Archive for September, 2007

Transferring professional tapes for editing? Go to MiniDV tape, NOT DVD!

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

A great number of our clients want to edit at home or the office but their origina masters are on a professional videotape format such as BetaSp, Digital Betacam, 1″, 3/4″, or DVCAM. The clients usually request that we ( transfer their masters to DVD for later importing and editing in Final Cut Pro, Avid, Vegas, or Premiere.

Don’t transfer to DVD for editing!! There is far too much video compression. Not only that, but the material has to be “ripped” off the DVD prior to being editable. This ripping, especially on longer videos, can have a sync drift between the audio and video. There are also other artifacts that can pop up depending on the method of ripping used.

Additionally, a DVD makes a terrible archive for this purpose. We can assume that the original professional tape format of the master is fading out of its technicalogical lifespan. While it’s a good idea to archive them, DVDs are not a great format for archiving of professional material. DVDs are suseptable to scratches, warping, and being technologically outdated over time.

We always suggeset transferring to MiniDV tape standard defition editing and archiving. MiniDV tape is very robust as a format. Many people consider the image to be of poor quality these days, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. MiniDV looks pretty bad when shot is someone’s camcorder with poor lighting and a cheap lens. But when you transfer to MiniDV directly from a professional source, MiniDV looks absolutely phenominal. That’s because it is all digital and encoded in good old 1’s and 0’s. we have done blind testing where we show people MiniDV footage and Digibeta footage and nobody can discern the difference. They can’t tell which was played back from which!

The MiniDV tapes are very small, easy to store, and deliver a crisp and vivid image.

It’s such a great format that HDV (the first format for consumer high defintion video) is based on the MiniDV tape.


The tapes import for editing with any standard MiniDV camcorder using the firewire or DV cable that comes with the camera.

Plus, the MiniDV camcorder is the most ubiquitious camcorder ever made. It’s everywhere. So if you don’t have one, call up your neighbor and ask to borrow the camcorder so you can digitize your footage into your editing system. It’s really easy!

How does Hollywood fit 3 hours on a DVD when I can only fit 1 hour at the same quality?

Monday, September 24th, 2007

Here’s the deal…

The discs you rent from NetFlix or BlockBuster are recorded on a DVD that holds 9 gigs on two layers. A DVD-R that you record on your computer at home is about half the size and usually only records on one layer. Many computer burners can burn dual-layer these days, but the discs are much more sensitive to scratches and dirt than commercially produced DVDs. That’s because the commercial DVDs are pressed from a glass master and literally stamp the image into the DVD instead of trying to “burn” it. In addtion, “Hollywood” discs are burned from the absolute very best possible master and all the compression is done by really experienced professionals.

Dual Layer DVDs that you make at home are also not very compatible with the various consumer DVD players that are out there. Most times it costs about $1000 minimum to create a glass master of a DVD. Sorry, but you just gotta compress your video a lot more in order to fit it on one disc and expect broad compatibility.


Look out Hollywood, it’s a kid with a $99 still camera making high-def movies!

Friday, September 21st, 2007

That’s right. If you’re a kid with a $99 still camera (or a grown-up who’s damn creative), you can make movies that compete with Hollywood!
It’s not just a still camera any more. It’s a frame by frame high definition movie camera.

Take your dad’s high-def still camera and a lot of brain power and go out there and make a feature film. All you gotta do is have a killer story that is really engaging and a lot of imagination and shoot your film one frame at a time. Make sure that the resolution is never less than 1920×1080 pixels and you have high def. Just make sure that throughout the process, no matter what software you use, that you never blow up your image. It’s okay to crop down to 1920×1080 pixels if you shot bigger than that, but just don’t crop into the 1920×1080.

It’s awesome for post production effects and color correction because the resolution is so high.

The film can be pixelization, creative story-telling, claymation, stop-motion, or whatever you can dream up. It would really lend itself well to the horror genre too.

Okay, so maybe this technique is not just for kids, but it does take someone equally free-thinking!

Aspect Ratio – Please don’t squeeze me, baby!

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

The whole aspect ratio thing is way too big to tackle in a single post here, so let me break it down for you to give you (almost) all you need to know.

There are different screen shapes like 1.78 (16×9), 1.33 (4×3 – also called “academy”), 1.85 (the shape of normal theatrical movies), 2.35 (the shape of Panavision movies), and on and on. In fact, when Edison invented motion picture film, he experimented with all kinds of different shapes to see which was the most useful and pleasing. Other folks even toyed with round screens. Whatever.

The there are square pixels and non-square pixels, each of which affects the image presentation shape.

Chicks hate it if they were shot in 1.33 and squeezed down to 1.78. They hate it because it makes them look fat. This is a common site at sports bars when their monitors are high def 16×9 and then the commercials are in 4×3.

Chicks love it when they were shot in high def 16×9 and squeezed into the 4×3 shape; they look tall and skinny like the supermodels they are inside.

So rather than give you all the ways to solve these issues here’s the tip for always getting it right:

1) In photoshop (or using a scanner and construction paper) Make a perfect circle the that is the same height as the original image footage.

2) Do whatever process you intend to do with the real footage, whether it’s converting it, exporting it, burning it to DVD, making a dub or whatever.

3) Check to make sure that the finished test circle after your processing looks exactly like a perfect circle. If it looks like an EGG, then you messed up somewhere. Go play with the settings until you get a perfect circle.

4) Forget reading endless blogs and wikipedia about all the things that could be causing the problem. Just test it a couple times with different settings and behold… A BEAUTIFUL CIRCLE. Kiss it.

Hi8 and Digital-8, the greatest video format to every exist… for about a year.

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Remember back to the days when the “I Love Lucy” was in its first run and we were all so excited about the brave new video format Hi-8? Well, maybe it wasn’t way back in the Lucy days, but it was an exciting format and great buzzword at video cocktail parties. Yeah, it had the word “Hi” in it so it must be some AMAZING quality and resolution. Cut to today, some 15 years later, and Hi-8 really looks like crap when compared to modern video formats.

Anyway, if you ended up shooting all of your home movies on that tape, or worse yet… recording a professional project on that tape, then you need to back it up right away! Because the tape itself is quite thin and delicate, the cameras and decks had a history of eating tapes. It’s even worse these days since the cameras are so old and deteriorating. They love to eat tapes.

Shortly after Hi-8 was invented, we dove headlong into the digital age!! Hi-8 was only on the market a couple of years before it was eaten alive by its offspring, Digital 8 (sometimes called Digital High 8).

Digital 8 delivered so much more quality and it was actually DIGITAL! This paved the way for the world famous MiniDV format which quickly overtook Digital 8 like jet airplanes did to propeller planes. There was no turning back.

Here’s the rub, now it’s all these years later and your original camcorder, which busted five years ago, was unceremoniously pitched out. You have all these tapes in a shoe box but don’t know if they are Hi-8 or Digital-8. So you don’t know which camera to buy on ebay in order to transfer the footage to a contemporary format.

Since the tapes look identical, here’s a couple hints to help you:

1) Hi-8 tapes will NEVER have the word “digital” written on the cassette labeling.
2) If the tape labeling says, for “Hi-8 or digital recording”, trust me, it’s going to be a digital signal on that tape. Nobody would every consider spending the extra dough on a digitally capable tape unless they meant to use it for digital.
3) Hi-8 will play on a Digital 8 camcorder, but Digital 8 will not play on a Hi-8 camcorder. So go with buying the Digital 8 camcorder and then you’re covered both ways.

And one last thought… If you see video “snow” on your tapes, do NOT throw them in the trash thinking all your memories are lost forever. You are most likely looking at a DIGITAL-8 tape on a Hi-8 Machine the you purchased by mistake.


What is “Aspect Ratio” ?

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Aspect ratio is merely a fancy way to describe the shape of the image. Is it a long, thin rectangle or more like a square?

Think of it as a measurement of the sides of the shape. So 16 x 9 is the same shape of a piece of paper that is 16 inches by 9 inches. Or it’s mathematical equivalent is 1.78 by 1. This is a nice balanced rectangle shape.

Standard definition TV is more like a square. It’s 4 x 3. But not really. It’s close to 4 x 3 so people call it that, but it is actually 1.33 by 1. It’s much more of a square than the 1.78 : 1 rectangle.

Many theatrical motion pictures are shot in 2.35 by 1. That is a really long rectangle called Panavision.

There are so many presentation formats and TV signals and so a lot of re-sizing has to be done to fit all these different rectangle shapes in their destination format.


HDV to Standard Defintion – Go for the letterbox!

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

HDV is the little brother to broadcast High Def such as HDCAM or D5. It shoots/records in the 16×9 aspect ratio which, for the math inclined is the same as 1.78 : 1 But standard def television uses an aspect ratio of 1.33 :1

So in down-converting the HDV to standard, you basically need to force the shape of a longer rectangle into a the shape of a regular TV which has a more square shape. (see examples below)

The two ways of doing this are to hack off the sides of the rectangle (also called a “center extaction”), which still provides excellent resolution . But in that case, the sides of the picture will be gone. For example, if there is a dinner table scene and one of the actors is far to either side of the frame, they will be cut off.

However, if you want to see ALL the image, then the long rectangle needs to be shrunk down to fit inside the square. This means there is no image at the tops and bottoms of the frame in the standard def tv. It’s letterboxed. The black bars at the top and bottom are just “empty”areas where there is no picture because it has been shrunken down.

Letterbox is widely accepted on broadcast tv these days. Many network shows run this way due to the complications of trying to have different versions for high def and standard def. People are used to it and the filmmaker’s compositions are preserved. So shoot/record/ dub your HDV into letterbox when you put it on a regular tv. It looks cooler, and the dude at the dinner table isn’t cut off.


Dropframe Timecode and Non-Dropframe TC are the same duration!

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

I will get into deeper discussions of Dropframe Timecode (DFTC) and Non-Dropframe Timecode (NDFTC) later, but for now, just think of them as Miles vs. Kilometers. Mmmm kay?

If you drive 10 miles to the store to pick up tapestock the odometer will say one “10”.
But you drive the same 10 miles in your French buddy’s car that uses a metric odometer, it will say “16” kilometers.

1) The distance can be driven by either car (Like DFTC and NDFTC can be played on any machine)

2) The trip to the store takes the exact same amount of time as measured by a stop-watch.

3) Both measuring systems have nothing to do with the ACTUAL trip to the store, but merely measure the trip.

And here’s a tidbit that is totally unrelated, but interesting…

Dropframe timecode uses semi-colons like this: 01;16;22;21
Non-Dropframe timecode uses colons like this: 01:16:22:21

And here’s some more unrelated trivia:
VITC timecode and Linear Timecode call the same frame the same timecode number. VITC and Linear are merely different ways of recording the timecode itself. It’s kind of like having an AIFF file on an Audio CD or a DVD-R. The file is always the same but just recorded differently.

As you can see, I am the king of analogies, lame though they may be.

Digi-Beta: The indie film savior! Don’t pay for online!!

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Here’s a little trick for the economy-minded indie filmmaker/television producer… whether you are shooting your tv show or independent film on 16×9 high definition (1.78 : 1 aspect ratio), 35mm Film (1.85 : 1 aspect ratio).

Your project needs to edited. So have your dailies transferred to letter-boxed digibeta. Have all your source timecode and feet and frames count placed as a window burn over the black part of the letter box.

Then edit the heck out of the show.  Lock it down for time, polish it with an “online” pass in the Avid or Final Cut Pro. Then layback your mix into the timeline. Then create a new digibeta master of your entire show, taking careful attention to make the most professional master possible. Of course, don’t forget to mask out the timecode in the letter box area (but don’t worry, those valuable numbers are still in your timeline sequence.)

Now you have a pristine 100% digital master for making DVD screeners, uploading to the web, or any other presales formats.

You still haven’t blown a zillion dollars on an onlined HD master or a film conform, two processes that can literally make you bankrupt in the final stages of a production.

Take your digital betacam “master” and market the living hell out of it. Send it around, make your calls, have screenings, and basically exploit your film.

Then, if you make a sale to standard definition TV, just clone the digibeta master and collect a check for the rights to your film.

If you make an HD or theatrical sale, set up a reasonable delivery date, get an early check from the buyer, then race down to your nearest online joint (or film lab) and create a new high-resolution master for distribution.  Then go home, pour yourself a nice beverage and think of how great it is to have someone else paying for the finish of your film.

And by the way, if you don’t make any sales at all, at least you still have your house because it wasn’t repo-ed by the bank.

Filmmaking my be tough, but finishing your film doesn’t have to be when someone else is footing the bill!

MiniDV – The miracle down-convert and archiving format!

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

MiniDV is the most under-rated and maligned standard definition video format!

Many people think of miniDV as a low-grade, consumer “home movie” format, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  MiniDV is the most ubiquitous standard format out there.  If you’re not shooting high-def in your home camcorder, you’re shooting MiniDV. Most people shooting MiniDV aren’t professionals and know little about proper lighting, exposure, stabilization, pleasing camera angles, etc. So consequently, most MiniDV footage looks terrible.  Also, the cheapo lenses on the front of your average home camcorder exacerbate the problem.

But the actual technology of MiniDV is quite remarkable. Not only can it easily import into any computer via Firewire, but when properly mastered, the footage can knock your socks off. It’s the old “Garbage in equals garbage out” adage.

Here at BetaSp To we have transferred some really stiking footage to MiniDV. For example, we had a high-end music video that was shot on 35mm film by one of the greatest DP’s (director of photography) out there. The video was editing, color-corrected and mastered to a pristine Digibeta tape. The digibeta master looked absolutely phenomenal.

A few months later, the client wanted to create a demo reel for their company using the video. They had Final Cut Pro in their office but they didn’t have a digibeta deck. I suggested they just transfer all the footage to MiniDV and then import it directly via firewire into their computer. The client was resistant, due to the amateur reputation of MiniDV.

So I told them that transferring to MiniDV from Digibeta is done entirely as 1’s and 0’s, completely digital.  It’s also a really robust and CHEAP archiving format that looks fantastic.

The clients wanted to see a test. So we transferred the Digital Betacam to MiniDV. Then we all sat in dark room with a large Sony standard definition television and played the MiniDV and Digibeta tapes in a blind test 5 times. After 5 viewings in random order, we took a vote and asked people to guess which tape was which.  Low and behold, nobody in the room came up with the same guess consistently. In other words, in a blind test, nobody could tell the difference between MiniDV and Digital Betacam.

Digital Betacam is far superior to MiniDV in it’s technical specs and it Digibeta is a much better choice for the first digital master in the chain of post production. But ultimately, if the audience can’t tell the difference in later processes or editing, then why spend the money to stay in the digibeta format?

Further more, if you are submitting a film to a festival that accepts MiniDV, then everyone is going to be watching MiniDV anyway.

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. Films on YouTube can have tens of millions of views, even though the video quality looks terrible. Remember the “Blair Witch Project?” That film was shot on crappy Hi-8 video and it still grossed tens of millions! Content is king.

MiniDV is cheap, easy to import via firewire, and makes a great archive tape (that doesn’t take up a lot of shelf space). And since almost every standard def camcorder out there is a MiniDV camcorder, it couldn’t be easier to find one to borrow to import your footage for editing in Final Cut Pro or Avid.