The Tyranny of the Thumbnail

It just highlights how ridiculous it is that YouTube gives only 3 options for a thumbnail. The thumbnail is the poster for your movie. It is essentially the entire advertising campaign. How hard would it be to give us the option of choosing any frame from the video as the thumbnail? It’s not 1995, we have this technology.

A Stopgap Solution

I was working on a movie in Avid Xpress Pro (on Windows XP) recently and I figured it was time to finally get some equipment so I (and a client) could watch the video on an external monitor. A DV deck is the usual way. You hook up the deck to the computer via firewire, the deck translates the DV to analog, you hook your TV into the deck and you’ve got NTSC video. Trouble is, I have very little use for a deck. Most projects I edit these days come to me already on a hard drive. DV tape is obviously on its way out, and spending $2000 on a deck I won’t be using much longer seems a little silly.

I was hoping to get an Intensity Pro. I didn’t need to capture or output any tapes, so that seemed ideal since it could also handle HD. But then I remembered that Avid doesn’t play well with others. Avid only works with Avid DNA products like the Mojo. The Mojo is essentially a glorified digital/analog converter that also adds 2:3 pulldown to 24p video in realtime and retails for $1700. It’s worth noting that Final Cut Pro adds 2:3 pulldown for free.

sony-dcr-hc28192046.jpgI considered a D/A converter, but they all run around $200 and don’t have any tape decks, in case I do need to capture a tape here and there. Eventually I decided that a cheap camcorder was my best option. First I got a $160 Canon camcorder. With Avid Xpress Pro I was getting a 16 frame delay and often drifting out of sync, which I assumed was because it was a cheap piece of crap. I returned it and got a $190 Sony DCR-HC28 since I’ve had such good experiences with Sony decks. I still get the 16 frame delay with the Sony camcorder, but I don’t have the drifting problem. I was working on a different project in Final Cut Pro, so I booted up the Mac OS to see what the delay would be. Turns out it’s only 2 frames, which is what I usually expect from FCP with a firewire deck. That really surprised me since it’s the same computer. From what I’ve read in online forums, the 16 frame delay is standard for Avid without a DNA like the Mojo. I’ve turned on desktop play delay, which keeps the video in sync, but it makes editing a bit more difficult.

I don’t have any plans to start shooting home movies, so I can’t say anything about the image quality of the camera. I can only assume it’s horrible.

Thank God That’s Over

Well, it’s official, HD DVD is dead. Now you can finally get a high definition DVD player without worrying it’s going to turn into a Betamax. I’ve looked at the options available and it seems pretty obvious that much like my first DVD player, the best value comes from the Playstation. Way back in 2001 I bought a Playstation 2 because I wanted to watch DVDs on TV instead of on my computer. And also because I like to play the occasional video game. It turns out the Playstation 2 was a pretty bad DVD player, but it served its purpose for a couple years until I got a very nice standalone DVD player. The PS2 spent a few years in the closet until it was resurrected for Guitar Hero.

Now, all the Blu-Ray players available retail for $300-400. A Playstation 3 can be had for as little as $400. So for a few extra bucks you get a really fancy computer along with the ability to play high definition DVDs. I think it’s going to be a while before I pony up that cash. I’m still really happy with the quality of anamorphic DVDs on my plasma. It might have to wait until after I get a 1080p display. I’d love to get Rock Band though.

Other pieces of equipment in line ahead of the PS3:

  • A new graphics card. Leaning towards an nVidia 8600. My 6600 is getting pretty long in the tooth.
  • A spiffy HTPC case for the guts of my old computer. I’m planning to hook up my computer to the plasma TV in the living room so we can check IMDb without leaving the couch. We’ll even be able to do picture-in-picture. Also, we can watch videos downloaded from the Internet.
  • A Blackmagic Intensity Pro. For only $350 you get HD out of your computer, and realtime downconversion to SD.
  • A new HD TV. Probably a 42″ plasma for the living room, so I can use the year-old 37″ as a client monitor in my office. I’m hoping Panasonic puts out some smaller 1080p displays soon.

Editing 24p footage at 29.97

In the past I’ve surveyed the many issues of editing 24p video in a 60i world. A recent comment on that page reminded me that there’s another option that I hadn’t discussed.

Shoot 24p. It looks great. Once you’ve shot it in 24p, you’re never going to lose the “filmic” quality of the motion that you get from shooting progressive frames. Because you can only get interlaced video on a DV tape, what’s on your tape is now interlaced, but it’s interlaced in the same way that The Matrix is interlaced when it’s shown on standard definition TV. It still looks like The Matrix, it doesn’t look like the 11 o’clock news just because it’s interlaced.

Editing in 24p can be tough. If you don’t really understand what you’re doing you can end up causing a lot of unnecessary trouble. So you can edit in regular old 29.97 NTSC. You probably won’t see the difference. The one time I see a problem with footage that was shot 24p but edited at 29.97 is playing on my HDTV. My TV is a progressive scan monitor. It automatically detects 3:2 pulldown and removes it from the video, which results in a nice progressive picture. This works best when the video has a continuous pulldown cadence. A film that is telecined has pulldown added in the same cadence throughout, so once the TV picks up the cadence, its work is done. The same is true for videos shot and edited in 24p. However, a video shot at 24p and edited at 29.97 has a pretty good chance (80% I think) of changing its cadence on every cut. So after every cut I see a few frames of interlaced video before the TV figures out the new cadence.

The good news is, nobody else notices this.

My advice is, if you’re going crazy trying to figure out how to edit 24p video, do yourself a favor and skip it. NTSC 29.97 works just fine.