Monday, 28 January 2013

Another new video format - H.265

For stock footage and stills of London go to London Photography and Video. 

There are nearly as many video formats in existence as there are spoofs of the Gangham Style video and they make a video editor's life hell. The producer's simple question of "could you just export a file for me to send to the client" is the start of a round of "fifty questions", forty-nine of which the producer doesn't know the answer to and the one he guesses is usually wrong.

There is no point or indeed desire to explain things like codecs, wrappers, bit-rate and dimensions to a producer who wants a 23 minute long video in HD quality but small enough to e-mail. Unless you want them to go and make a cup of tea. So the editor (me) takes an educated guess and produces something that will play on the client's Blackberry.

So when a new format emerges from the ITU that will "ease the pressure on global networks" I am likely to crawl into a dark corner and order more tea. But this one could be a goer since it is the successor to H.264 the (not very snappily named) codec that is now the lifeblood of the internet video world (80% of all video streamed on web is in H.264) and is liked by Apple and Microsoft OS's alike. 

The recently announced, excitingly named Recommendation ITU-T H.265 or ISO/IEC 23008-2 or High Efficiency Video Coding [I think I'll stick to H.265] is twice as efficient as its numerically challenged cousin at crunching numbers which means similar quality files will be half the size. At the moment a 23 minute programme (which is all you get in a 30 minute slot on a commercial station) in H.264 at full HD resolution creates a file that's about 1.4 Gb in size. Download four of those and your 5Gb 4G limit is exceeded and that is going to cost you, but with H.265 you get twice as much for your money.

Now I am very interested in how 4K television develops (don't get me started at dinner parties) and this new codec is designed with 4K and even 8K in mind and will start to make it possible to watch online over a fibre connection. It will take a while to phase the new format in but once it is on my desktop and my client's tablet, it is one less question to ask when exporting a video.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

4K Ultra-hd to be broadcast in July 2014 - time to shoot.

For stock footage and stills of London go to London Photography and Video. 

There has been quite a split amongst video, tv and film makers about the relative merits of 4K (now known as ultra-hd) television and whether it should be bypassed altogether in favour of 8K (whatever that will be called but super-ultra-hd sounds quite good in a Japanese accent).

Now it looks like 4K is going to get it's 15 minutes of fame although it may only last 2 years - I love a good cliché mixed with a tautology - as it appears Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has decided to launch its 4K broadcast in July 2014, two years ahead of predicted schedules, and 8K tv in 2016. The advanced 4K launch date could be to encourage the purchasing of (already available in Japan) ultra-hd televisions but more likely because the department's minister is a massive soccer fan and the 2014 World Cup final will be hosted by Rio de Janeiro that month.

What is more certain is that the demand for 4K footage will start to ramp up and so will the amount of cameras available to shoot it. Hopefully this will also lower the price since acquisition of 4K at the moment is quite high mainly because of the outboard recording unit. 

You can bare-bones it and shoot on the Canon DSLR EOS 1D C, which if you could buy for £6000 instead of nearer £9K would be snapped up faster than a sprat in a salmon farm. One of the reasons Canon have given for the high price of the 1D C is that there are only going to produce them in small numbers; I can see the price dropping as Canon decide to produce them in higher numbers when initial sales to early adopters tail off. CVP in London have already shown a £1340 drop in the initial price.

CVP selling the Canon EOS 1D C

My dream machine though is the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera MKII with a larger sensor (so wide angles are possible) that can shoot 2.5K in RAW and 4K in GoPro's Cineform codec. Even if the price doubled for such a beast I doubt Blackmagic Design would have much trouble selling them.

Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera with important new logos!

But for now many people are going to shoot 4K on a GoPro at 12 frames per second and run the footage through Twixtor to produce full speed 4K footage. If you can handle the semi-fisheye look the quality is quite good. There is a big gap in the market just waiting to be filled and I think that Sony have the basics with the superb NEX-FS700 - just need a less pricey way of recording its 4K output.

Sony NEX-FS700
Certainly the Japan Government's announcement will accelerate the need for 4K footage and hopefully we will get the kit to shoot it at a price we can justify.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Useful software for videographers and photographers - Part 3

The two previous posts on software has concentrated on PC software since that is what I use most of the time, but a revisit to my Mac Pro reminded me of a couple of good solutions on iOS and also why one bundled app on Windows 7 is so much better than its equivalent on the Mac.

First a piece of software that works on both platforms. It's called Better File Rename and made by, is now in version 5 and costs $19.95. It is accessible by right-clicking in a Windows Explorer window which opens a new window offering a huge choice of sorting and renaming options. It is a simple way of renaming a large batch of files and I use it to name the hundreds of images I shoot during a time lapse so that when I open the image sequence in After Effects I see a name for the sequence not just letters and numbers.

Better File Rename
Two bits of advice about using BFR may help you out. First, if you have more than a hundred files, at first just choose one to rename, make the name change and perform rename. Then open all the files and perform the name change without changing parameters again. Because BFR updates the preview to all the files it can take a long time with a large batch. Second, don't try to rename more than 50 files on a network drive, it will fail. Move all the files to a local or USB drive, perform the rename and then move them to the network drive.

One of the ways I found to improve file handling on a Mac was to stop using Finder, which for someone moving around lots of files is clunky and frustrating. I spent a while looking for an alternative and came across Path Finder by Cocoatech. This can completely replace the OS Finder or can work alongside it and is a very powerful piece of software. Simply having two browser panels is a big improvement on Apple's own software, but it offers built in video and stills preview, excellent sorting and a much better control over application launch. I couldn't use my Mac without it and have not found anything quite as good for Windows yet. At $39.95 it is not cheap but you can have a 30 days trial and I think you will shell out after that.

Path Finder by Cocoatech

I upgraded all of my PCs to Windows 7 as soon as it was released and soon discovered the Snipping tool which I have permanently pinned to my taskbar. All it does is grab a still image of a window or a rectangular area of my desktop. I can then save the grab as a file or copy and paste it into any document. It is so easy to use and I am in control of where the files go - much quicker than Skitch. If you haven't used it and you have a Windows 7 PC, just try it. You'll find it in the Accessories folder in your Start Programmes.

Snipping tool

In Part 1 of this software blog series I wrote about Disk Aware and it's ability to find large hidden files using up valuable disk space. CC Cleaner by Piriform discovers all the little files that also use up a large amount of space. The software has been around for many years and I am always astonished by how much rubbish (CC used to be called Crap Cleaner) hangs around my PC. I just ran CC Cleaner on my laptop and this was the result:

CC Cleaner by Piriform

13,127MB of stuff I can happily delete. Notice that the analysis only took 103 seconds to run and I have deselected history and cookies as items I want to delete. At this point I haven't run cleaner so I can look through what it suggests deleting and modify the selection. I can also get it to look at the registry and delete orphan files from there. I wouldn't recommend doing this unless you are confident at fixing problems because the registry is a scary place, but I do use it and so far CC Cleaner has caused no problems.

I hope this series has unearthed a few hidden gems in the software world. Many of the tools are free and all bar one are under $100 dollars. There are some great people making this software and I would like to thank them here for their work. I would also like to ask everyone to use the software properly, not to distribute it and to pay the small amount asked to use it when appropriate. 

Please suggest any software in the comments as I know there must be loads of useful ones I have yet to discover.