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Little Frog in High Def

Musings of an NLE ronin…

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Archive for March, 2009

HDV is a consumer format. Sony itself has said so. So why have they made so many “prosumer” cameras? Because there is a market for it. But the format is anything BUT professional. Can a guy grab a camera, shoot his friends skateboarding, edit this and throw it up on YouTube or make a DVD? Sure they can. And just because SURVIVORMAN shoots with HDV cameras doesn’t mean it is professional.

Bear with me as I rant a bit about this format…

I knew there was a reason I didn’t want to work with the HDV format. I read all of the issues on the various forums…GOP format makes rendering take forever, 4:2:0 color sampling, start and stop makes new clips (time code breaks in essence), highly compressed (HD signal on the same tape as DV…wow). Oh, there are people who offer solutions like “capture as ProRes to stay out of the GOP format and get into a better color space when editing.” OK…fine, I hear you, But that too has issues.

Here, let me explain what issues I am faced with.

Issue #1: Timecode breaks confuse the crap out of the deck.  THE PROFESSIONAL DECK…the HVR-1500.  It hits the break, then backs up, then goes forward, then backs up…does this little square dance for a minute or two until it decides that can’t find the new in point (who the hell knows WHY?  It’s right there!) and then it bombs out.  This happens all the friggin time.  No, we don’t shoot time of day. This is just regular INT GEN timecode. It’s as if the deck hits the break, tries to capture right from where it left off, but because of the break it can’t figure out how to pre-roll properly. Very odd for a “professional” deck. OH, and for the record, we are connected via HD SDI to AJA Kona 3 capture cards with RS-422 deck control. Also tried firewire deck control with similar results.

And it isn’t a Final Cut Pro issue. I have researched this issue and it pops up in Avid and FCP forums. I have called people who shoot this format and they have the same issue. It is a format and deck issue. Their solution? Dub the tapes to make one long unbroken code…either to another HDV tape or to another format. Waste of time and resources if you ask me.

ISSUE #2: This company shoots many scene at 8fps. Recording 8fps onto the 29.97 fps tape, so it looks streaky and blurry.  This worked for while until TWO TAPES came in that we couldn’t play on any of the decks.  Plays back black, both out to the monitor and to the FCP capture tool.  We could see the image if we fast forward or rewind, but not play.  Someone suggested that this is a timecode issue…that somehow the timecode track on the tape is fubar (look it up in the wikipedia). But the tapes weren’t damaged, not visibly anyway. So I suggested that we try playing them back in the camera that they were shot with.  One tape played fine in the camera, and was dubbed to a new tape, but the second tape doesn’t even play back in the camera…nor any HDV camera that we have.

To all those people who say that when you shoot to tape you don’t lose footage…I say HA! Sure you can…always could. I have had plenty of experience with tapes that have had issues where they didn’t record timecode to the tape (damaged record heads, dirty heads). And anyone who has shot tape knows that dropouts are VERY common.

So…why did we shoot HDV? Well, the typical arguements. “Tape is cheaper than those P2 cards,” “I am wary of tapeless formats because you might lose footage (debunked),” “we won’t need a field technician for offloading cards, with multiple hard drives,” “oh, we can just capture to ProRes to avoid the GOP issue.”

OK…let’s look at this.

-“Tape is cheaper than those P2 cards.”

Initially…sure. But after a while all those tapes add up. P2 you use again and again and again. And you are only assessing this as a PRODUCTION COST…not an overall project cost. Let’s factor in a few more things. DECKS. You need to buy or rent decks to capture this footage. With P2, or SxS, no decks required. Direct import into the computer. This not only saves money on decks…but MAN does this save TIME! Now not only can you import on one machine…you can import on MANY machines. You can import on all six edit machines if you need to. Manpower time…saved. Therefore less money is spent on their overtime…or extra time. And P2 imports faster than real time…MORE time is saved.

So with HDV, you saved a little money during production, but then added a lot of money in post…deck rental and cost of paying your employees more for the extra time needed.

And one HUGE headache with tapes…prioritizing. Two projects, tapes came in for both…both are under the gun to work with this new footage. Who gets their footage first? Now you have editing sitting on their thumbs while they wait for more footage…adding a day or two to the editing days…and THAT time is a lot of money.

-“I am wary of tapeless formats because you might lose footage”
This is a ridiculous statement. Raise your hands if you lost a tape full of footage during production. OH, I have. Ever experience tape glitches or dropouts on tape? I sure have. And I have seen digital hits on P2 and SxS too…it happens. Ever have a tape ERASED via a big magnet, or a degaussing machine due to carelessness? I have. Solid state solutions work if you are careful and back up the cards before erasing. Yes, that is an extra step, but if people are paying attention, it works great. Whenever someone ISN’T paying attention, that is when you lose footage. Taped and solid state.

-“we won’t need a field technician for offloading cards”
With tape, no you don’t True. But the cost of that person during production…that body…cheap compared to the hours you pay one or more assistants in the post process to capture tapes.

-“We can just capture to ProRes to avoid the GOP issue.”

This brings up ANOTHER cost issue. HARD DRIVES. DVCPRO HD P2 takes up very little space. Capturing everything as ProRes…in a shared storage environment? Duuuuuude. For one guy that extra firewire drive isn’t much. But to go from 12TB to 18-24TB on a SAN? Not cheap. Not by a longshot.

Now, capturing HDV as Offline RT…possible I suppose. Something we are considering. But then we STILL have Issue #1, the deck cha-cha-cha about the timecode.

Sorry about this. This is my first full on HDV project. The one time I was saddled with an HDV project I captured HDV as DVCPRO HD and that made my life EASY. I logged and captured…and since it was a small project I didn’t run into too many issues.

HDV gets an even bigger THUMBS DOWN from this editor. A format that is consumer, and should stay consumer. IMHO.

Earlier when I gave my first impressions of the MXO2, I made these first impressions with a BETA version of the software. I had the 1.2 drivers but they didn’t do all that I needed. I needed to upscale SD to HD. I thought there was something that I overlooked. The website said that the MXO2 did upscaling of SD to HD…but it did it on OUTPUT, not injest. I didn’t know this, I was digging around looking for that option…couldn’t find it. So having a pal at Matrox I asked “hey, I need the MXO2 to do this, can you help me figure it out?” He did by sending me beta drivers that had the option I wanted.

Well guess what? These drivers will be coming out VERY soon. Matrox is putting on final touches and prepping them for release. I hope I get this done before they have them out there.

Here are the new features you can look forward to with these new drivers.

Scaling on capture
THis is what I was talking about…scaling on CAPTURE. The Matrox MXO2 now has a checkbox in the AV INPUT tab of the Matrox Control Panel called SCALING. If you have an SD source, all you need to do is check that box, choose SD as your source (then there is an aspect ratio box too, options for 4:3 and 16:9 source input), and then you are done in the MXO control panel. That simple. Now select the destination format in FCP – Codec of your choice. The MXO2 hardware scaling will either up/down/or cross to the destination format selected by you. DVCPRO HD, ProRes, Uncompressed HD…720p or 1080i. Connect any source and scale it to your desired resolution! And yes, it works. I captured all of those formats…with the same frame rate, of course.

SD-720
SD-1080
720-1080
720-SD
1080-720
1080-SD

This feature also allows you to monitor while you capture. Your destination format is output simultaneously for monitoring or recording directly from the various MXO2 outputs, all outputs are the same. I was able to see what I was capturing directly from the capture card to my monitor.

Direct capture of 1080p 23.98 sources from 1080p 23.98…on a LAPTOP!
Capture directly to 23.98 frame rates from 23.98 SDI sources. This feature enables support of the Apple ProRes422 codec on Intel based Core2Duo MacBook Pros in 1080p 23.98. While the other frame rates are more demanding on the processors, 23.98 has a low data rate so you can get away with ProRes encoding on a laptop…one of the newer MacBook Pros, or one generation back. I haven’t tested this yet, but I plan to soon. In case you don’t know why this is an issue, the MXO2 does not have an on-board ProRes encoder, so it relies on the computer processors to handle the encoding, and on a laptop that is asking a lot. But now, with the lower frame rates, that is a possibility.

Preserving 23.98 while Cross Converting 720 – 1080
While cross-converting 720-1080 the Matrox MXO2 now offers you an option to output 23.98 directly from the FCP timeline. You now have the option to select a 23.98 timeline to be outputted at 29.97 or 23.98 while cross converting from 720 or 1080. So if you have a 720p 23.98 timeline and you need to deliver a 1080i59.94 master (running at 29.97), the MXO2 handles that conversion in the hardware. The only other card to do this is the Kona 3…so this is huge.

RGB analog support
Analog component output now offers you the ability to select whether you would like to view your production in either a YUV or RGB color space by providing an RGB analog output option in the MXO2 control panel. This is ideal for RGB monitors or needing to work in the RGB color space. Ideal for SCART monitors.

Capture 720p 23.98 with user input
Connect a 720p 59.97 source and capture a 23.98 file directly into FCP. Set capture in-point in FCP, set cadence off-set in the Matrox Control Panel, and capture a 23.98 file from a 59.97 source, resulting in a 720p 23.98 file. Just another workflow example to enable Apple ProRes422 codec to be captured with Intel based Core2Duo MacBook Pros in 720p 23.98. An example of this would be capturing DVCPRO HD footage shot 720p24 but recorded onto DVCPRO HD tape, that runs at 59.94.

Closed Captioning – capture – edit – output
My friends…this, IS BIG.

Capture – Acquire your footage with digital closed captioning via SDI and the SMPTE334 specification.

Edit – While editing, the MXO2 will preserve your closed captioning data throughout the editing process. The Matrox MXO2 with FCP allows you to trim, add effects such as color correction, adds titles or credits and still maintain your closed captioning data. When you are ready…

Output – the Matrox MXO2 restores your digital closed captioning to your SMPTE334 compliant device – in either SD or HD. Even more, if you need to scale on capture with digital closed captioning information, or you need to scale on output, or even while cross-converting, you can count on the Matrox MXO2 to preserve your data throughout your production!

DO I really need to tell you how big of a deal this is? Currently, if you capture ANY closed captioned material with ANY capture card, and do anything that requires a render, and you render…THE CLOSED CAPTION DATA IS LOST! Gone…bye bye. But now, with this update, the MXO2 can capture that footage, and you can do all sorts of things. Replacing shots however, won’t work…as the data is encoded onto the footage, and if you remove the footage and add new footage, that section of closed captioning will be gone.

HERE IS WHY THIS WORKS: The MXO2 stores the information in an audio track, so you can cut away you video as you want/need add some B-roll for a second source, and still have the CC intact.

True 23.98p HDMI support
When working with 23.98p material and timelines. Use your HDMI monitor and the MXO2 HDMI output to view a true 23.98p signal and not a PsF signal.

Again, that I haven’t tested yet…but I will try to when the final firmware update comes out.

I really like my MXO2…glad I have it. It now does everything I need to have done. Analog capture, digital capture, upconverting SD to HD, cross converting 720p to 1080i or 1080p. Nice.

After a month and a half of nearly nothing…small job here, small job there, feature doc to tackle in the meantime…so I guess by nothing I mean nothing FULL TIME PAYING. After a month of being without FULL TIME gainful employment I am now full time gainfully employed. And this time I won’t be a creative cutter, the offline guy, I will be the online editor…the finishing guy. Color correcting, formatting for output, adding the final audio from the mix.

It’s nothing I don’t know…I did this for Andrew Jackson and Mexican American War. Only this time I will be using COLOR. Before I relied on the 3-way color corrector and Colorista. And I like Colorista, only this is a multi-station environment, so I need to use a standard application, so I will be using COLOR. About time I learn this application.

To learn this application I am turning to a tutorial DVD. I have two, COLOR, done by Alexis Van Hurkman, the guy who wrote the Color Manual, and has that great Encyclopedia of Color Correction. The other DVD I have is from the CreativeCow.net. Walter Biscardi’s STOP STARING AND START GRADING WITH APPLE’S COLOR.

Which did I choose? Well, I chose Alexis’ because I have his book and liked it, and, well, I got it first. If I get lost I might switch to Walter’s.

The fourth episode of THE EDIT BAY is now available for download. This one is about working from home. Distractions galore!

Oh, look! A chicken!

To listen online or download direct, click here.

To subscribe to this podcast in iTunes, CLICK HERE.

I received my MXO2 a few months ago but have lacked the time/project/decks to be able to test it out. The best I could do was hook it up to my computer an HDTV and go “Yup, that outputs a GREAT image” and to my HD CRT and say, well, the same thing. When I got it I was working on an Avid at a production company, then, well, I was unemployed.

But then my first opportunity to test it came.

A company I work with a lot that is primarily an Avid house, but they have one FCP system. Mainly to capture footage for their graphics department, but lately they have put it in use to capture footage for an editor who will be cutting a show on FCP. This show was shot on HDCAM at 1080 24P and they were having issues capturing the footage at a lower resolution. They had an older G5 and older Decklink card and I thought that was the issue, so I asked to borrow the Sony J-H3 HDCAM player and check it out on MY system, using the MacPRo and Matrox MXO2.

Needless to say, I was able to capture just fine. Uncompressed 8-bit, uncompressed 10-bit, DVCPRO HD, ProRes, a custome offline RT Photo JPEG setting I made (full dimensions, but lower image quality). Then I was able to test this on my laptop, capturing the footage as DVCPRO HD (1080p) and as ProRes…but only for 2 min at a shot. The laptop, of course, is not up to the task of encoding ProRes for long stretches. That is what the MacPro is for. But, I again was able to capture into my custome Photo JPEG setting just fine.

So for HD on a tower and a laptop, I give the MXO2 big thumbs up. No ProRes on a laptop, that is the limiting factor. If you are fine with capturing as DVCPRO HD on the laptop then this will be fine. Since it connects to the MacBook Pro via the Express34 slot, the only hard drive option you have is FW800 or FW400, so uncompressed is out of the question. BUT…attach this to a tower and all the options are available. Capture as ProRes to a FW800 drive, then bring that to your laptop for editing. Assuming you have two computers.

Now…onto the next test.

I landed a 3 day job cutting a demo reel for a producer/director I worked with, and ALL of the footage he has was on digibeta or betaSP. So for that I rented a Sony J-30 player. I was able to capture the footage as DV50 and it looked great. On BOTH editing systems, MacPro and MacBook Pro. Both performed flawlessly. And the majority of the digibeta footage was also ANAMORPHIC, and I just enabled that option in the Easy Setups and it captured anamorphic.

Now onto what I REALLY wanted to test…SD hardware upconvert to HD. Now that I had the J-30 and some great looking tapes, and a few betaSP, I had some good source material to test this out. Now, to do this test I needed newer software drivers than I had. MXO2 software version 1.2 didn’t have this upconvert option that I could see. So I e-mailed Matrox asked them how to do this, and they replied “with this version of the software that is still in beta, 1.3.” So I installed the new version and there was this new checkbox in the MXO2 System Preference A/V Input tab called SCALE INPUT FOR CAPTURE. That tells the MXO2 to upconvert the incoming signal to HD. You have a dropdown menu that allows you to choose between SD, 720p and 1080 as the incoming source type.

Then in FCP you choose the format you want to capture it as in the AV Options and it will capture as that type. 720p 59.94 DVCPRO HD, 1080i 29.97 ProRes…whatever you choose. Now…It did have this option for 16:9 to SD aspect ratio, but that didn’t seem to really do anything. When I captured the first tape, this nice betaSP doc on grizzly bears, it upscaled VERY nicely. And captured it full frame, meaning full 4:3 with pillar boxes of black on either side. Nice.

Then I moved onto one of the anamorphic digibetas and chose ANAMORPHIC in the ASPECT RATIO box thinking that I was now telling the MXO2 to expect an anamorphic signal and capture accordingly. But when I looked at what I captured, again, it was pillar boxed. My nice anamorphic signal was pillar boxed. I checked the ANAMORPHIC option and it only stretched out the pillar boxes.

So I asked Matrox what was up with that. Why does it only capture pillar box? Well, as of now, that is the only option…to capture SD as Pillar Box. Because 99% of the time SD will be 4:3, and they are trying to preserve the entire frame…so you can frame the image in your 16:9 project the way you want by zooming in and crop it manually. Apparently they weren’t expecting anamorphic SD. Who blames them? This is a rare format. BUT, they said they’ll get on that for the next build.

So I captured ProRes, DVCPRO HD, uncompressed 8-bit and 10-bit, 1080i 29.97, all upconverts from BetaSP and Digibeta. And they were very clean captures. This card upscales beautifully. And the pillar box is just fine for 4:3 footage, as I would like to zoom and reposition on my own to get proper framing, but when it comes to the anamorphic stuff I can’t capture that properly yet.

And just like any other capture card, you still have to capture 29.97 as 29.97…like to like Hz. You cannot change frame rates as you capture (except 29.97 as 59.94 DVCPRO HD 720p…that is a similar Hz), so you cannot capture 29.97 as 23.98. That conversion has to be done later, with something like Compressor.

EDIT: I need to make a few corrections…and a comment or two. First off, when I wrote this post I was using a beta version of the drivers…the 1.3 version. The current version of the drivers, 1.2, do not upscale on import, only playback. The 1.3 driver is the one that enables upscaling on ingest. And they have fixed it so that it will do pillar box and anamorphic, based on the issue I had. The 1.3 drivers will be due out soon…so more on them later. In the meantime, I am digging the MXO2 more and more. Analog inputs and outputs, SDI, HDMI…720p to 1080i crossconvert. I have yet to test that, but it is there. But thus far it has everything I need.

The third episode of THE EDIT BAY is now available for download. This one is about temp music.

To play in your browser or download direct, click here.

To subscribe to this podcast in iTunes, CLICK HERE.

Avid has released a NEW update. This is something VERY unheard of in Avid land. It used to be a year between updates, but since last year they went from 2.8 to 3.0…then a few bug fixes, then 3.0.5 answered a great request to highlight everything on the timeline from here to the left, or right, or in to out. Then 3.1 added more stuff. A flurry of updates, enhancements and fixes.

And they aren’t done yet.

Avid just announced Avid 3.5…and it is stock full of features.

– No Dongle. Online activation now…OH, and 14 day free trial. Take that Apple.
– Stereoscopic editing. For those not in the know, that is the 3D format that is making a comeback.
– Key frameable color correction
– Avid Media Access Architecture: Customers can automatically link clips from a third-party volume (Panasonic P2 or Sony XDCAM HD/EX) devices into an Avid editing bin, without having to transcode or store the media on their system. HUGE.
– Native XDCAM support

Oh, who am I kidding. Scott Simmons of the EditBlog already wrote a GREAT in depth review of this update on Studio Daily. I won’t even try to repeat what he said as he said it best. So go there and read it.

No mention of pricing yet…3PM today for that.