For many years, I have been documenting the existence of “shy” 1080p cameras, i.e. those incapable of outputting a chosen low or medium progressive framerate natively over HDMI or SDI. I have also covered a multitude of workarounds and convinced many major manufacturers/developers to compensate for this “shyness” situation in menus or buttons in software or devices. Today I will present my Blackmagic + NewTek conspiracy theory with two specific types of “shy” camera signals, even though I’ll clarify that these two manufacturers probably didn’t conspire together, but rather each one on its own to reach a similar indirect goal.
A short summary about why low or medium framerates are usually better for final distribution
Unless you are broadcasting/webcasting sports or gaming, low to medium framerates are the most desired, i.e. ≈23.976p (aka ≈23.98p), 25p or ≈29.97p. Anything higher is a waste of bandwidth (or poor bandwidth management) for mostly talking head content and can cause unnecessary inconsistencies among different playback devices, since many smartphones and tablets cannot play more than 30 fps. Higher framerates like 50p and 59.94p should be reserved for sports and gaming, knowing their downsides. Everything else should use less bandwidth… or use the extra bits for better image quality below 30 fps.
Defining the three types of “shy” 1080p cameras
There are three types of 1080p shyness in cameras, in order of importance: PsF, Telecine and Doubling.
Type 1: PsF (progressive segmented frame)
I am separating PsF (progressive segmented frame) into three subcategories:
- When the shy camera is set to image (and sometimes also to record internally) with a common progressive framerate (in ex NTSC regions) like ≈29.97p, it sadly outputs the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as ≈59.94i. To be more specific, it takes each progressive frame and segments it into two artificial fields, each with half of the original pixel resolution and each with 540 intertwining lines to add up to the original 1080. Unlike true 1080i —where each field can potentially have different temporal (time) information when there is movement, with PsF the temporal information of each artificial field is always identical.
- Similarly, when the shy camera is set to image (and record internally) with a common progressive framerate (in ex PAL regions) like ≈25p, it sadly outputs it the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as 50i.
- The third PsF case is very rare nowadays and never happens with HDMI, but only with some SDI and with very expensive cameras, where with the ≈23.976p (aka ≈23.98p) rate the camera sadly outputs the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as 47.952. In the case of HDMI, shy 1080p cameras in ≈23.976p use a telecine method with a 2:3 (aka 3:2) pulldown explained ahead. This rare case is outside the scope of this article.
Type 2: Telecine with pulldown
To make the ≈23.976 fit in a more standard ≈59.94i television rate, telecine performs a complex assignment to make pieces of the original frames “fit” into ≈59.94 fields, some of which contain the same temporal information and others don’t.
This is illustrated in this graphic, which I created in 2008 to illustrate my very first article in ProVideo Coalition magazine. The instructions for the pulldown (i.e. “Put the first progressive frame in both fields of the first interlaced video frame. Now, put the second progressive frame in both fields of the second video frame in the first field of the third video frame, then…”) seem as twisted as the Twister game which dates back to 1966.
Type 3: Doubling of progressive frames per second
When set to image and record ≈29.97p, some shy 1080p cameras duplicate the number of frames per second to ≈59.94 progressive frames per second on the HDMI or SDI output. Similarly, when set to image and record 25p, they duplicate the output framerate to 50 progressive frames per second over HDMI or SDI. As long as your hardware can accept high progressive framerates like 1080/50p and 1080/≈59.94p (i.e. more recent models), this is the easiest type of shyness to solve, and doesn’t require the video mixer (“switcher”) developers/manufacturers to do anything special, as several already have at my request to properly resolve PsF and telecine while retaining all of the original image quality. To solve this, the user/operator should simply set the camera menu and the session in the video mixer for the desired delivery framerate (1080/25p or 1080/≈29.97p) and the mixer will simply skip half of the repeated frames per second.
Our goal and the methods
When receiving the disguised progressive video signal explained in the first two types of shyness (PsF and Telecine), many hardware video mixers and video software sadly see them as their disguise intends: as authentic interlaced video. In order to use them for the web (either live streaming or for later playback), they run them through a detrimental process called de-interlacing. This de-interlacing process should be reserved only for cases of true interlaced video (where it is truly required and justified).
Instead, the hardware video mixer or video software should recompose the original progressive frames without any de-interlacing. At least four hardware manufacturers added that capability: Átomos, Convergent Design, NewTek and Video Devices (a prior part of Sound Devices which seems to have stopped manufacturing video devices). In more recent TriCaster models, NewTek has unfortunately preferred to rely on EDID to auto-negotiate the connection with HDMI cameras, requesting the progressive signal at its desired framerate (i.e. ≈23.976p, 25p or ≈29.97p) if available. That would be great in an ideal world, but sadly, it doesn’t always work out that way with shy cameras. I am afraid that in those cases, the pure (but disguised) progressive signal is still output at the corresponding higher artificial 1080i rate (i.e. 50i or ≈59.94i) and is then forced to be de-interlaced (yikes!). In several past articles, I have suggested using Átomos converter boxes to solve the situation of shy (PsF or Telecine) to reverse the damage and send the pure progressive signal to the video mixer at its native framerate, in the case of video mixers not already capable of solving the issue internally.
During the period from 2011 and 2012 where I published the first ten installments about PsF, several intelligent software developers began compensating for these “shy 1080p cameras” in their menus. They all did so, because they understood the importance of properly handling disguised progressive video, rather than forcing an unjustifiable and damaging interlacing process, and I began covering the workflow for each one in my articles. These included:
- Adobe Premiere Pro CC
- Apple Final Cut Pro X
- vMix (I don’t know the exact year when vMix added this capability to their software, but they documented it most recently in January 2018, and I greatly appreciate the fact that they did so.)
Regarding cameras: shy and rounded versus outgoing and precise
For many years, I have been requesting manufacturers to make their cameras “outgoing” (not shy) and to display framerates to at least two decimals (although three is better in the case of ≈23.976p). Although I haven’t yet verified it personally, Canon seems to have fulfilled the wish more recently in its broadcast video-style cameras. Other manufacturers of still-photographic-style cameras seem to have done it so too in all framerates, with exceptions. Sony still makes their cameras shy in all framerates except for ≈23.976p, which Sony quite irresponsibly continues to round to “24p” in camera menus in models under about US$5k
The above screenshot is from The Art of Photography’s camera review in the Sony Xperia 1 II
with the notable exception of Sony’s Xperia 1 II Android smartphone, which thankfully displays framerates to up to two decimals in the Cinema Pro menu, although I haven’t yet confirmed whether this model records CFR or VFR. (See FiLMiC Pro framerates: VFR status & workflow reaffirmed at NAB 2019.)
See my 2012 article: Why I pardon rounding of shutter speeds in camera menus, but not framerates! illustrated above. I applaud Canon and Panasonic for displaying framerates to up to two decimals in many recent consumer cameras.
The shyness problem fortunately doesn’t exist with more recent arrivals to the camera manufacturer world like Blackmagic and NewTek. Blackmagic and NewTek don’t have the old-fashioned concerns that old-age camera manufacturers have about making their cameras “outgoing” and therefore offering native rates like ≈23.976p, 25p and ≈29.97p directly vía HDMI, SDI or even NDI. That leads us to the conspiracy theory.
The conspiracy theory
Blackmagic and NewTek are not newcomers to the professional and broadcast video world. Blackmagic was born in 2001 and NewTek in 1985. However, they are both relatively new in the camera manufacturing world. Fortunately, their cameras are not shy, but outgoing.
By “playing dumb” about other manufacturers’ shy cameras (by not offering… or no longer offering a menu option to compensate for PsF and Telecine), Blackmagic and NewTek indirectly make their own cameras seem even more valuable in a system with their respective video mixers (“switchers”). That’s because the competitive cameras have their disguised progressive signals forcibly de-interlaced.
Of course, I worded that prior sentence very carefully, because I must reiterate that the original sin of these shy cameras is the fault of these traditional camera manufacturers who for so long have been afraid to make their cameras “outgoing”. Before Blackmagic and NewTek started to sell their own cameras, they might have been more cooperative to solve this defect in shy cameras (in fact, NewTek was indeed cooperative, but then stopped). But now, it’s probably better for Blackmagic and NewTek to “play dumb” about this issue, unless they hear enough demands for this feature from new Blackmagic ATEM or NewTek TriCaster purchasers.
If you haven’t bought your cameras yet for your studios, by all means, consider purchasing “outgoing” cameras from Blackmagic or NewTek, as long as all of the other features, quality and price fit your needs. In fact, in some cases, you will get better integration by having the camera be more intimately controlled by a video mixer (“switcher”) of the same manufacturer as the camera. However, if you already own “shy” cameras (or are otherwise enchanted with them despite Blackmagic’s or NewTek’s camera offerings) and are about to purchase a video mixer from Blackmagic or NewTek, consider telling the manufacturer or developer that you need this feature added as a condition of purchase (or —in the case of NewTek— make them undeniably prove that the EDID really works as desired with your particular shy camera). In the case of vMix, they have already added PsF compensation as covered earlier in this article, but not reverse telecine. In the case of Ecamm Live (covered in these articles), I have suggested it to the developers. If they haven’t added this capability by the time you read this, it’s obviously not because of any conspiracy theory, since at least as of the publishing date, Ecamm doesn’t sell cameras of its own brand.
I completely understand why both Blackmagic and NewTek are independently “playing dumb” about this shy camera topic (for now). However, it’s essential that the pro video production community be aware of this situation and govern itself accordingly. That’s why I wrote this article.
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