Friday, October 28, 2011

The Master vs. The Playout: Archiving and Playing your Film the RIGHT Way

While digital has presented itself as great way to watch and edit film, it has also caused lots of confusion for home movie archiving. Having worked on thousands of home movie archiving projects over the past 3 years in high definition, the colorists at Pro8mm have had a few solid revelations about this process.

One revelation is that there has not been a solid solution to the quest to find one universal digital HD format that works well for both playing movies and for archiving them. Unfortunately, what is good for archiving is not the best format for easy playback. This means that in order to have the best access to your home movies you need to see it as two formats: one for preserving your movies and one for watching them. For name sake lets call one the “The Master” and the other the “The Playout.”

Rhonda with home movies on her iPad
A master digital file is going to be the best in terms of future protection of your images because a true master is going to provide you with data in the highest quality you might require and give you the flexibility of creating different playout versions.  The best digital master must serve your needs today, tomorrow and even to generate playouts for past systems. By having a master, you will always have a way of creating the highest quality playout file to a format that is most convenient for that times. For example, today it is ‘cool’ to watch your movies on your iPad or stream them to something like Facebook, but it was not that long ago we were using DVD’s and not that long before that we had VHS. Playouts will continue to change, but the great evolution towards HD mastering has stabilized. Hard drives may get faster and cheaper, but the fundamentals of HD are now securely planted.

The master is great as a film preservation medium but having the capacity to use it as a good playout is often very frustrating.  Many things must be in sync, coded correctly and you have to have the capacity to play large file types to use a master as a playout.  Computer files can be easily be down converted to what you need for a specific playout application.  This can be done while scanning or after you do some editing to the mater files. The cost to create these specific playouts is small. So the best system is to have both a master and playout files for the various ways you want to watch your films. At Pro8mm, we can create a specific playout file for DVD viewing, Blu-Ray, your iPad or even a format to stream your home movies on YouTube or Facebook.  These Playout files are specifically formatted for these devices so that you can have correct playback speed and framing for a playout that is different from the master.

SD Masters & Playouts
For almost 20 years we used Digi Beta Tape as the masters format for storing home movies. Over the past 3 years we have experienced the evolution to HD mastering and have seen first hand the great improvement HD mastering offers for Home Movie Archiving.

There are three areas of tremendous improvement with an HD File master over Digital Beta.

1) You no longer need Ghost Frames: Whenever you create SD video from film, you have to have 30 frames per second. This is how video works and there is no changing it in a Standard Definition NTSC system. If you shot film at 18 or 24fps, you needed to create the additional frames to make a 30 frames system work.  These extra created frames where often referred to a ghost frames because the where created out of two frames of the original film. In SD, they were rarely noticed because of the low resolution of the system.  The only time you could see these frames is if you played back the video frame by frame. You would then see these added frames that often blurred part of the images in the frame. However in high definition, because of the increased resolution the ghost frames are noticeable and can be seen when you playback the video. These extra frames did nothing but take up space, create unwanted artifacts, and reduce the quality of your master.   But they where needed to make the system work.  Today, with HD scanning we can store the images frame-by-frame in the digital mastering. We no longer need these extra ghost frames to make the system work. 
2) You now have more digital to define your film: The second  improvement of HD digital mastering is having more digits to describe your frames. Typically in HD we use a 1920 X1080 standard 16x9 Mastering format. In SD,  NTSC we used (640 X 480). With HD, there is 4 times more digital to describe the detail in every frame of film from SD.  This gives you the opportunity to store more color space and finer details about every frame. A lot of detail and color can fit in 4x more space.

Lacie Rugged Hard Drive

3) The Hard Drive: The last improvement is the storage of your images. The hard drive provides you with unprecedented access at very little cost. There is no longer a need to have those very expensive tape decks to maintain masters. With SD you needed multiple tape decks because different kinds of digit was put on different kinds of tape. If you wanted to have your data in both Digital Beta NTSC and for Europe Digital Beta Pal you would need two $40,000.00 tape machines to have access to your masters. Today with hard drives,  you can store both files on a single drive. Oh and by the way, you no longer need to have two masters because you can create both a Pal and NTSC payout from a single HD Master.   Second, you can compress the data, copy the data and manipulate the data with a simple consumer computer and the right software.  You can make 2 copies of the master for preservation, you can compress some files for theI internet to stream on Youtube, and you can make the grandparents a DVD.  You now have access to all your materials, both master and playout without the cost of expensive, multiple format tape decks. Hard drives will keep getting faster and cheaper, so you can migrate your data to what ever new system of storage presents itself.

To learn more about home movie preservation and digital asset management, we are hosting a free live event and teleseminar the second week of November called “Don’t Delete My Memories: The Home Movie Conundrum Made Simple.” Learn best practices for preserving and protecting your home movie digitally and understand the ways of using your home movie archive in modern applications. We will also be announce some amazing holiday promotions just for home movie preservation. Learn how to create great holiday gifts and memorable holiday events with your home movie archive.

Click here to Register for the LIVE event in Burbank, CA - Tuesday, November 8 from 7pm - 9pm

Click here to Register for the VIRTUAL event - Wednesday, November 9 from 4:30pm to 5:30pm pacific