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NAB 2015 Impressions: Sony PMW-PZ1 4K XAVC Player

NAB 2015 Impressions: Sony PMW-PZ1 4K XAVC Player

  When Sony released their F5 and F55 camera systems, they rolled out yet another video codec in the form of XAVC.  While the XAVC codec sports excellent quality and compression characteristics surpassing their legacy XDCAM format, it still has a major weakness.  You can’t easily watch the footage.  Either the Sony Content Browser or an editing suite such as Abode Premiere must be used.  And 4K footage wont even play in the Content Browser unless you have a high horsepower computer. Enter the Sony PZ1 multiformat SxS XAVC player.  The PZ1 will playback XAVC video strait from an SxS card that was shot on an F55 or playback XACV-Intra video from an external hard drive shot on an FS7.  This unit supports the entire new generation of Sony cameras. This versatile device can be integrated into a media management workflow by allowing you to review footage and backup SxS media via a USB attached hard drive and integrated monitor. Or treat it like a deck with RS-232 control in post production and capture 4K media to the edit suite of choice via 3G/HD-SDI ports. The PZ1 is an excellent step towards making Sony’s relatively new XAVC format more professionally friendly to use! Bookmark it to Stumbleupon, Digg, and more! Hide...

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Digital Media Archiving, Storage and Preservation for the Modern Age

Digital Media Archiving, Storage and Preservation for the Modern Age

The Irony: Analog recordings made 100 years ago are more likely to survive than digital recordings made today! The Truth: There is not a “Magic Bullet” solution available today that will work for everyone. The digital formats you have recorded your material on coupled with the amount of digital material you need to archive and digitally preserve will dictate the solution and practices that will work best for you.   What is digital preservation? Data backup: Making multiple (two or more) copies of a digital file. The copies should be stored in different geographic locations and on different types of storage media to protect against physical or technical disasters. Verification: Regular inspection of all copies of digital files to protect against media or data transfer failure. A related activity is fixity checking, which verifies that a digital file has not been changed, either intentionally or unintentionally. Migration: Regular transfer of all digital file copies to currently supported media and file formats to protect against technological obsolescence. If analog materials are stored in a cold, dry environment in appropriate containers, their life expectancy will be extended with minimal human intervention. Also known as the “store and ignore” approach, this relatively passive strategy is not possible with digital media. Why is migration required? Digital technologies have a finite useful life, but some are better than others. Simple example of this would be to compare modern SSD drives to the “spinner” drives with moving parts. Those moving parts can fail from mishandling and are just as likely to seize from prolonged lack of use when used as a long-term storage medium. Hard drives fail, peripheral connections change, and software is updated. Perfect modern example of this is the eSATA connection falling out of favor since the release of USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt. Another legacy example, how many readers have a stack of floppy disks or ZIP drives laying around from the 90s…does anyone you know have a working floppy or ZIP drive available? File format obsolescence is a serious problem. Does anybody remember the word processing format WordStar from the 80’s? It’s now very difficult to find a piece of software that will read WordStar. The same can be said of Microsoft Works…a popular consumer format from the 90’s that was discontinued in 2006. Only 8 years have passed since it was removed from Microsoft’s support docket and there is no native support for the format in today’s Microsoft products. Third-party software vendors stepped in with convertor tools that will change them over to modern DOCX files. Transcode older obscure masters to modern popular codecs such as Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD…these choices need to be periodically...

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A Producers Guide to Timecode: The Who, What, and Why of Timecode and Framerates

A Producers Guide to Timecode: The Who, What, and Why of Timecode and Framerates

Time code is one of those technical topics that is commonly misunderstood by many production industry professionals.  What is it? Why is it important?  Where does it come from?  What will happen if I don’t have it?  We’ll try to answer all those questions for you, and with any luck, help you avoid time code based pitfalls in the future. Time code is an electronic means of determining an exact location in digital audio and video recording.  The current time code standard was developed in the 1960’s by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), which is how it received its technical name, “SMPTE code”.  Time code allows for a common point of digital reference for both audio and video for the purposes of synchronization.  It is expressed in four numerical values representing hours, minutes, seconds, and frames. The primary importance of time code is to provide an efficient means for editors to synchronize audio recorded on an external recording device to the video recorded to a camera. There are of course other methods to accomplish the same synchronization task.  One common method would be the use of a “clap” or clapper board (slate).  The editor would match up the spiked audio peak produced by the clap from the camera and audio recorder to sync the audio.  Unfortunately, modern digital cinema camera systems have mostly done away on-board microphones.  Cameras like the ARRI Alexa, RED Epic, and even pro-sumer cameras such as the Sony F3 have no internal microphone to record a reference audio track.  When using any of these types of camera systems and there is no possibility of sending audio to the camera due to mobility concerns, physical distance, or the lack of technology to due so, the use of time code is paramount. Time code is typically the responsibility of the Sound Mixer, or in the case of a music video, Sound Playback.  In either case, it’s definitely a Sound Department function, don’t count on Camera Department to make sure it’s implemented properly.  A camera assistant will happily wave a time code slate in front of the camera all day long whether it’s displaying the correct time code or not.  In the case of syncing recorded audio, a “Time of Day” time code is typically used and is generated from the Sound Mixer’s digital audio recorder, such as the Sound Devices 744T.  This time code will be “jammed” (synchronized) to the digital time code slate and usually handed off to camera department for usage throughout the day.  When syncing pre-recorded music to video, Time of Day is not used.  Instead the time code will reflect the run time of...

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Free Video Tools for the “Budget Challenged” Production

Free Video Tools for the “Budget Challenged” Production

At Moving Picture we are all too aware of how expensive it can be to create art. So, for the budget minded filmmakers out there, we’ve provided a few useful free video tools for you to try out. MPEG Streamclip (http://www.squared5.com) MPEG Streamclip is one of those oddly versatile tools that should be installed on every computer you use. It will play nearly every sort of digital media you throw at it. This includes XDCAM MP4 files from the Sony EX-3 and F3 and MXF files from Sony F5/F55 and Canon C300. About the only thing it won’t play is RED media. These features make it a great tool for reviewing footage in the field on anyone’s computer. MPEG Streamclip features a very basic familiar front end. (click to enlarge) It is available in both a Mac or Windows version, and it is a single executable file, which means you can keep a copy of MPEG Streamclip on a personal jump drive to use on any computer if you need to review some material. MPEG Streamcip also has a powerful video export engine that allows transcoding of single clips or a batch of clips to another video format. MPEG Streamclip’s export tools are quite powerful and useful by any standard. (click to enlarge)   Movietools.info (http://www.movietools.info) Movietools.info is an online directory of free video loops to incorporate into your video project. Spice up your ENG or corporate video project with their generous selection of free background animations, transitions, and lower thirds. Matrix style animated digital rain available for free at Movietools.info. No free tool would be complete without their commercial counterpart. If the free selections don’t fit the bill for you, Movietools also offers full sets of matching graphics (at a reasonable price) to use for your ENG project. Complete with full HD virtual sets for use with your green screen material plus matching title, transition, background, and lower third selections. Premium HD Sets can be purchased for $49.99 each.   Keepvid.com (http://www.keepvid.com) + Snipmp3.com (http://www.snipmp3.com) Keepvid is an online tool that allows you to download a copy of videos posted to Vimeo and YouTube. It features a very simple interface. Simply copy and paste the URL of the video in question into the Keepvid interface and it will present you with an MP4 downloadable version of the video. The MP4 file is in a universally playable format, good for Mac, PC, and mobile devices. Keepvid’s interface is simple enough for even the most novice computer user. (click to enlarge) SnipMP3 is created by the same organization as Keepvid, and features an identical user interface. The difference is that, instead of serving up a...

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Shoot to Edit with ARRI Alexa and Avid Media Composer

Shoot to Edit with ARRI Alexa and Avid Media Composer

The ARRI Alexa has proven to be a wonderful camera system from top to bottom — DPs and ACs love it for it’s beautiful imagery and ease of use. And at the end of the day you get compatible ProRes MOV files that both your editors and creative staff can easily view on Mac’s and PC’s simply by using Quicktime Player. Even so, there are still post-production facilities out there that insist on working with Avid DNxHD. As a Producer, it’s your job to make that happen. Record directly to Avid DNxHD from the camera Changing the Alexa to record DNxHD is easily accomplished in the Recording menu   Beginning with version 6.0 or higher, Alexa’s Software Update Packet will let you record Avid DNxHD directly to the internal SxS cards. Although Moving Picture knows that this is clearly the simplest solution to implement, there are some real world drawbacks to this approach. Your creative team won’t have viewing access to the material recorded on DNxHD MXF files unless helper software or additional codecs have been installed on their computers. So, to avoid these types of headaches, you may want to seek an alternative approach. Record Avid DNxHD with an external video recorder The PIX Recorder is an extremely versatile tool, worthy of inclusion in any filmmakers toolbox.   One solution is to record directly from the ALEXA to DNxHD or ProRes using a PIX recorder. There are many external recorders on the market right now, and they range drastically in price range and feature set. However, for this simple live transcoding task, I recommend the Sound Devices PIX-240 recorder with the v3.0 Aurora firmware update. With the new v3.0 firmware, this $200/day recorder can accept 3G HDSDI 12bit 4:4:4 LOG C video from the Alexa, and real-time transcode to DNXHD 220x 10bit. However, reversing the settings will produce better quality video. If you allow the Alexa to record the DNxHD files to the SxS cards, the PIX-240 can record ProRes 4444 12bit at 330Mb/s for your creative team’s review. Another alternative that saves on drive space would be to provide lower resolution “proxy” files to your team. Simply set your PIX recorder to save ProRes 422Proxy 8bit 36Mb/s files. There are additional options, but suffice it to say that this approach is the most versatile way to tackle the transcoding problem. Bookmark it to Stumbleupon, Digg, and more! Hide...

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ARRI Alexa Showcased at CSC Florida

ARRI CSC Florida opened their doors to unveil the new ARRI Alexa this past weekend.  This great event showcased the stunning engineering and versatility of ARRI’s latest addition to the film and video market.  Garnering the attention of South Florida’s seasoned film industry professionals, many experienced camera assistants and directors of photography came out to catch a glimpse of the Alexa at work.  Veteran first assistants Andy Fischer and Steve Ciffone, along with luminaries like Bart Tau (DP), were among the crowd. The Alexa promises to be the next big thing in digital cinema.  When you see the image quality produced by this compact yet robust camera, there’s little doubt that this promise will be fulfilled.  Weighing just 18 pounds, the Alexa is extremely ergonomic and is easily integrated into a comfortable hand held configuration. The LCD display features menus that are simple to remember yet still allow for quick modification.  The Alexa exemplifies technical prowess without intimidating complexities – seasoned pros won’t experience a steep learning curve (it feels like an old analog friend).  Even the menu font size can be seen by older eyes, German engineering at its best! The Alexa workflow is revolutionary, a feature that is the basis of much buzz surrounding this release.  Employing the convenience of Sony SxS cards, the ARRI Alexa offers a seamless workflow from shooting to editing. Television commercials and music videos will undoubtedly reap the time saving benefits of recording native Final Cut Pro codecs direct to SxS cards.  This is a workflow the entire world has been waiting for.  With this new setup, you can record ProRes 422 and ProRes 4444 direct to camera, eliminating the painstaking and time consuming process of encoding files prior to editing.  DITs will love the array of video outs that allow for custom video output selections.  With three video outs and numerous time code options, this camera will be a dream on multi-camera “former film sets.” Moving Picture will have the ARRI Alexa available in August, 2010.  We are very excited about the rental potential of this camera – there have been murmurs that the Alexa could be a “RED Killer.”  Heavy hitters in the industry have already started integrating the Alexa into their productions.  Martin Scorsese’s latest effort “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” is using the Alexa in a 3D workflow while Michael Bay’s “Transformers 3” began shooting on the Sony F35 with plans to shift to the ARRI Alexa upon its release.  It’s certainly too early to tell whether the RED camera’s popularity will wane but it’s undeniable that the ARRI Alexa will soon become a new contender in the world of digital cinema. Visit...

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