Give Me h.264 Editing or Give Me Headaches

Apologies to Patrick Henry. One of the rumors floating around concerning Final Cut Pro 7 (and QuickTime in Snow Leopard) is that it will support native h.264 editing (via Philip Bloom). Depending on your point of view you may have read that and thought “F-ing awesome! About time!” or “Oh, great. Fantastic, another codec that shouldn’t be used for editing.” Both reactions are appropriate, because as with nearly everything, this is both good and bad. This new workflow might save time and headache, or it could end up being more of both.

The Good

Not too long ago, a camera came on the market that offered inexpensive acquisition of full-raster 1080p video on a full-frame sensor using 35mm lenses. You know which camera I’m referring to. (Hint: It’s the Canon 5D MkII.) The images from this camera are great – shallow depth-of-field, great glass, decent color. Though problems arose with the format Canon chose for their QuickTime files: h.264. In Final Cut Pro, users had to either put up with dropped frames and poor performance, or transcode the footage to a more friendly format.

I firmly believe that anything that makes life easier is generally good. With native h.264 editing, users can now pull the QuickTime files straight off the camera and begin cutting. Just like that. No transcoding, saving on hard drive space and (potentially) time.

The Bad

Most editors will be able to say that they’ve seen this before with HDV. At first, Apple allowed editing of HDV footage by transcoding it to the Apple Intermediate Codec, otherwise, editing was just plain awful. Then they allowed native HDV timelines. Like this announcement, some rejoiced, others sighed… heavily.

The problem with natively editing with codecs like HDV and h.264 (both variants of MPEG compression) is that they’re not meant for intermediate use. And many (myself included) would argue that they shouldn’t even be acquisition formats. Now, with editing natively in those formats, footage is being compressed on acquisition, compressed on timeline renders, and more than likely, compressed again on output, with another potential compression when uploaded to sites like YouTube and Vimeo (which is where a lot of these pieces end up). That’s a lot of compression.

My hope is that Final Cut Pro will at least allow for ProRes rendering on h.264 timelines the way it does with HDV and XDCam EX footage. But that is still only a stopgap measure. The greater problem may be lack of understanding as to why the old way (transcoding to a more robust codec) is really the better way.

An Aside: Misunderstanding

It’s anecdote time. A documentary friend of mine who shoots and edits is in love with his HDV camera (one of the Sony prosumer ones, I believe). And with good reason. He could affordably shoot in HD, and in 24p as well. Well, really 24p with pulldown in a 1080i stream. Now, some of what he shoots goes directly to web and is on tight deadlines. He shoots, ingests his footage as native HDV 1080i. Edits in a native HDV 1080i timeline. Then waits. Then wonders why it’s taking so long for the “conforming to HDV” process. Then wonders why there’s this weird interlacing going on, especially when he down-converts the edit to DVD or lower res QuickTimes. This is all despite several conversations we’ve had as to the nature of HDV & long GOP MPEG-2, how the camera is actually recording 24p, and that videos on the web are progressive, not interlaced.

Now, this is a great shooter, a great editor, and an all-around good guy. He’s just not an engineer and doesn’t know all the technical details. This is what is lost on many people: post production is half creative fun, half engineering and technical voodoo. Democratization of technology is great and it allows many people to work creatively when they couldn’t before. But because of that, the details are obfuscated and many don’t know why what they’re doing isn’t necessarily the best way or is sometimes causing them more problems.

It’s a Sliding Scale

In the end, it will most likely only be the professional editors who even notice and/or complain about this new workflow in FCP, provided it is even true. We just have to remember that Final Cut Studio is an inexpensive product that can arguably scale from DV editing on a MacBook to full on feature editing on a network of loaded Mac Pros. It’s not just pros using Final Cut Pro. And if this new workflow makes life just a little easier for the hobbyists/amateurs/photographers/moms/students/anyone, then it’s probably a good thing. Though it doesn’t hurt to educate someone should they ask for help or have questions.

Aspect Matte – Easier Letterbox/Pillarbox Matting in FCP

The Widescreen filter in Final Cut Pro can be anoying for two reasons: you have to apply it to each clip and it leaves transparent bars instead of a true matte. I’ve been using the method described here for quite some time now. Me being me, I assumed it was common practice, but perhaps not. So I’ve decided to share my extensive matte collection with everyone.

Below you will find a zip archive containing PSD files in common resolutions/formats (including HD & RED) with the following black mattes:

  • 1.33 (4:3)
  • 1.5 (3:2)
  • 1.67
  • 1.78 (16:9)
  • 1.85
  • 2 (2:1)
  • 2.39 (2.35)

Enjoy and feel free to share. The files are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

zip Aspect Matte (Zip Archive)

Marketing BS & Unwanted “Features”

Speaking of the Philips Cinema 21:9, Scott Simmons of Editblog fame has a post concerning, to put it bluntly, the bullshit of “picture enhancing features” on new TVs, specifically, Philps.  This sums up his feelings (and mine):

I call marketing bullshit on this TV.

I couldn’t have said it better. And I won’t. Go read Scott’s take on features like Ambilight, “Perfect Natural Motion,” and “distortion free” picture resizing. The general consensus is that none of it adds to the viewing experience in a positive way.

Carousel – Amazing Frozen Time Shot

carousel-stillMy feelings about the Philips Cinema 21:9 display aside, Carousel, the current promotional video they are showing, is an amazing piece of Steadicam & VFX work.

There was a lot of 3D match-move tracking, rotoscope work, and especially planning involved in this piece!

[via Mark Christiansen at ProVideo Coalition]

UPDATE: Clutter free version can be found on Beam.tv. Production was done by Stink Digital.

Software Isn’t Expensive

Many people complain that some software is too expensive. I think it comes down to a fundamental difference in how software is viewed. I believe (most) software is a tool. I think others view (all) software as entertainment.

While Marco Arment was referring to the recent MacHeist bundle, this argument holds true to any software:

Most software is an incredibly good deal, especially the applications that you use every day or as part of your business. For example, given that I make all of my living by using TextMate, and it was developed entirely by Allan Odgaard over (probably) thousands of hours, it would be ridiculous for me to haggle its €39 price.

I am very, very tired of hearing “Photoshop costs too much” or “Why should I pay so much for software I don’t fully use?” To which I respond, respectively, “No it doesn’t,” and “You shouldn’t. Instead opt for different software that fits your budget/goals/skillset/featureset.”

Now, this may sound elitist, but professional software is priced for professionals who make a living using that product. Final Cut Studio & Adobe Production Bundle (as examples) are priced acceptably, as I can make that money back rather quickly on the jobs I take on. If you just want to use Photoshop to touch up some family photos, make LOL Cats, or doodle, there are countless other options for you (Photoshop Elements, GIMP, Acorn, Pixelmator, etc.). Several hundred (or thousand) dollars for software which professionals can easily make back using said software is not unreasonable. Do you want me to price out a full Avid suite for you?

If you view software as nothing more than entertainment, you probably would expect to pay no more than $50 for anything. It is a point-of-view I can fully understand; however, you then should not be looking at professional software, and you definitely should not complain about its price-points.

[hat-tip to @digitalreb for the original link]

What is HD?

The topic comes up every now and then and I wanted to pose the question here: What is HD?

I often hear people (and industry professionals) bicker about this camera or that format not being “real HD.” The common arguments seem to be:
whatishd

  • 720p is not HD
  • HDV is not HD
  • anything less than 4:4:4 is not HD

At the heart of this post is an interview with John Galt, SVP of Digital Imaging at Panavision that appeared in Creative Cow in February. John made the statement that the 4k resolution of cameras like the Red One are “marketing pixels,” and that the Panavision Genesis (1080 at 4:4:4) should then be considered 6k.

If we’re going down that road, the only true HD is uncompressed 4:4:4 at 1080p. (And conversely, the only “true SD” was probably Digital Betacam, and even that was 4:2:2.) HD is not a strict definition. If anything, I think it means resolution. We have 720P, 1080i and 1080p. Any of those are HD. The rest is specifics.

Yes, some formats are more compressed than others, and some have better color sampling. That doesn’t mean it’s not HD. In the end, these are all details that factor into the decision of what camera and format to use. But to say the Red One is not 4k, or that HDV is not “real HD” is just nonsense.

This Now Please (iPhone Camera Monitoring)

ProLost has an interesting idea for an iPhone software/accessory. As you may have heard today, Apple had a press event to discuss the upcoming iPhone 3.0 software. One of the features is the ability to access devices through the dock connector. Imagination went wild:

iphonecanhazscopes_01_4977

The idea is that someone could manufacture an HDMI-to-Dock Connector accessory to monitor footage in the field. (I love the addition of lens settings & RGB waveform, by the way.)

However, while I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, I’m pretty sure this isn’t quite possible. I doubt the iPhone hardware is capable of crunching HD video. But perhaps that hardware accessory itself could crunch the video down to iPod friendly 480×360 h.264 video on the fly? With the ability for the on-screen controls to send commands to the accessory to show pixel-pixel video (with paning, of course) for a focus aide?

Actually, hot damn! That does sound like an awesome idea!