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Cineform Neo4K for the Mac part 1

Going one better with Intermediate workflow By Mike Jones

After an established history of developing lossless compression technology predominantly for the Windows platform - and particular Adobe's Premiere Pro NLE - Cineform has at last brought its lossless intermediate, high performance codec system to the Mac.

Where once post-production software developers sang the praises of their NLE systems as working 'natively' with acquisition formats, there is now firmly a different prevailing attitude in the mainstream. Native production is still valued but Digital Intermediate formats using lossless compression schemes are now seen as an optimum workflow choice for many productions with numerous advantages over cutting 'native.'

A number of NLE developers have directly implemented their own lossless intermediate codecs, namely Avid, which delivered DNxHD that can operate in a number of different data rates. Originally intended as a high quality and performance optimized off-line codec, the higher bitrate versions of DnxHD soon proved to be very viable online formats without the data overhead of uncompressed media.

Similarly, Apple got on the bandwagon with ProRes 422 although their back flip in delivering ProRes was profound. Apple had rallied hard against intermediates in their advertising, even using misleading language implying that anything but 'native' post resulted in 'generational loss' and this 'native' focus was what made FCP 'superior.' It was of course simply marketing spin to hide the fact that Apple didn't yet have a viable Lossless Intermediate format. Then out of the blue Apple delivered ProRes and very quickly changed their advertising tune. But, despite the hyperbole, the move was a good one by Apple and ProRes has proven itself as a reliable, high performance, intermediate format.

But amid these deliveries from the NLE developers themselves Cineform has continued, out of necessity of competition, to innovate and refine its product. When codecs such as ProRes come free with the NLE, Cineform is in the challenging position of being a 3rd party product needing to convince users to fork over extra cash beyond their NLE purchase. The only way to do this in business is to have an utterly compelling product that offers more and goes 'one better.' With the move to a real cross-platform, status, Cineform is aiming to demonstrate exactly that to a wide user base.

All that said, the first question to most users is simply 'what is Cineform?', the answer to which not a singular response but rather a triumvirate offering. Cineform, is first and foremost, a compression technology; a codec. Using visually lossless wavelet compression, Cineform serves to encode media as prime quality online master files while retaining an efficient file size and maximum performance speed.

Cineform for the Mac comes in two flavors known as NeoHD and Neo4k and the nomenclature sums up the core differences. NeoHD handles spatial resolutions up to full raster, non-anamorphic, 1920x1080. Neo4k goes the whole hog with support for full 4k 4096x4096 frames as well as 2k, HD and SD.

But spatial resolution of the Cineform codec only tells part of the story. Where ProRes is limited to YUV 10bit 422 colour sub-sampling, Cineform4k offers full 444 12bit precision - a format every bit the equivalent of uncompressed without the size overhead or the performance drag. Moreover Cineform 444 is RGB making it a perfect fit for those looking for a native RGB workflow from cameras such as the RED and seeking to avoid RGB to YUV conversions. For those happy with more traditional color space, the 422 version of Cineform is 10bit YUV. Here alone Cineform has given two clear reasons to add Neo4k to your Mac-based Final Cut Pro system to go beyond the limitations of ProRes - 4k and 444. But even if you have no need for 4k resolution, the NeoHD version of Cineform still offers the same 12bit 444 RGB at 1920x1080 resolution.

All this visual fidelity and mathematical precision is all well and good but if the weight of the data pushes your NLE to a crawl of non-real-time hell, then it would all be for naught. Fortunately real-time performance has long been the hall mark of Cineform as anyone who has experienced Cineform Prospect with Premiere Pro on Windows can attest. The wavelet-based Cineform codec is built specifically to provide rapid decoding and playback from the NLE timeline and the HD performance of Cineform files on the timeline of Final Cut Pro feels much as ProRes does; snappy and efficient.

While some editors and cinematographers seem perpetually terrified by the very idea of 'compression' the modern age of codec development has surely put to rest the idea of 'compression' being a dirty word. The visually lossless compression applied by Cineform, which keeps the files sizes down to quite respectable sizes, is no slouch when it comes to visual quality by any mathematical analysis. For the nerdy and mathematically inclined the Cineform website ( has a quite compelling quality comparison between 12bit Cineform 444 verses the long held heavy weight of HD quality, HDCAM SR. The testing demonstrates that despite the 'compression' applied by the Cineform codec, nothing is actually lost in terms of visual fidelity while enormous efficiency is gained.

There is also another arm to the Cineform format beyond efficient, high-quality compression, and that's Cineform RAW. Much like RAW images from a Digital SLR or the R3D format from the RED camera, Cineform RAW is a digital-negative for moving images. In perfecting this technology, Cineform has worked in partnership with Silicon Imaging and its SI-2K camera records directly to Cineform 12bit RAW files. Most recently the much lauded feature film from Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire, used the SI-2k camera and a Cineform workflow leveraging not just the efficiency of Cineform (which runs at approx 1/4 the bitrate of HDCAM SR) but also the flexibility of post manipulation of RAW image data and a native RGB workflow.

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Mike Jones is a digital media producer, author, educator from Sydney, Australia. He has a diverse background across all areas of media production including film, video, TV, journalism, photography, music and on-line projects. Mike is the author of three books and more than 200 published essays, articles and reviews covering all aspects of cinematic form, technology and culture. Mike is currently Head of Technological Arts at the International Film School Sydney (, has an online home at and can be found profusely blogging for DMN at

Related Keywords:digital intermediate, DI, remastering, filmmaking, NLE, video editing, editing workflow, filmmaking

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