Thursday 18 December 2008

An FCP system for Uncompressed HD

I was at a TV station a few days ago with a requirement to capture uncompressed HD at 4:4:4 dual link out of a telecine. The captures had to be a jumbo reel at a time which works out to about 22 mins in one go. Telecine was a Cintel with Stereo or Dolby audio coming from a Sondor sound follower in sync. 

The system was configured as a Dual Quad MacPro with 8 GB RAM. A Kona 3 card with a AJA embedder to embed analog audio into the HD-SDI stream. And disks were internal. Yes internal disks. I was skeptical. The disks were SAS disks RAIDed together as RAID 0 with the Apple internal RAID card. SAS drives are wicked fast. But the signal was HD 1080p24 at 4:4:4. 

I checked the AJA Control Panel to be sure. And I was still skeptical. I first ran the AJA disk test and it showed sufficient Read and Write speed. But only just. I've forgotten the actual numbers as we did a few combinations of cache on and off. 

So we threaded the film. And the sound film. Played pack to check sync and inputs. The colourist fussed over the colours a bit and was ready to go. He ran the film and I hit capture now. The 'Abort capture on dropped frames' warning was on. We went over the whole reel and the capture went through. 

The RAID drive wasn't empty, but wasn't full either. About 20% full from previous captures. The capture went off fine. Not a singe dropped frame. Just to be sure we did it one more time. And that went through as well. I'm not entirely sure this is going to work if the drives get full like about 80% full. And I have no way to check. 

A colleague will be running further tests over the next week or so. Maybe he'll fill up the drive and we'll find out that this works up to a point. Also, these drives are striped as RAID 0, so its not a secure RAID and one drive failure will result in total data loss. The whole telecine will then need to be repeated. 

But then, I guess their workflow will have to be to encode these to whatever their target format is and take it off the drives as soon as possible, so maybe that may not be such a problem. And SAS drives are seriously reliable. 

Finally, just to make sure that the same setup performed fine for compressed HD capture as well, I did one reel captured to Apple ProResHQ. The data rate of ProResHQ even at 1080p24 4:2:2 is well within the capabilities of even a single SATA drive so the SAS RAID wasn't going to sweat much over ProRes. But I wanted to be sure if the combination of an HD input and the extra processing that ProRes takes, would be handled by this configuration. It did. 

So, here it is. a simple system to capture HD Uncompressed all within one box. I went over to the Apple store to spec it out and check what it would cost. 
Here is the complete spec... 
# Two 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon 
# 8GB (4x2GB) 
# Mac Pro RAID Card 
# 320GB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s 
# 300GB 15,000-rpm SAS 
# 300GB 15,000-rpm SAS 
# 300GB 15,000-rpm SAS 
# ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT 256MB 
# One 16x SuperDrive 
# Apple Cinema HD Display (30" flat panel) 
# Apple Mighty Mouse 
# Apple Keyboard + User's Guide 
# AppleCare Protection Plan for Mac Pro (w/or w/o Display) - Auto-enroll 

And here's the cost. 
(US$, Customs duty extra) 
$ 9097 for the system - spec above 
$ 1300 for Final Cut Studio 2 
$ 2300 for the AJA Kona3 

With Indian Customs duty you're looking at About Rs 8 lakhs. The only saving I can see anyone making is to get a Blackmagic Multibrdge Pro in place of the Kona3 which can save you $ 700. 

But I haven't tested the Multibridge with this setup so can't say. I have used a Multibridge extensively and found it to work fine even with uncompressed HD. Either ways, the ability to capture and work in HD, as uncompressed 4:4:4 is now within reach. 

8 lakhs may seem a bit much, if you're in the market for a cheap DV only system. But if online quality video and even 2k is what you're getting into, then this is it. With an AJA Kona 3 you're going to get video quality indistinguishable from a Smoke/Flame or eQ for a fraction of the price. 

By the way, the new Smoke/Flame systems ship with an AJA Xena card which sources at Aja have told me is the same as the Kona in quality terms. Besides with Final cut Studio, you get Motion, Color, SoundTrack, LiveType. 

Add Shake, a 3D CG software, Adobe Video bundle, some DPX tools, Apple Color and a really imaginative editor, and you've got a mean system that can make you some big bucks. 

And, if you want to go further, add two iMacs, GigE network them, snag two enthu cutlets who can assist with capture and graphics and you've got some real great human throughput that one online machine just can't deliver.

Saturday 29 November 2008

Its OVER!

Its Over!

Two days of mayhem. When ten, maybe more individuals who seemed to have planned rather well, and had access to some high power weapons. And then, with a bit of guts, and a city that wasn't prepared, and they managed to hold up life.

As did those individuals who had a few stones, no plans, and only broke some taxi windshields. Yes, even they held up life in Mumbai not too long ago.

A lot of people are asking why the Government couldn't prevent this, or why security forces were so unprepared? I think the same terrorism strategy used here over the past days, could have been used in just about any city in the world. No security force in the world can prepare for this. Or prevent it. Anywhere.

But on 11/26, while the security forces excelled at their job, the news channels disappointed. None of them had access to technology that's so easy to get. None of their reporters had helmets or bullet-proof vests - costing a few hundred dollars.
Or some other technology that could have differentiated their coverage. Like...

High resolution cameras. HD is quite easily accessible and can produce detailed images. Even the transmission was so compressed in parts that one got the impression one was watching YouTube.

Long lenses. In cricket matches, the camera is in the stands but can take tight close ups of batsmen and fielders. These kid of cameras can take viewers closer to the action, but yet no news channel seems to have one. Surely they could have hired one. After all, there was a ODI series under way, so many such cameras were around.

Buffered recording. In terrorism situations, events can happen without warning, and one almost always rolls the camera late. But there are cameras that are always rolling in 'round-robin' fashion and when you actually start recording, the last 1-5 minutes are kept.

High angle views. Camera cranes that rise up to 50 feet in the air, are easy to hire and deploy. There are many in Mumbai. and these would have afforded safe and high angle views, which could even have helped security forces.

Rover and Helicopter cams. Remote controlled rovers running off rechargeable batteries can crawl close to the action without endangering the camera crew. These can even give security forces a close look without having to actually send a man there.

Remote controlled mini copters too can rise many hundreds of feet and get close to the action in a high rise building. These are small and silent and hard to shoot back at. Both the helicopter and the rover can be fitted with night-vision cameras.

Glass shields. Camera crew standing even hundreds of metres away could easily have been hit by stray bullets from terrorists or even the security forces. Glass shields standing on tripods placed in front of the camera offer protection from bullets and flying shards and shrapnel.

Mini-boom cameras. Mini cameras, even HD cameras that are fitted inside stumps or race cars, can easily be boom mounted so the camera crew don't need to stand on a platform for a high angle. These can even be used in hard to reach interview situations, or to 'peek around the corner' in a bullets-flying situation.

Boom-mikes. Why do TV reporters have to hand carry mikes and thrust them in the speaker's face. The entire movie industry records sound with boom mikes. They get you close and produce great sound.

Solar generators. News channels had vans running of mini generators. When parked together this makes a huge roar. In a sun-blessed country like ours, can't they use silent power like solar? There might even be a situation in the future when security forces order the generators off just so they can hear better.

At the end of the day, this whole thing was converted into a long reality show by news channels. Great for TRPs. A new spectator sport. So I say, if its just that why not equip yourself well to give the viewer a better view of the action.

Horrific it is all right. Some may even say it glorifies crime and makes us insensitive. Does that stop anyone from airing it? I think these kind of events if televised correctly actually help in generating public opinion. Maybe that's what we need to fight this war.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Browse hard disks like floppies or USB drive

Anyone who's a tinkerer has many hard drives sitting on their shelves from older systems. 120 G gets replaced by 250 which gets replaced by 500 and so on. And one doesn't really throw away old drives. At the same time, connecting a SATA drive inside a case or even inside your PC/Mac is cumbersome. Screws, connectors case lids - too much hassle.

So, I checked out a USB to SATA/IDE adapter some time ago. A friend, sent me a link. I bought mine on eBay. Rs 800 and very innovative.
It works fine, but can be a bit cumbersome. Too many connections to make just to connect a drive. And the SATA connectors come loose any time. So the experience is only marginally bettter than connecting a bare drive to a computer or external case.

Then last month while in London, I bought this a USB drive dock. From Maplin at Tottenham Road. This is really terrific.

Bare drive can be just slid in 'browsed' and slid out. Push a button and the drive pops out like toast. No screws no connectors. Just keep the dock permanently connected to your Mac or PC. Even MacBook Pro. My dock sits on my table permanently connected via USB to my MacPro at work. And a drawer full of drives, now working like floppies.
It even works with laptop sized 2.5 in. drives.

I even got another through a friend who went there last week. A USB/SATA drive dock with a card reader and hub. Also from Maplin but at Wembley. I could get used to this place.

This has a SATA port. And a card reader and USB hub.



And to connect it to my MacBook Pro via eSATA I have a Sonnet TempoExpressCard SATA adapter.



This drive dock thing comes in many variants (and colours)

From GeekStuff
or ThinkGeek
and some others here.

It gets even better. If you want Firewire and can spend a bit more, Vantec makes one with Firewire.



And like me, if you're worried that the drive is exposed from the back check out the one with a case.




And a final twist, one with a fan.





Bear in mind that these things are a bit heavy. They have weights in them, else when the drive spins they'd fly. As a curious experiment try this. Connect the drive, and let it mount on your Mac. Then browse through folders, open and close a file or two. Then, unmount the drive, after its gone, switch off the dock and pop out the drive and hold it in your hand.

The drive is now spinning down from 7200 rpm to stop. The sheer torque it generates twists your hand like an unseen force.

There's even a 'Please note...' at one web site which seems to be translated by a machine into English. It reads...

"Note: In order to keep still, the docking station has added weight this preventing the docking station to move when you are plugging in or out your HDD. This added weight is unfortunately increasing the shipping cost… We are very sorry for this inconvenient but there is nothing we can do on this matter. Thank you for your understanding."

The English is quaint, but this thing works. Recommended. If you can afford it get the version with Firewire and cases for your drives.

Sunday 12 October 2008

Post for a feature length film on a Red camera


Shooting a feature length Indian film with a Red camera is now a possibility. Cameras are coming in, and hiring them is getting easier. Some have already done it. And many more are testing the waters and mulling it before taking the leap.
Apart from all the other arguments and discussions on the aesthetic of Red vs. film, the post workflow is a different. And if the Red camera saves you money from not having to shoot hundreds of cans of film negative (each costing about Rs. 10,000), it also needs you to be responsible with the storage of this data. And have a good plan on how to finish the film.

So, for all those who are considering shooting on Red, here's a check-list of gear you must own or have access to. For the post of a movie shot with the Red camera.

On location
MacBook Pro
Firewire CF Card readers - two at least.
Portable RAID 1 drive. Like the
Sonnet Fusion F2
You'll also need a SATA adapter like the Sonnet Tempo SATA ExpressCard/34
A good utility like ShotPut Red for copying and backing up these files.

At your place
Desktop MacPro - 4 core or more 2GB RAM per CPU, so an eight-core needs 16 GB RAM
Safe RAID - Sonnet Fusion, CalDigit, anything running RAID 5 or RAID 6 for which you can get failed drives replaced in India easily. And with 5 drives or more.

Licenced software - FCP, Crimson, GlueTools, Pomfort.
Red software - RedAlert, RedCine, RedRushes. The latest versions tried and figured out.
Large monitor - Apple or some other 30". Small monitors are a disaster.
Capture card - BlackMagic or Kona Broadcast monitor - or good LCD TV.

All Software - Buy, Buy, Buy. Don't look for cracks, don't pirate. 

All this can go between Rs 7-10 lakhs. If you don't want to sink in that kind of money figure out rentals with a post house. Or installments with a bank. But do NOT skimp on any of these.

Red shoots data. On CF cards. Your rushes are data. As long as your data is safe you have a movie. If your data is lost, only a re-shoot can get it back. And till you re-shoot, you don't have a movie.
With Red data, a drive failure can make you lose 20 hours of rushes in a fraction of a second. Especially with cracked software.

Now is Rs 10 lakhs too expensive? So develop a paranoid, maniacal reverence to data and obtain a obsessive compulsive disorder of continuously making backups and triple-checking them. Once per hour.

Next, get a good post crew. Identify an editor. Have him or her improve their reading on digital formats and get familiar with the Red workflow. And all the products listed above. Avid or FCP doesn't matter as long as the editor has a good plan. If the editor is Red-skeptic, get another editor.

Repeat this process till you find one who believes. Make sure your editor's plan is in sync with the people at the post house that is doing the final film grade and output. Again, both the editor and the post house need to believe in this whole thing. If they are skeptical, or in a Red-bashing, or FCP-bashing, or Avid-bashing or general digital-bashing mood, let them go.

The editor's age doesn't matter as long as his thoughts and beliefs are from this century. Yes, even twenty-somethings can be really old school when it comes to the Digital Film process. Finally, identify all the deliverables - film print, promos, trailers, HD tapes, DigiBeta tapes, DVD, maybe Blu-ray - and ensure the editor and post people have heard of all these and have a plan on starting with Red and ending up with all these.

Actually your post plan also depends on the final deliverables. If your post team don't have a plan, find a consultant (hint, hint) who can sell you a plan. Yes, sell a plan, as in pay money and get something in return. The goods you're buying is advice. Don't expect free advice.

Most consultants treat free and paid advice with different degrees of seriousness. So if you have the intent (to pay), make it known up front. Making a film and completing it so that people can buy tickets and watch it, all this starting with a film camera and film, is easy. If you and your crew know how to, can follow instructions, and have a plan.

The same applies to starting out with a Red camera and CF cards. Except that the instructions are different, as is the plan.

Sunday 28 September 2008

Canon EOS 5D MkII

Some musings on this trend of still cameras doing high quality high res video.



Canon announced and will ship very soon, a new DSLR. The EOS 5D MkII. This is a DSLR like many before it. It has many more megapixels that the cameras before it. It does higher ISO that cameras before it. Which is normal too.

But what sets it apart is that it can shoot movies at high resolution as well. In fact it can shoot 25fps (maybe even 24fps and 30fps) movies at 1920x1080 pixels. Which is the definition of HD. And which is sufficient for making a film. Even if finally for 35mm movie film.

But Canon was not the first camera maker to make such a camera. Nikon recently released the D90 which too can do HD movies. But 1280x720. And the Nikon uses (old) M-JPEG compression. Compared to H.264 that Canon uses. There's also another model that can do HD movies. The Canon SX1 IS too does HD movies and also at H.264.


Many web sites have described these machines. Some have downloadable results from these cameras. Some have compared the EOS 5D MkII to the Red One and even to the unreleased Red Scarlet. And some have even called this a 'game changer'.

I think this is a bit over the top. The EOS 5D MkII is basically a still camera. And as good as a camera Canon makes. That it can do HD movies is an additional functionality. But it can't challenge a camera made for doing movies.

Some of the limitations of shooting a proper movie with the EOX 5D Mk II as with any other such still camera is lack of some crucial features.

Like.
1. You can't adjust focus while 'rolling'.
2. You can't adjust aperture while 'rolling'.
3. It has a still camera grip which isn't exactly comfortable for filming.
4. You can only shoot a few minutes at a time.
5. The movies are highly compressed H.264.
6. Sound may not be as good and there are no professional inputs.
7. The movies are 1080p30 even at Canon's UK site.

But to be fair, this is a rather economical HD camera. At $ 2700 the price can't be beat. Lenses are super sharp, still camera, 21 megapixel capable lenses, that can rival film camera lenses. Film camera lenses cost more not necessarily because they are better than still camera lenses. There is volume economics to it as well.

Which brings us to the interesting question - why did Nikon and Canon do it? That is, make a still camera that can do high quality movies. And why didn't they just come out with a digital movie camera like the Red, which shoots to hard disk or memory card? Sort of like a successor to the XL-H1?

I'm sure both companies have some good reasons, but one of them could be economics. I don't have exact figures, but at between $2000 to $3000, DSLRs probably sell more numbers than movie making cameras. So the cost of developing, and improving on the quality of, and marketing HD-size movie capable imaging chips - CCD or CMOS - gets spread over much larger numbers.

And, a large body of discerning eyes - still photographers - take stills and contribute with valuable feedback. So the product gets market tested well. Had this feature of shooting HD movies with a full frame chip been provided in a 'handycam type' camcorder, it would have been wasted in shaky vacation movies.

So while I'm not sure about Nikon, but I'm reasonably certain Canon will release a HD or even maybe 4k resolution camera that shoots movies using a imaging chip that's the exact size of the normal 35 mm movie frame. The EOS 5D MKII is just the beginning.

And when that happens, that will be a 'game changer'.

Added 27 Oct 08
Amongst the first movies shot with the EOS 5D MkII which was put up on the net, was taken down as it lead to some really heavy downloading that swamped the host site. The movie is now up at Vincent's blog here.

Saturday 13 September 2008

IBC 2008

IBC happened in Amsterdam from the 12th to 16th Sept. 2008

If you happen to work in film and video production, post-production, TV broadcasting and other related fields this is the place to go in September. There are loads of things to see, and I saw as many as I could in the 4 days I was there.

From notes I kept, here are just some of the things I saw in depth. My impressions.

Grading systems (alphabetically)

Baselight from FilmLight
This is a robust grading system which always shows new grading features. And plays nicely with a DVS SAN. There's also a great new direct media workflow with Avid Unity and Avid systems. One can edit on Avid at compressed HD resolutions and have Baselight access the media directly off an Avid Unity. And grade it. Yes, an external application opening and manipulating Avid media. How things change!

And after grading on a Baselight, an exported AAF links up with rendered shots with media created by Baselight. When imported back into Media Composer. Cool!.

Film Master from Digital Vision
Film Master has new grading features and a new tracker that's very impressive. Conform on the Nucoda has always been the best as is project management.

Phoenix and DVO too have evolved with great new automation features.

iQ from Quantel
iQ has evolved into version 4 with workflow enhancements. Quantel showed a new workflow with timeline transfer from FCP to Quantel. There's even a multi-track timeline in Quantel now so its even easier to understand. One needs to export an XML and let Automatic Duck do the conversion to AAF. What they don't tell you is you need to buy Automatic Duck to make this work.
Red camera files are now natively supported. I didn't get time to check out what kind of workflow is need to go from Red to FCP to Quantel. But I guess this kind of thing becomes clear when you have to do it by yourself.
And the grading panel - Neo - is ready and shipping. So no one needs to steal one. A colourist friend tried the panel found some neat features for colourists. So now with this real panel maybe many of the non-believers will sit up and take notice of iQ as a film grading system.
Genetic Engineering is also evolving into a good shared workflow solution. Now Quantel just need to open up their storage and make their systems able to operate off others'.

Lustre from Autodesk
Lustre showed 4k workflow as well with a 'Super Incinerator' which seemed to work as it always does, at trade shows. The Lustre interface still seems the same old clunky one with similar limitations with inter operability with other systems.
I didn't really spend too much time at Autodesk.

Resolve from DaVinci
Resolve now does 4k. Many models. R100, R350 and R700. But this is all new architecture so existing DaVinci Resolve systems cannot be upgraded to these.
DaVinci also have a new panel which was inside a showcase at NAB. Now its out and all the buttons and knobs and balls actually do things. But from what I saw, this new grading panel appears to be still 'work-in-progress'.

Scratch from Assimilate
Scratch has been a simple no-frills grading system at a competitive cost - and it still is. With a software-only version and a Red files only version also available. It even works with a low-cost Tangent Wave grading panel. It has great conform features, and simple yet effective grading.
For those who need a viable non-film workflow, maybe for commercials or even TV shows, a Red plus Scratch is still an unbeatable combination. You can start out as low-cost as you want, if you promise yourself that some part of the money you make from starting out cheap, would go into building up the Scratch workstation.

Systems I did not see from the grading point of view were Chroma Imaging Matrix, Avid DS (as a grading system), Apple Color (Apple did not participate).

Storage

DVS
DVS-SAN has Spycer and together they make up a reliable fast SAN with excellent CONTENT management. Spycer shows what SAN content manager should be like. It adds value to DVS-SAN by optimising space management.
Spycer also does conversions, autonomously, data movement, and access control.
And there's a SAN management tool that shows graphically the state of the SAN. And reliable stats about performance.
SpycerBox is another innovative add-on to DVS SAN or as a standalone content manager. It uses the Spycer software with internal storage and a fast connection to a SAN. And it can do cross conversion to MXF, DV and other editorial capable media.

DVS other products Clipster and their OEM cards continue to be as they always have been. Solid and dependable.

BrightClip
Bright Systems showed pretty much what they did at NAB. But there was a dramatic demonstration of the effects of fragmentation especially with systems shared between DI and VFX/CGI systems. Two working hard disks with glass tops so you can see the disk spinning and the head thrashing about looking for data.

Enter BrightClip. This enables the server and BrightClip enabled apps to intelligently 'arrange' data to guarantee best performance. So this BrightClip disk head thrashes about much less than the non enabled drive.

Ardis
Ardis is a small Dutch company that have made a simple shared storage solution at a very competitive price. Just for sharing between editing systems. FCP, Avid, whatever. And for sound studios working with ProTools/Nuendo.
They've tested it across Avid versions and FCP systems. They had a bunch of them on the stall. And it all seemed to work well.
Some configurations also sport one or more 10GigE ports so one can connect fast-track stations that do film 2k and 4k.

A 4U 12TB config supporting 8 uncompressed SD streams or 40 DV25 streams is EU 25,000, while the top of the line 30TB solution with 20 Uncompressed SD streams or 100 DV25 streams at EU 55,000.

Film devices

AatonK
No spelling mistake. Aaton announced a new LCD based film recorder - AatonK - that records a whole frame at a time. Meaning not like Arrilaser that records line by line with a laser. The AatonK isn't shipping yet but claims to deliver cleaner pictures than laser based recorders. They even had side by side comparisons.
Aaton has partnered with Filmlight to market this recorder using tight integration with the Truelight calibration within Baselight.
Being LCD based there are no moving parts and the calibration is 'self-calibration'.
The AatonK will record 3 fps at 2k and 1.4 sec/frame at 4k.

MWA Nova FlashRecord
Under the Nova name, MWA showed a real time film recorder capable of up to 30 fps. And can record from DPX, TIFF, CIN TGA etc. Just like a Cinevator which is also a real time recorder, this one too is a marriage between a HD video projector and a film camera. The Nova FlashRecord as it is called uses LED light source. It is a daylight operations recorder unlike Cinevator which needs a darkroom.
The FlashRecord is much lower priced than the Cinevator, and I suspect, aimed at a different market too.

Kinoton
Kinoton is amongst few film projector makers still standing. They showed a nice line of film projectors with configurations for small projection rooms. There are also options to remove the lens and place a video pickup to do quick QC type transfers from film to video - sort of 'poor man's telecine'.
Which also keeps the projector in use when not showing film. Now i only they could make it do film to video transfer with a rudimentary keycode reader-burner, they'd have a ready huge market in India. Dailies.

CTM
CTM showed small 16mm table top scanner transfer machines and even one for 8mm. And a simple 35mm film-video transfer system.

Spirit4k
News on the floor was that Thomson's Grass Valley division has been sold to private investors. Spirit and Bones are pretty much where they were last year. Except that this buyout might change the name - Maybe now there'll be Parter Spirit4k - assuming that's the new owner's name.

Displays

Barco
Barco finally showed a shipping unit of their LCD broadcast monitor RHDM 2301. Good picture rich colours, blacks almost CRT like this is probably the best looking LCD picture so far. And with a CRT like field handling.
Also a good feature is the continuous self calibration

Astra 4k
Doing 4k anything needs a 4k monitor. Astra 4k LCD was everywhere. It shows every pixel in a 4k frame and has reasonably good colour contrast for an LCD. Seeing true 4k visuals on the gorgeous 52 in. LCD is quite a sight. I'm not sure of the pricing For a Red camera workflow with 4k files, this would make the perfect client monitor.

Sony
Sony's displays are pretty much where they were last year. The LCD premium models are way too expensive for what they deliver, the mid range ones are average performers, and the prototypes are still prototypes.
And there's still an engineer who has a English vocabulary of about 42 words demonstrating the 4k LCD. So its hard to get any real information on this monitor.

Sony's 3D LCD playing out of an HDCam-SR was amazing. You still need to wear glasses. And if they aren't clean the effect is spoilt. But when it all works, its breathtaking.

Other interesting stuff

3D
3D viewing, 3D editing, 3D finishing, 3D compositing, 3D compression. 3D was everywhere at IBC. It seems film makers in the west have completely lost faith in people visiting theatres. So 3D is that one new thing that they expect will bring people back to theatres. After HD, its 3D now.
Even though HD is still far from universal even on TV.

At IBC there was this thrilling 3D theatrical presentation of clips from upcoming movies. And even a live HD 3D interview with Jeff Kratzenberg from LA to a large 30' tall screen in the IBC theatre.

The screening of clips was full of bugs which showed that 3D is good fun if done right but is literally an 'eyesore' if goofed up. And this screening as well as the other 3D screenings all over the exhibition showed (at least to me) that there need for a certain 'grammar for 3D filming and editing.

A trend to watch though. And Quantel is at the front of this 3D thing.

Wasp 3D
A small Indian company in NOIDA makes this real time 3D graphics software for TV networks. What interested me was that it can import 3D files from 3DSMax and Maya and play them in real time - even in HD.

The output is not as great looking as a rendered 3DSMax output, but is useful for quick client previews and timing and compositing trials.

eMotion digi-crank
eMotion has been showing their speed change software for film and video. And now its better and works stably. As a by product it also does a bit of restoration and standards change. An ideal thing would be if these motion effect softwares could work with an EDL.

Apical D-Rex Image enhancement
This is a small external CD-ROM sized box that takes HD-SDI or SD-SDI inputs and alters dark areas to bring out detail, or cleans up burnt out areas. In real time.

Fraunhofer DCP
The Fraunhofer Institute continues to innovate. From an immersive all round screen to Digital Cinema Packaging as a complete solution. easyDCP is what its called. It can create complete SMPTE compliant DCPs or Interop DCPs.

Sony DPX to HDCam-SR
Sony's newest HDCam-SR VTR the SRW 5800 can be used to record 2k or 4k DPX files as data. An optional board is needed. And a simple interface permits recording and transfer of DPX files to an HDCam-SR.

At 1fps for 4k, 3 fps at 2k and 3fps at HD this is a slow DPX recorder. Even LTO3 works faster. And with the VTR costing in Rs. six figures, an HD tape in Rs. five figures, I didn't see the point. To make it worse, one 40 min HD tape holds 180 GB, and a 64 min tape about 260 GB.

Arri calibration probe
Arri showed a calibration probe for LCD monitors and projectors. It is also a LUT builder and builds LUTs for most grading systems. The probe is an XRite with their own software.

Tangent Wave
A small grading panel from the most trusted grading panel making names. This is a $1500 device that currently works with Scratch, but will soon work with Apple Color. Good for a small quick grading system where a real colourist has to work.

Arri lens for camcorders
Arr has lenses and matte boxes for the new breed of interchangeable lens HD camcorders. So that the final distinction between prosumer and professional - the lensing - just got fixed.

Matrox MXO2
Matrox finally has an I/O solution that works. This one is for a multitude of edit systems - Premiere, FCP etc - and can be used in the field. It connects via a PCIe extension so can be used with Firewire drives. It also does HD/SD up/down conversion. Very cool.

Sonnet drive and SATA
Sonnet whose RAIDs many people use for editing systems, showed a tiny 1TB RAID box that runs off laptop power and works via eSATA. This can be used in the field for direct HD recording or any other use.

Sonnet also showed small desktop RAIDs all the way to multiple HD streams. Direct attached storage for the masses.

Sunday 24 August 2008

iPhone in India - first look

The new iPhone 3G has finally been launched in India. I got an SMS from Vodafone asking me to pay Rs 10,000 (US $ 232) as an advance at any Vodafone store. In a few days I would be informed when and where to collect the iPhone.

The cost will be Rs 31,000 (US$ 720) for the 8 Gb model and Rs 36,000 (US$ 837) for the 16 Gb model. Many have complained that this is excessive and they are comparing it to the Rs. 8,600 (US$ 199) price overseas. But that's misleading.

The iPhone 3G will also be available at other stores and Apple stores in India. I want to Croma at Juhu and checked out the iPhone. Here its available for Rs.29,800 (US$ 693) for the 8Gb and Rs 34,500 (US$802) for the 16 Gb.

I stopped and took a look. I asked the the sales person about the plans and whether I would have to get a new connection. he told me I could use my existing Vodafone post-paid card with the new iPhone but I would have to take a new 'package'. But I explained I already had one. Then in that case he said I would have to get a data package.

On whether my number would remain the same he said it would. But then, what would happen to the SIM card inside the iPhone? I asked, and he had no idea. And supposing I popped in y SIM card into the iPhone would it work right away? He said sure I needed to send an SMS.

And what if I had a BPL or an Idea SIM card? He said that would work too. He sid sure it would. Very strange. If this salesman is to be believed, then Apple is officially selling an unlocked iPhone in India. No need to sign up with any particular mobile service.

I don't believe it. I think the salesman was probably living somewhere in the jungles when the iPhone was released last year and all the hoopla about locking/unlocking happened over the past year or so. So he's completely unaware.

The iPhone itself what does it feel like? I held it in my hand. Maybe I was imagining it but it seemed lighter. The back is black and plastic not silver aluminium like the old iPhone. The headphone socket is not recessed so any headphone will work. The silend button is sl=ilver and flatter. And, the sofware is slightly different than the 1.x versions. Apart from these, externally at least, the iPhone 3G is not radicaly different.

Will I rush oiut and buy one? I don't think so. This Rs 30,000 price is a bit much for me. So I'm going to pass on the iPhone 3G for the moment till 3G services start in India.

And for existing iPhone owners, what happens to their iPhone? Does it get a warranty in India now? Will Apple India service the old 'unofficial' iPhone? What happens if an American with a 'legal' iPhone comes to India and has some trouble with it. Will the Apple Authorised Service Centre in India fix it?

Lots of questions still. In the weeks to come we'll have answers, I'm sure.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

There's a Red camera in Mumbai

For the past few months I've heard of someone or the other who 'has a Red' in India. But no confirmed sighting. Now there's one.

A production house in Andheri West has a Red camera. It's here. With lenses. I know this as a fact from a gentleman from Benchmark who are the resellers and support people for Red and Scratch.

I'm not sure if I should name the place that the Red camera is at, since I'm not sure they want it to be publicly known. The camera is functional and soon we will see stuff shot with this camera appearing on our TV screens maybe even in a theatre near you.

A lot of people - including those who own this camera - are keen on shooting with Red, here in India. Reasons include, 'filmic' lensing and hence depth of field, 'film look', no expense on film or even HD tapes, no time lost in processing and other such.

But before you rush out there and shoot with Red, especially if you're thinking of long-form film like a documentary, feature or even music video, there are things to consider.

Red shoots to memory cards - CF cards - or to hard disk. Either way, its all data. There's no film or tape. So it can 'vanish' in a fraction of a second if its not correctly stored and backed up. Almost everyone has a hard disk crash some time or the other.

Second, a post work flow. Red files can be natively edited in FCP, but not in Avid. They carry time code so the edit can be replicated on another system. But that another system cannot directly be smoke, flame, eQ, iQ or any such that one is used to 'doing online' or finishing on.

Some amount of conversions are needed from Red's native format to a format that these online systems can see and work on. And these converted files also need to be reconnected back to the edit. This is easy but takes some doing. the average editor who works with the comfort of EDLs that match back to tape or film will need some re-learning. And educated trial and error.

With a work flow that doesn't take into account this methodology, its entirely possible to end up with an edit that doesn't match back, has slippages and other such horrors. As usual, Its very easy to 'blame FCP' as a lot of editors are prone to doing.

You also need an 'ideal' system to work with Red. Just any old FCP system won't do. it will have
to be a new MacPro, gobs of RAM, loads of hard disk space. Correctly configured with the latest and compatible FCP, Quicktime, and MacOSX versions. Compatible RedCode, RedCine, Red Alert, RedRushes, FCP plug-ins. And time before the edit to explore these software, measure time taken for various conversions, and a strategy that's well documented.

So, if you plan on shooting Red, take a moment and consider and discuss these things and make a plan. Red is not film, but its easier than film. All you need is to invest time and effort to understand how to make it work.

Monday 14 July 2008

First TV commercial shot on Red in India

Some days ago, on the one hand there were Reds withdrawing support to a Government, and on the other, a Red that was probably ushering in a revolution in acquisition for mass entertainment.

Unless someone has completed a TV commercial in India before the 12th July, this is the first TV commercial in India shot on the Red camera. I'm not sure I can name the product, but maybe I will after its released.

Two old friends worked on this commercial - Rajesh Krishnan and Murlidharan. Actually they are both very young, 'old' friends means we go back a long time. Rajesh's company Soda Films produced it with Rajesh directing and Murli as the cinematographer.

The commercial was also simultaneously shot on 35mm with an Arri 435 camera. I had to edit the Red material while the film material was edited at Rajesh's office. Eventually we'll tally both edits so one can have a comparison.

My editing workflow...
1. Tried to do log and capture in FCP with the Red data. It was taking ages as the files were on a USB drive. I set the Log and Capture all night on a Quad core Intel MacPro, and it stopped sometime after doing 41 (out of 123 clips). This method seems completely impractical, unless one wants to mark and capture.
2. Tried Redrushes to convert the clips to Apple ProRes. I set it up to convert all clips to Apple ProRes SQ at 1920x1080. Earlier, I did small tests scaling at different sizes, and the scaling size doesn't seem to affect speed. My rush of 123 clips totalling about 23 mins, on an Intel Quad Core took 4 hours to convert from Red to Apple ProRes. Again, this method isn't very impractical.
3. So I decided to edit the _H or _M clips directly. First I tried this on my 24" Dual core iMac, (only 1 Gb RAM) but that choked and couldn't play the _H or _M clips smoothly. For some reason, even the MacPro couldn't. Somehow my MacBook pro Core2Duo managed.

Incidentally all the said machines have MacOSX 10.5.3 or above and Quicktime 7.4.5 or above. And I downloaded the latest QT codec, Redcine, RedAlert and Redrushes on all 3 machines.

So eventually the edit went like this.

I edited on a MacBook Pro. Using the the Apple ProRes clips since they played most reliably. After the edit, I made a new edit by eye matching the _M clips. So now I had two edits. I gave both EDLs to Mithun.

Guess why I had to eyematch to make an edit of the _M clips? Because FCP cannot reconnect an edit made of ProRes converts to an edit of _M clips. Because file names are different. More importantly, Redrushes when converting Red files to Quicktime, changes timecode after 22 hours to 00 hours. Not after 23 hrs. So one set of clips had wrong time code.

About the look. On a MacBook Pro screen its hard to say. The Red files when opened in Quicktime, and also FCP, look a bit dull, almost like log. When made log to lin in Shake they look better but not quite right. I did a 'send to Color' on the ProRes sequence and could muster up a decent grade. With Rajesh guiding me and Mithun looking jealously over my shoulder.

Eventually we'll grade this film's film version and the Red version, both on a Scratch system to make them look the same, colour and contrast wise. And maybe output both to film and see them in a theatre.

Conclusion. Working with Red files is not terribly different from working with 'normal' film and tape media. There is s slight lag when working with the _M or _P files. FCP appears less responsive. But apart from that its similar. An important difference is that if one is working with _M files, one is actually editing at 2k resolution. Wow!

Stability. There were no crashes throughout the edit. My MacPro was also doing other things when converting. And my MacBook Pro was doing a software update and mail checks while I edited. No crash. Not even with the client (Rajesh) present. Most machines behave well till the client arrives.

Software issues. Before one edits a film shot on Red, one should get all the latest software updates and install them. And spend a day or so, doing converts and timing stuff. On a long project, you cannot take one route and then change midway. 10 hours of Red footage can take up to two days to convert, so you better do it right.

Overall I'm positive with this Red working. Its really here now. Depending on how Benchmark manages the marketing in India, the revolution is upon us.

Initially, many editors will crib. Some won't be able to import footage, others won't be able to play it right. Timecode issues will come up. Entire edits and rushes will be lost to drive crashes. Mostly it will be human error. An entire set of folks, cinematographers and editors will trash this Red workflow and say it 'simply doesn't work'.

I've been through this many times before. When Movieolas and Steenbecks gave way to Avids, many said it would never work. Now it does. When Umatic and later Betacam tape came to TV acquisition, when FCP grew in popularity, basically whenever a large scale change in working happens.

Eventually there will be two sets of people left. Those that have successfully understood and adapted to this new digital workflow, and those that are yet to manage.

Friday 4 July 2008

Western Digital My Passport™ Studio™ 320GB

Another great small drive from Western Digital for editors on the go. Now available at AutSun for a shade over Rs 10,000.

I had written about an earlier model Western Digital pocket drive 250 GB on my blog. I used one of those with my MacBook Pro to edit a feature on. With Final Cut Pro.

All rushes for the feature, nearly 170 GB at DV-PAL were copied on to the WD pocket drive and connected via USB to my MacBook Pro. Through many months of editing, presentations, playouts for sound, and exports for preview DVDs - the kind of stuff that goes into feature film editing - the drive held firm.

No dropped frames, no crashes.

Now this new drive has 320 GB as well as Firewire and USB interfaces. It should be even faster and even more reliable. The advantage of the USB port is that you can reliably use your Firewire bus to take on a deck/camcorder or even a Mojo if you edit on a new Avid MC. And its bus-powered so no more lugging around and connecting a power supply, cables and such.

The price at AutSun is reasonable and only marginally more than the US online price. But hey, the US online price doesn't include taxes, and shipping. So it might even be cheaper to buy from Autsun than from WD itself.

Recommended. A great buy for the mobile editor.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Red camera in Mumbai, India

Ted Schilowitz, of Red camera, the 'Leader of the Rebellion' as his card says, and like the main spokesperson for Red was in Mumbai yesterday. As was Nacho, Vice President of Scratch. They launched Red for DOPs and film-makers in India.

It was a small party The Club, Andheri West. A collection of film-makers, Cinematographers and others gathered on a rainy day. I was possibly the only editor around. No wait, Rajesh Choudhary was there too.

Among the cinematographers were very old friends Anoop, Vijay, Murli, Mahesh, Chiang, Rao saab, and lots of others. Names on the tip of my tongue but not 'coming out'.

Benchmark is their (Red and Scratch) representative in India. They have one camera now that they'll use for promotion and plan on bringing in about 50 more in maybe a few months now. So the first step for Red camera feasibility in India seems licked if even half of these many can be made available by year end.

Not many film technicians seem to have heard of Scratch. This is a Windows based DI software. Scratch can conform EDLs to scanned material, grade rather well, and then output to film or HD/SD tapes.

Assimilate is the company that makes Scratch and there are already 16 in India. If someone tells me the last Hindi movie graded totally on Scratch, I'll put it up here.

I'll write about post with Red in a bit. It starts with editing natively on FCP.

For Red finishing workflows, there's a low-cost product called Scratch Cine. This can open and conform Red R3D files, but not other formats. It can play back, at 24fps, Red files at 1k and 2k (not 4k) There's no info on how many sound tracks it can play and how good it stays in sync.

So, for now, Red has made an official entry into the Indian film production industry. Soon more and more cameras will become available. Cinematographers will start using it, Sound recordists will love it for the zero noise, but will need to get used to the connections and recording system.

Editors will have to get used to 'rushes' with cryptic alphabet-number names, folders within folders, a good storage and backup regimen, but no more keycode-timecode-telecine log grappling.

Post and DI houses and systems will need to come to terms with workflows that involves FCP, Scratch and others. And DI houses geared only to film and DPX, will have one more reason (after HD) to get real and equip themselves to handle non-film shooting for film release.

There will be many who will scoff at this whole new digital film thing. But then, it was another rainy day almost 8 years ago when Apple launched Final Cut Pro here. Many scoffed, some still do. And even before, on a not so rainy day six years before FCP, when Avid launched editing on a computer. The Steenbeck crowd laughed heartily then.

Will Red be a revolution in the way we make movies here? I doubt if we'll take 5 years to find out. Ask me around this time in 2009.

Thursday 26 June 2008

DI colour calibration - does it work?

Here's a standard film DI workflow...

The edit is handed over to the DI facility as data - EDLs, cut lists, whatever. And a reference movie for comparison, on tape or as Quicktime. With these, (the EDLs) the film is scanned. Scanning is a semi-dumb process. No colour correction, simply film to disk 'transfer'. No art.

After scanning, the scanned frames are and 'conformed' to the EDL. Meaning a sequence is made and compared to the original edit. This sequence is graded. meaning colour corrected. A look given, effects, graphics added. All the Art happens here. While grading one looks at the picture projected on a large screen through a projector connected to a Truelight Colour management system. Or some other software or hardware.

After grading, the graded sequence is rendered out. As a large collection of frames.

The render files are recorded back to film on an Arrilaser recorder. or some other.

While recording, the film recorder also prints out test charts which are measured for density and accordingly, printer lights set to make prints at. Normally one uses one constant printer light settings for an entire reel.

Now, if, for some reason, one takes this DI output negative, and works it in a traditional optical analyzer system, grading it all over again, as it were, then the results are unpredictable. It could be great it could be awful. No bets. Should never be done.

After DI it is crucial to see the print carefully and suggest changes if any. And, involve all those, who will be assessing the film qualitatively, at this stage. Any grading decisions that aren't satisfactory, should be regraded, re-recorded and inserted into the negative.

After the negative is struck, there is only so much that can be done in making a print. If you then feel you wish the film to look different, you almost cannot, by just printing it different.

So, it is possible to calibrate any grading system and projector show pictures that translate accurately to film as a DI negative and subsequent print. And, its generally no advisable to grade a DI negative on an analyzer. Some facilities do it, but, at the very least, it goes against the very spirit or reason for DI.

Thursday 15 May 2008

24fps film or HD out to SD PAL

24fps film sources mastered on Digital Intermediate systems like iQ or Resolve can be transferred to HDCam-SR or D-5 masters as 1080p24. These are recorded at, and playback at 24fps. 


When going out to SD PAL to a DigiBeta/Beta or even to a DVD recorder, these film/HD systems behave differently. Systems including but not restricted to - Quantel iQ, DaVinci Resolve, Sony HDCAM-SR VTR SRW-5500, Panasonic D-5 VTR AJ-HD3700.  All these play out 24 fps as 25 fps to be compatible with SD-PAL. That is, they play the source, at 104% speed, or 4% faster. 


Is there a way to prevent this? I haven't found it yet - with any of the above machines.  The method we use (of transferring a 24fps source to a 25fps tape master) without changing speed is to capture the HD 24fps into an Avid or FCP system and then playing it back at what is called 24+1 OR 24@25 repeat. Both Avid and FCP systems have the capability of playing a 24fps timeline to a 25fps tape or monitor. 


This transfer incurs no losses as Avid and FCP systems are now capable of doing uncompressed video. SDI in SDI out. HD or SD. So these are lossless as far as video and audio quality goes. With Avid/FCP systems and this method makes audio sound right but includes an ever-so-slight once per sec freeze in the video. Those who know can see it but most people cannot see this video motion artifact. 


Incidentally, 24fps to NTSC playback or layoff to tape is NOT affected by this anomaly. Because there is a age-old method of making 24fps into 30 fps by way of pulldown frames. PAL has NO such method. (That I know of). In fact editors and post professionals in NTSC countries are often not even aware that this issue exists in the PAL world.


Here in India, we make 24fps film into 25fps DigiBeta for Indian Television as 24+1 using Avid or FCP systems. Or, for film sources, via telecine which also has the capability of transferring 24fps to 25fps without changing speed. These systems repeat one frame each second so 24 frames per second plays out as 25 frames per second. Actually they operate on the field level by repeating one field every 12 frames. 


In India, our song and music professionals do not accept the 104% faster sound. They don't seem to be bothered by the small video motion artifact. So even Indian TV accepts the slight freeze in video that 24+1 creates. Look at any Hindi movie on Indian TV and you'll see it in long pan or moving scenes. 


On the other hand our 24+1 tapes have not been accepted by UK and German (amongst others) telecast authorities. They insist on clean video and couldn't care less about our songs playing faster. The one per sec video freeze doesn't go down well with them. So for telecast in UK/EU we do the '24 as 25' method as provided by iQ/Resolve or HDCam-SR/D-5 systems. 4% faster sound. 


So two different methods with two different results. 24+1 has a slight motion artifact but correct audio and 24 as 25 has clean video but fast sound. For one feature, two years back, I used Apple Compressor to do a smooth 24 to 25 conversion. That looked good and the freeze was gone. The new Apple Compressor does an even better job. 


But this conversion takes time. And with a 3 hour feature to master on an unreal schedule, time is the last thing on has. So I wonder, is there some other method of converting 24fps HD to 25fps DigiBeta without introducing imperceptible video motion artifacts and still holding sound speed and doing it all in real time?. 


Update Sep 2011. 
When I first posted this, we had Dual and Quad G5 Mac systems which took 10 or more times real time to do this smooth conversion.
Today, with the newer i7 MacBook Pro and iMac systems and 8-core and 12-core Macpro systems, its now fast enough that the 24-25 smooth motion interpolated correction is now only slightly over real time. A 2.5 hr feature in SD can be corrected in about 3-4 hours.
What about HD? You may not need the conversion in HD. HD can play 24fps from tape.
Unless you are delivering a HD file for telecast on HD channels in India. They accept 25fps even for HD. 

Thursday 8 May 2008

Golden Eye - the scanner

In a small corner of the South Hall at NAB there was this Swedish company that has years experience doing analysis of film for auto crash testing and defence. Those films where you see cars with dummy humans crashed into walls. And slomo films of missiles leaving their silos.

These films need to be analyzed and data used to re-design things for safety or destruction. Whatever. And this company does just that.

Now they've used that expertise in designing a scanner and film analysis system that scans using capstan transport but providing the steadiness of pin-registered scanning. At least that's how I understood it. Its called Golden Eye.

The scanner is quite small, almost like a Cintel diTTo. Table-top. And there's a Win PC to analyze the film and save it as .DPX or a variety of formats. Scans can be 4k or 2k and there's even a swap option. Its a line scanner so many in-between resolutions are also supported.

The light source is a halogen lamp, what we call a 'cup halogen' lamp in India. Its a halogen bulb with a reflector and its an ordinary light source used in showrooms. My German friend even remarked that its a 5 dollar lamp. Light is conveyed to the film via a 'light pipe' so film doesn't get the heat. And a complex system of current control and filters ensures that the colours and intensity stays constant across the life of the lamp. Very ingenious and simple.

The stated purpose of this scanner is for archiving. And should be too. This transport is best suited for old film that has sprocket damage. In fact I think you probably don't even need sprockets.

Other nifty features. There are two 'cameras'. One scans the frame and the other, the entire film. So keycodes are read and need no complex alignment. And these two cameras help the software stabilize the film and ensure a steady frame. The other surprising feature is that the scanner is natively 35mm or 16mm ready with no complex replacement of wheels or lamp house.

Speed is 12fps at 2k and 3fps at 4k. And maybe they could get faster at HD or SD. So its a good healthy speed without the need for very high speed storage that 2k real time needs. 2k at 12 fps should need 180 MB/sec capable meaning HD-Ready storage should do. That's for 2k full aperture. If you're doing 3-perf, 1:1.85 or 'scope, you'll have smaller files so even lower data rates. Even 4k at 3fps amounts to about that much data rate.

The software can ingest EDLs and even ALEs as a source for scan lists. And they told me they could even work out a software feature that pre-reads the film so sorted negs can be read against cut lists and scanned by keycode. That would be a killer feature.

I think this scanner needs a look-at if one is into film restoration, even VFX. And since they can output Quicktime, I'd even try it out for dailies.

There's even a smaller version that's a bit larger than a Digi Beta deck! But its slower and does 1000 ft loads only.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

NAB 2008 - Day 1

NAB opened at Las Vegas today with some nice new touches. There are benches along the walkways. Which means you see far less people squatting by the wall along the sides of the halls. Benches in the middle of the walkway also means you better watch where you're going.

The first day usually begins with meeting people and the - 'long time' hellos, hugging, back-slapping stuff. And studying maps and directories making a plan.

As usual I started with the South Hall and the biggest difference is apparent as soon as you enter. There's no Apple stall. And further down you realize there's no Avid stall either. For years these have been how you began NAB South Hall.

But Autodesk, Quantel, DaVinci, Digital Vision, DVS - are all there and getting bigger and better. Eyeon Digital Fusion too has a big stall nestled between these 'big boys'. DaVinci and Quantel have new colourist panels looking very impressive. Lustre and Nucoda have the same panels still looking impressive. But colourist panels are looking pretty similar to each other - evolutionary not revolutionary.

Blackmagic Design is down the hall with the same large diagonal open stall that's been their design for years now. Blackmagic announced a new large router, a new HD Extreme, and many small and nifty converters — and a small 'video recorder'. Check them out here.

AJA doesn't have any new capture card, but announced new mini converters with economical pricing.

I saw a detailed description of the new BlueArc Titan 3000 storage and why it's the better option for graphics facilities that deal with file sequences. And a good — and honest — comparison with XSan to show how it can actually co-exist with BlueArc.

For the rest of the day I took in many bits and pieces of new stuff which hopefully I'll get to play later in the year.

In the evening Avid showed up in style. At 'The Joint' in the Hard Rock Hotel. At a crowded user meet, Avid made some 'New Thinking' announcements. New Media Composer hardware, new Mojo, new Nitris system and some others.

For people who bought Symphonies and Nitris sometime last year this might be disappointing, But for new followers into the fold, this might be the tipping point to 'go back to Avid'. On their web site they call it Avid Delivers Ultimate HD Editing Experience.

Will this turn things around for Avid? Has Avid gotten to that point yet? And will it matter? Are questions that 2008 will undoubtedly answer.

Saturday 15 March 2008

Media content repurposing - A view from India

These days I've been getting a lot of queries on this - media repurposing. Sounds like a new buzz word, but this can become serious business in the next few years.

Media repurposing consists of taking existing media - 35mm print/neg, DigiBeta/BetaSP/U-matic/VHS/DV tapes, an other media - and converting them to a format more friendly to new media vehicles. And playable on mobile phones, portable media players, or sent over a wire or wireless to homes and offices.

IPTV and VOD are two such new vehicles. IPTV is Internet Protocol Television and VOD is Video on Demand.

IPTV consists of sending video to viewers over the normal Internet. In India MTNL (and other services) show many cable TV channels over their broadband internet line - sent to homes over a telephone line.

VOD is when a viewer can go through a menu or index, and choose what he/she wants to see. That content is then played immediately, or downloaded over the Internet or wireless to view later.

Where IPTV and VOD differ from normal TV is that in normal TV many TV channels are being broadcast simultaneously all the time over a cable. In IPTV, only the channel the viewer wants to see is transmitted.

In VOD, only the actual program the viewer wants to see is beamed for as long as the viewer wants to see it. So VOD is sort of like watching a movie on a flight after selecting it from a menu. Like movies downloaded over the iTunes store for AppleTV. Or, in India Movies on Demand from Eros.

But Eros's Movie on Demand only work with PCs as it needs to detect Windows Media Player, which no Mac has. So if you have a MacBook, or iMac or any other Mac, forget Eros.

Other VOD examples are, of course, YouTube, or for really good-looking movies, Vimeo.

While repurposing media, it is also possible to break the programme down and classify it intelligently - like chapters in a DVD so viewers can see a portion of the entire programme. Like songs in a Hindi movie, or important scenes. Or like innings or overs in a cricket test match, ODI or T20 match.

How about going through a list of Hindi film songs and narrowing that down to Shahrukh Khan-Rani Mukherjee songs and selecting one you'd like to see. Or through a list of cricket matches and selecting one of Sachin's heart-breaking nineties collection. Or centuries by Rahul Dravid. Reliving that World Cup semi-final 2003. Whatever. And whenever. Without having to see a TV schedule.

To get to this level of choice to a viewer, one would have to convert tapes and films of entire movies or match coverages to digital files. And along the way, or after digitization, intelligently break down these files or 'mark' them with interesting 'chapter points'.

In India there are quite a few parties who own or have access to many thousands of hours of programmes - entire feature films, TV serials, cricket matches. And now want to convert them and make them available to users in the future via new media vehicles like Internet, Video over mobile, DTH TV (Tata Sky and DishTV), cable set-top boxes and other future 'pipelines'.

The challenge in repurposing media is to work out systems and infrastructure that can handle an initial load of thousands of hours while still being commercially viable handling the lower ongoing load over time.

Meaning you might need a certain number of systems and infrastructure to convert and classify, say, 10,000 hours of programming in a reasonable time of, say, 3 months. But after that is done, new programing may need to be converted at only 1000 hours or less per month. This earlier infrastructure is too large for that small a load leading to wastage. The trick is in creating an ideal size of setup that can do both.

The other issue is standards. What file format does one convert to? MPEG-2, H.264, VC-1, WMV, Flash...? Many formats exist. And the servers that handle and deliver these files also work with one or more of these standards. So the delivery vehicle and its standards dictates what the encoding is done as.

But typically, encoding to either of these formats is a one-way street. Meaning if one does the conversion, then changes the delivery architecture or provider, and a different standard is needed, then cross-conversion is not lossless and can even ruin the picture.

So, typically, converting to a low loss intermediate standard first then the final compression can permit some standards independence. Or, of course, one can convert to multiple standards and keep all available.

There are other challenges - secure storage, Digital Rights Management (DRM) or anti-piracy, restoration before repurposing, edit-ability of converted material. More on that sometime later.

Friday 22 February 2008

Backup without hassles

Everyone knows they have to back up their work. Nearly everyone has lost some data from drive or computer failure. Almost no one makes backups, or at least not often enough to make a difference. And when you really need a backup, the latest one is usually the only one of value. And mostly if its over a week old, its useless.

I've been in this as well and have somehow managed to find one possible solution. This is 'a' solution not 'the' solution. And I've been using it for a few months now.

Lacie Silverkeeper

It ships with every LaCie hard disk on a CD. But you can download it at the link above. And its free.

Very simple to use. Just decide which folder should be backed up. To where it has to be backed up - usually a Firewire or USB hard disk. And make a schedule for the back up. Mine is 9 am every day. Yes, every single day.

On the first day, it takes a while because all the stuff on the folder you specify is copied to the target. The next day and thereafter, only files that have changed are copied and overwritten. Overwritten, remember.

Files you delete from the folder you're backing up are deleted off the backup as well. So the backup is always an exact clone of the original. You can change this delete behaviour with one setting 'Never remove files'. I've done that. And you can specify excluded items. So I've marked 'Documents' for backup, but excluded 'Final Cut Pro Documents' from the backup.

You can decide to make multiple copies. So it you set that to 5, Silverkeeper will back up and make a new set each day, but keep 5 sets, deleting the next oldest one in rotation. I've not used this option.

Besides backing up data, a good backup solution should also help in restoring backed up data. I had occasion to test that. When I upgraded my MacBook Pro to Leopard I did 'Erase and Install'. So I lost everything - photos, music, videos, documents, Mail, FCP projects.

After Leopard installed, I just connected my backup drive and copied the backup folders in their appropriate places, and had my old MacBook back. I chose to do this manually as I wanted to pick and choose what I wanted back. Great way to get rid of clutter. But there's also a restore option that does this for you.

Very simply, LaCie Silverkeeper works. At their site LaCie say it works with Tiger up to 10.4.11, but not with Leopard. I'm using it with Leopard on my laptop. Seems to work. But then Leopard has Time Machine. I've yet to try that.

Silverkeeper only works on a Mac. For Windows, there's 1-Click also free and from LaCie. This too is on the CD that comes with every laCie drive.

Western Digital also ship backup software with their drives. I tried it
once, but I must confess I didn't give it much time since I was already using Silverkeeper and it worked for me.

Again, backup is important, everyone knows that. With Silverkeeper, the excuses to not backup just reduced by one.

Now to look for a great software to remove duplicates all over one's hard disk...

Sunday 17 February 2008

Anything Under The Sun - autsun.com

Anything Under The Sun and the link is
www.autsun.com

A new online shopping site based in New Delhi, India. My film maker friend Dev Benegal, who's from Delhi, but spent a larger part of his life in Mumbai, recently pointed it out to me.

Autsun.com, have a rather nice variety of things. I've checked out only the computer and electronics portion, but that is growing. That's because, what makes this site different is that if you don't see what you want, you can recommend it along with a preferred price. And they try to get it and offer it for your price.

I wanted to see a Canon HV-20 - fast becoming a cult camcorder in the indie film circuit - so I recommended it. And they now have it. Available in India, free shipping anywhere in India, the Canon HV-20 for just Indian Rupees 70,000.00.

A lot of people will Google the HV-20 and come across prices like US$ 800, even 750. But hey, that's for the NTSC version. The PAL version is US$ 1200 at least and that's before taxes. Add Indian Customs Duty and it gets to 70k anyway.

Earlier, my friend Dev recommended autsun.com a Western Digital MyBook Studio Edition 1 Tb hard disk, and they now have it there. 1 Tb for under Rs 16,000 or so. Great for video editing and backups. It has Firewire 800, USB, eSATA and is small.

Autsun also sell iMacs, MacBooks and other such.

Another interesting item is the Sony HC 96 camcorder. autsun.com is the only place I've come accross this camcorder. No Croma, no Sony showroom, no Vijay Sales. No one has the HC 96.

What's special about the Sony HC 96 is that it is the only DV camcorder left that has DV in and out. The other models like the HC 36, 26, 38, 28 whatever, all have analog out, DV out, but no DV in. And no analog in DV out. What's called 'analog in, DV-passthrough'.

And since the HC-96 is a Sony it will play back miniDV and DVCam tapes. Canon, Panasonic, and JVC will not play back DVCam. So if you need a good capture deck for DV/DVCam for film editing, and have the ability to capture live from a analog source into your MacBook on location (like a video assist) then the HC 96 is the only current camcorder that can do it. And as far as I can tell, only autsun has it.

I just realized that don't know these guys from Adam (or Eve) and have not yet bought anything from them, but I'm still recommending them. So please speak to them, do your research, and make your own choices.