Sour Apples

I first heard the name "Final Cut Pro" in November of 2001. This was when a producer asked me to get up to speed on it for a corporate gig the following January. It was probably the very next day that I read online that Final Cut Pro was going to be sold.

It's a rumor that won't die.

Ever.

This years' rumors have a slightly different tenor. Apple pulled out of NAB. For whatever reason they state, with $18 billion cash in the bank - money isn't the issue. Or - at least, potential access to money isn't the issue. This non-MBA imagines that Jobs forces each division to stand on its own and if ProApps has money problems such that they didn't think a booth was worth the expense... perhaps they're having trouble meeting their margins. At least Avid has an excuse for its NAB disappearing act that Apple doesn't, Avid is undergoing a major re-organiztion. They'll be back at NAB once their new strategy is ready to roll.

If you want to read what I consider the most interesting analysis on Apple selling ProApps, then check out this article by Robert X. Cringley.

Cringley's analysis helped me gather my thoughts on something else that is bothering me about Apple's handling of its ProApps division. And its has me starting to wonder if Apple is the best company to manage the Final Cut Studio array of products. Specifically, it's Apple's handling of BluRay that's the heart of my misgivings.

None of Apple's ProApps support BluRay DVD creation. Final Cut won't export to BluRay. Compressor won't encode to BluRay. DVD Studio Pro won't author BluRay. Not a single Mac ships with BluRay playback or burning. And my wife's business is getting weekly calls for BluRay duplication and authoring.

For the first time in my memory, Apple has fallen behind my customers!

Why? Why? Why is Apple forcing me to consider buying Adobe Encore or (hissssss) a PC-based authoring tool for a need my clients want today?

It drives me nuts that a company so forward-thinking is dropping the ball on next-generation content creation. As Cringley points out in an earlier article on Apple's (lack of) BluRay strategy, the answer is probably summed up in one concept: High-Def Downloads.

In other words: Apple's consumer strategy is now at odds with its development of its ProApps product line.

Is it possible that Apple no longer deserves to handle the ProApps division? Has Apple finally reached its inflection point where it will sacrifice its traditionally strong and loyal ProApps customers for its newfound success in content delivery?

I don't know.

I know this: For the first time in 7 years I'm not discounting the Cringley analysis. For once, the rumors may be true.

If Apple does sell the Pro Apps division at a time when it's still holding back on delivering BluRay creation tools... I'll say, good riddance - it was a great ride but it will have been time for both businesses to move on.

UPDATE 1: Not everyone buys Cringley's analysis.

- pi


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BluRay Replication - Paying For Nothing


In a previous post I lamented the high costs of BluRay replication for short runs (less than 5,000 pieces).

These costs can be attributed directly to the mandatory copy protection scheme (DRM) for the BluRay specification. Not only will a company like my wife's (Dubs by Pam) have to pay a one-time fee to place orders on behalf of her customers. Her customers will have to pay a per-title fee. And these fees are non-trivial for these types of short runs, $5500 for the duplication house, $1900 for each title (according to Larry Jordan on Digital Production Buzz).

Why, I ask myself, must they (the AACS) keep ringing us up for copy protection when almost none of our clients want to pay for it now or for the foreseeable future?

Ars Technica has the rather in-my-face-now-that-I'm-looking-for-it answer: The AACS needs to keep paying for continual development of new DRM schemes because they know they'll be cracked every few months. I betch'a if my accountant took a look at their books, that line item on their Income Statement is probably the budget for creating new "uncrackable" codes.

What a joke.

The only way the large motion picture distributors will ever be able to keep their content from being illegally distributed is to implement DRM directly in the human optical system. Otherwise, if they want us to buy their DVDs to watch a movie at home - at some point the signal must be decrypted for the digital-to-analog conversion and that will always be the point of attack. You can't have mass distribution while having a lock-solid distribution method - then it's not mass distribution.

So. The AACS maintains the fiction of DRM for the movie studios and the rest of us have to pay. Literally.

I suppose I shouldn't be complaining too loudly - it makes services such as those offered by Dubs by Pam that much more economically feasible...

Still - the short-sightedness of the whole DRM racket is stunning.

- pi

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The Blu•ray Blues


HD-DVD is dead!

Long live Blu•ray??

Not so fast. In the current issue of Digital Production Buzz's newsletter (I'd link to the actual piece but the content is refreshed every week) Larry Jordan lays out the costs of replicating on Blu•ray. I knew the costs were high since the Blu•ray spec requires copyright protection - and not just for Hollywood movies but also for your HDV baby pictures.

Or your demo reel.

How much? Here's Larry's breakdown:
  • $2,500 : License Fee to author and distribute Blu•ray
  • $3,000 : One-time fee to AACS. (I think this is billed per production company / individual)
  • $1,585 : Per complete Blu•ray project
  • $.04 : Four cents per disc. Fee paid to AACS
  • $.01 : One penny per disc paid to Sony to handle all these payments on your behalf
So, for your first project licensing alone will cost $7,085. That's in addition to the actual costs of replication/duplication and packaging that we're already used to paying.

Idiotic.

If you were wondering why Sony spread their dollars around so liberally to pay off movie studios, you've got your answer.

It looks like Blu•ray is going to be the exclusive domain of the Studios. I guess the rest of us will have to settle for HD-DVD on standard DVD 5's (except that the players won't be made anymore).

Oh, and who is AACS? Just a couple of guys named IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, Walt Disney, and Warner Bros...

Huh. Suddenly this is starting to make sense...

UPDATE: The Avid-L list was on this discussion a week or so ago. It seems there is some compatibility issues with duplicated (not replicated) Bluray discs depending on the authoring software and the playback machines (which, of course, also bypasses all the fees detailed above). Apparently some Bluray players want to see a copy protection folder, even if it is empty and some authoring apps don't put those folders on their burns.

Don't ask me to confirm this... calls have only now just started to trickle in to our sister company Dubs by Pam asking about Bluray duplication. But this blog is named the Finishing Line and for many clients, delivery will soon become straight-to-DVDBluray.

- pi

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6500k & the REAL point of Industry Standards

Following up my previous post on implementing 6500k lighting in the edit room...

I did a search in the TIG (Telecine Internet Group) mailing list on this issue. Bob Currier of Synthetic Apeture (and creator of the very good Color Finesse color correction plug-in and software) had the discussion-ending post on why colorists follow the SMPTE standard for using D65 light in their suites:

"There is a standard and it's 6500K.

This has nothing to do with making the image in the grading suite match the image at home.

Instead, it has to do with consistency so that all our 6500K standards-based grading will appear compatible when shown on Aunt Millie's badly mis-adjusted 9300K TV. If some of us are grading on 6500K monitors and some on 9300K monitors, things will look rather poor indeed when they air back-to-back. Not only will commercials not match the programming, but commercials won't match each other.

Besides, Aunt Millie likes her over-saturated, blue look. If you start making that look "normal" she'll think you broke her TV."

'Nuff said. Final word. I'm satisfied.

Thanks Bob.
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On a related note, I also found a link from a TIG posting showing the difference in spectral output from a blackbody radiator (the Sun) and a human device attempting to imitate that black body radiator. If you go to the link, click on the "Back to the calculator" button, then select D65 and then enter 6500 for Blackbody. D65 would be your TV set or your room's 6500k ambient lighting. Blackbody would be the sun.

Try punching in other values - a typical incandescent emits at around D35 (click on the graph to update). Notice how much more red it emits. If your camera was white balanced for daylite (D65) while shooting an interior under an incandescent light, what do you think would be the predominate color?

- pi

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Dr. Daylight - Or How I Learned to Love 6500k

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2 things have happened in the past 3 weeks that led to my decision to upgrade the lighting in my Finishing Room:
  1. I put money down on a JL Cooper Eclipse CX (at a very good price). More commentary on that device can be found here and here and expect a full review once it's in-house.
  2. I visited the color correction room of a new colleague, Alexis Van Hurkman.
Inspired by both events happening in close proximity and because Alexis turned me on how to do it cost-effectively (a necessary pre-condition); this week the lighting at Fini is going 6500k.

Why 6500k? You'd have to ask SMPTE, the folks who handle television signal standards and decided that the proper white point for television sets is 6500 degrees Kelvin (the equivalent color temperature of daylight at noon in North America (if you have to ask, I suspect they took their temperature readings in Las Vegas)). In theory, the most neutral environment for color correcting video is with ambient lighting that has the same color temperature (white point) of video. 6500k. Or, technically, D65. This way we're not trying to compensate our color correction for the light surrounding us - which, if you're using a normal bulb, is much more red/orange.

One might then ask: Why'd I wait until now to make the change to 6500k lighting? Good question... Thanks for asking. Two reasons, actually:

  1. First, I don't know a single person who lights their living room / home theater with 6500k lighting. And since nearly 100% of my work has been for home viewing - I didn't worry about my room not meeting some industry specification which was designed by soulless engineers in a vacuum (so to speak). I mean, these are the same geniuses that gave us non-drop and drop-frame timecode (not to mention the idiotic array of HD formats and frame rates).
  2. Second, even in the heyday of post-production Standards & Practices (pre-miniDV) - only Film-to-Tape guys ever bothered to meet these specs. Yes, us video folks took our specs seriously back then (how many editors reading this post can figure out if their blanking is too wide?) but the general industry attitude didn't extend to 6500k lighting. Why? Probably because our stuff looked the same at home as it did in the edit room (see the preceding paragraph).

One might then follow up: Why are you doing this now? If the status quo has been good enough for the past 17 years, why bother implementing the change now? Another excellent question. There are several reasons:

  1. Fini started out focusing on providing an array of post-production services, of which color-correction was only one. Providing other more traditional online services was my bread-and-butter. But with the change of focus last year color-correction moved front and center. (Similarly - that's also why Fini is investing in a JL Cooper control surface. Not because it's necessary to create great pictures, but it dramatically increases productivity).
  2. Part of the reason why Online rooms didn't implement 6500k lighting is because, except for sports, almost all our footage came to us color corrected. Either from a film-to-tape session or "shaded" by an engineer in a studio. And outside of specialty tape-to-tape rooms, we had very crude controls over our images. Today, it's almost exactly the reverse. Not only do we have sophisticated color correction tools, 80% of the our work hasn't been color corrected - in fact, it's why clients are coming to Fini in the first place! That shift in client needs has shifted our need for the type of controlled lighting specified by SMPTE, previously the domain of telecine and tape-to-tape rooms.
  3. A recent posting by Martin Euredjian of E-Cinema on the FCP-L mailing list put this perfectly (though he was specifically speaking of color-critical monitors):

    "Audio seems to be easy for people to use as an analogy. I don't think that professionals would propose doing serious mastering work using an iPod. Or an iPod with headphones. And, even if you did connect great speakers to an iPod...would anyone propose doing so without at least attempting to calibrate the thing to reasonable professional-level standards? Would we want to know if we can achieve the frequency response and harmonic distortion targets that are deemed as minimum-acceptable for professsional work? Probably. And, then, would anyone propose to use such a system in a listening enviroment that was devoid of proper acoustic treatment in order to ensure that what was coming out of the speakers was being perceived correctly? Probably not."


Probably not. And that's why I've gone 6500k in the Finishing Room. As I've made the decision to provide more color-critical services to my clients I've got a responsibility to know what the signals I'm creating actually look like. I've got to know that anyone who keeps to professional specs will see what I see. And given that it's no longer hard to find 6500k lighting for your media room, the average viewer has an above-average chance of seeing the image as its meant to be seen.

- pi

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Thoughts On The Tekserve Red Event


I attended the "Red Event" last night at Tekserve.

It was a generally uncomfortable event in which 150 people were jammed onto their showroom floor with inadequate air conditioning (Tekserve is always on uncomfortable place to shop) and stood for an hour. It seemed most people watched the event from screens throughout the store and the tallest people in the room had been given priority access to the first row, blocking everyone's line-of-sight... chairs would have been better.

I'm not going to go into Red workflow specifics because so few people have access to the Red camera. The people that are now shooting Red have workflows that are far beyond the scope of the clients I choose to serve. In a few more months we'll be able to test and refine a Red workflow "for the rest of us". But Red is an amazing technology and it was great to see the owners of Red #6 & #7 presenting to the NYC community.

Here are some of my impressions:
  • Red should be hugely desirable to the Fini client base. It's affordable, accessible, scalable, and future-proof. It's a disruptive technology an order of magnitude larger than Final Cut Pro was disruptive. It will put a lot of people out of work... but give opportunity to far more people.
  • Red is a complex workflow - largely because of its scalability. There will be several unique and distinct workflow's for different deliveries. Some purists will rail against the DV-crowd taking up this camera... they will argue that everyone should be delivering 4K all the time... they will be wrong. But the clients they serve will also feel the same way, so there's no need to worry that the Red camera will bring us all together in a Kumbaya / We Are The World oneness.
  • The Red team isn't telling how many cameras are reserved, only that the number is in the thousands (which I take to mean more than two thousand). Compare that to the number of Vipers and Dalsa's out in the field shooting today - that's as if Apple would have sold 10 million iPhones by November, it's a crazy-big number.

Also showing at Tekserve last night was Scratch - a high-end software-based color correction app. I was intrigued by its power, flexibility, and depth. And unlike Color, it can read the RedCode directly - no need to transcode to some intermediate codec like ProRes. But at $50k a seat - it's not for my clients. It's priced for facilities running the Autodesk products (Flame / Smoke). In fact, the GUI looks like Autodesk funded the project. It's a total and complete Flame rip-off. There are some nice breakaway 'widgets' for moving between modalities, but it's an interface partly designed to make high-paying clients comfortable that their money is going toward hefty lease payments.

I was disappointed that the Scratch guys never got around to showing us Red Alert (I think that's the name of the app), which is currently shipping with Red. It's designed for evaluating and modifying images from the camera, both in the field and in post. Considering this was a Red event, I was a bit peeved that Assimilate turned the demo room into a Scratch event. Poor showing, boys.

The Big Takeaway

The presenter at the event (one of the owners of Off Hollywood Studios) made a point that I think is relevant to anyone creating pictures. He mentioned how the images coming off the sensor don't look all that pretty. He said the goal with a camera like Red is concentrate on latitude - don't clip highlights or shadows. Pretty is done in post, capturing as much dynamic range should be the objective. I think he's dead-on correct. But I don't think this is only true for the Red camera. In fact, this is especially true for DV or DV50 shooters.

Yes, you want good lighting and a talented DP is as critical as ever. And a talented DP will preserve as much detail in the image as possible.

Image Detail = Production Value

One ingredient to make your video look like not-video is to preserve your highlights and and don't let your shadows fall into total blackness.

UPDATE - Two quick notes:
  1. When I say the Scratch GUI looks like a Flame rip-off, I don't mean that disparagingly... just that, to me, it looks like Flame. It doesn't seem a friendly or approachable interface but rather is very deep and filled with identical pop-up style gray buttons.
  2. Don't confuse Image Detail with the "detail enhancement" option on many cameras. That option is as bad as turning on gain and should be avoided unless you're looking for a "video" look. And even then, that kind of sharpness can be added in post - so save it for post...

- pi
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