In a perfect world, digital cameras would wirelessly zap moving images to servers in the cloud. Clips would appear instantly on timelines anywhere in the world, playable regardless of compression.
Maybe that isn’t your vision of a perfect world–although glimpses of it already appear at mobile phone apps like Qik and Ustream (“Broadcasting live is as easy as 1, 2, 3. Get started today!”).
Whatever the future may bring, who doesn’t want immediate access to clips right now? Instant playback without the hassles and delays of juggling codecs or re-wrapping container formats?
Final Cut Pro users who regularly import clips from popular Sony compact camcorders like the PMW-EX1 and PMW-EX3 and shoulder-mount models PMW-320 and PMW-350 know that XDCAM EX footage cannot be played directly in Final Cut Pro.
Instead, XDCAM EX clips must first be imported into Final Cut Pro using Sony’s XDCAM Transfer Plug-in for Final Cut Pro, a free software tool available at Sony’s ServicesPLUS(sm) website.
XDCAM Transfer, located under FCP’s Import menu (File > Import > Sony XDCAM…), provides a workflow window within which the contents of each BPAV folder found on an SxS PRO™ media card can be previewed, tagged, and sent to a Final Cut Pro project timeline.
BPAV folders, incidentally, are basic session folders created by every XDCAM EX camcorder. Among other things, they contain 25mbps or 35mbps MPEG-2 “essence” video files wrapped in .mp4 “container” files. Although compressed by means of a Sony MPEG-2 codec, these files appear as MPEG-4 files to a Macintosh.
This is the rub for Final Cut Pro users. FCP doesn’t recognize .mp4 files. As a result, XDCAM Transfer’s main job is to re-wrap these .mp4 files as Apple QuickTime® files friendly to the Macintosh.
This doesn’t take long to do. But it’s an extra step. Which requires firing up FCP, drilling down to the Import command, selecting and launching Sony XDCAM, choosing the source BPAV folder, highlighting the desired clips, and clicking Import.
When XDCAM EX was announced three years ago, file-based capture was new and each workflow was a work-in-progress. One thing was certain, however, you couldn’t be too careful or cautious. Each logging and transfer step was reassuring.
Today we’re all a bit more familiar with file-based management and backup. So wouldn’t it be great if XDCAM EX files could play back directly on a Macintosh as easily as a native QuickTime file, without the need to ingest or re-wrap files?
In other words, wouldn’t it be great to review a just-recorded take at full resolution on a 17-in. Macintosh Book Pro by sliding an SxS PRO card into its ExpressCard™/34 slot and double-clicking the desired .mp4 scene file?
Or to play an XDCAM EX clip back from the camcorder itself (attached via USB 2.0) by opening the camcorder’s BPAV folder from the Macintosh’s Finder and double-clicking the same scene file?
Or edit an XDCAM EX clip by dragging its .mp4 file from the camcorder’s BPAV folder and dropping it directly on a Final Cut Pro project timeline or into a bin in FCP’s Browser window?
Sony’s new software tool, the cin©mon .mp4 plug-in, enables all of this.
Installed as a Final Cut Pro plug-in, the cin©mon .mp4 plug-in makes a Macintosh “see” an XDCAM EX .mp4 file as a QuickTime file. Simple as that.
Benefits go beyond instantaneous playback. The cin©mon .mp4 tool remains active in the Macintosh’s Finder whether or not Final Cut Pro is running. With the cin©mon .mp4 plug-in installed, XDCAM EX .mp4 files are available for playback in any QuickTime preview function, at any time.
This means, for instance, that XDCAM EX files can be sorted and previewed using either the Finder’s column view or Cover Flow view.
In fact, a clever way to preview clips in a BPAV folder is to select it in Cover Flow view and perform a search within the folder for all “mp4” files. Flip to any .mp4 image (first frame of clip), then with a single click play its clip directly from Cover Flow. By resizing the Finder window, Cover Flow images can enlarged for easier previewing.
A video demonstrating the use of Cover Flow to preview XDCAM EX files in a MacBook Pro with the cin©mon .mp4 plug-in can be seen here.
The cin©mon .mp4 plug-in is actually a subset of a more complex software tool called the cin©mon workflow accelerator for Final Cut Pro, developed recently by Sony at the request of major news organizations. In addition to direct playback of XDCAM EX files, the full-fledged cin©mon plug-in enables native editing of XDCAM HD MXF files and low-latency MXF files created by Omneon servers, and contains tools for integrating with asset management systems.
Sony’s cin©mon .mp4 plug-in has been broken out of the enterprise edition in order to extend to individual XDCAM EX users the convenience of fast, native playback available to news professionals. How fast? Click an XDCAM EX .mp4 picon anywhere and you’re watching it. Hearing it too.
Minimum requirements are Final Cut Pro 7, Sony XDCAM Transfer version 2.12.0, QuickTime 7.6.3, and Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” on an Intel Macintosh with a 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo processor. These days, even a plastic MacBook exceeds that last spec.
Please note that QuickTime 7.6.3 is the version associated with Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” — not version 10.0 QuickTime associated with the current Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard.” If you are running Snow Leopard with QT 10.0 installed, not to worry. QT 7 is a free download from Apple here. QT 7 and QT 10, you’ll be pleased to learn, can happily co-exist in Snow Leopard, and it’s probably a good idea to have both anyway.
Sony’s cin©mon .mp4 plug-in is available now at a cost of $99. Download it and enjoy a free 60-day trial here.
However, speaking as a victim, be forewarned. The cin©mon .mp4 plug-in is readily addictive. Sixty days will come and go too soon.
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