Turbo Power

There’s a particular Broadcast toy that’s been cropping up at more and more events that I film. It’s called the Grass Valley Turbo – basically, a sort of disk based VTR which can also work as a play-out solution.

For those of you of a certain vintage, it’s a virtual betacart-in-a-box. Transfer all your tapes for a show into it, make a virtual running order, and just keep hitting the cue button. You could run a TV station on a couple of them.

So I’ve been supplying either DVCAM tapes or even DVDs. But from EX1, it required encoding to SD DV and laying off to a deck with bars and a clock, or authoring and burning a couple of DVDs, which took up time.

Of course, Grass Valley’s sales literature says you can shove almost any video file into it and it will cross convert into its own internal format. We tried this some time ago. It took a long time and the results weren’t wonderful. And it doesn’t like EX1 footage. Been there, tried that. No cigar.

And I now have a very elegant solution. But it’s costly unless you really really need it.

There’s no real secret here – Episode from Telestream has a pre-set recipe buried deep in its provided templates for ‘Grass Valley Profile_K2, GXF_SD_PAL’ amongst others (better off calling it ‘GV Turbo’?). It creates a file that doesn’t play on Macs, most will never try it. If you do, you’ll find that it’s a demo, ‘enabled’ by upgrading to Episode Pro. But there’s an issue about Episode. There are plenty of cheaper alternatives and in the world of high quality Open Source encoders, you may baulk at paying $500 for Episode. Or even $1000 for the Pro version. Gulp.

I have spent a lot of money on encoders over time. Some are great, like Episode. Others have been a waste of time, like MegaPEG. What you’re getting with the good ones is a different order of speed, flexibility and quality. Convenience has different meanings depending on the situation you’re in. But don’t get me wrong. Episode, for me, is a great FLV and WMV encoder but you should look elsewhere if you’re doing DVD, format conversion or H.264 (start with Compressor).

Then there’s the ‘pro’ version of Episode. Double the cost simply to add some esoteric MXF formats (and GV Turbo). Few users will ever need it. But if you want to play with the big boy’s kit, Telestream’s got you. What you get is a quick encode from your exported edit (be that XDCAM-EX, DVCPro-HD or even plain old DV) straight to GV Turbo. No messing, no conversion. SD or HD, PAL or NTSC. And it’s QUICK.

Definitely NOT the sort of purchase that most will want to make, but if you’re delivering lots of short newsy clips over a week’s worth of exhibition or other event, and look into hooking up a separate encoding machine, file server (when Episode’s Watch Folder is fixed for NAS) and Turbos on a network, it’s one more giant leap beyond a tape based workflow.

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Who will test the testers?

What a day. What a horrible, puss filled, cankerous waste of everything.

Yes, folks. Today, I am trying to test a DVD. It’s quite a biggie – ten programmes taking up 2.5 hours, to be delivered on a single sided DVD-R.

DVDs used to be a nightmare. Compression glitches, authoring glitches, media glitches, it would all pile up together to form a single amorphous problem blob that everyone would describe as ‘it doesn’t work’.

We’re not talking Cinema DVD, here. We’re talking the journeyman titles pumped out by our massed hoardes of corporate, videographer and event producers. We’d have a clutch of DVD players at our disposal, testing out on our expensive home set, the nasty cheapo picked up at the supermarket, and the one we had ages ago which was great then but is now in retirement.

As time went on, troublesome DVD players fell by the wayside. Meanwhile, we learned that AIFF audio wasn’t a good idea, that few players could do 8 megabits per second, and only very expensive or very cheap media seemed to be consistently good.

Then a few years ago, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and DVD authoring was straightforward. Problems were bad links as we got more adventurous with our authoring. It’s been a sunny old time recently. DVD authoring was a quick process of assembling suitably encoded material into proven templates. Testing becomes a ritual. A sort of sugar topped process that really doesn’t mean much because a title plays, it works, it all looks lovely, and really feels superfluous.

So. Here’s today with my big 800 lb project, and it’s trickling through my nice big fancy DVD/BluRay player and I’m half ignoring it whilst playing with son. And I spot something. Oh. That’s wrong, thank heavens I spotted that – how did that get through? Right – back to the office. Fix it. Encode it. Burn it. Test on the DVD player in the office. First movie is fine. Second movie – it barfs.

And so I tried it again, reencoded, and it barfed in a different place.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

So try a newly authored disk on a different machine, whilst playing a known good disk on the retired machine. Aha! The retired machine barfs 30-40 mins into the programme, which is interesting. On my disk, I’m playing through a series of 15-30 minute programmes, and the barf happened towards the end of the second or in the beginning of the third programme. You’re getting the picture.

What’s so obvious now is that I am testing on my ‘retired’ home DVD player. It’s really useful because it’s old, it’s connected to a 4:3 CRT domestic TV set of similar vintage. The TV set is good at spotting Title Safe violations, the DVD player has been a reliable old brick for ages.

So I take a breather in search of cats to kick, when wife offers solace and a cuppa. And a reminder why I retired the DVD player – complaints from son that his DVDs kept hanging. Okay, at the time, I used this comment as an excuse to go out and get a nice BluRay player whilst providing the opportunity to get a DVD and TV set in my office for testing. And maybe watching my own TV when son’s Cbeebies or Cars or Nemo or Wall-e DVDs tipped me over the edge. Every man needs a shed to retire to.

But (sharply apply palm of hand to forehead and repeat ad nauseam at this point) I didn’t get round to actually soak testing the retired DVD player. Sure it worked for all the DVDs I’ve produced since then – all under 30 minutes. Groan. So I have had one real problem, and now I look at the disk, it may have been a scratch. But since then I’ve been doing the burn, test, tweak cycle for almost 24 hours on a damaged DVD player.

Madness is definitely doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

So the rest of today’s duties revolve around a little trip to the council recycling centre (aka tip), and my shed where I keep a 48 foot high Yard Arm which – if you stand close enough – the sun is always under, therefore signalling the time for a medicinal and industrial strength G&T.

Today’s lesson: don’t forget to test the test equipment.

Tinkling the ivories

I’ve never thought about driving Final Cut Pro. I remember when I first started, going through the manual, getting all hung up on J-Cuts and doing the hunt-and-peck at the keyboard with a ready reference card at my side, but that was a long time ago. Now, I’m breezing along and the interface never really gets in the way.

But I was cutting the other day with somebody who has recently joined the FCP camp, and he was incredulous.

“You’re using the trackpad?”

“You’re using drag and drop? I thought that was beginner stuff.”

“On my training course, I was told I had to use the keyboard.”

“How come you just dropped it on the window? How come it works?”

“What did you do there?” (when I dropped a filter and a transition back into a bin for future bulk use)

And so on. Yes, unfortunately, I had a Charlie Brooker moment with my audience that day, and continued to edit alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no problem with people wanting to learn, only too happy to pass on tricks and stuff, but there was an underlying feeling for a while that this person didn’t agree with my style of driving because it involved a lot of mousing with the track pad and I felt I was having to justify things rather than explain things. And there’s nothing worse than a back seat driver.

But I digress.

I’ve been thinking, as I spend the afternoon rummaging around my rushes picking out choice cutaways and spotting little sequences, that the reason I don’t habitually hit F-9 to insert a clip (for example) is that the button is a little too small and unidentifiable on my MacBook Pro to hit reliably every time with the confidence I need to move on to the next select rather than checking it’s done what I wanted it to do. It just takes an idle swipe of the finger. To be sure, I can hit T-T-T-T to select everything from there on everywere to open up enough working room to add a new sequence, I can hit R-R to roll off a clip earlier, or R and click with the option key to make a straight cut based on audio into a cunning J-cut rather than mess around with all that 3 point stuff I’ve forgotten how to do with a BVE-3000.

But the rest? If I had a big day-glo Chad-Valley Final Cut Pro keyboard, maybe it would be easier to differentiate F9 from F10 (which is kinda important when you’re editing against the clock) and I wouldn’t be quite so happy to ‘fling clips around’.

And is it really saving time? The Germans have a word for it, which I have forgotten, but I remember that it means ‘eye blink time’. The time taken to fling a clip onto the canvas or dump it onto a sequence above the other clips (rather than replug the things correctly at the left hand side and remember to overwrite not insert) may take a little longer than hitting the right button, but if you tot up all those moments and work out that you’ve saved 15 seconds over the course of a day, even a minute… Okay, so if you’re an itinerant editor, even if it means taking your work home and setting up on the kitchen table, does the time saved by deftly using the F9 key rather than dragging from ‘over here’ to ‘over there’ actually add up to the mealy mouthed irritation time on having to lug around yet another bit of kit (your Fisher Price FCP keyboard)? Is it worth a bag of beans?

All good editing systems allow you to wrap your editing environment around you by providing at least a handful of ways of doing the same thing. If you’ll pardon a little metaphorical meandering, some people like Saabs with their dorky controls, others like Mercedes once they’ve worked out where the hand brake is. Use a mouse, a special keyboard, even a special control surface if you like. Your system. Your flow. A friend is seriously working out how an iPhone might assist as an additional FCP control.

All pro edit systems I’ve played with deal with ‘In’, ‘Out’, ‘put it in’ and ‘take it out’ – and if I’m being reductionist I’d hav to say that beyond that, we’re talking tinsel and lipgloss. Whatever works for you… works.

Today’s lesson: real speed in editing is when the interface disappears, not when you learn the keyboard shortcuts.