Recently I was put in charge of the technical workflow for an HD 1080/25p real estate commercial spot to be shot in Miami, Florida, and broadcast in several European countries. I suppose my years of writing articles and giving seminars about 25p workflow in (ex) NTSC countries had something to do with my being chosen. This article covers: why director Rub©n Abruña chose the Panasonic AF100 rather than the Sony FS100, the lenses used, how the Sony “Beyond XDCAM-HD” encoder in the nanoFlash recorder achieved a superior 4:2:2 recording, the technical workflow used in the production and post, and even how we were able to display the final 25p spot on the client’s segregated HDTV set (which normally rejects anything 25Hz or 50Hz) without having to convert the signal. You’ll also be able to view and hear all four language versions of the 30-second spot: Castilian, English, French, and Italian.
In this article:
- Why the Panasonic AF100 rather than the Sony FS100
- The lenses used and why
- What’s a nanoFlash; how to record 25p on the nanoFlash; how to correct the nanoFlash’s incorrect metadata; when to record on the nanoFlash and when not to do so
- Workflow to Apple Color and back out
- Critical monitoring
- How to fool a segregated USA HDTV set into accepting 25p
Why the Panasonic AF100 rather than the Sony FS100?
Director Rub©n Abruña explains:
“The two candidates were the Panasonic AF100 and the Sony FS100. Obviously, the Sony FS100’s Super35mm sensor is mathematically more appropriate and more efficient for 16:9 capture than the Micro Four Thirds sensor in the Panasonic AF100. I would have really loved to have been able to compare them side-by side, but Sony made the decision for us because the FS100 simply wasn’t available on time for this production. So we used the Panasonic AF100, which fortunately comes standard as ‘WorldCam’. But ironically, Sony was involved in many of the scenes, by virtue of the fact that we recorded many of them on the nanoFlash recorder from Convergent Design, which uses a ‘Beyond XDCAM-HD’ encoder manufactured by Sony. I call it ‘Beyond XDCAM-HD’ because it has the same 4:2:2 encoder technology used in cameras like the US$42,000 Sony PDW-F800 camera, but fortunately breaks the 50 megabit/second limitation of the F800 and allowed us to record 4:2:2 at 140 megabits/second. I am very happy with the motion pictures we’ve been able to create with the AF100 together with the ‘Beyond XDCAM-HD’ Sony encoder in the nanoFlash recorder. Having said that, I will strongly consider the FS100 for future projects, but only when Sony can offer a WorldCam version of it. The fact that we produced this spot in 25p in Miami for Europe should make it clear that production today is global, and Sony shouldn’t expect us to purchase two separate camera bodies just to cover 50Hz and 59.94Hz framerates.”
The Castilian-language version of the spot
Here is the Castilian-language version of the 30-second spot in native 25p. Castilian is the official language of Spain, and is also the most widely used Spanish language spoken in Spain, Latin America, and the USA, but is certainly not the only Spanish language. Other Spanish languages include Catalán, Euskera (Basque), and Galician, which are also official in their respective territories, as guaranteed by Article 3 of the Spanish Constitution. Ahead in this article you’ll see the English, French, and Italian versions of the same spot, and read all about the technical workflow. As with all of the videos in this article, they will work with your computer, iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. If on your computer or iPad, feel free to click the button on the lower right to go full screen. If you have a good Internet connection, feel free to activate the HD option if not already set that way on your computer.
Director Rub©n Abruña:
“We used two lenses. All of the interior shots were done with a Nikkor 17-35 mm f/2.8 zoom lens using a Nikon to Micro 4/3 adapter.
It renders warm images that are sharp but without too much contrast.
All the interior shots were done in relatively small spaces, so I mainly worked in the 17-20 mm range, one in which the lens excels with no noticeable distortions or aberrations. I also prefer it because its iris and focus controls are on the barrel, and I don’t have to go into a camera menu to adjust them. This was key for the aerials where we constantly went from shadow to bright areas, depending on the angle of the building in relation to the early morning sun. Its fast speed allowed us to get a beautiful night shot of Ocean Drive bathed in neon lights. Using the ATM Gyro Stabilized mount, all the aerials were done with the Nikkor lens as I mentioned, because of its wide field of view proved to be ideal in getting the entire building in the frame, while also seeing the surroundings, a very important factor in a real estate commercial.
We used a Lumix G Vario 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 zoom lens for three of the four quick shots at the beginning and the ocean shot at the very end. We chose it mainly because we needed the space compression, to get close from quite a long distance, which meant that we mostly shot near the 200mm end of the lens. Its slow speed was not a limitation because all those shots were naturally lit by the very bright Miami Beach sun and skylight.”
What’s a nanoFlash?
nanoFlash is the name of a popular external recorder manufactured by Convergent Design. The nanoFlash contains an encoder manufactured by Sony, which encodes the same style of MPEG2 used in high-end XDCAM-HD camcorders like the Sony PDW-F800. However, the maximum bit rate allowed by the XDCAM-HD format is 50 megabits per second, while the nanoFlash can record at a much higher bit rate.
How to record 25p on the nanoFlash from the AF100
The AF100/AF101 manual says that the camera’s HD-SDI is 1080/50i when shooting 1080/25p internally, but this way of stating it is deceiving. The AF100/AF101 manual neglects to explain that when shooting 1080/25p, the HD-SDI output in essence is outputting 1080PsF25 (progressive segmented frame, 25p over a 50i train). I don’t know why, but the only reference to PsF in the AF100/AF101 manual is about 23.976PsF over HD-SDI (which is a more complex signal and has to be activated specifically in the menu, and not appropriate for this project). The AF100/AF101 manual is really underselling the capabilities of the camera as it is currently written. So to record 1080/25p on the nanoFlash from the AF100, we first set the camera for 1080/25p, connected an HD-SDI cable to the nanoFlash, and made sure to set the nanoFlash menu to PsF.
After setting that, the nanoFlash will display the abbreviated message “1080sf25” on screen (see photo above). That means that the nanoFlash knows that the source is 1080/25p being sent over a 50i train (PsF), and is treating it as such in order to create a true progressive recording… but here comes both the problem… and the solution.
How to correct the nanoFlash’s incorrect metadata
As stated in the prior section, the nanoFlash (as of firmware 1.6.248) indeed makes a perfect 1080/25p recording when used as explained. However, unfortunately the recording has incorrect metadata that falsely indicates that the recording is 23.976p. While Convergent Design fixes that problem in a future firmware update, it is easily fixed by conforming the footage to 25p (its true native framerate) using one of two methods:
- Using the Conform command in Apple’s CinemaTools.
- Using the Interpret Footage command in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5 or in Adobe Media Encoder CS5.5 prior to transcoding to any other format
Once we did that, the metadata properly matched the actual 25p recording that had been made. No actual manipulation of the video occurs, so no generation loss. Note that the Conform command in CinemaTools is only available with i-frame footage. Long-GOP footage would need to be transcoded first to an i-frame códec like any of the ProRes variants (leaving the framerate as “Current”) before conforming with CinemaTools. With Adobe Media Encoder CS5.5, it doesn’t matter, since it will accept both long-GOP and i-frame and allow for this.
When to record with the nanoFlash, and when to record internally in the AF100
Actually, even the scenes that were recorded in the nanoFlash (at 4:2:2 MPEG2) we recorded simultaneously inside the AF100 (at 4:2:0 H.264) to have a simultaneous backup. We carried out exhaustive testing before actually shooting the spot, and determined that the quality of the external “Beyond XDCAM-HD” Sony encoder in the the Convergent Design nanoFlash for all of the “normal” (non slow-motion) scenes was visibly superior. In those cases, both recordings were at 1080p25, and the quality of the “Beyond XDCAM” Sony encoder at 1920×1080 4:2:2 140 megabits/second beat the quality of the 1920×1080 4:2:0 H.264 Panasonic encoder at 24 megabits/second.
However, due to limitations both in the Panasonic AF100 and in the nanoFlash, there is currently no way to record 1080p59.94 or 1080p50 externally. (Neither the AF100 nor the nanoFlash has dual-link SDI or 3G-SDI, and so far, no external recorder accepts 1080p59.94 or 1080p50 from HDMI, as explained in this recent article. In fact, I don’t know whether the AF100 even outputs 1080p59.94 or 1080p50 over HDMI anyway, but even if it does, we didn’t have any way to record it.) The only way to record the highest possible progressive framerate for slow-motion in the nanoFlash from the AF100 is at 720p (1280×720) from a 59.94p source, which has high temporal resolution, but lower spatial resolution. When comparing the same demanding footage (slow pans on buildings with bricks), the 1920×1080 4:2:0 H.264 Panasonic encoder at 24 megabits/second beat the 1280×720 4:2:2 140 megabits/second of the nanoFlash. Bottom line was that it’s better to use the nanoFlash for all non slow-motion footage, and to record the slow-motion footage inside the camera only. In order to get the highest temporal resolution (maximum frames per second), we shot the slow motion scenes using the AF100’s own VFR mode at 1080/59.94p over 1080/23.976p and then conformed the result to 25p for use on the 25p timeline. As stated earlier, no actual manipulation of the video occurs when conforming. Only manipulation of the metadata occurs, so there is no generation loss with this process.
Rub©n and I were both curious to see how the nanoFlash would compare with one of the ProRes recorders, but we didn’t have access to one at the time of the production. The 10-bit capability of ProRes wouldn’t have made a difference since the AF100 only outputs 8-bit, but we don’t know for sure whether it might have been more transparent than the MPEG2 at 140 megabits/second.
On page 2 of this article:
- The USA English version of the spot
- Workflow to Apple’s Color and back out
- The French version of the spot
- Critical monitoring
- The Italian version of the spot
- How to fool a segregated USA HDTV set into accepting 25p
The USA English-language version of the spot
Here is the USA English-language version of the spot in native 25p. As with all of the videos in this article, they will work with your computer, iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. If on your computer or iPad, feel free to click the button on the lower right to go full screen. If you have a good Internet connection, feel free to activate the HD option if not already set that way on your computer.
Workflow to Apple’s Color and back out
Because director Rub©n Abruña is extremely familiar and adept with Apple’s Color, he decided to edit in Final Cut Pro and do all necessary grading in Apple’s Color. So we did some tests to determine the cleanest path to get the raw footage to ProRes444. We knew that ProRes444 currently is the best intermediate códec to use with Apple’s Color, since it has well known gamma issues with uncompressed files, and Apple’s Color doesn’t deal natively with MPEG2 or with H.264/AVCHD. Through our tests, we discovered that the absolute best bridge available to us from the H.264/AVCHD slow motion raw footage (the most challenging material) to ProRes444 was ironically via Adobe’s Media Encoder CS5.5. I attribute this fact to Media Encoder’s use of the renowned MainConcept’s decoder algorithm to decode the H.264/AVCHD source material, which is the front-end of any transcoding process. The rear-end in this case was obviously the ProRes444 códec, which was Apple’s underlying technology either way. In this case, the difference in quality was in the decoding of the original file. Since decoding MPEG2 is a piece of cake by comparison to H.264/AVCHD, we used the same tool without further fuss -Adobe’s Media Encoder CS5.5- to transcode the MPEG2 “Beyond XDCAM-XD” footage to ProRes444 also. After grading the footage in Apple’s Color, we exported back to FCP as uncompressed 10-bit as our master, knowing that the different copies for the different European TV stations were all over the place, including multiple types of video files and even standard HDCAM tape (at 50Hz) in some cases.
The French-language version of the spot
Here is the French-language version of the spot in native 25p. As with all of the videos in this article, they will work with your computer, iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. If on your computer or iPad, feel free to click the button on the lower right to go full screen. If you have a good Internet connection, feel free to activate the HD option if not already set that way on your computer.
Critical video monitoring
Both to choose the best recording and transcoding practices and for grading in Apple’s Color, we used director Rub©n Abruña’s 10-bit/30-bit HP DreamColor (calibrated for Rec.709) connected via HDMI to a Matrox MXO2 Mini (see picture below).
As stated in several of my other articles, the DreamColor engine in the DreamColor monitor demands that the source be RGB and progressive, and as of publication date of this article, the only way to do that from Apple’s Color is to use a professional interface with an appropriate RGB progressive signal over HDMI or DisplayPort. Here’s a link to the most relevant article.
The Italian-language version of the spot
Here is the Italian-language version of the spot in native 25p. As with all of the videos in this article, they will work with your computer, iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. If on your computer or iPad, feel free to click the button on the lower right to go full screen. If you have a good Internet connection, feel free to activate the HD option if not already set that way on your computer.
How to fool a segregated USA HDTV set into accepting 25p
During one of the setup days at the client’s location, I wanted to verify whether the client’s consumer Panasonic HDTV set which is mounted on the wall there was segregated or not, in order to plan how we’d later bring the edited candidates of the spot for approval in each language. It is much better to show a native version, in the true framerate, without distortions or speed changes. In order to verify whether it was segregated or not, I asked Rub©n to connect the AF100 camera (which was already set to 1080/25p) via HDMI to the client’s monitor. We got no signal. Just to make sure that it wasn’t an issue with the cable or the selected HDMI input, I asked Rub©n to reset the AF100 camera temporarily to a 59.94Hz mode on the fly. He did so, and the monitor immediately displayed the output of the camera. Then Rub©n switched it back to 50Hz mode, and the monitor again indicated no signal. We had unfortunately proven that the monitor wouldn’t accept 50Hz signals, i.e. it was what I call a segregated monitor. Ouch!
Back in 2008, I had done some tests and published the article Liberating segregated HDTV sets. One of the best ways to achieve it back then was with a WDTV Player from Western Digital.
I wasn’t sure whether that still applied with the current model, called the WDTV Player Live Plus (which has been updated with several new features), so I ordered one (currently US$79.99 including a wireless remote control) and we tested it. Fortunately, the WDTV Player still fulfills the same “impossible mission”. Just connect it via HDMI. When left on Auto, the WDTV Player negotiates the preferred spatial resolution with the HDTV (in this case, 1920×1080) and framerate (59.94Hz) via EDID, and then somehow plays the file (in this case, 1080/25p) and makes the segregated HDTV believe it to be 59.94Hz. The result looks perfect, meaning that it has excellent quality, shows absolutely no artifacts due to frame conversion, no change in audio pitch, no change in duration, and no lip-sync issue. It is truly amazing, or what Apple might call “magic”. It plays video files either from a network source, local USB 2.0 drive which it self-powers (2.5″ size drives only), or a USB memory stick (my choice since it makes the WDTV Player much more compact and less likely to undesired disconnection). Of course, even if the client’s HDTV set hadn’t been segregated (i.e. if it had accepted 50Hz signals directly), we still would have needed some type of player. Since the client didn’t have a Blu-ray player anyway, the WDTV Player might have likely been our choice regardless.
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Contact Allan T©pper for consulting, or find a full listing of his articles and upcoming seminars and webinars at AllanTepper.com. Listen to his TecnoTur program, which is now available both in Castilian and in English, free of charge. Search for TecnoTur in iTunes or visit TecnoTur.us for more information.
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None of the manufacturers listed in this article is paying Allan T©pper or TecnoTur LLC specifically to write this article. Some of the manufacturers listed above have contracted T©pper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcreations. Many of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan T©pper review units. So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs.