ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL ORCHESTRA RECORDING SESSION
This month, I got a call from an orchestra that I worked with last fall, asking me if I was available to do a concert that Saturday on short notice. Fortunately, I had nothing important scheduled, so I accepted the project, which was commissioned by a prominent cellist, who wanted the recording made.
This concert presented an opportunity for me to test out the new CineAlta XDCam, although I don't have additional SxS cards to record on and was limited to 27 minutes of recording time.
We did everything pretty much the usual way, except for the addition of one more camera, making it a four-camera shoot. Since the cellist was performing in the first half of the concert, I arranged to have camera two located in the auditorium, where it could have a nice frontal view of this performer. Two more cameras were positioned in the balcony, and a fourth at stage left, for the conductor profile view.
Audio was setup exactly as last time. But we did increase our staff with one additional camera operator, who happens to be an accomplished cellist himself. He's used video cameras to produce his own published DVDs and so I knew he was ultra-qualified to run our principal camera. And he did a fantastic job.
I have ingested, synched the added the separate 7 channels of high grade audio to the project in Adobe Premiere Pro CS3. The project is ready for an A-B-C-D-roll cut edit now. The audio sounds fantastic. The pictures look like a moving photograph. That XDCam is just incredible--does not look like video at all. Pause on any frame and it's a printable 8x10 photograph.
One of the unique challenges for this project was working with XDCam format footage. Unlike HDV, there is no native CODEC on Adobe Premiere Pro CS3, so a third-party CODEC is recommended. Also, XDCam's PCM audio is big-endian, so it won't play on Intel workstations without conversion.
I worked around these issues by importing the raw .MP4 files off the SxS card directly, without using Sony's Clip Browser to re-wrap to .MXF format. I used FFmpeg to convert the audio to little-endian and re-married it to the video in Premiere. That plays and seems to export okay. It was a bit of extra work, but saved me the dubious value of spending $1700 for Cineform and living with the problems it creates.
The plan is to burn a window dub on DVD for the orchestra and conductor to evaluate by end of week and go from there. The orchestra was naturally very pleased with our October DVD, which was delivered last week. They liked it so much that it expanded their horizons and they are thinking of new ways to promote the orchestra, utilizing the power of video. And of course, the great thing for me: I've got more gigs lined up, and I'm building a fantastic library of the finest recordings to demo my sound system for visiting guests.
BLU-RAY PRODUCTION OBSERVATIONS & XDCAM ISSUES
Things are never simple in the world of the Bleeding Edge. In fact, the reason it's called the Bleeding Edge is because those that frequent that edge often get cut by it and have the scars to show for it. Blazing new ground in uncharted territory is hard work. Since there are no pioneers ahead of you to lead the way and provide answers to those strange mysteries that are inevitably-encountered, leaving the adventurous to solve problems on their own.
So it goes with Blu-ray production. There have been some hurdles and mysteries, but slowly, success is prevailing and a formula for repeatable results is emerging. This day marked the first Blu-ray disc with Surround Sound. The next step is to incorporate motion menus and menu functionality that exists in my current DVD authoring. I'm optimistic that only a matter of days lie between the present and the achievement of that goal.
Now, on to more frustrating news. The XDCam EX is currently sitting at Sony Electronics in San Jose, CA, awaiting an engineering redesign for a lens backfocus issue. This one eluded my for weeks. I would periodically get some out of focus footage when shooting outdoors, but shooting indoors would be sharp throughout the zoom range. Finally, the problem was traced to an ND filter in the camera. When that filter is engaged, the camera won't backfocus properly. That is, if the lens is zoomed to full tele, and focused on a distant object, then pulled back to wide, the entire picture goes way out of focus. Sony is now working on a solution to this problem. Several cameras are going back to Sony, and it is soon to be a flood of cameras, as the problem gets discovered by additional owners.
The issue I raised was the battery draindown when the camera is turned off. Yes, it is really not off at all, but in some state of hibernation, where it will completely discharge the battery in 3 days. Sony was optimistic that this problem will be solved, along with the backfocus.
The third issue I raised was chromatic abberation at extremes of zoom (wide and tele). It seems that the lens is great at some in-between ranges, but at the ends of its range, it's got problems with red and blue fringes around contrasty edges.
The bottom line is that the camera could be in the shop for a rather extended stay. I am imploring them to provide a loaner camera. Darned if I have to rent an EX1 when I own one already and am making the credit card payments on it.
Meanwhile, the orchestra video editing goes smoothly, though without a CODEC, the XDCam footage is problematic in Adobe Premiere Pro CS3. Problems with black frames appearing in rendered output have necessitated running the three 9-minute segments through Sony Vegas, exporting them to Sony YUV lossless format, which produced 195GB of video data. That was put back in the project in place of the MP4 raw footage and seems to be working nicely. Which brings me back to the XDCam footage:
It puts the rest of the HDV footage to shame. Paradoxically, it carries more detail, yet it is free from aliasing artifacts, line twitter and jaggies. The HDV cameras, by contrast, look a bit murky, have ragged edge details and line twitter is visible all over the frame, wherever there is a straight edge. Colors are murky on the HDV--the cello looked like it had ketchup smeared on it, whilst the XDCam images showed the beauty of the wood grain on that same cello. Wide shots on the XDCam were like looking through a window with no glass. Switching to the HDV shots, it was as if cotton or Vaseline was smeared on that window.
Even on the SD DVD output, the differences were quite obvious where I thought they'd be suppressed. The jaggies and twitter were a problem with the HDV footage, but the XDCam footage didn't even look like it was constrained by pixels at all. It had smooth edge detail and fine detail throughout. Paradoxical indeed.
So now we wait to hear from Sony on Monday as to how long the XDCam will be awaiting these engineering fixes. Stay tuned.
MARCH WRAP-UP: WELL PUMPS, OWLS AND PANEL DISCUSSIONS
This past two weeks has been challenging. Late on Good Friday, the water pressure in the house dropped to zero. After careful investigation and troubleshooting, it turned out that our 23-year-old submersible pump had failed. The motor was turning, but the impeller wasn't. I arranged a "pump party" and we got about 5 guys together to pull the old pump last Wednesday. I had found a replacement pump the day before, and early Wednesday morning, had purchased new 3-wire drop cable with ground, which meets the new NEC requirements. We got the new pump installed in less than 3 hours. And.. we're finally back to normal here.
Thursday night, I was on a panel discussion about video technology, along with Ethan Winer, a multi-talented tech genius who not only runs his own company, but is also an accomplished cellist. We both played DVD clips from our recent projects and discussed the processes, answered questions from the audience and so on. Something fun to do.
Sunday was the Tri-State Trade Festival, up here in Falls Village, and so I spent the day manning the WQQQ booth with morning radio personality Joe Loverro, while hawking my video services there. The Sharon Audubon Society was there and I got this interesting footage of a screech owl:
On the way back from the trade show, I stopped at Kent Falls to record some spectacular waterfall footage. Presently, I have 26GB of footage shot on that day, and no place to deal with it, as I have to run it through Vegas to convert it to uncompressed format for Adobe CS3 to be able to work with it. Eventually, I will assemble it into a nice collage of images set to music.
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