Archive for November, 2007

The World vs. America – Or how to convert PAL into the inferior American NTSC

Monday, November 26th, 2007

It’s a village. The world is now a village and videotapes and files are flying all over the place via Fedex, CD, FTP, or good old fashioned sneaker-ware (files on a hard drive that are hand-carried to another user).  Years ago, the world adopted its video standards. The world went with PAL and the United States went with NTSC (Never The Same Color). Oh, and the French, had their own standard (SECAM) which was superior to both PAL and NTSC, but has since all but evaporated in the face of it’s heavy-weight brothers. And speaking of brothers, NTSC and PAL are kind of like Abel and Kane.  But unfortunately, since we are now a global village, the two brothers have to co-exist frequently in the land of video. Here’s the deal… NTSC runs at 29.97  frames per second.  PAL runs at 25 frames per second. Many novice editors think that they can merely change the frame  rate and that’s that. Well, it’s not!Let’s say some American dude is sent a commercial from England, Great Britain, the U.K. or whatever you call that place across the pond.  Okay, the American dude (that’s “bloke” to you British) take the quicktime movie and simply changes the frame rate to make the conversion. But guess what? The result is terrible-looking video that stutters and feels jerky. Oh, and it looks a little fuzzy too. The jerkiness is due to the fact that the frames were added blindly across the entire clip.  So anytime there is fast action or panning scenes, the clip seems to stutter. See, the frame rate is only one part of the equation. The placement of the frames requires an elaborate mathematical process to figure out EXACTLY which frames need to be duplicated.  Also,  the PAL image even has different dimensions  and color  space. All that stuff needs to be translated. Basically, you need to use hardware or software that is specifically designed to make a PAL to NTSC conversion. And guess what? You are going to pay for that.  The  hardware solutions are very pricey. And software, such as Final Cut Pro or Nattress are very powerful, but outrageously and unbelievably SLOW! So, at full quality, a render of a 1 hour clip could tie up your computer for many days. Really. It can really take days and days on an ordinary consumer computer built in 2007.  My vote would be to pay for the hardware. Basically, the more you pay, the better the translation between formats. This is a case where you really get what you pay for and vice versa.  Another idea is to buy a computer that is scant on features and full of computing power (forget the built-in DVD burner and fancy video card) and make yourself a little rendering station. Then set up the render and get on with your life on your main computer.Sorry, but these two brothers are just not going to get along on their own. 

The marvelous, magical, multi-format video tape decks of today!

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Wow! Life is good when you’re in love. And I’m really in love… with my machines, that is. Two of my Sony videotape machines are so sexy! Not only are they ultra-easy use, but they leave me awe-struck by the huge number of formats they play!! For example, our Sony J30 SDI decks are wildly diverse. The one J30 can play all these formats:

DigiBeta – Large Cassettes
DigiBeta – Small CassettesBetaCam SP – Large Cassettes

BetaCam SP – Small Cassettes

BetaCam SX – Large Cassettes
BetaCam SX – Small Cassettes

And that’s just the formats. Then it has connectors for firewire, SDI, composite, and s-video. See what I mean about “sexy.”

Now it’s way past the “honeymoon” stage and I am still completely enamored by this machine. And when I plug the deck’s firewire into my Final Cut Pro, the stars align and it’s absolutely glorious! They always say the best relationships are the ones that are easy!

But actually, I’m in love with another deck at the same time. Even though I’m not in Salt Lake City, Hollywood accepts me being in love with two machines at once.

My Sony HVRM15U Deck is another piece of perfection. That one single deck handles all these formats:

HDV – small cassettes

HDV – Large cassettes

DVCAM NTSC – small cassettes

DVCAM NTSC – Large cassettes

DVCAM PAL – small cassettes

DVCAM PAL – Large cassettes



16×9 Anamorphic



Now that’s a lot of versatility in a single machine. Seriously, it turns out that these two machines handle more that a dozen formats between the two of them. With all these formats going in and out of fashion, it’s so wonderful to be in a stable relationship that has the versatility to cope with a lot of difficult situations.

Moral of the story: True love means having a relationship with a deck that understands your needs.


Striving for absolute perfect resolution means your project probably sucks.

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

We often run into people with Resolutionitis. It’s a disease that makes filmmakers think they must have the absolute highest resolution and quality no matter what. But they forget that content is king. If you ain’t got a compelling story, you ain’t got a film worthy of resolution.

Just the other day, a client came to me asking if we should transfer his footage to HDV or HDCAM. Ummm, sorry, but you’re just wasting your money. You could transfer it to VHS from the 1980’s and it would still get just as limp of an emotional response from the audience.

When filmmakers are new to the process or overly in love with their project, Resolutionitis is almost blinding every bit of common sense they every had. The filmmaker will charge up credit cards, call in all of Daddy’s favors at once, and even mortgage a house in order to get the clearest, sharpest picture available! Nevermind that the acting really stinks… because the writing is pedestrian. Nevermind that the story is a jumbled mess and then the production was shotty (due to not paying for a professional crew).

Films on YouTube can have tens of millions of views and launch entire careers, even though the video quality looks like 1969 Moon Landing footage. Speaking of which, the moon landing was one of the most memorable television moments in all of television. Even almost 40 years later, it’s still holds up as about the most emotionally charged footage a camera has every produced. It looked like pure crap: fuzzy, contrasty, poorly lighted (fire the moon as gaffer). But it was the content that kicked all our emotional butts. Since Neil Armstrong took a giant step for television, the media has been repleat with gigantically successful, but terrible-looking, mega-hits.

Remember the “Blair Witch Project?” That film was shot on crappy Hi-8 video and it still grossed tens of millions! Content is king. The TV show COPS has become television juggernaut, using a dash-mounted consumer camera with a plastic lens and no image stabilization. But damn, is it compelling. The examples go on and on. Content is king. Don’t put your house on the auction block just because you need to see your film in its perfect state of flawless resolution.

And if you’re really in love with your film, send the rough cut to a distributor and see if they are completely blown away by your movie. If not, I wouldn’t spend a giant wad on post production. If the distributor’s socks are knocked off, then THEY will gladly pay for more resolution than the filmmaker could every afford on their own. Case in point is the film El Mariachi, which supposedly cost $8,000 until the studio went bonkers for it and threw a million dollars into the sound production in post. Good movies are good movies regardless of the resolution.