Scratch 2.5 Update

Product: Scratch
Version: 2.5 (build 216)
Manufacturer: Assimilate Inc.

See also the full review of Scratch 2.0

Scratch Updated Impressions


Scratch

I reviewed Scratch about 6 months ago. Scratch is released in builds as well as point releases, and now that it’s up to version 2.5 (build 216), I took another look to see what’s changed.

Well, many improvements have been made to the system, most of them subtle, all of them welcome. Whilst reviewing Scratch, the thing that struck me the most was the care taken in the interface design. Everything looks intuitive, and the interface on the whole is very easy on the eyes. Well, with the aesthetics out of the way, there
are a few new features that will instantly capture people’s attention.

First off, Scratch now supports multiple outputs. This means that you can selectively set up shots to be output at different resolutions, and Scratch does the hard work for you. The mechanism for this is a lot simpler than the one used in Grass Valley’s Bones, lacking the ability to easily link different grades to different outputs for example, but it will be adequate for most people needs. On the back of this, Assimilate also point out that all rendering can be done in the background, due to Scratch’s use of GPUs for the grading, and indeed, the UI performance is very good while this is in progress.

It’s also now possible to set up different versions for each CONstruct, and switch between them with ease (and do so visually rather than by having to remember convoluted naming conventions). Similarly, you can attach different LUTs to each shot and switch between those. Staying in the Scaffolds module, selective grading has been improved, as now shapes can have outside grading as well as inside grading, and there is a new algorithms for softening the edges of a shape. It’s now also possible to quickly copy shapes to other shots, or to duplicate them within the same shot. Grading changes are now also reflected in the proxy images. There’s a typical 3-point tracker, which can also be used to stabilize shots, but one of the really innovative features is the “pre-tracker”, which essentially gives you a preview of the track path as you tweak the starting point. Very clever stuff, and I’m sure we’ll start to see this in other systems before long.

Another smart feature is the secondary monitor output. Assimilate have written their own drivers for the nVidia graphics card that will allow full 10-bit output to a secondary monitor, with an independent control for the output aspect ratio. So now you can grade accurately, full screen on a digital projector while keeping the UI available on a normal monitor.

On the editorial side of things, the ability to conform material by keycode is included as promised, and Scratch will also now automatically apply simple speed changes present in EDLs. The Avid Log Exchange format is also now included as a method for conforming material. Any timecode or keycode will be displayed on top of the clips, making it easy to find specific material. Handles can now be specified during the conforming process, and Scratch warns of any problems by printing a red exclamation point on top of the clip, which you can examine for details of the problem.

You can apply flips and flops directly from the timeline, and any annotation that you add to a shot will now also be visible in the node tray. Rotation has been added to the image framing toolset, and all framing can now be controlled via the XML file, in case you are looking to run customised scripts (or like working remotely). The list of supported third-party plugins has increased dramatically, offering compatibility with software such as Raptor’s Speedo and the ubiquitous Primatte.

There are numerous performance increases, due in part to Assimilate embracing the GPU as the way forward, and if there’s anything people might not like about it, it’s probably that it’s not got the grading horsepower that Baselight has, or the grading tools that Lustre has. That’s not really the point of Scratch though, it is more of a Swiss-Army knife of post-production, and indeed, it’s being used for everything from grading commercials to viewing digital dailies in numerous facilities. If there’s one area that Assimilate should really go after then, I’d say it ought to be improved project and user management capabilities. For people who are already using Scratch, there’s not much more that they could want for. However, if Scratch were to include some of the project management features of Toxik for example, it would certainly carve a new niche for itself.

Stay tuned for an upcoming hands-on review of Scratch, with focus on the performance, ease-of-use, and stability as we use it in a production environment in the coming months.


All reviews are based upon the principle that the hardware or software reviewed is to be used within a commercial digital intermediate environment; as such the review may not necessarily reflect the product’s intended purpose.

About the reviewer: Jack James has been working with digital imaging technology for 10 years. He has worked within a number of digital intermediate environments since joining Cinesite (Europe) Ltd.’s Digital Lab in 2001 to work on HBO’s Band of Brothers. He has a number of film credits, and has published the book "Digital Intermediates for Film & Video" with Focal Press.

The reviewer’s opinions are his own, and not affiliated with any third-party.

Posted: January 23rd, 2006
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