Image Seduction

Lately I have been spending a lot of time discovering Adobe Premiere Pro CC. Future blogs will address my adventures with the product itself for the workflows I have to deal with as I get deeper into it. But I have to say, that right off the bat, there is a lot to like and my 20+ years as a Media Composer editor found it to be very approachable. The first thing that struck me was the quality of the images in the viewers. As editors, we stare at our GUI screens and video viewers for many hours a day so it is an important factor to consider.  When I load the same media in Premiere Pro CC that I was using with Media Composer (v7), it is like a whole other viewing experience. Very much like finding out you need glasses to see fine detail. The footage in this case was 4K R3D files, and while performance does affect which debayer setting is chosen during editorial, the comparisons between similar debayer settings is pretty striking.

Adobe Premiere CC’s approach to debayer is much more straightforward than Media Composer; right-click the image and select debayer for either pause and playback states.  Media Composer on the other hand, does a “behind the scenes” debayer when AMA linking to the R3D files, so you need to think it through. For example, linking to a 4K R3D file, green/green mode is displaying “nearest fit” automatically, then scaling as needed to project type. So for a 1080 project using 4K files, it is a 2K debayer (1/2) for green/green. Then from there the timeline setting will reduce it further to 1/4th or 1/8th. Redcine X Pro has a similar “Nearest Fit” setting in it’s debayer setting for transcoding based on resolution of output codec:

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I have both Media Composer and Premiere Pro installed on the same system, so monitoring, CPU, GPU, drive subsystem, etc. is exactly the same. I chose a clip with plenty of detail between main characters, focus, foreground and background. I made sure the debayer and viewer size were exactly the same.

When both were set to 1/2 debayer, the images were the closest in quality, but Premiere Pro CC is still a bit sharper overall with the biggest difference being that Premiere Pro CC could play, scrub and JKL the images while Media Composer barely played the clip at all. For all examples Premiere Pro CC is on the left and Media Composer on the right. Click for full screen image:

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The difference was more obvious with the 1/4 debayer. In this case, this was green/yellow for Media Composer and is most likely the setting most will use as it offers a better balance between picture quality and performance. I found that overall performance was about the same with Premiere Pro CC at 1/2 debayer and Media Composer at 1/4 debayer.  Click image for full screen version:

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The most striking difference was using the 1/8the debayer setting. The image quality on Media Composer is quite noticeably softer, while Premiere Pro CC still quite sharp and was closer to Media Composer’s green/yellow mode for quality. Click image for full screen version:

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Performance aside, Media Composer’s viewer images are additionally affected  by the fact that the viewers are only displaying half an image, even after the debayer process; one field of an interlace frame, or half of a segmented progressive frame. That makes for a big difference when going full screen for review or out to an HD monitor when working with a client. It goes without saying that when staring at the GUI source/record monitors all day, the better images are much easier on the eyes, and in a way more seductive to the editing process itself. 

UPDATE: 11/20/2013

I went back and did the test again with images whose resolution matched the project type so any 2K+ to HD scaling and/or debayer would not be part of the image representation seen on screen. In the following examples, the footage is 1920 x 1080 H.264 camera originals from a Canon Mark II 5D.  Again, with performance having some impact as to why one would have a timeline viewer with less than Full resolution, the following screen grabs show Adobe Premiere Pro CC on the left, and Media Composer on the right. Click for original full size screenshot.

Full - Green/Green 

Here the quality of the images are very close, but with Premiere Pro CC still taking the lead as far for image quality. It may be a result of gamma, contrast differences that make it appear sharper, or Media Composer’s viewer only be 1/2 frame display:

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Half - Green/Yellow

Here it is still pretty close but in addition to whatever might be going on with the “Full - Green/Green” version, the Media Composer softness starts to become more noticeable in comparison. 

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Quarter - Yellow/Yellow

This mode clearly shows the softness differences between the two, especially while video is moving.  One could argue that Yellow/Yellow is not used that often, but in comparison to Premiere Pro whose differences are hard to tell between all of them, one could edit in quarter image quality and get 2x or 4x the performance compared to full when dealing with layers, and VFX.

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Update 1/9/15: Version 8.3 now allows for GUI and Full Screen monitors to have a color display setting allowing for more accurate viewing during editorial.  This is accessed via a right-click on either the source or record monitors. For Full Screen Play, it is access if the Full Screen Play settings. Pop-Up monitors or source settings viewer do not yet have this feature.

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