News for the ‘Opinion’ Category

The Many Problems with Prelude…

I was initially very excited by the promise of Adobe Prelude (replacing Adobe OnLocation as of version CS6). The idea that it can streamline (even automate) the Digital Image Technician’s workflow of copying and checking digitally-sourced footage on-set and making proxies, thus freeing up the DIT to focus on more useful tasks, such as logging information into the footage’s metadata.

I spent a couple of days using it on a multi-camera shoot, but the results were disappointing. Allow me to count the ways:

  1. It hangs a lot
  2. It’s impossible to batch-edit metadata (it seems to work in principle, but ultimately it will hang)
  3. If any errors are detected during an ingest, none of the footage ingested shows in the project window
  4. You can create bins, but cannot open these bins in separate windows
  5. There’s no way to create metadata templates (so that you only see/edit the metadata tags you’re interested in)
  6. Ingested footage doesn’t appear in the project window until the entire ingest has completed
  7. It’s not possible to transcode footage from the project window
  8. It’s not possible to duplicate footage from the project window
  9. There’s no way to apply metadata during ingest
  10. Despite it being plastered all over the product page on Adobe’s website, there’s no way to transcribe the audio from within Prelude
  11. There’s no way to do anything clever with the metadata. For example, I was hoping I’d be able to produce copies of the clips but renamed to the scene and take number. No such luck.
  12. There’s no thumbnail view
  13. You can’t sort clips by any metadata field (in fact, you can’t display the metadata fields in the spreadsheet-like project view)
  14. You can’t set any event (notification, action) to trigger on completion of ingest
  15. There’s no way to filter the event list
  16. The help system redirects to the Adobe website (because when you’re on-set you always have a reliable internet connection)
  17. Worst of all, it seems to be corrupting files whilst copying (although I can’t prove this conclusively, I did encounter 2 corrupt copied files although the originals were intact)

Although this isn’t a case of “Adobe dropped the ball” (it is only the first release, after all), it does seem like even basic functionality that is required by all DITs is missing. Part of the reason this is so disappointing is because they already have much of this working in Lightroom. They’ve even structured the UI with a 4-room (ingest, logging, list, rough cut) metaphor along the same lines of Lightroom, but have failed to properly utilise it.

It does seem that Adobe is using Prelude to push you into moving the footage into Premiere and then doing more there, but I don’t really want to start moving data between applications at this stage. There’s a “rough cut” feature that I didn’t even use, because well, that’s what Premiere is for.

Posted: May 12th, 2012
Categories: Opinion
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Comments: 2 comments

A call for open formats…

The following is taken from a post to the Telecine Internet Group:

Wanting around at IBC this year, one thing stuck me more than anything else. There are now more proprietary capture formats than ever before.

This isn’t anything new, after all video has a long and unsavoury history of competing formats, much to the chagrin of everyone who backed HD-DVD for instance. But with digital formats becoming dominant, this has reached fever pitch. And I would argue, it’s completely unnecessary at best, and at worst it’s completely detrimental to the industry.

RED gives no impression that their business model is anything other than packaging for a proprietary format. But they give you tools to work with it, that are for the most part pretty good, but also available for free. You can gain access to the SDK, but only if you are willing to sign an NDA. incredibly, this is the most accessible of all the formats. Silicon imaging want to charge you $1000+ just to decode footage shot on their cameras. And the new champion of digital camera formats, ArriRaw, is completely unsupported for the most part. I spoke to someone about the long awaited SDK, only to be told that it is actually available, but only to select Arri partners. Whatever the hell that means. And it goes on and on with the likes of Sony, Panasonic ad naseum.

Granted, this is nothing new. But what I don’t understand is why we as professionals dealing with the ramifications of all of this continue to do so with smiles on our faces. Everyone is excited at the Arri stand this year. The footage looks great. That is more important than the ability to post the footage, as perhaps it should be. But given the footage from the camera is so good, why limit the ability to properly work with it? Why shouldn’t I be able to take my ArriRaw files into any post-house, regardless of the grading system or infrastructure used. Surely this would be best for Arri et al?

And worst of all, why do we, as the hapless victims of this situation, continue to allow it to happen? Why do we continue to evangelise a technology that is ultimately detrimental to our day to day lives? The visual effects industry managed to find a common ground with OpenEXR, I can only hope we might one day do the same.

Posted: September 11th, 2011
Categories: Opinion
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Comments: 2 comments

Colour vs Resolution…

I’ve been reading a lot of stuff lately (most likely due to my current involvement with Red data) comparing different format and devices to each other. The one thing that keeps cropping up is that resolution and colour sensitivity are completely independent, and have no bearing on each other.

This is of course, bullshit.

To understand why, you need only look at the great staple of motion picture quality: 35mm film. An effective resolution of between 4k and 8k (depending on who you ask) with a bit-depth between 24 and 48.

But this of course, is also bullshit.

Film is not a digital medium. These measurements of its digital equivalence, are merely a convenient representation. Or in other words, if you go with the idea that film has a resolution of 4k and a 16-bit per channel colour range, you probably won’t lose any quality. It’s basic Nyquist theory put to good use.

But physically (film being a physical medium after all) it’s only 3 bits of colour: red, green and blue (or some combination of those). That’s it, there are no shades of red, nor yellow, nor burnt ochre. But wait a minute, what about the glorious range of Technicolour I get to experience at the cinema? Well, that’s because film may only have 3 bits of colour, but it also has a ridiculously high resolution. But hang on a minute, I can measure the resolution of film with a simple chart, that can’t be right! No, because what you’re measuring there is the effective resolution of film, and that is determined by the grain structure. Even the notion of exposure is just a simplification of what’s really going on: the probability of a range of points on the film switching from 0 to 1.

So let’s get back to digital formats. With no grains to get in the way, just nasty rectangular pixels, we actually have a purer medium. So when people say that a recorded 4k image is as sharp as 35mm film but lacking in colour range, they’re missing the point: in actual fact this means although the bit-depth is several orders of magnitude higher than film, the resolution on the other hand is no way near high enough.

35mm film makes for a great benchmark. Absolutely nothing beats it (except larger pieces of film). The 4k/48-bit model makes sense when trying to preserve its integrity in the digital realm, particularly as we’re then limited by what the digital display devices can output. But if we want to make comparisons that actually make sense in that digital realm, let’s do it properly.

Posted: March 9th, 2008
Categories: Opinion
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Red Eye for the Simple Guy…

Next week will be my first experience of working with a Red camera- you know, the one everyone keeps talking about? There seem to be a lot of people evangelising workflows and so on, but very few people actually using any (or at least, these are the people keeping quiet about it). Part of this is no doubt due to the lack of availability of the cameras to use.

But even so, today I was reading through a forum thread that provides a workflow for transferring footage in no less than 15 steps… 

9. RED cine automatically does check sum (or perhaps faster or better data check) and automatically gives a simple answer that data is copied correctly and checked and then and only then gives the option to reformat the card or disk mag.

10. RED cine reformats the disk with the same project settings. and automatically, writes event into log file, and unmounts media from computer. (or the Dit can do each of these tasks manually if RED does not support this.)

11. Assistant places the blank formatted media into some repeated storage bag or box and or perhaps keeps it in their right
pocket until it is reloaded into the camera (see above)

I completely understand the thinking for this- they have correctly judged the need to assume that data is fragile, and hundreds of pitfalls lie in wait between the camera and the archive medium (aside from some minor incorrect technical assumptions). But seriously, requiring a 15-step process doesn’t make the workflow robust, if anything it makes it more prone to human error.

Wouldn’t it be better if it worked like this:

  1. Take disk out of camera
  2. Plug into laptop
  3. Push button
  4. Plug back into camera

Judging by the forum posts, this is neither possible, nor desirable (at least not for free).

But it is.

(Watch this space…)

Posted: February 14th, 2008
Categories: Opinion
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Digital Rights & Digital Wrongs…

Worryingly, it seems the day of reckoning has arrived. I’m talking about the proliferation of so-called “Digital Rights Management” (DRM) – the base technology for controlling access to digital media. By “arrived” I don’t mean it’s brand new- anyone who’s ever bought music online will have likely experienced it in one form or another. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with copy protection in some form or another (in many cases, it is mandatory), the implementation is almost always flawed. Rather than Apple’s iTunes store liberating users from some of the restrictions of audio CDs, it actually took several steps backwards in some cases- anything bought from the iTunes store can be used on up to 5 authorised computers. Aside from the breach in privacy this presents (Apple could track behavioural information about a person with this system) it also means, for example, that you cannot simply lend music to a friend, and that there is no option to sell unwanted tracks on the second-hand market. As a result, consumer frustration has been slowly mounting.

On the film side of things, the situation has not been much better. The MPAA insisted on a ridiculous “Region-coding” system of DVDs, meaning that a DVD bought in the US could not be played on any player bought in Europe. I used the word ridiculous here, but feel free to replace that with “arrogant” or “xenophobic” – the underlying connotation is that territorial boundaries somehow relate directly to levels of poverty, and by extension “how much we can squeeze Joe Public for the cost of DVDs”, that and the archaic theatrical distribution system: film distributors won’t typically pay for extra prints for non-US audiences (which is why simultaneous international releases are rare, and worse, why if you watch a film outside of the US it’s likely it will covered in dust and scratches). The system is a joke- even to the distributors themselves: I remember at least one studio exec who was over in London complaining that he couldn’t play any of the DVDs he’d brought over for a presentation because they were Region 1.

The promise of digital cinema could have made all of this go away, with the possibility of simultaneous world-wide release dates with consistent picture quality. Instead, it seems to have fallen by the wayside, and things are getting worse. Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats both use new, more complicated DRM schemes to prevent copying. Both of these are already redundant, as a hacker compromised them over a year ago… so all it really does is increase the cost of production and reduce accessibility.

Of course I’m not advocating piracy here, but what I am advocating is a common-sense approach. By using DRM technology on DVDs, you prevent the consumer from doing whatever she likes with it. If I buy a DVD, shouldn’t I be allowed to convert it into a format to watch on my iPod? How about a laptop? What about (as I actually do), converting it to a digital file so it can be stored on a server rather than having to manually locate discs and hope that it isn’t scratched when I want to watch it? Should I be able to load a film into Final Cut Pro to brush up on my editing skills? There are many other examples along these lines, all of which are inevitably answered by the distributors rather than the consumers, and very few are based on solid legal requirements.

The home entertainment market is in enough of a mess now with 3 competing disc formats, and once digital downloads start to become commonplace, things will inevitably decline further. The problem is simply that DRM just doesn’t work the way it has been implemented to date. I once bought a music track by an obscure artist that required me to supply a key every time I wanted to listen to it. And it would only play in Windows Media Player version 9- forget about putting it on an iPod. I can justify needing a key to unlock my home or car, but not one of several thousand music tracks.

Right now, Microsoft is rolling out digital HD-esque video rentals for the Xbox 360 in the UK (it has been available in the US for some time). You can only watch these on the Xbox you downloaded them to. And they self-destruct within 24 hours from when you first hit play (regardless of whether or not you watch it until the end) or 14 days if you haven’t watched it at all. Sure not much different from having to return a rental disk to Blockbuster, but then Blockbuster doesn’t care if you watch it on your xbox or on your friend’s DVD player, and certainly doesn’t expect you to wait for several hours for it to download.

Meanwhile, Apple is launching a similar scheme. And there are dozens of independent sites that offer similar services, each of them with their own form of DRM. Having apparently learnt nothing from the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD war, we’re now about to embark on a war of a multitude of formats, with the consumer the biggest loser of all. And the biggest joke in all of this is that it will do absolutely nothing to prevent piracy, which will be as rife as ever, perhaps more so as people try to find non-restricted sources for their entertainment.

People naturally tend to compare the DRM model to things like CDs, but I think it’s much worse than that. Imagine if food had some sort of DRM. Ingredient A refuses to be used in a recipe with ingredient B because it’s made by a different company. You cannot cook a meal for your spouse because they haven’t paid for it. If something goes past its sell-by date, it self-destructs, regardless of its actual level of toxicity. You don’t store something you’ve bought in your fridge in time, so it self-destructs. You can’t just have a slice of cheese, you have to have the whole thing in one sitting. You can only take the bottle of milk out of a fridge a certain number of times. You cannot drink the milk at your friend’s house. You can only drink the milk out of authorised containers. Some unidentified issue has occured whilst you were trying to eat your sandwich, and you must now spend half an hour with some clueless tech support person trying to resolve it. There was an intermittent power failure and the contents of your kitchen self-destructed. The food supplier is aware of the problem and will hopefully have the issue resolved within 6 months.

Ok. That is extreme. But only because we wouldn’t stand for it. The problem is, when it comes to media, there is absolutely no reason why we should stand for it even though we do. We’ve just grown soft, either silently boycotting it or making do. The irony of all of this is that the type of person who wouldn’t stand for this sort of thing is also the type of person who wouldn’t buy it in the first place, and so the rest of us just quietly accept it. Well we shouldn’t, not as consumers, and certainly not as producers.

Posted: February 6th, 2008
Categories: Opinion
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Comments: 2 comments