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Cross-Platform Production part 2: Mac, Boot Camp, Windows & CineForm

Cutting on both sides of the fence By Mike Jones

Aside from moving media between partitions, the second major workflow consideration for cross-platform production is the video formats themselves. This relates to both the shooting acquisition format and the type of exchange and intermediate files to use in moving project elements. While formats like HDV, XDCamHD and DVCProHD may seem (and are even touted as being) universal, they can be handled by individual applications very differently with huge potential for frustration.

Take HDV for example. Final Cut Pro declares that it edits HDV 'natively' but there is a degree of truth-bending here. The 'native' format of HDV as it comes of the camera is an MPEG-2 Transport Stream. The native standard format wrapper for this is *.m2t. Yet Final Cut Pro does and cannot read or open an *.m2t wrapped file. FCP reads the MPEG-2 codec natively but when capturing HDV the MPEG-2 stream is rewrapped into a QuickTime format with a set of Final Cut Pro specific Metadata to make it work. The result is that these captured files work very well inside FCP but are mostly unable to be used in that form by applications outside of FCP. In order to export a project from FCP and use the media in another application, the video would have to be transcoded to a universal format; potentially a time consuming process.

The alternative is to capture from the outset to a different and more universal codec that can be swapped between apps on both sides of the partition. Such a format would also need to provide efficient lossless compression. QuickTime Component Video (which is a 422 YUV codec) is often used as a way to move rendered sequences from NLE to compositing (or vice versa). Component Video is both lossless and universally accepted by just about every video software system but it is also a quite inefficient and unwieldy format with massive files sizes. Likewise Uncompressed video is just not viable (or necessary) for most projects.

Many editors often turn to the QuickTime Animation Codec for lossless intermediate files but this is largely a misconception of the Animation Codec`s purpose and mathematical structure. The compression scheme of the Animation Codec is designed specifically for computer generated graphics and RGB color space with continuous color patterns which it strings together to provide lossless compression. But this method can, on live action YUV footage, produce adverse artifacts and banding.

Apple's own ProRes422 offers the same lossless YUV 4:2:2 format as QT Component Video but with far greater efficiency and performance than Component or Uncompressed by using a wavelet-based compression scheme. The result is full quality but reduced size, but ProRes is exclusively Mac oriented, making it useless for working across the partition to applications on the Windows side.

Arguably the best solution available that provides superb lossless quality, efficiency and complete platform interchange is the third-party product CineForm. CineFormis both a codec and an architecture for creating and transcoding lossless digital intermediate files and managing those files across different production applications. The CineFormcodec applies lossless wavelet compression for perfect visual quality while keeping file sizes reasonable.

What makes CineFormthe perfect solution for Mac/BootCamp/Windows production is that once installed, you have a single lossless format that can be used universally by any software tool on either side of the partition; from NLE to compositing and effects and anywhere else your project needs to go. Purchasing a single copy of CineForm gives the user both Windows and Mac codecs to install. The second advantage is that CineForm provides a utility for re-wrapping the Cineform files from MOV to AVI formats and vice versa. This has no effect on the quality or properties of the video itself, it just simply places the media stream in a different container. Some applications use the QuickTime engine natively while others on Windows do not and here you can sometimes get better performance or efficiency by using the AVI format wrapper rather than MOV. CineForm allows you to rewrap the same codec quickly and with impunity to suit the application.

The third advantage of CineForm is that because it can be used to encode media from just about any application, for any kind of content, your edit process is totally unified with no need to mix formats or codecs. While all modern NLEs can effectively work with mixed formats you'll always get better performance and efficiency from a unified set of media.

Cineform format support

The CineForm workflow is remarkably simple regardless of where you start or end. If, for example, your main edit is to be done in Final Cut Pro you can and edit on a timeline optimized for CineForm files inside FCP. Any sequences you produce on either side of the partition, in whatever software, can simply be exported as CineForm files and dropped onto the FCP timeline with no compatibility issues regardless of what application or OS partition they originated. The only issue here is that Final Cut Pro cannot currently capture directly into CineForm codec and CineForm's own capture software HDLink- has not yet been ported to the Mac, so you`ll need to capture on the Windows side and move the files over.

If you're using Windows-based NLEs such as Sony`s Vegas as your editing platform but need to move the project as, say, an EDL to FCP or into DVD StudioPro on the Mac side, then CineForm again serves. The CineForm HDLink software allows you to capture HDV and transcode on the fly to CineForm in Windows. These files can be edited in your Windows NLE of choice and then exported again as CineForm to move to the Mac side.

If you`re using Adobe Premiere Pro there are significant further advantages with CineForm in the form of phenomenal real-time with effects performance. This is possible in Premiere because Adobe have constructed a superb open architecture for third-party developers. On a Windows system, CineForm is able to supplant the regular Premiere Pro rendering engine with its own optimized for CineForm files. Alas, Final Cut Pro has no such system and is not so friendly to third-party products and so the huge performance boost available to Premiere Pro cannot currently be replicated in Final Cut Pro nor can it be replicated in Premiere Pro on the Mac.

While Adobe`s Production Suite CS3 is cross-platform, available in Windows and Mac editions, there are currently a number of the applications in the suite that are Windows only. Ultra and OnLocation are included in the Mac edition of CS3 but can only be installed under Windows. We can imagine that Adobe is working hard on porting these applications to the Mac but in the meantime CS3 on the Mac virtually demands a BootCamp solution and here again CineForm provides the perfect video format to allow efficient and high quality exchange between apps on the Windows and Mac sides of the fence.

The only issue that becomes apparent here is one which affects all production, and that is hard drive space. Using BootCamp, this issue is compounded by the fact of having two large operating systems on separate partitions eating into your local storage. Obviously external hard drives are the solution bearing mind the previously mentioned hard drive format issues.

The choice to use BootCamp to run both Mac and Windows operating systems is fundamentally one about freedom; freedom to choose the creative tools that best suit your personal creative process. Rather than the absurdity of debating operating systems we are now afforded a more pre-eminent position of being able to choose the tools first and foremost and circumvent the inherent restrictions of either operating system. BootCamp allows for you to choose the software-based creative paradigm for yourself rather than having it forced upon you.

There is no ?best` workflow solution, only the best for the work you want to do. To make this complete we bring the format leveler of CineForm, which unifies high-quality, performance efficient, post-production. The application freedom of BootCamp makes it very difficult to mount a significant case against the MacBook and MacBook Pro as your primary production platform. The operating system choice is irrelevant, it`s the creative paradigm presented by the software environment where the filmmaker goes to work.

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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 (www.ifss.edu.au), has an online home at www.mikejones.net and can be found profusely blogging for DMN at www.digitalbasin.net

Related Keywords:media format, NLE, video editing, transcoding, encoding,


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