Monthly Archives: July 2007

Automation and Video Processing - Some Intial Observations

First of all, I should say that the Elgato Turbo.264 hardware encoder is fantastic. Not only is it a sleek, small USB dongle that can be easily moved between machines - it also produces very decent-looking h.264 content in near-real time (29.97 fps). One drawback, however is that its settings are, for the most part, hardwired and not very customizable. It can only output files in an .mp4 container, which is readable by Quicktime, but not as versatile as the .mov container. And it might create some compatibility issues for older machines or for some software like Portfolio.

So, I've been working on a way to automatically strip down and rewrap .mp4s (or any other QT readable format for that matter) as self-contained .movs . I was able to compile a fairly simple applescript to create the equivalent of a "watch folder." Any files dropped into the chosen folder are automatically opened in QT and rewrapped as a MooV (i.e. .mov). The relevant code is as follows:


on adding folder items to thisFolder after receiving added_Items
tell application "QuickTime Player"
repeat with theFile in added_Items
open theFile
set NewFile to text 1 thru -5 of (theFile as string) & ".mov"
tell front movie
stop
with timeout of 500 seconds
save self contained in NewFile
end timeout
close
end tell
end repeat
end tell
end adding folder items to

It's also possible to make the watch folder the same as the Elgato export folder, so that, when a file is completed, it will automatically be converted. This requires a delay of x number of minutes as the script loops to confirm that the file is complete. The relevant code is as follows:


repeat while isNow ≠Was
set Was to size of (info for F)
delay 30
set isNow to size of (info for F)
end repeat

This will employ a 30 second delay. The upshot is that, once the file is the same size for more than 30 seconds, the conversion process will begin. I was also able to put together an applescript droplet that will locate and rewrap media files in any given folder. Since some of the Seth Fein videos are in .mov containers and some of them are in .mp4 containers, this will help expedite the process of making them uniform. The droplet is affectionately titled "Convert to MooV" and is available on my iMac, or upon request.

The next big step will be automating the capture and encoding processes. But, in theory at least, this should only require a slight modification of my watch folder script.

The Future of Video Digitization at ITG: Making the Switch to Mac

ITG is undergoing a transition in the way we work with video. With the advent of Apple’s H.264 codec, as well as the greater trend toward faculty editing with QuickTime Pro and iMovie, it seems logical to reevaluate our methods and organization.

Our current setup, though it’s worked well for a long time and continues to produce high-quality results, is not ideal. Vader is aging, and has recently suffered a number of software failures. Additionally, the AVI files churned out by Edius Pro 3 prove to be relatively incompatible with most machines, and require a fair amount of repackaging. The old system of capturing into Edius Pro 3, exporting to DV AVI, normalizing in Soundforge 8, compressing in ProCoder 1.5, and finally transcoding in Adobe Encore DVD is far more complicated and time-consuming than is necessary. It adds a degree of effort that uses not only employee and processing time, but also degrades the quality of the final output.

Then there is the question of physical space. The main office right now has two computers set up for capture: Vader and FCMC Test. With their various VCRs and DVD players and video converter boxes, these machines end up taking up quite a bit of space. If we could set up some kind of “capture station� in the back room, the main office would be freed up for meetings and conferences, and we’d all have a little more elbow room.

After discussing all of this, Joe and I decided on a possible solution: switch our video capturing to Mac. We didn’t decide this because we’re both Mac users by choice, or because the new Mac Pro is staggeringly gorgeous, or even because we like the sound of a Trash emptying better than the sound of a Recycle Bin emptying. No, we decided this because, right now, Macs offer better software and a better process for our goals.
Here is a basic outline of what capturing video on a Mac with the appropriate software would be like:
-Capture into Final Cut Pro, in a DV format that is QuickTime-compatible
-Share with Soundtrack Pro to normalize audio (if necessary)
-Compress the resulting raw movie using a preconfigured Compressor batch-process droplet
-Burn to DVD using DVD Studio Pro

This process is in fact almost identical to what we were doing on Vader, at least in terms of the functions performed. But the difference is that all of this software comes bundled in a suite – it was designed to work together, and is therefore more intuitive. No more Soundforge aspect ratio mishaps, no more I-hate-that-ProCoder-doesn’t-have-good-H264-customizability tantrums, no more rewrapping weirdo Canopus DV files just to make them compatible, no more “Error loading transcode presets� – in short, no more problems. (Disclaimer: there will certainly be problems if we switch to Mac, but they’ll look much prettier and will involve fewer “illegal errors�).

Since none of the Macs currently under ITG’s ownership are really perfect for the job, Joe and I discussed maybe acquiring a Mac Pro. We decided on the following specifications, based on Apple’s website:
- Two 2.66GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon
- 2GB (4 x 512MB)
- 250GB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s
- NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT 256MB (single-link DVI/dual-link DVI)
- One 16x SuperDrive

This setup would provide more than enough processing speed for our capturing, compressing and burning, and would work with either 1 or 2 monitors.
So the eventual ideal setup would be:
-Mac Pro Xeon Intel described above, equipped with:
-Final Cut Studio (includes Final Cut Pro, Compressor, DVD Studio Pro and Soundtrack Pro)
-PCI video capture card (possibly the Canopus ACEDVio or equivalent)
-A big LaCie (1 TB+) for raw captures

The cost, not factoring in any educational discounts and assuming we buy everything new:

Mac Pro Xeon Intel $2,799
Final Cut Studio 2 $1,299
Canopus ACEDVio PCI card $330
1.5 TB LaCie Big Disk Extreme $599
Approx. total: $5,050

Pros:
-extremely fast encoding and burning
-seamless communication between software
-easily upgradeable due to tower structure
-more automated, requires less man/womanpower
Cons:
-high cost

Another option would be to use our existing resources to create a similar arrangement, either as an interim step until we acquire a Mac Pro, or as a permanent change.
Alternative setup:
-iMac from the main office, which already has:
-Final Cut Studio
-Elgato Turbo264
-Cinematize Pro
-Attach the Edirol converter box currently hooked up to the FCMC iMac
-Take Vader’s setup and patch it through the box (which I’ve already tried and it works)

Pros:
-low cost
-easy setup
-seamless communication between software
-more automated
-converter box is mobile
Cons:
-relatively low processing speed
-not very upgradeable
-converter box with Firewire is lower quality than PCI card

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