Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Media Composer and Pro Tools

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

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Avid acquired Digidesign in 1995 in the past 18 years, both products have developed into leaders of their respective industries. But for all these years, audio for post, and the idea of how connected these two solutions could become for post, has never really been achieved. Some things have been done, for example you can co-install the two products on the same system. Not run them at the same time, but have them installed on the same system. And there have been incremental improvements in metadata exchange such as pan/vol and Markers (used to be named in Locators in Media Composer), there have been no groundbreaking features for interchange and collaboration when it comes to the post process. I have recently been involved with a production looking for a solution based on the video seen here, an Avid marketing video that shows workflow between Media Composer and Pro Tools, and its ability to link to alternate takes in a multi-track WAV files with MIX and ISO tracks from a production that uses a “dailies process.”

The important takeaway here, is that in order for this to work as seen in the video, the BWF files must be imported and synced in Media Composer. And while that offers some nice editing advantages for track management, it will not work for sync dailies created in any third party system being used today. Most features and television programs require sync dailies as the assistants have moved on to other tasks in the digital workflow. This is a part of the industry where Media Composer and Pro Tools are very dominant solution - yet working this way, prevents the audio conform to do a very important feature in the sound post process of getting to the best ISO track recorded for the character. I also find it interesting in the video, that the properties for matching the BWF files does not include “Source File” or “TapeID” which is how filenames are tracked in Media Composer either via import or via the iXML AMA Plug-in. If the BWF does not contain a value in the “Tape Field” then that cannot be used to make a match, yet the filename itself would seem to be the first obvious place to look for a match. The following shows the same BWF file imported and linked via the iXML AMA plug-in. The Tape field is either empty or wrong.

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Dailies will most often sync the MIX track and create a single master clips that is VA1 or possibly VA1A2 depending on the mix. The metadata in the bin will display track information if available. Scene and Take can be extracted from the BWF if logged, but is often corrected or amended to match the camera reports. Because it is now a single master clip, it can only have one timecode in the Start column and that is always the timecode for picture. When syncing, timecodes often do not match and a resync is done to create perfect sync and as a result, the audio timecode is tracked in an alternate column. (see this blog entry for related thoughts on sync). And herein lies the basic problems for conform interop between Media Composer and Pro Tools.

  1. Pro Tools only looks to the Start or the SoundTC column for the conform.
  2. SoundTC only works at one frame rate

As mentioned, the Start timecode used for video cannot be 100% correct due to creating true sync in the dailies process - this explains why you might find events that are 1-3 frames off in the conform process. So why not use the SoundTC value? Well that’s where there is the second problem that Avid has yet to address since it introduced HD in 2004. SoundTC is hard-coded to count as 30fps regardless of project type. A leftover of the NTSC offline world of standard definition production. This is a known issue, and is brought up every release to be addressed to no avail. So dailies providers are forced to putting the production sound timecode into one of the other many timecode columns; namely AuxTC1 through AuxTC5. There is no consistency as to which one, and it doesn’t matter since Pro Tools does not know how to conform from any other column but Start and SoundTC.

Another caution when using AuxTC columns is that flipping a project type from HD to SD will change the way those columns count. So a value stored in AuxTC1 in a 1080p/23.976 project will count as 30 if project tab is flipped to NTSC 23.976. So exporting an EDL or AAF at this stage would have incorrect timecodes. So how do these conforms get done? Using EDL Manager that allows source timecode to be from any TC counting column. So for all the goodness of AAF, it cannot be used in one of the most basic workflows used in the industry unless you are working at NTSC or PAL rates and their HD equivalents.

Avid likes to market the best in media and metadata management which was true in the SD days - Since the introduction of HD and file-based formats, it has not quite lived up to that level. The metadata is certainly there in the bins, it’s what you can do with it that’s important. So Avid, for the 10th anniversary of offering an HD solution, please fix:

  • Media Composer: SoundTC to at least match the frame rate of the originating project and continue counting at that rate regardless of project switch. Or better yet, allow it to have a timecode rate assigned to it on a per clip basis. This will create a single unifying column for all dailies workflows to use creating consistency in the conform process.
  • Pro Tools: Conform from any source or timecode column available in the AAF.  It’s the wild wild west out there with file-based workflows and a professional system needs to be as flexible as it can be to keep the workflow moving along.

This will at least allow the most basic of functions between two of the leading products used in our industry offered by the same company.

Thoughts On Recent Avid/Ovum Press Release

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

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Like many others, it was with great interest that I read the 7/23/13 Avid Press Release titled: “Broadcasters and Media Organizations Leave Revenue on the Table, According to Global Consumer Study by Avid and Ovum”.  The press release makes reference that there is more to the study, but what is mentioned has been an obvious ongoing trend for the past several years.

Yes. Consumers want to see everything, everywhere, at any time. And for free if at all possible. Business models continue to be an ongoing process trying to best monetize that content. And while the survey is more about broadcasters who own or have licensing rights to the content, the democratization of the filmmaking process for independents has been going on in earnest for the last 5-7 years. And because of that, there is even more content to “discover” via a myriad of distribution platforms.

If the recent stories regarding musician’s royalties from services like Spotify and Pandora are true – it paints a potentially grim future for filmmakers trying to make a living doing what they love. Musicians already take their show on the road selling not only tickets, but also any related content directly to their audience to increase revenue such as t-shirts, etc. These distribution platforms rely on having a lot of content since their revenue is based on the aggregate of all content sold or subscribed to – which is very different than a filmmaker relying on the revenue of their own content. Avid has a marketplace – could it extend to anything and everything including sales and distribution of content? It could. My thoughts on Avid Marketplace as it stands today.

That same strategy can exist for filmmakers; driving city to city four-walling their films ala Kevin Smith. But even in Kevin Smith’s case, there was corporate sponsorship covering the costs of a city-to-city road tour as a form of marketing for the companies themselves. Curating and presenting content is an expensive endeavor if the content is expected to make a profit for anyone. An ongoing marketing effort is the one service that none of these independent distribution platforms offer, leaving that up to the content owner or consumers getting lucky via a Google search.

Social Media is only one marketing tactic and cannot be relied upon as the only means of getting the word out. At the very least, Kickstarter and IndiGoGo  are based on a pre-sales paradigm putting your marketing efforts and costs up front while letting you know exactly whether you’ve met your stated budget’s break even point– and if that budget includes a salary for everyone contributing to the project, you’re golden. Filmmaking for the most part is still a labor of love for those who take that path.  Sadly, it’s mostly true when I hear: “there are a lot of first time filmmakers, but not a whole lot of second-time ones” when it comes to making a living at the craft. I hope that ongoing technology innovations and business models will let filmmakers find their audience as well as an audience finding their content that benefits all.

Then I get to the second part of the release where it speaks to the popularity of the “second screen experience”. I can only be reminded of the twelve-year head start Avid squandered in the MetaSync technology allowing content creators to create any type of “interactive timed” secondary experience in context of the editorial process.

In 2001, when MetaSync was first introduced, the “platform concept” allowed program producers to create interactive experiences and metadata hooks into the content regardless of distribution channel. The functionality allowed for disparate creative teams to work simultaneously. The program editors working with the creative interactive team via a simple “sequence refresh” over the Internet allowing the interactive content to be viewed and updated directly in the Media Composer timeline. The interactive content metadata tags could either display the video on a webpage, or be an overlay on the video itself all in real time while editing in Media Composer.

MetaSync allowed for any interactive link to be timed to the frame, or a span of frame as a form of very smart GPI triggers. The editor could manage the interactive elements directly on the timeline, dictating “when and for how long”, or sync the interactive elements to the source clips and forever follow that clip anywhere on the timeline. A user could even establish a “open in native application” allowing the asset it was pointing to to open in whatever application it as associated with. It could be used to directly access an original asset in a LAN/WAN database via a “right-click” operation – perfect for rights management on any frame or span of frames tracked as source or as new rights management in the timeline itself.  A user could create up to 24 tracks of interactive design with each track supporting interactivity as spans or single frame events that could overlap. Third parties had access to the XML schema to create these triggers beforehand. An XML export from the timeline converted interactive timings to all video frame rates as a form of interactive universal mastering.  With a user created interactive asset, the user could to take any sequence and reference it via any MetaSync element to start a branching storytelling authoring tool while managing all the changes that are common with video content creation.

Was it everything to everyone? No, but it was the first pass at Media Composer being an agnostic interactive platform for what could be the future of storytelling. Imagine where that feature set would be today with continued development over the past twelve years. It would be perfectly poised for the two screen plans of the broadcasters, not to mention the single screen-viewing environment as more and more of video consumers are using web based video devices.

But it’s one thing to not develop a solution over a number of years, but even sadder to be quietly pulled from the code in Media Composer v6 at the time “second screen” was gaining steam in the industry.  Media Composer v7 offers “spanned markers” but is so restrictive in its implementation that its overall value is pretty limiting and pales in comparison to what an expanded MetaSync solution could have been.

Perhaps there is a bigger plan in play, something better and much more streamlined. We can only hope there is such a vision to what will be Storytelling 2.0. But seeing as one can still sign up to be a development partner could mean Avid is still in the game, or they have not cleaned up the website of all MetaSync references.  This also brings up the topic of Media Composer as a platform in general, and that will be subject of a future blog entry.

While I am most familiar with Avid Media Composer workflows, others companies could be doing more as well in this area. Adobe has all the components that could tie video content creation and marketing with online authoring tools, distribution, and reporting back to content owners. That remains to be seen in future versions of Premiere Pro CC integrating such solutions. But for now it seems that Premiere Pro is trying to be Media Composer, and Media Composer is trying to be Premiere Pro. Apple could do well by taking their DVD authoring code and adding it to iBook Author to further extend interactive authoring, publishing and delivery of converging video, sound, graphics and www links in their mobile entertainment devices for the future of media publishing.

Meanwhile, startups like FlixMaster (soon to be renamed Rapt Media) are creating tools for interactive and branching media for web distribution and being well funded in the process. Perhaps there is something to all of this?

The Avid Marketplace

Friday, July 19th, 2013

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When Avid Media Composer v6 shipped in Q2 of 2012, one of the new features of the product was the launch of the Avid Marketplace. This was achieved by integrating a web browser as part of the Media Composer toolset. I think having a web browser directly available within the editing application can provide some pretty innovative and a useful platform as part of the creative editorial process.

One of the much-touted cornerstones of the marketplace was stock footage purchase and management. The ability for the editor to search a stock library to find footage as needed, and using AMA and some clever engineering, download the proxy, edit, and conform back to the high resolution version once the purchase transaction has been completed. This is still limited to a single vendor, but one can only think this will expand in the future. The subject of stock footage management within Avid Media Composer will make for a good future blog.

Other resources offered within the Avid Marketplace browser are Avid’s own software options as well as plug-ins from other vendors. While somewhat convenient to browse such offerings within the Media Composer, it offers no added value than just using your preferred browser on the system. In many cases, clicking the link for more information actually does launch your default browser and goes to that page; defeating the purpose of the integrated marketplace and becoming just a fancy bookmark page with links.

In most, if not all cases, I can do a quick search for the plug-in on a shopping comparison site and find multiple vendors selling the same plug-in for less money. An example of this was for Magic Bullet Looks 2, where the first hit found it for US$50 less than the Avid Marketplace. And I don’t really know how that works in non-US countries with issues of VAT and other. Perhaps readers can comment on that experience that live outside the US.

This now brings us to value. Why would I buy this plug-in from the Avid Marketplace? In most cases, in this economy, the lowest cost will win out. But… if the Avid Marketplace provided “value” other than monetary, I am interested. Additional value comes in the form of automated installation, exclusive videos of how the plug-in works with Media Composer, direct support, automated update notification, etc. This would all fall into the “marketing” category with some aspects of support and education. Unfortunately what I read now in the product description is either a word for word or very close marketing copy from the vendor’s own website, leaving it generic and not tailored to the Media Composer user. Offering this added value in the Avid Marketplace creates a unique tailored experience that starts before, and continues during and after the transaction process. This, I believe, is what will gain traction and more customer loyalty to the Avid Marketplace over other vendors.

The other unfortunate limitation of the integrated browser is the inability to use it like a browser. It is restricted to the 5-6 predefined locations. How useful would it be to have full browser capability as a “Media Composer Bin”? Imagine opening up PDF files containing producer or director comments, using the browser window as a better version of the ScriptSync window where more than just “flattened text files” can be viewed. Or the ability to access online database sites to get an overview of the production process? Drag and drop any object from a web page into a bin or timeline? How about streaming the timeline into a preview page of in context of the overall marketing campaign before it goes live? Even subscription-based, tailored one-on-one user support forum that would differentiate from the user forums currently available. What can be done with an integrated browser could be huge in today’s world of integrated media, mobile devices and distribution. Maybe Avid is considering this, but feature follow-up has never been one of Avid’s strong points. Maybe the thinking is that giving it too much browser functionality would allow users to search for lower cost plug-ins creating direct competition with itself.

And that is missing the forest for the trees.

NLE GUI Monitors in Portrait Mode

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Not a week goes by where I don’t see a report on the increased use of video in marketing, digital signage, education, and mobile devices. As much as my work is in theatrical and broadcast, there are large opportunities in the power of video outside those traditional distribution channels. I recently helped a friend on museum presentation she is doing for her PhD in communications. It is a five-projector setup presenting the life of Edgar Allan Poe through the five important women in his life.

The women are all shot in portrait mode, as the projectors will be also to have each women “sitting” in a chair within the museum set piece. While the creative editorial aspects for this are straightforward, “previewing” it while editing was more challenging. It would be a huge timesaver, and more pleasing to edit with UI monitors in the GUI that could rotate 90 degrees either direction (per clip basis) so that I could see the full image upright. This would eliminate the resize, rotate of a 3D type effect reducing the image quality in order to do the editing with the women upright in their positions.

In an ever-changing world, an NLE adapting to the needs of the video distribution channel is key – Rotating the GUI monitors is a simple, yet powerful addition to the toolset. Export would still be horizontal, but adding the rotate display flag to the QuickTime wrapper would be a nice bonus. The “sequence” would have a defined rotate order such as CW or CWW so that the sources would properly align automatically when exported in case the cameraperson wasn’t consistent in his/her CW or CWW orientation when shooting.

Interactivity is another favorite topic of mine – a future posting will discuss creation of “smart media” and Avid’s 12 year head start with MetaSync, that unfortunately is no longer part of the program.

Calendar As Alternate Bin View

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

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For a while now, I have always thought that a calendar UI as an overview to dailies would be quite useful for many type of productions – be it scripted, reality, news or even legal and forensic. Knowing the day an asset was created is a very useful piece of metadata.

Many NLE’s can either search on a date, or sort by that date in their existing “bin” view, but what I am speaking of, is a full on calendar type UI interaction. View by month, week, day, and time span within the day. As most, if not all productions have TOD either as the main timecode or as audio timecode, the shoot date and time are readily available.

There have been countless times when working with a director or producer and they are like; “I know we shot something last Thursday… right after lunch.  With this, you would be able to open up the calendar view, go to last Thursday afternoon, expand the afternoon hours and see all your coverage.

And as with most calendar offerings, the ability to filter based on other metadata such as A, B, C… camera, or type of clip; In Media Composer vernacular it would be master clip, subclip, sync clip, group clip, etc.

FCPx is close with “events” and such, but the presentation is more of a sorted list by date rather than an actual calendar UI that everyone is familiar with. Interacting with events would be easy, open clip, play clip, see more details on clip, etc. But I can see such a view being easily implemented with FCPx by Apple or enterprising third party developer using XML and different style sheets etc. or using XMP with Adobe Premiere Pro. In order to have such a view in Avid Media Composer, Avid engineering would have to do the work, or perhaps a third party using API’s with Avid Interplay. The latter would put a price barrier for many of the markets this could benefit, but would be welcomed all the same by productions using ISIS and Interplay.

From there, one can imagine links or attachment to other related items such as camera and audio reports – or in the case of legal, depositions and other related documents.

I think it would be a very useful, unique and innovative feature to have as productions are shooting more and more footage, and having another view into the footage can only help the creative process.

Welcome

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

This post represents a slow transition from my original website at 24p.com which I have not had the time to update in a long while. To tell the truth, I lost the admin password years ago, then things got busy…

I also want to clarify, that 24p is the marketing term. I have gotten several emails over the years about how it really should be 23.976, and that I was confusing people by calling it 24p. So rest assured, that 24p will be specific when it needs to be and will include 23.976 and 25p.

So welcome to the new 24p.