2007 Editing Tech Wrapup

For me 2007 was the year of HD. I bought an HDTV, but more importantly, I edited a number of videos on my own computer in HD. It’s kind of old news for a lot of people, but it turns out DVCPro HD is a great format that you can play back from a regular old hard drive without any fancy RAIDs. In the past I’ve insisted on sticking with DV because I didn’t trust a regular old hard drive to reliably play back HD video. And at least on a feature film there’s always going to be an online assembly at the end anyway, so the advantages of working in HD are generally not as great as the hassles. One feature I worked on last year was edited with 14:1 compressed DV on a G4 Avid Meridien, so HD was beyond out of the question. It literally took an hour just to output one reel of the DV reference quicktimes for the sound editors. But despite the old-fashioned tech in the offline, we did the online in 4:4:4 1920×1080 at a post house, and it ended up looking terrific. I always say that in the end offline editing is just about generating a list of numbers for the online anyway.

But working in DVCPro HD has really opened my eyes. For one thing, it made my pretty nice 2-year-old AMD X2 3800 computer seem way too slow. Rendering times were unacceptably high. I’ve just upgraded to an Intel Core 2 Quad 2.4 GHz system with 4GB of DDR2 RAM and I’ve seen some real performance increases. Rendering titles is much improved, and realtime HD effects work really well. Of course, I’m still limited by slow hard disk speeds, but now I have 4 eSATA connections (2 built-in to the back of the motherboard and 2 from an SATA to eSATA bracket) which ensures that on the newer external drives I don’t have any Firewire interfaces slowing anything down.

All of the DVCPro HD projects I’ve worked on have been short, and came from P2 cards; my new favorite things. If there’s one thing that annoys me the most about editing, it’s real-time capture. It’s too slow!!! P2 cards copy faster than real-time, and generally have to be loaded onto hard drives during production, so in many cases I get a hard drive all ready to edit without having to load anything into the computer. This is the way of the future. In FCP there’s still some futzing around with conversion from the MXF format on the P2 cards to QT files, which seems like something that won’t last long. Avid loads MXFs without any conversion, which I find very cool.

We edited Blind Date using XDCAM. In this case it was PAL DV saved as MXF files to XDCAM discs, which are basically Blu-Ray discs in a cartridge. All I did was copy the files from the discs to a hard drive and we were ready to go. It was at least twice as fast as real-time capture, possibly faster. My favorite part was syncing up the 3-camera shoot. Everything had the same timecode, so it was a snap to group every bin using AutoSync.

The big new thing that I haven’t tried yet is Apple’s ProRes codec. I’ve done a little bit of testing and it seems to work really well and really fast, but I haven’t done any serious editing with it. It looks like I’ll have a chance in April when I’ll be editing HD video for an opera in Amsterdam with Hal Hartley. Everything will be shot in HDCAM and we’re going to capture straight to ProRes HQ and edit with that throughout the process. At the end it all needs to be converted to MPEG-2 for the playback hardware installed in the theater, so ProRes seems ideal. I will of course post more as I learn more.

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