors, because Cinema displays were so expensive. And for disks, bargained with the Lamington Road types and got the one that was just a thousand Rupees cheaper.

So I go to these dingy little 'editing rooms' all over Andheri.

Bad stinking chairs. Low light. Airconditioners that are noisy or uncool. Plywood walls. Tables of the wrong height and cluttered with no place for keyboards. Keyboards with no key caps. Cheap Logitech (or worse) mouses... and so on.
Software thats mismatched. Old versions of MacOSX sometimes incompatible with FCP versions. BM or Kona drivers with not recommended Quicktime versions. I mean updates don't cost money, do they?

So basically the freedom to choose your system specs and peripherals has been abused to the limit. This is manifest as EDLs that don't work, edits that hang the machine just playing them back, corrupt projects - a nightmare for DI.
The cheapening has also meant hiring the cheapest inexperienced machine-room-guy turned editor.

Avid systems are no better. Because of the initial cost many are still using old WinNT versions with no working USB or Firewire ports so taking out edits for reference means compulsarily doing BetaSP layoffs. On old Beta VTRs that have troubling recording a tracking free picture for feature length movies. Sound may or may not record to both channels. Timecode may or may not be consistent. Even Adrenaline systems 2 or more years old are no better.

Editors who work on these old systems are young in age but old in thought. They don't trust Quicktime movies, have no clue on image and video file formats haven't bothered to read up about Firewire or USB drives. But they are 25-30 years old and use the latest mobile phones.

But things will come full circle. And some new directors and editors are now seeing the value in getting systems up to spec for trouble-free edit finishing. And hiring assistants who are themselves up to speed on new technologies and formats.

For anyone who feels the same way I'm willing to throw my hat in the ring and set up, and even rent out systems that are up there and can guarantee you editing in peace. If you can get a clean decent place, I can give you the system to match. Any takers?

Friday 6 July 2007

24p and 25p in one camcorder

I wrote earlier that some camcorders can do 24p or 25p depending on where they are sold. But there are some that can do both - as well as NTSC and PAL in SD mode.

JVC camcorders for one.

An entire range of camcorders can do 720 at 24p as well as 25p. They are the GY-HD100, HD101, HD110, HD111, HD200, HD201, HD251.
The GY-HD100, HD101, HD110, HD111 can do 720 at 24p an 25p
and SD-PAL at 25p, 50p, 50i and NTSC at 60p
(but not 720 at 50p and 60p)

And the HD200, HD201, HD251 can do 720 at 24p an 25p and
720 at 50p and 60p
(but not SD-PAL at 50p and NTSC at 60p).

Very complicated, but JVC has all this in a table called 'hdv-comparisons_1.pdf' at their site somewhere.

Mind that all these JVC camcorders do 720 and not 1080. And whether or not these modes capture fine into FCP - can't say till I hav e actually tried al on the PAL version.


The Canon XL-H1 is another that can do both. It needs to be 'service-centre modified' to do that. The PAL version that can do 1080 at 50i and 25F natively, can, with the optional upgrade do 60i, 30F and 24F.
And, of course the NTSC version can do 60i, 30F and 24F natively and with the optional upgrade do 50i and 24F.

So you can get the camcorder from anywhere and still do a variety of formats. But this camcorder does 1080, and not 720.

What is the 'F' behind 24, 25, and 30? At Canon's site there is a document that explains it thus...

'These Frame modes have the same look as progressive frame rates, but are not labeled
“progressive” because they are created with an interlaced chip. The end result is exactly the
same to the editing system (and to our eyes) as 30p and 24p, respectively.'

Apart from the JVC and Canon cameras, I don't know of any other camcorder that can do 24p and 25p. Of course, if you're stuck with some other camcorder that can so one or the other, you can look up my CinemaTools workaround in and earlier post.

Saturday 16 June 2007

24p or 25p for film on HDV

Most people who plan on using HDV for eventual film output choose camcorders that can do 24p or 24 progressive. To get clean field-free frames.

Not all camcorders can do 'real' 24p shooting. Sony's Z1 has a Cineframe mode thats not really 24p, but 60i 'packaged' as 24p. Other Sony camcorders like the new V1 can do 24p. Canon's XL-H1, XH-A1 and XH-G1 all do 24p as does the prosumer HV-20.

That's what you'll find at their web sites. But there's one gotcha in this. Only the NTSC version, or the US/Japan version that shoots NTSC 60i can do 24p. The European, and South East Asian versions that are built for PAL 50i can do 25p not 24p.

So the gotcha is that is you get a camcorder to do occasional 24p work, you're stuck with one that can shoot only NTSC in SD. Or 60i in HD. If, on the other hand you need a camcorder that's good for PAL SD or HD, then you cannot shoot 24p. Only 25p.

Cameras from Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, or even India will be PAL 50i camcorders that will do only 25p. Those from the US, Japan and other NTSC countries will do 24p but NTSC in SD.

What's the solution? Get two of them?

Not really. One workaround is to shoot 25p for film projects. Capture and edit at 25p. But 'conform' the final edited 25p film to 24p using FCP. The length will increase, and sound will get slower and slightly lower in pitch, but at least you'll have 24p without any motion artifacts.

Saturday 19 May 2007

Apple Color is now available

Apple Color, that "Colour grading for the rest of us" software with the wrong spelling (Color) is now shipping. And we can probably have a copy here in India next week.

Meanwhile the manual is out for download here...

http://manuals.info.apple.com/en/Color_1.0_User_Manual.pdf

And some warnings on broadcast-safe and drop frame TC incompatibilities (finally an issue that does NOT affect PAL users) are also up at

http://www.apple.com/support/releasenotes/en/Color_1.0_rn/

From the manual it seems the DPX workflow is still there. Conform DPX sequences from EDL, convert DPX to Quicktime and back, export file-based EDL etc are described. How reliably they work (if at all) remains to be seen.

Working with Apple Color can also be a somewhat professional colour grading like experience if you add colourist panels like these from JL Cooper

http://www.jlcooper.com/pages/mcsspectrum.html

Or these from Tangent Devices...
http://www.tangentdevices.co.uk/products_cp_200.asp

Mind that these are rather costly. The Cooper is about $ 3000 and the Tangent about $ 5000. And if you add transport control panels and presets panels you're looking at $ 10,000 to $ 15000 just for panels. But if you ant to do this professionally you need panels. If only because 'real' colourists work with panels.

In the next two months or so, one will be able to make a realistic assessment on how well one can finish a full film DI on a Final Cut Studio system.

Monday 14 May 2007

I'm shooting HD

I keep hearing this at weekly and even twice, thrice a week now. "I'm shooting my next film on HD". "How much difference would it make if I shot on HD?". "I've read that HD cannot be made to look like film" Or, "I've read that HD looks as good as film".

I'm not about to answer or refute any of these. What I'd like to put forth simply is that HD is not a single monolithic format like 35mm film is. So if you used the phrase "...shooting on HD..." in a sentence, you could be shooting on...
HDCam, HDCamSR, HDV, DVCProHD, Varicam, CineAlta, P2, XDCam, XDCamHD now.

Further in many of these you could be shooting as...
720p24, 720p25, 720p60, 1080p24, 1080p25, 1080p30, 1080i50, 1080i59.94 etc etc.

So what's your flavour of HD?

A quick run-down on what the figures mean.
Normal or SD TV meaning what you shoot on DV, DigiBeta, play back on DVD, watch TV on, etc in India is...
Frame size 720x576 at 25 fps. So this will be called 576i50.

In HD the numbers are
720p24 meaning frame size 1280x720 pixels at 24 fps progressive (no fields)
720p25 meaning frame size 1280x720 pixels at 25 fps progressive (no fields)
1080i50 meaning frame size 1920x1080 pixels at 25 fps interlaced
1080p24 meaning frame size 1920x1080 pixels at 24 fps progressive (no fields)
1080p25 meaning frame size 1920x1080 pixels at 25 fps progressive (no fields)
 
These are the numbers we would normally encounter in India.
If what you shoot will be used for TV, then do 'i'. For film outputs or mixing with film do 'p'

Outside India there would be other formats like 720p30, 1080i60, etc.

What about shooting formats?

If you're in India, in Mumbai, here's the deal.

If the camera is large and Panasonic and takes prime lenses you most likely are using a Varicam. So you're shooting on small DVCProHD tapes at 720p something. Frame size is 1280x720 pixels and compression is 12:1. In each frame 8% data is kept, 92% thrown away.
If you shoot on a small hand-held Sony camcorder you're shooting HDV. Frame size is 1920x1080 and compression is MPEG-2 50:1 Yes that's 50:1. In each frame 2% data is kept, 98% thrown away. Camera would be HVR-Z1
If you shoot on a small hand-held Panasonic camcorder and on small flash cards not tape, you're shooting P2. Frame size is 1920x1080 or 1280x720 pixels and compression is 12:1. In each frame 8% data is kept, 92% thrown away. Camera would be HVX 200.
If the camera is large and Sony and takes prime lenses you most likely are using a CineAlta. So you're shooting on DigiBeta sized HDCam or HDCamSR tapes at 1080p something. Frame size is 1920x1080 pixels and compression is 5:1 or 3:1. In each frame 20% to 33% data is kept, 80% to 66% thrown away.

If the camera is large and Sony and shoots on disks you most likely are using a XDCamHD. So you're shooting on Blu-Ray disks 1080p something. Frame size is 1920x1080 pixels and compression is Mpeg-2 at about 20:1 to 30:1 depending on format. So, in each frame 5% data is kept, 95% thrown away.

As you can see there's no real uncompressed HD format. All use some or other kind of compression. But they are all very good compressors. Really can't see defects unless you see the image up close.

Cost. Just find out what tape costs. And then what it costs to hire the camera. Now do the math. Is film costlier by a huge margin? You'll be surprised by the figures.

And does it/can it look like film? Very subjective. Very. My take on this is "Why bother?" Just go ahead and shoot for some other reason. And check if the image you've shot goes with the story. If it does, then like I said "Why bother?"

Wednesday 18 April 2007

Final Cut Pro 6

On Sunday a day before NAB 2007 began, Apple announced Final Cut Studio 2 consisting of Final Cut Pro 6, Motion 3, Soundtrack Pro 2, Color, Compressor 3, DVD Studio Pro 4, LiveType 2, and CinemaTools 4.

There aren't shipping immediately, so first-hand details are sketchy. But going by reports, viewing videos and reading up at Apple's Web site here are the highlights.

Final Cut Pro 6

Mix multiple formats and codecs in the same timeline. Yes you do it even now with FCP 5.1 but you need to render. In FCP 6 you can make a new sequence set as Open Format and anything in it will play in real-time. How this impacts clips with filters and transitions, needs to be seen.

ProRes 422. A new codec which gives you great quality at low data rates. Sort of like how DVCProHD or DNxHD on Avid. An new hardware from Aja called IO-HD will be needed to work with this codec efficiently. Blackmagic has also introduced hardware called Multibridge Eclipse that does this acceleration.

But if you have an older BlackMagic or Aja card, or no card, can you still work with ProRes422? Remains to be seen.

Color

In some countries it is spelt colour, but means the same thing.

Some time last year Apple took over a small company called Silicon Color. They used to make a film and video colour grading software called FinalTouch. It sold in 3 versions - FinalTouchSD for $1000, FinalTouchHD for $5000, and FinalTouch2k for $25,000.

With FinalTouch2k you could do colour grading for an entire feature film. Meaning you could do DI. And people bought FinalTouch2k for $ 25,000.

Now Apple is giving away FinalTouch free, meaning part of Final Cut Studio. But whether Color (as FinalTouch is now called) has retained all the fill-blown DI features of the original FinalTouch2k, remains to be seen.

What I'm really keen on finding out is whether Color can work with DPX files and conform them to an EDL. And then exported the graded DPX sequence as Quicktime for use in FCP and do do deliverables like pan and scan etc.

To really grade like a DI suite you need a grading panel. And with Color, the Tangent CP-200 is supported. Check with Tangent www.tangentdevices.co.uk

3D compositing

Motion 3 part of FCS 2 now supports 3D and 32-bit floating point for compositing.There is also bezier masks, tracking, match moving, and stabilization. If you're a compositor, you know how big that is.

I don't use Motion all that much, so maybe I'll do so when I get Motion 3.

Surround mixing

Soundtrack Pro 2 now has surround editing and mixing with an innovative graphical display. And there's autoconform so you can make changes to the original edit in FCP 6, STP will show the changes and even implement them.

Compressor 3

Its become faster for one thing. Has more codecs even supports ProRes. And AutoCluster. meaning you can actually use QMaster now.

CinemaTools 4

Details are sketchy, but the table view is more interactive and in the Open clip window you can now open the next or previous clip in the same window without having to close the earlier one. Clip Analysis shows up in the margin instead of having to open a window.

Costing

Upgrade from any version FCP is $ 700 or about Rs 35,000
Upgrade from any version FCS is $ 500 or about Rs 25,000
A whole new one costs $ 1300 or about Rs 65,000
All these will not be available before May.

Meaning if you spent on an upgrade earlier tis year or late '06, you now have to spend some more. I wonder what happens to people who bought FCS this month.

For the IO-HD or Multibridge Eclipse hardware (either needed for ProRes422 support) you need to shell out $ 3500 or about Rs. 2.2 to 2.5 lakhs. Both these ship in July.

What's not changed

Capture tool still doesn't seem to show a time-code display or audio level meters during capture. So if your VTR is far away you still have no feedback.

Media Manager still looks the same, but if there are improvements I need to wait and report.

Relink even if the clip is not identical to the original. Again don't know if that works like in an Avid.

So basically these are the new things in FCP 2. More as soon as I get my upgrade.

Sunday 8 April 2007

What is the x in 8x, 24x, 56x in CD and DVD drives

CD-R, DVD-R, CD-RW, DVD-RW and such discs and drives that read and write them, mention speeds as 2x, 8x, 24x, etc. What is this x in normal data transfer terms of MB/sec? I did some research and this is what it means.

In CD drives and discs, 1x is 150 KB/sec (KiloBytes per sec). This the speed that floppy drives wrote and read at. So CD drive makers expressed their speeds as multiples of this to help people understand how fast it worked with respect to floppies.

So for CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW drives and discs...
1x = 150 KB/sec
4x = 600 KB/sec
16x = 2.4 MB/sec
24x = 3.6 MB/sec
32x = 4.8 MB/sec
48x = 7.2 MB/sec

Its different for DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW and DVD+R DL
1x = 1.375 MB/sec
2x = 2.75 MB/sec
4x = 5.5 MB/sec
8x = 11 MB/sec
16x = 22 MB/sec

And the new Blu-ray disks have a different measure too.
1x = 4.5 MB/sec
2x = 9 MB/sec
4x = 18 MB/sec

As a comparison, 2x of Blu-ray is equal to 6.5x of DVD is equal to 60x of CD.

For digital video working, the speed and capacities of these drives can be expressed like this.

CD-R and RW discs can record about 4 mins. of DV quality video in about 2 mins at 48x
DVD-R and RW discs can record about 21 mins of DV quality video in about 4 mins at 16x
or about 4 mins of 8-bit uncompressed video in about 4 mins
DVD-R DL discs can record about 40 mins of DV quality video in about 50 mins at 2x
or about 8 mins of 8-bit uncompressed video in about 50 mins
BD-R and RE discs can record about 2 hrs of DV quality video in 46 mins at 2x
or 25 mins of 8-bit uncompressed video in 46 mins
Dual layer BD-R and RE discs can record about 4 hrs of DV quality video in about 92 mins at 2x
or 50 mins of 8-bit uncompressed video in about 92 mins

So Blu-ray discs have the potential of replacing DV tapes completely. They are already available as video recording media in XDCAM systems but that's not DV, its MPEG compressed.
And DVD-R DL discs are useless for any kind of video media backup because they are so slow. You can write 8 DVD-R discs in the same time that you can write just one DVD+R DL.
And when Blu-ray gets to 8x it will be fast enough to write uncompressed 10-bit SD video in faster than real time, as well as write compressed HD at many times faster than real time.

Thursday 5 April 2007

Apple at NAB 2007

What about FinalTouch and Proximity?

The 8-core MacPro announced and shipping. A larger XServeRAID. 4Gb FC cards available. But what about FinalTouch and Proximity both of which are Apple's products now and have been for a few months.

At NAB, there is some likelihood of ...

1. a new DPX based workflow maybe even DPX integration into FCP.
2. something new on the film or HD grading front from FinalTouch even a new Apple FinalTouch.
3. some sort of a shared media workflow borrowing from what's available within FCP/XSan with something from the Proximity acquisition.
4. an asset management software maybe even integration with FCP/Motion and - a long shot - a better Media manager for FCP.

That much i can guess. More as things hot up before NAB.

New Dual Quad or 8-core MacPro

So the MacPro has also gone Octa - or octo. Eight CPUs in one Mac. Just had to happen since HP and others are already selling PCs with 8 CPUs. This is the same Woodcrest or whatever its called CPU.

The 8-core was just placed on the web site with an announcement that it would be available in a few days. No show, no fanfare. And this announcement has happened a scant 10 days before NAB. Where Apple will have a special media event on the 15th Apr.

So what does that mean for NAB and FCP? Definitely no more hardware announcements. At last year's NAB it was widely rumoured and even believed that there would be FCP 6. But no such thing came out. No new hardware, no new systems, just the new MacBook pro announced but not shipping. And FCP 5.1 shown but not shipped.

I guess Apple wanted to avoid the inevitable disappointment that this would cause if they just came up with a 8-core MacPro and nothing else. And even the 8-core XServe and newer higher capacity XServeRAIDs have already been introduced a few weeks ago.

So at NAB there might be demos with the existing FCP and Motion on the 8-core MacPro, some fast shared storage with the new XServeRAID.

And then maybe there might be bigger things around so Apple just got this MacPro out of the way so they wouldn't be diluted. Who knows? We all definitely will on the 15th Apr.

Avid Media Composer on Intel Mac

Avid announced a few days ago that the new version 2.7 of Media Composer and versions of XPress Pro will now run on Intel mac systems. MacPros, MacBook Pros and even Intel iMacs.

And I've just finished installing 3 Media Composers on Quad G5s. I even tried running the PC version of Media Composer on a Dual dual-core MacPro on the 'Windows side'. it works fine except for the serial port thing. Keyspan doesn't work under WinXP.

No more of that needed. You can run MC on the 'Mac side' of a Mac Pro just as well. But if you've bought MC ver. 2.6.4 or earlier and now want to upgrade your older G5 to a Mac Pro its not going to be free. Adrenaline users need to pay $ 1000 to upgrade to MC ver 2.7 (as the Universal Binary version is called) while MojoSDI owners need to pay $150 from what I can gather.

I don't have India pricing just yet, will get it from Real Image by and by.

Friday 2 March 2007

Avid Media Composer on Apple MacPro

or... a whole new way of looking at this software for Mac vs PC thing.

In April last year Avid announced the new Media Composer software-only version. Later it shipped. In Mac and PC versions in the same box. Both separate. We just bought two last week.

The PC version and Mac version have Avid 'qualified' systems as OK by Avid. On the Mac front the MacPro is still not qualified and in beta. The Mac version can hence run only on a Quad G5 or at best on a Dual G5. Not a MacPro, not a iMac, not a MacBook Pro.

So I did a study on 'qualified system' spec.

Avid's qualified system is (quoting from Avid's site)

Microsoft ® Windows ® XP 32-bit Edition (SP2)
Dual Dual-Core Intel ® Xeon ® Processors 5150 2.66 GHz, 1333 FSB, 4 MB L2 cache
2 GB DDR2 ECC FBD SDRAM (2 GB minimum, 3 GB recommended for HD and complex workflows)

The 5160 3.00 GHz processors also supported
NVIDIA Quadro FX1500 256MB PCIe or the NVIDIA Quadro FX 3500 256MB PCIe

And the new MacPro is (quoting from everymac.com)

two Xeon 5150 "Woodcrest" Dual-Core processors, 4 MB of L2 cache per processor.
OR
two 3 GHz Dual Core Xeon 5160 processors
Both have
ECC DDR2 FB-DIMM and has 4 Mb L2 cache

Graphics is NVidia GeForce 7300 GT but you can optionally get an ATI Radeon X1900XT or even a NVidia Quadro FX4500, the same one that the PC is qualified with.

Further, if one considers laptops, then Avid's qualified systems are...

HP nw8440 Mobile Workstation
HP nw9440 Mobile Workstation

An nw8440, from HPs site consists of...

CoreDuo T2600 2.16 GHz, 667 MHz bus, 2 Mb L2 cache, DDR2 SDRAM. 15" screen, ATI FireGL graphics with 256MB VRAM,
OR
Core2Duo T7400 2.16 GHz, 667 MHz bus, 4 Mb L2 cache, DDR2 SDRAM. 15" screen, ATI FireGL graphics with 256MB VRAM,

and a nw 9440 from HPs site consists of...

CoreDuo T2600 2.16 GHz, 667 MHz bus, 2 Mb L2 cache, DDR2 SDRAM, 17" screen, NVidia Quadro FX1500M with 256 MB VRAM.
OR
Core2Duo T7400 2.16 GHz, 667 MHz bus, 4 Mb L2 cache, DDR2 SDRAM, 17" screen, NVidia Quadro FX1500M with 256 MB VRAM.

On the Mac front,

And the older CoreDuo 15" MacBookPro is
2 GHz Core Duo T2600, 667 MHz bus, 2 Mb L2 cache, PC2-5300 DDR2 RAM and Radeon X1600 graphics,

and the newer Core2Duo 15" MacBookPro is
2.16 GHz Core2Duo T7400, 667 MHz bus, 4 Mb L2 cache, PC2-5300 DDR2 RAM and Radeon X1600 graphics, 128 MB VRAM

So the specs match. Desktops and laptops.
As for iMacs, they are T2600 and T7400 so they 'count' as laptops, more or less.

So if I load up the PC version of Avid Media Composer on the Win partition of a MacPro, MacBookPro or an iMac Intel...

Will Avid Media Composer 'see' the Mac as a PC? I'm trying to find out if anyone has actually tried this. I have access to all these systems and am waiting to pinch a free Avid MC MojoSDI to try. If it does then that opens up new way of looking at this Mac vs PC thing for us creative professionals.

We no longer need wait for the Mac version of anything. Just Boot camp to Windows and run the PC version. What a coup!

Incidentally, the www.everymac.com, that I've mentioned above is a great web site which has exact specs of each and every Apple Mac ever made. You can look up your old 9500s and 8100s and the first PowerBook or even, if you're as old as me, a MacSE (which my parents used).

Sunday 25 February 2007

Shoot HDV release in a theatre

Some months ago we completed the entire digital post-production for a film called 'Shoonya' (literally meaning zero). This movie has been shown at festivals overeas, Rotterdam for one.

What made Shoonya different and probably unique is that it was shot not on film, but tape, Sony HDV tape. And using a Sony Z1 camcorder too. on small DV sized tapes.

When we first saw the footage on tape we were sceptical about how it would look. Particularly considering that the producers wanted to grade it and finally record it out to 35 mm film to show in theatres. Very challenging. Fortunately we were involved right from the beginning so we could specify a correct workflow.

I first tried out native HDV editing, which was then possible in FCP 5 (the producers chose to edit with FCP - Final Cut Pro). But the 'conform' process discouraged me as it was way too slow. For a 2 hr plus film it would be a drudgery. So I advised working with an 'intermediate codec' - Apple Intermediate.

Working with AIC assured discrete frames instead of B and P frames but it had two down sides. One, time code was not preserved after capture. And two, AIC takes up much more space than HDV-native's 12 Gb/hour.

Yet, we eventually went with AIC. We did small trials and viewed them in theatres to be convinced about the quality. The final result, though not exactly like film was definitely better than shooting SD (DV/Beta/DBeta)

After editing was complete, we collected the edit on a disk. We broke it into reels corresponding to 2000 feet in 35mm film. The maximum length most cine projectors can show at a stretch. Remember they shot 1080i50, that is 25 fps.

After that, I applied a 'secret sauce' to get it into a Lustre grading system. I created DPX file sequences from their media since Lustre is happiest working with DPX. I experimented with 8bit and 10bit and came o the conclusion that since the acquisition process worked at 8bit, there was little to gain witn 10bit.

Grading in Lustre was a bit challenging since the material lacked the latitude that 35mm film has. Here's where on-set monitoring plays a crucial role. Because if your on-set monitoring is correct in black and white levels, you'd set your exposure just right and so any exaggerated correction would be unnecessary.

If you plan on shooting HD in a big way, invest in an HD monitor of your own. Worth it.

We found HDV originated footage is less tolerant to exposure correction than 35mm originated film. Shoonya was shot pretty precisely so this kind of correction wasn't necessary.

So in the final analysis, is it really a good idea to not shoot film and yet aspire to have film as the final exhibition format?

No, I'm not about to deliver a final judgment on this. I'll just put forth some issues to keep in mind.

Not shooting film can (or could) definitely save money.
Shooting 'prosumer' HD like HDV is better than shooting SD - Beta/DBeta/DV. HDV at least has the resolution.

Shooting 'advanced' HD like HDCamSR/Varicam/Genesis can actually be more complex than shooting film. And these may actually even be costlier than film. Yes!
Avoid HDV camcorders with average lenses. The Canon XL-H1 and JVC HD250 producer much better mages than Sony's Z1 and such like just on account of their lenses.
The Z1's lens 'performance' has to be seen to be believed.

The Red camera. Keep a close watch on this.
Sony HDCamSR over Panasonic DVCProHD. Varicam shoots on highly compressed DVCProHD so its half-way between the highly compressed HDV and the relatively uncompressed HDCam-SR. HDCamSR rules. Period.

HD tapes (except HDV and DVCProHD) arent's exactly cheap. How's 25 grand for 90 mins?
For post noone's giving you an HD recorder at less than 7k and hour. Yes you'll need to factor that for editing.
Shooting film means processing delays. Shooting HDCamSR or DVCProHD also means transfer delays. You need to transfer to DV so you can edit at your place.

If you want a 'film look', currently only film will give it to you.
Not one single HD format looks exactly like film. But that's missing the point completely. Do a trial and convince yourself that the 'not-looking-like-film' really affects your story. For some stories, it might just not make a difference.

Most editors have not equipped themselves with the finer nuances of technology that HD working necessitates.
A final post-production workflow has to be worked out before you begin post production. Do yourself a favour and please hire a consultant just for this. It can save you a lot of time and money. And keep you sane.

Did I mention that Shoonya was shot with sync sound mostly. And it was shot as 1080i50 meaning 25 fps. Yet, the theatrical film version is 24 fps 35mm film. And the TV version is tape at 25fps. Both same length. And sound gave no trouble.

Now you know why you need a consultant.

Saturday 17 February 2007

The 24-25 issue in PAL film editing

There is this '24-25 thing' that crops up every now and then, in film post in PAL countries, especially India.

I was at the Institute last weekend. The Institute in the Indian film industry refers to the Film and Television Institute of India. Its at Pune and many of India's finest Film and TV personnel and artistes passed out of there. Along with my partner Anand Subaya we did a short workshop on editing.

One of the things that came up with the students one evening was this '24-25 thing'. The students there have some rather interesting issues, some I'd never thought of.

Anyway, this '24-25 thing' comes about because...
1. Film is shot at 24 fps.
2. Sound is recorded separately on Nagra/DAT/disk
3. Film is edited on a computer.
4. But it needs to be transferred to a tape to be transferred a computer.
5. Tape runs at 25 fps in PAL countries.

So...
6. Film is transferred to tape at 25 fps.
7. Because an accurate relationship has to be set up between film and tape.
8. So that in the end a cut list can be made to cut the negative accurately.
9. This transfer from film to tape is at 25 fps
10. That speeds up the film. (by 4%)
11. But editing systems need to run (play back) at 24 fps to stay in sync with sound.

So where's the problem?

As long as you're editing the film, and making cut lists, there is no problem. It works and we've been doing it for over a decade now.

But you need to pass on the edited picture as video on a tape for sound track laying and mixing. Since in Avid or FCP (computer-based) editing, you don't cut the negative till after the sound is done.

This transfer from computer to tape needs to be at the right frame rate so that after mixing and recording to optical neg, the optical neg matches the cut picture neg.

So that's the problem. Most people, especially editors from the video world simply don't handle this correctly.

And to make it worse, no system except telecines, Avid Film composers (and new Media Composers), and FCP systems - only these systems are capable of playing a 24 fps video source to a 25 fps video monitor or tape recorder (Beta/Digi/DV whatever) while keeping the duration intact.

Smoke, Quantel eQ, etc. nothing at all can do this.

What's the problem again?

1. Film is shot at 24 fps. So 10 sec of time is recorded to 240 frames on film.
2. Film is transferred to tape at 25 fps. So all 240 frames of film are transferred to 240 frames on tape. But since tape runs at 25 fps, these 240 frames run in 240/25 that is 9.6 sec.
3. Avid and FCP systems capture this at 25 fps. But they convert captured footage to the frame rate of 24 fps. So the original 240 frames are transferred to Avid/FCP.
4. And these (Avid/FCP) machines play them back 24 per sec. So 240 frames now play out in 10 sec.
5. That's how they sync with sound that was recorded.
5. But if after capture and editing, you play them back on an Avid or FCP and record that to tape, you'll get a 10 sec shot on tape which will be 250 frames.
6. So 10 sec on a timeline is 10 sec on tape. 10 sec on video tape is 250 frames.

So where do these extra 250-240=10 frames come from?

Avid and FCP systems repeat one frame every second so they add 1 frame each second. 10 secs = 10 frames. So 240 frames become 250 frames.

As an aside, the problem that students at FTII have is more complex.

They shoot at 24 fps. Process and print. Then cut these rush prints on a flatbed or Steenbeck. Steenbeck runs picture and sound (on mag film or sepmag) together at 24 fps.

But - and this is interesting - budding film-makers there shoot this edited rush film off the Steenbeck screen to a Handycam. They then capture these Handycam DV tapes to a sound software to do sound sweetening, over-dubbing, and other sound post.

And - this is serious stuff - their sound software outputs a wav or aiff file that doesn't sync with the visual. On the face of it, this seems more likely to be an issue of the Steenbeck not playing back at a tight 24 fps rather than a '24-25 thing'.

Anyway, this FTII 24-25 Steenbeck telecine issue is just an aside.

Even seasoned film-makers don't have much of a clue about this 24-25 thing. At a trial screening for a forthcoming feature someone noticed a small part of a scene being 'out-sync' At the interval, he promptly asked me if it was the '24-25 thing'

One thing to get very clearly. The '24-25 thing' invariably creates a mis-match between video and audio which is perfectly 1 frame per sec. So after 5 secs you're 5 frames out-sync. After 20 secs you're 20 frames out-sync. And if a 2000 feet reel is mis-matched because someone messed up the '24-25 thing' you'll be out-sync by a whopping 1 minute! Meaning at the end of the reel, picture will end a whole minute after sound or vice-versa.

So what's the best solution to this '24-25 thing'?

Things to remember

1. Understand how each stage of the film was handled.
2. Convert from 25 to 24 and vice versa if necessary (only possible in FCP)
3. Never capture an Avid or FCP dump back for editing.
4. Prefer handing out Quicktime movies rather than tape dumps for sound post.
5. Sound has no fps. It has a duration in seconds only. (Read this twice)
6. EDLs have no fps. They generate timelines of the fps of the source fps. (Read this thrice)

And if all this fails and you're completely stuck with a picture and sound that doesn't match, then I'm available for consulting. I've figured that so much time and energy has been spent on this '24-25 thing' that there's some commercial value in helping out. So write me and we can talk.

Else figure out who's gonna pay for the stock and studio time if you mess up.

I'm still available.

Monday 15 January 2007

MacWorld 2007 for pros - nothing new

And iPhone FAQ for India

On the eve of the Macworld 2007 keynote, I'd written about predictions and rumours. Quad-core Macs, dicplays etc. But all that ws announced was the Apple iPhone. Just an hour and a half of that and Apple TV and the new Airport Extreme.

Apple's web site has the details on this iPhone and everyone in India's excited and some have even postponed buying a new phone to get an iPhone. So here's an India centric view on the iPhone.

1. Can I go out and buy an iPhone
- No, its coming to US in June.
2. Can I get it in June then?
- No even if you got one to India, it won't work with a Hutch, Airtel, Idea or any other SIM except Cingular.
3. What if I already have a Cingular SIM from a previous visit to the US?
- Still won't work, you have to buy the new package, iPhone and new SIM.
4. So when will iPhone come here from Hutch/Airtel/whatever?
- Indications are that this will be in Jan-Mar 2008 maybe even later.
5. iPhone runs MacOSX. Can I run my favourite MacOSX apps and widgets on it?
- No, Apple has locked out the phone for any new apps. Think of an iPod, only Apple updates it, you can't add anything new to it yourself.
5. Can I use my music as ring tones?
- No. For anti-piracy reasons this has been locked out too, unless you acquire the music in an unlocked form (not from CDs)
6. Won't the screen get scratched with continuous 'fingering'?
- People who've seen and felt it say it has some protection for this.
7. Can I see movies on the iPhone?
- Yes. with whatever restrictions you've had with the present iPod. This screen is larger and sharper though.
8. Can I actually put iPhone to my ear and talk like a normal phone?
- I can't find a single source that says you can. So maybe it only works with a headset. There is a speaker and a mic at the bottom, so it will work like a speakerphone. At the keynote, I don't remember Steve holding it to his year, do you?
9. Is there a wireless headset?
- Yes there is, but no data on if it can be charged by the iPhone or some other way. Also, no data on if you can hear music on the wireless headset. Probably not.
10. How will we do Internet with iPhone in India?
- Only by Wifi if you are in a Wifi hotspot. It dosn't do WAP or 3G.

More as it 'comes out'

Tuesday 9 January 2007

Macworld 2007 scoop!

For many days now Apple have posted a sign on their home page which says...

The first 30 years were just the beginning
Welcome to 2007

Rumours have flown thick and hard. Among other things here's what many expect
iPhone or iPod Phone
Leopard features and announcement
iTV
bigger monitors, maybe with camera and HDMI
8-core MacPro
bigger and better iPod video
iPod with Bluetooth headphones
etc etc

No, I don't have any insider story, no scoop. But if you want to get the scoop as it happens and you're in India, then here's how.

Steve Jobs, head of Apple will address MacWorld in a keynote address. This happens at 9 am Pacific time. My Dashboard tells me that is 10.30 pm on Tuesday 9th Jan.

Apple will not have a live keynote streaming video, Instead, you can watch the recorded video on Wednesday morning India time.

For those who can't wait, log in to www.macrumors.com for a live text commentary. Meaning they have someone sitting there with a laptop (maybe a Mac) typing away as Steve speaks and this goes out via some kind of a wireless internet IRC chat or something. And you get to read as it happens.

A word of caution. There are plenty of rumours. And that leads to a lot of expectations. More often than not, rumours are only partly true. So if you went by rumours and postponed buying a iPod or MacBook or MacPro for the past 3 months, and none are announced, you will be very disappointed.

My advice. Get a good night's sleep on the 9th night and check out Apple's web site on Wednesday morning.

Sunday 7 January 2007

Editing systems - how open are they.

A lot gets written and said by editing software and systems manufacturers about how open their systems are. How easy it is to import and export, and work with external media. And in todays shared post production environment it becomes really critical for one to be able to share a job on multiple systems and platforms. This needs systems to be as open as possible.

But working on various systems, here's a report card on openness of various systems based on simple, common-sense criteria.

Avid XPress/MC
1. OS - WinXP, MacOSX
2. Media format - .omf
3. Media openable in other apps - No except Avid apps.
4. Media disk format - NTFS, MacOSX extended.
5. Media disk visible and R/W to other apps - Yes
6. Other media formats can be imported directly - Yes
7. Other media formats can be used directly - No, none

Final Cut Pro
1. OS - MacOSX
2. Media format - Quicktime, and others.
3. Media openable in other apps - Yes
4. Media disk format - MacOSX extended, maybe others.
5. Media disk visible and R/W to other apps - Yes
6. Other media formats can be imported directly - Yes
7. Other media formats can be used directly - Yes, some.

Autodesk Smoke/Flint/Flame/Fire/Inferno
1. OS - Linux, Irix
2. Media format -Proprietary
3. Media openable in other apps - No
4. Media disk format - StoneFS/proprietary.
5. Media disk visible and R/W to other apps - No
6. Other media formats can be imported directly - Yes
7. Other media formats can be used directly - No, none.

Quantel eQ/iQ
1. OS - WinXP
2. Media format - Proprietary
3. Media openable in other apps - No
4. Media disk format - Proprietary.
5. Media disk visible and R/W to other apps - No
6. Other media formats can be imported directly - Yes
7. Other media formats can be used directly - No, none.

Avid DS Nitris
1. OS - WinXP
2. Media format - .omf
3. Media openable in other apps - No except Avid apps.
4. Media disk format - NTFS
5. Media disk visible and R/W to other apps - Yes
6. Other media formats can be imported directly - Yes
7. Other media formats can be used directly - No, none

I don't have data on Premiere, Vegas, Liquid, and other apps.

But from these you can see that the top-end editing systems are almost completely closed. Discreet has made some efforts via third-party utilities like XStoner, and other Wiretap utilities but these are not quite as convenient as directly sharing over the network. Quantel systems don't even let you check how much space you have available in terms of Gb and Tb. And Avid use their own file-naming conventions so you can't really meddle with their app even when things are broken.

FCP is almost like a Quicktime Player that edits as far as open-ness is concerned. But the flip side to this open-ness is that there is still no real multi-resolution support, and lots of rendering, which is the same as having to import as far as time is concerned.