Tuesday, November 4, 2008

High Definition Video...Continued

So, as I said in my last post - JVC GY-HD110E and Final Cut Pro, not really the best of friends.

I being the bull-headed individual that I am however, was determined to get the two to communicate. In my mind there is no real reason that they shouldn't - and I hate it when things don't work the way they're supposed to. Checking around DVinfo and Creative Cow (where I spend most of my time when I'm supposed to be doing pre-production work) the "accepted" way around this issue was to use a 3rd party piece of software to capture the footage in raw uncompressed MPEG2 form, then use yet another 3rd party piece of software to transcode this data into Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC) which FCP is happy to play with. All fine and dandy you may think, but this process is extremely long and computer intensive, it's not something you can leave running in the background whilst you play Tux the Penguin thats for sure.

There were many people asking for a way around this - reducing steps in the workflow is what non-linear editing (in my humble opinon) is all about so this laborious process is something of a pain to have to deal with. Unfortunately I couldn't find any other solutions to the problem in the vast bowels of the internet. The same can be said for my peers and tutors - it was very easy to find someone with an opinion on the subject, but nobody had actually tried to find a solution for it themselves - relying on the same sources that I had looked at for their "knowledge". So, I finally decided to just figure it out myself.

I setup a test shoot, I figured whilst I was at it I would check out some other "accepted facts" about the HD110 so I shot in all four formats the camera I had was capable of shooting in. Namely DV50i, DV25p, (standard definition interlaced and progressive) HDV-SD50i and HDV-HD25p (high definition interlaced and progessive) - now we were always warned off shooting progressive on JVC cameras as they don't shoot "true" progessive. They shoot the 50 frames as they would for interlaced footage, and then "throw away" alternating frames to leave 25 frames which are then encoded to tape. So you're only getting half the image quality, there is of course an opinion that this gives a more "filmy" look to your work and is desirable - I leave that to individual opinion. I decided to test this theory at the same time as doing the HDV footage because, to be honest, I didn't know if the HDV was going to work and I wanted to know what to shoot my film in to give it the best possible outcome. I also tested the difference between having a shutter speed of 50 and 25 - this being another contentious "fact" in that matching the shutter speed to the frame rate gives the best results. With the standard defintion DV footage, I have to be honest I noticed very little difference between DV50i and DV25p and differant shutter speeds. Shots in which an object moves rapidly across the frame do give a blurring effect in 25p, on a frame by frame analysis there is much more bleeding and light trails but to the eye when played at real time the effect isn't anything to lose sleep over. Again I leave this to personal preference.

Now, to the juicy stuff. The HDV footage. The main challenge here was getting the footage from the tape, into FCP. The first hurdle, and admittedly the greatest one was getting FCP to recognise the camera as a firewire connected deck. I'm using the latest version of FCP (6.0.4 at the time of this article) so it has an array of HDV codecs available - none of which work. Poking around some more I started to investigate the HD codecs, and amazingly found one which works. In a new project from FCPs main menu, using the Easy Setup option, chose the HD options, and then select "Apple Intermediate Codec 1080i50" and click OK and it'll change all of your settings for you bring up the "refreshing A/V devices window" briefly and then sit waiting patiently for you. No "unable to find Firewire 1080i50 device please check blah blah blah" window, no spinning beach ball of death, and no unexplicable closing of FCP.

It just works.

Now, I hear you all crying out in desperation "Pete you bloody idiot! All the footage is in 720p25! You've ruined my life!" Be calm, I reply, worry not I say. Because even though you've set it up to capture 1080i50 footage, your footage will still capture 720p25. Now you can ask me the how and why, but to be quite honest I don't know - I can only assume that because the camera has no 1080i option it outputs in the only format it knows, which is 720p. If you don't believe me then try it, check the clip format in your logging bin and you'll see its 1280x720 at 25 frames per second with square pixels.

Now, if you've not used HDV before FCP has a differant log and capture window for it, and in fact with this method you get no logging options - it will only capture from the HDV GOP settings (I don't have the energy to explain this but basically, it logs your clips from whenever you pressed REC to start/stop the camera, so it'll capture all the footage off your tape - just delete the clips you're not going to use afterwards, it takes less time than doing a standard mark in/mark out DV log) once you've captured, double click a clip as normal, set your in and out points and drag it - again as normal - to either the timeline or the insert/overwrite window whichever way you prefer. Now you'll get an error message popping up, because you've used the Easy Setup option your sequence timeline is currently set to 1080i50, but because your clips have captured in 720p25 so they don't match the sequence. All you have to do is click the option which changes your sequence to match your clips and everything will be hunky dory.


I've found one problem with this setup that I can't test. Although you can output a Quicktime movie file in whatever format you please (HD or SD) FCP won't let you print to video because it's looking for a 1080i50 deck, I'm assuming that this option can be changed in much the same way as the sequence settings so that you can output to MiniDV but unfortunately the HD110s firewire is output only, so cannot operate as a recording deck (JVC sell the HD111, which is the same camera except the firewire is In/Out and it costs 300 quid more) and I don't have easy access to a HDV deck. So if any of you out there have a HD101 or a HD111 and want to try this out then let me know...

And now, my final word. I originally tested this on one of my universities original HD110 cameras, which I believe is three to four years old. In a follow up test (a good scientist always double checks right?) I got to use one of the brand spanking new HD110s which are only about 4 months old, and guess what? It works with FCP PERFECTLY. I set it up as I've detailed above and got the "can't find deck" error so after checking all the camera settings I decided to set FCP to what it should be - HDV 720p25 and amazingly, it did it. This of course bypasses the error messages when trying to print to video, but again I can't test it because of the lack of input on the 110 model. However, as I imagine many people don't have the financial resources to be able to replace their current HD100 or 110 this information is still highly relevant.

Now has anyone got a HDV deck they can lend me...?