… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1256: What’s the “Ideal” Computer?

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it simply needs to get the job done efficiently.

(Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

Topic $TipTopic

My wife has a saying: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Nowhere is that more true than in technology; and it is driving us all nuts.

What this saying means is that we spend too much time looking for the perfect system, when a system that may be less than perfect is still more than adequate is enough. This is especially true when it comes to storage.

As an example, I’m in the process of upgrading my server for faster performance and greater capacity. However, last night, as I was exporting my weekly webinar, I measured how fast Final Cut creates a ProRes 4444 file: 85 MB/second. Even if I had storage that clocked in at NVMe speeds – 2500 MB/sec – my exports would not be any faster, because FCP X can only calculate these files so fast.

1080p media needs less than 40 MB/second to edit, while 4K media needs less than 70 MB/sec. Storage that goes 300 MB/second will edit at the same speed as storage that goes 2500 MB/second.

I’m not saying faster storage is a bad idea, clearly, multicam editing, HDR or larger frame rates require more horsepower than simple HD. However, what I am saying is that we need to ask ourselves a bigger question: Where will extra speed actually help? For example, if I only edit one project a week, spending a lot of money improving export speed is not meaningful compared to the time it takes to edit the project in the first place. Sadly, faster storage does not help me think any faster. I wish it did.

Another example was provided by Gloria. She owns a high-end 2019 Mac Pro. She’s worried that Thunderbolt 4, which hasn’t shipped yet, will make her system obsolete.

Well, ALL computers become obsolete at some point, but when it comes to performance, Thunderbolt 4 is the same as Thunderbolt 3. And, even when new gear is released, as it always is, all our current gear will still work exactly the same as it does now.

I get dozens of emails each week from editors happily editing on Mac Pro systems that are 10-12 years old. Clearly not state of the art, but fully capable of doing the work they need to get done – on time and on budget. I get even more emails from editors stressing over whether they need a 3.2 GHz or 3.3 GHz CPU.

My advice is stop trying for perfection – unless the search itself is something you enjoy. Instead find a system that meets your needs. Most of the time, good enough is also fast enough. And “future-proofing” is a fool’s errand.

Jan Frederickson, of WLS-TV, had a sign on her wall that I think about daily: “It’s better than perfect, it’s done.”

That is a reassuring statement.


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… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1257: Repair a Broken QuickTime Movie

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Here are a variety of tools you can use to convert, repair and play QuickTime files.

Topic $TipTopic

QuickTime is a very flexible media container, but, when it breaks, it breaks badly.  There are three big problems with video files that won’t play:

  • The file lacks an extension
  • The codec is no longer supported
  • The QuickTime movie itself is broken

The first problem generally shows up when you store media files on a server. Servers don’t use the Mac operating system, which means that all files on a server must use an extension. Sometimes, simply adding the correct extension – either .mov or .mp4 – will allow a movie to play.

A bigger problem with video files are codecs that are no longer supported. Apple removed support for 32-bit codecs in macOS Catalina, which means many early videos no longer play. Even my audio-only files, stored in early QuickTime movies, won’t play.

To play older files, I have several older computers that I’m not upgrading. As well, Kyno, from LessPain Software will convert older codecs, even if the movies won’t play on a current operating system.

The third problem, though is trickier. When dealing with QuickTime movies, the entire file needs to be perfect for the video to play. If one small part of a QuickTime movie is damaged, the entire movie is dead. For this reason, much though I love QuickTime, I’m also converting any movies that need future proofing into MPEG-4. Keep the bit rate high – 10 Mbps or above – to retain high image quality. Then, I have both a ProRes version and an MPEG-4 version. One of those should last.

If the media file is damaged, I’ve had great success using Wondershare UniConverter. While this hasn’t fixed all my files, it HAS fixed most of them. This software has a free trial that converts the first third of any video. If it can convert a third, the paid version (subscription or purchase) will convert all of it. I used this software to recover over 100 files that wouldn’t play.

As well, the folks at Digital Rebellion also have a family of QuickTime repair utilities called Pro Maintenance Tools. I’m hoping to give it a try in the next week or two. I have great respect for their developers!


… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1236: Comparing ProRes 422 HQ, 422 vs. 422 LT

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Apple ProRes logo.

Topic $TipTopic

I got into a discussion recently about the differences between ProRes 422 and ProRes 422 HQ. After that, I did some research and here’s what I learned.

NOTE: This material was taken from Apple’s ProRes White Paper.

Apple ProRes 422 HQ: A higher-data-rate version of Apple ProRes 422 that preserves visual quality at the same high level as Apple ProRes 4444, but for 4:2:2 image sources. With widespread adoption across the video post-production industry, Apple ProRes 422 HQ offers visually lossless preservation of the highest-quality professional HD video that a single-link HD-SDI signal can carry. This codec supports full-width, 4:2:2 video sources at 10-bit pixel depths, while remaining visually lossless through many generations of decoding and re-encoding. The target data rate of Apple ProRes 422 HQ is approximately 220 Mbps at 1920 x 1080 and 29.97 fps.

Apple ProRes 422: A high-quality compressed codec offering nearly all the benefits of Apple ProRes 422 HQ, but at 66 percent of the data rate for even better multistream, real-time editing performance. The target data rate of Apple ProRes 422 is approximately 147 Mbps at 1920 x 1080 and 29.97 fps.

Apple ProRes 422 LT: A more highly compressed codec than Apple ProRes 422, with roughly 70 percent of the data rate and 30 percent smaller file sizes. This codec is perfect for environments where storage capacity and data rate are at a premium. The target data rate of Apple ProRes 422 LT is approximately 102 Mbps at 1920 x 1080 and 29.97 fps.

Which would I use personally?

  • ProRes 422 HQ. Only if the camera recorded source footage in this format.
  • ProRes 422. Anything shot by a non-HDR camera.
  • ProRes 422 LT. All review copies sent to clients or collaborators to decrease file size.

I’m interested in your comments.


… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1237: An Overview of GoPro Cineform

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

The Cineform logo.

Topic $TipTopic

One of the long-standing intermediate codecs for Adobe Premiere Pro is GoPro Cineform.

As Adobe writes: The GoPro CineForm codec is a cross-platform intermediate codec designed for editing high-resolution footage.

An intermediate codec can be best described as a video encoding format designed for professional video editing. You typically use an intermediate codec to pass media files from one application to another in a post-production workflow.

The GoPro CineForm codec is optimized for encoding video content with 4K and higher resolution, including support for smart rendering. You can also render and transcode files in mixed formats into a single GoPro CineForm codec to archive, or share with other teams and systems.

A distinct advantage of using the GoPro CineForm codec is the minimal loss in quality even after multiple encodes.

As GoPro writes: CineForm, first developed in 2001, was the first of its type to focus on speed, while supporting higher bit depths for image quality. More recent examples would be Avid DNxHD and Apple ProRes, although both divide the image into blocks using DCT. The full frame wavelet has a subjective quality advantage over DCTs, so you can compress more without classic ringing or block artifact issues.

It supports compression ratios between 10:1 and 4:1, greater ranges are possible. CineForm is a constant quality design, bit-rates will vary as needed for the scene.

This link – though it looks intimdating at the start – contains a useful description of the codec, along with it’s history and what makes it different from DNx or ProRes. Scroll down, past the developer information at the top.


… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1238: An Overview of Alpha Channels

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Alpha channels are the magic that make compositing and most effects possible.

Viewing the alpha channel: White is opaque, black is transparent & gray is translucent.

Topic $TipTopic

The process of adding an alpha channel to an image – as a developer – is highly complex. Fortunately, we don’t need to understand how the channel is added to take advantage of it.

Just as the red, blue and green channels describe the amount of red, blue or green in each pixel, the alpha channel describes the amount of transparency in each pixel. An alpha channel provides a way to store images and their transparency information in a single file without disturbing the color channels.

Many file formats can include an alpha channel, including Adobe Photoshop, ElectricImage, TGA, TIFF, EPS, PDF, and Adobe Illustrator. ProRes, AVI and QuickTime (saved at a bit depth of Millions Of Colors+), also can contain alpha channels, depending upon the codecs used to generate these file types.

Alpha channels store transparency information in files in one of two ways: straight or premultiplied. Although the alpha channels are the same, the color channels differ.

With straight (or unmatted) channels, transparency information is stored only in the alpha channel, not in any of the visible color channels. With straight channels, the effects of transparency aren’t visible until the image is displayed in an application that supports straight channels.

With premultiplied (or matted) channels, transparency information is stored in the alpha channel and also in the visible RGB channels, which are multiplied with a background color. The colors of semitransparent areas, such as feathered edges, are shifted toward the background color in proportion to their degree of transparency.

Some software lets you specify the background color with which the channels are premultiplied; otherwise, the background color is usually black or white.

Straight channels retain more accurate color information than premultiplied channels. While premultiplied channels are compatible with a wider range of programs, such as Apple QuickTime Player.

Often, the choice of whether to use images with straight or premultiplied channels has been made before you receive the assets to edit and composite. Premiere Pro and After Effects recognize both straight and premultiplied channels, but only the first alpha channel they encounter in a file containing multiple alpha channels.

Use ProRes 4444 when you need to create or transfer clips with alpha channels.

Alpha channels are supported in all NLEs, and there are dozens of articles on the web detailing how to work with them to create a variety of different effects.


… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1209: I Need Your Help

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

The Inside Tips encourages reader-contributed tips. Please share yours with us.

We don’t know what we don’t know until we learn it from someone else.

Topic $TipTopic

I want to encourage you to submit a tip or two for “The Inside Tips.” We all benefit when we take the time to share what we know.

The Inside Tips for Codecs & Media is a Tip Letter focused on the technical aspects of media and compression. This is a large topic – far more than any single person can master.

Each of us, during our career, has benefited by learning from others – sometimes in a formal setting, more often in the course of daily work.

For this reason, it would be great if you could contribute a tip or two from your own experience. The Inside Tips are read in every state in the US, as well as 50 countries around the world.

Even the “simple things” only seem simple after we learn them.

Click this link to submit a tip…. And thanks!


… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1210: Tips for Faster Video Compression

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

These settings can disable hardware acceleration, without benefitting the image.

Apple Compressor (top) and Adobe Media Encoder. Preferred settings are shown.

Topic $TipTopic

Last week, I wrote about the hardware acceleration provided by both the T-2 and M-1 chips in Apple computers Tip #1190. As well, most current Intel CPUs also support hardware acceleration of 8-bit H.264 and HEVC media.

However, it is possible to accidentally turn OFF hardware acceleration by changing one setting in either Apple Compressor or Adobe Media Encoder.

NOTE: I can’t think of a single good reason to do this, so, um, don’t do it.

SETTING 1 – COMPRESSOR

Hardware acceleration is always single pass. Enabling multi-pass turns off hardware acceleration. (The top screen shot illustrates this setting in Apple Compressor.)

SETTING 2 – ADOBE MEDIA ENCODER

AME has two Bit Rate settings that can turn off hardware acceleration: CBR and VBR 2-pass. For fastest compression be sure to always select VBR 1-pass.

EXTRA CREDIT

In the past, we used 2-pass software compression because it looked better. Based on my observations, using today’s CPUs, hardware-accelerated compression looks as good as, or better than, media compressed using software.

And, it finished a WHOLE LOT faster, as well.

In Apple Compressor, for digital images, you can also turn off Clean Aperture. Tip #1211 explains why.


… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1211: What Is “Clean Aperture?”

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Clean Aperture is most helpful for images transferred from analog tape.

The Clean Aperture option in Compressor > Video Properties panel. It

Topic $TipTopic

You may have seen this “Clean Aperture” checkbox in Apple Compressor and wondered what it does and when to use it. Apple has it On by default.

Here’s what Apple’s Help Files say:

“Select this checkbox to define clean picture edges in the output file. This property adds information to the output file to define how many pixels to hide, ensuring that no artifacts appear along the edges. When you play the output file in QuickTime Player, the pixel aspect ratio will be slightly altered. This process doesn’t affect the actual number of pixels in the output file—it only controls whether information is added to the file that a player can use to hide the edges of the picture.”

In general, if you have an image recorded from analog tape, you’ll have this problem. Most current digital images don’t need this.

While it is on by default, I generally turn this off.


… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1190: Faster H.264 and HEVC Compression

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Compression is getting faster due to new chips supporting hardware acceleration.

The Encoder type menu option in Apple Compressor 4.5.

Topic $TipTopic

As I was preparing this week’s webinar on media compression in Apple Compressor (link) I learned the following:

The new M1 chip from Apple (part of the three new Macs launched last week) can accelerate encoding of H.264, 8-bit HEVC, and 10-bit HEVC using hardware. This vastly speeds compression of these codecs.

NOTE: HDR media requires using a 10-bit codec, which is why compressing 10-bit HEVC quickly is important.

To enable hardware acceleration, be sure to select Faster for the Encoding type.

As well, recent Intel-based Mac computers can use the T2 chip to hardware accelerate 8-bit HEVC and 10-bit HEVC encoding. Again, the Faster Encoding type option should be selected.

NOTE: Selecting Multi-pass switches to software-based encoding. Given the speed and quality of today’s hardware-accelerated compression, there are very few reasons to use this option.


… for Codecs & Media

Tip #1191: Create Watermarks That Move

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Moving watermarks can be created in Motion, then added using Compressor.

Watermark effects settings (top) and the inserted watermark (bottom)

Topic $TipTopic

We are all used to video watermarks, those small images in the lower right corner of a video that identify the source of the video. But, did you know those watermarks can move? If you use the right watermark, it can.

In Motion, create a project the same size as the video it will be added to. Position the watermark at both the size and position you want. Remember this video will loop so be sure the first and last frame match.

Motion automatically creates motion graphics with alpha channels, which means it will key into any video perfectly.

NOTE: I generally set watermarks to sit right at the lower-right corner of Title Safe.

  • Add a video to Compressor, then apply a compression setting to the clip.
  • Select the compression setting, then scroll to the bottom of the Video Inspector.
  • In the Add Video Effects menu, select Watermark (top red arrow).
  • At the bottom of the Watermark effect, click the Select button (bottom red arrow) and select the moving watermark you just created in Motion.
  • At the top of the Watermark effect, change Position to Center. This matches the framing of the watermark to the video.
  • If the watermark and the video are created at different frame sizes, check Scale to Frame Size to get them to match.
  • Finally, because the video needs to loop for the duration of your video, click Repeat (video only) to create the loop.

EXTRA CREDIT

Any application that creates video with an alpha channel can be used to create moving watermarks.