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Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264

COW Library : Apple FCPX Techniques Tutorials : David Lawrence : Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
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CreativeCOW presents Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264 -- Apple FCPX Techniques Tutorial


www.propaganda.com
San Francisco Califorina USA

©2011 CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Consider this: you’re taking your pristine, carefully crafted video file--the product of countless hours of work--and running it through a process that will literally throw away up to 90% of the information! In this tutorial, David shares a simple workflow he uses to prepare finished video files for non-broadcast delivery. Using these tools and settings, he's able to create master files that look better than their edited source, and encoded files that are virtually indistinguishable from their masters.



The DP did an amazing job, client editorial feedback was smart, everything cut together smoothly. You've finished the grading and sound mix and have final sign-off. It's a wrap! Time to deliver the finished goods to a happy client.

More and more often, this final deliverable is a video file encoded to H.264 for web or PC playback, rather than a tape or optical disc. If you're using Final Cut Pro, you can simply Send To Compressor, encode using one of the built-in H.264 settings and be done. It certainly does the job, but consider this: you're taking your pristine, carefully crafted video file - the product of countless hours of work - and running it through a process that will literally throw away up to 90% of the information!

Mastering and encoding are the last steps your project goes through before the world sees it. If you want your files to look their absolute best, it's well worth giving these final steps the same care and attention to detail you give the rest of your post-production efforts.

In this tutorial, I'll share a simple workflow I use to prepare my finished video files for non-broadcast delivery. Using these tools and settings, I'm able to create master files that look better than their edited source, and encoded files that are virtually indistinguishable from their masters.

Video Purifier for mastering and the x264 codec for encoding.






Mastering With Video Purifier

Video Purifier is a standalone Mac OS application (Lion compatible) made by Innobits AB, a Swedish company best known for its BitVice MPEG encoder. It's reasonably priced at $196 and can be purchased from the Innobits web site. A free demo version is available so you can try it risk free.

According to Innobits Owner, Roger Andersson, the unique, custom signal processing algorithm in Video Purifier "is geared towards bandwidth reduction to facilitate encoding at lower bit rates. Better picture is actually a byproduct." Andersson said that maintaining picture sharpness and detail, regardless of lower bit rates was a primary objective in the algorithm's design.

Video Purifier does three main things very well:

1) Noise reduction
2) De-interlacing
3) Scaling


Video Purifier performs each of these functions with precise control and quality rivaling more expensive systems. Its noise reduction technology is unavailable elsewhere. It works with any source frame rate and any size from SD to 4K. It will output to any codec format available on your system.

Its tools are useful for many applications, one of which is mastering.

Here are the steps I follow in creating a master:

1) Export a QuickTime pre-master from the NLE in native source format

My typical project timelines are ProRes 422 1080p24 or 30, and occasionally XDCAM-EX 1080i60. I'll usually mark-in two frames of black at the head before program start, and mark-out three frames of black after the last frame of program. If the program ends with a held frame, I make sure there are at least three frames of hold before the marked out point. This insures head and tail frames are always clean after encoding. I then export the marked region as a native format QuickTime file. This file is my pre-master.

Next, I watch the pre-master to check for quality. In particular, I look for any shots that may be extra noisy. If anything stands out, I'll make a note for later.

2) Open the pre-master in Video Purifier

Either drag the file into the Video Purifier window or open it from the File pull-down menu. The video will load and is ready to process. If Scene Detection is turned on in the preferences, Video Purifier will begin analyzing the footage to mark scene changes for easier navigation. I typically leave this setting OFF.





3) Set deinterlace preferences

Note - if your pre-master is progressive, you can skip this step.

Press CMD-P to open the preferences window. With interlaced footage, you must check the Interlaced 2:1 box in the Interlacing/Deinterlacing section. You must then specify field order by either checking or leaving unchecked the Top Field First box. It's very important to correctly match these boxes to your footage. Video Purifier will not set these values for you. Since we're ultimately targeting web/PC/mobile device delivery, we need to deinterlace. Check the Use deinterlacer box. Click OK to save the preferences.





4) Set the noise threshold

Even well lit, well-shot footage captured with good professional cameras will show a small amount of noise. If you look closely, especially in still areas with solid color, you'll often see a slight grain or scintillation moving in the image. Video Purifier does an outstanding job eliminating this random noise while leaving any subtle image details undisturbed. The change adds a noticeable crispness to the image.

Simple UI controls let you specify how much noise removal processing to apply and exactly where in the footage to apply it. At the window bottom, a scrubbable timeline with variable zoom range allows navigating the footage down to the frame level. The timeline displays thumbnails that scrub under the centered time indicator, as the cursor is dragged left or right. The main window shows the frame you're currently on.

Mark a range on the timeline with in and out points using the green and blue pin icons. Once a range is set, click the + or - buttons to set the noise reduction threshold for that range. Using these tools, it's possible to precisely set specific noise reduction thresholds in different sections of the footage. For example, an extra noisy shot can be marked and given a higher than normal threshold to deal with its greater noise.

At the top of the Video Purifier window are simple transport and window controls. Pressing Play plays the marked range in a loop. By default the window is split vertically down the center. The left side shows the frame before processing, the right side shows after processing. Clicking the + or - buttons as the video plays allows you to see the effect of the current threshold setting. You can slide the dividing line or the video under the line during playback to check the effect on different areas of the image.

Note - when processing, video does not play back in real time. The reason for this is because the processing algorithm looks 7 frames ahead and 7 frames behind each frame it processes. This means about 15 frames of processing are required before any threshold changes take visible effect and once in effect, playback will be still be slower than normal due to look ahead and look behind buffering. Nonetheless, even though playback is not in real time, it's fast enough to accurately judge the noise filter's temporal effects.

Threshold values range from 0 (off) all the way up to 60. For me, the sweet spot is between 4 and 7. At these lower values, processing is virtually transparent - noise is removed with almost no perceptible loss of image detail. Values above 10 begin showing subtle artifacts and details begin flattening.

Video Purifier works best on low to moderate random noise. If your footage is extremely noisy, or the noise has a structured pattern, it may not be effective. For heavy and/or structured noise - static or excessive gain for example, try the Neat Video plug-in, explained in this COW tutorial.

For typical mastering with minimal random noise throughout the program, I select all with CMD-A and set a threshold of 4.

5) Process and save the master file

After the threshold is set, press the Process button. A standard save dialogue asks where to save the file. After choosing the save location, a dialog asks what codec to use. I normally use ProRes 422 or an uncompressed format. Press OK and Video Purifier goes to work.

I find on my 2.8GHz late-2008 unibody MacBook Pro with 8GB RAM, processing times average about 4:1 the length of the program. Video Purifier relies on memory and memory bandwidth for its signal processing rather than CPU bandwidth. Lots of fast memory makes a bigger difference in performance than lots of CPU cores. This also means you can run Video Purifier in the background and it usually won't get in your way while you do other things.

When Video Purifier finishes, the master is done. This master is now the reference file for all subsequent work. At this point, I'll delete the pre-master as it's no longer needed.





6) Create scaled masters from the reference master

I deliver encoded videos in at least two or three sizes depending on client needs. Clients always receive a 1080p reference and 720p high quality file. Here are my typical delivery sizes:

a) 1080p reference (maximum size)
b) 720p (projection, iPad or PC playback, web embeds)
c) 540p (PowerPoint embeds)
d) 480p (Android mobile devices)


The 1080p reference master we just made will now be scaled to generate masters for the other needed sizes.

Open the file in Video Purifier and press CMD-P to open the preferences window. Make sure Constrain Proportions and Match Output/Destination are both checked. Enter your target width and height, and press Apply, then press OK to exit back to the main window.

Because we're working with the cleaned reference master, I leave the threshold at zero, which turns Video Purifier's noise filter off. This saves processing time so files finished scaling faster.

According to Andersson however, engaging the filter - even with a threshold of 1 - on the cleaned reference master would further improve the scaled files. This is because each scaled frame gets rendered from the 7 look-ahead and 7 look-behind frames in the noise filter algorithm; in effect, benefitting from a virtual "super resolution" at render time.

If you're not in a rush, press CMD-A to select all, then + to turn the noise filter on with a threshold of 1. Then process the file to disk as before.

Video Purifier's scaler quality is excellent and can be used for up-scaling as well as down-scaling.

Repeat this process for every size master you need. Once all the masters are finished, it's time to encode.



Encoding with x264

x264 is a free, open source library for encoding in the popular, industry standard H.264/MPEG-4 AVC format. Just to be clear:

x264 is H.264

x264 files are completely compatible/interchangeable with H.264 on any H.264 capable system.

The primary benefits of x264 are twofold - developers constantly optimize x264 algorithms for better and better quality and efficiency; and they expose a vast array of parameters to the user, allowing for much deeper manipulation of the codec. There are many forums online where video enthusiasts trade their x264 recipes. Feel free to experiment but make sure you understand what you're doing. If key parameters are incorrectly set, H.264 compatibility can break.

I find it's unnecessary to get that deep under the hood to get great x264 encodes. Here's the Compressor set-up and parameters I use. They're simple, safe and produce great looking results:

1) Download and install x264

Download the codec for Mac OS here: http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/24173/x264encoder

2) Install by placing x264Encoder.component into the Library/QuickTime

3) Create Compressor presets




Set Video

Create a new preset using QuickTime Movie as the file format. Select the Encoder tab and click Video Settings.





Select x264Encoder from the Compression Type dropdown list.

Set:

Frame Rate Current
Key Frames Every 24
Frame Reordering checked

Quality Best
Encoding Best quality [Multi-pass]

Data Rate Restrict to [between 1000 and 5000 kbits/sec - details below]







Set x264 options

Next click the Options button. There are over a hundred parameters available for tweaking. We're only interested in two:

Under the Behavior tab, make sure these settings are as follows:

Force qmin on ABR/CRF mode checked
qmin: 4






Under the Tagging tab turn gamma 2.2 tagging ON

Add gamma 2.2 (SD/HD content): checked


Note - QuickTime gamma is notoriously buggy. I learned about this x264 setting from research that led me to this web page:

http://byteful.com/blog/2010/07/how-to-fix-the-h264-gamma-brightness-bug-in-quicktime/

In my testing, I found it works perfectly across platforms and devices. However, I recently saw this 2009 COW post that recommends the opposite approach:

http://forums.creativecow.net/thread/20/861729#861731

I suggest you compare these settings yourself and post your results.

Once gamma tagging is set, click OK to close options, and OK to save the QuickTime video settings and exit back to the encoder tab.





Set Audio

Click the Audio Settings button in the encoder tab. Audio settings are a matter of taste. My preference is AAC Stereo, 44.1 Best quality, 320 Target Bit Rate. Click OK to save.





Set Frame Controls OFF

Next, click the Frame Controls tab. Make sure Frame Controls are off.





Set Geometry to 100%

Select the Geometry tab and select 100% of source for frame size.


Name, describe and save your preset.

Finally, give your preset a meaningful name and description so everything it does is obvious at a glance.





I have three presets with my three most common target bit rate values:

5000 kbits/sec for 1080p video
3000 kbits/sec for 720p video
2000 kbits/sec for 540p video and below

For SD and smaller videos, I'll drop the bit rate down by hand to 1.5K or 1K after applying the preset to the video.

Congratulations, you're ready to encode with x264.

Import your masters and use the appropriate bitrate for the frame size of each video. Since Video Purifier was used to scale and deinterlace the source files, encoding speeds in compressor will be faster because it doesn't have to also do this work.

I hope you've found this tutorial helpful. Give it a try and let me know what you think. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. I hope your finished files look better than ever!


Resources

Video Purifier

Innobits Video Purifier Info:
http://www.innobits.com/purifier.html

Video Purifier free trial download:
http://bitvice.com/?page_id=15



x264

x264 Mac download:
http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/24173/x264encoder

x264 Developer page
http://www.videolan.org/developers/x264.html

x264 Settings Wiki (All x264 settings explained!)
http://mewiki.project357.com/wiki/X264_Settings

HandBrake x264 tune settings
https://forum.handbrake.fr/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=19426




Neat Video
Neat Video website
http://www.neatvideo.com/

Neat Video Creative Cow Tutorial
http://library.creativecow.net/devis_andrew/Neat-Video/1

David Lawrence
http://propaganda.com
www.publicmattersgroup.com

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Re: Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
by Jeff Welch
Alright.. I'm confused here. Using x264 in Compressor still seems to present the gama shift bug. When I use the exact same settings exporting from Final Cut using Quicktime Conversion, the colors and brightness of my videos are much closer to the original than when using Compressor. I've read about many people experiencing the same problem. Are you guys not having that issue? I don't see this as an optimal way to save and preserve video if its just going to shift the gama.

Please correct me if I'm wrong! The above is just what I've discovered by trial and error, along with the hundreds (if not thousands) of forum posts regarding this issue. My current problem is that the videos I export using compressor look better (less artifacts, colors seem much smoother on gradients), but they come out brighter and more washed out than if I use QT Conversion. So I'm basically stuck between slightly better looking videos that appear too bright, or videos with correct colors that aren't as "pristine".
@Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
by Richard Walton
Hi David:

Thanks for bringing VP to my attention. I have approximately 100 MiniDV (SD) tapes from which I want to capture and process multiple files for online use. The footage is 4x3 NTSC and I am capturing using FCP 6.x. Besides archiving the original digitized footage I'd like the online files to be 640x360-16x9-mp4. In most cases I can get the 640x360 as a crop from 640x480 (deinterlaced 720x480).

My question is about workflow. I've been testing VP per your article and have recently begun using FCPX & Compressor 4 (I also have Episode 5.3). I'd appreciate your suggestions about when (at what stage in the workflow) and where (using which software) to do cleaning, color correction, deinterlacing, and cropping.

Many thanks,

Dick

Dick Walton
Natural History Services
http://www.rkwalton.com
@Richard Walton
by David Lawrence
Hi Dick,

I do color correction inside FCP using the 3-way for simple tweaks or Magic Bullet's Colorista for more control. In general, cleaning, deinterlacing, scaling and cropping are applied to the exported pre-master as a final stage before encoding.

The exception is if you're woking on a project and need to mix different source types. In some situations it may still be desirable to apply scaling and deinterlacing to the source to match the timeline, rather than letting the NLE transcode for you. The reason you might do this is for better control of the process and possibly better quality. As NLEs get better at handling mixed formats natively, this step is becoming less necessary.

In your case, you can color correct in the NLE of your choice then export pre-masters and do everything else in Purifier.

There is one gotcha you should be aware of, however. Video Purifier does not do batch processing. This means you would have to set up, process and save each of your 100 captures one at a time. Clearly, a tedious chore if you need to do them all at once. In my opinion, no batch processing is Video Purifier's biggest drawback.

Since you have Episode, you might want to do a test comparing the quality of its deinterlacer and cropping with Purifier's. If it has noise reduction, you might test that as well. You can then decide whether using Purifier is worth the trade-off of not being able to run a batch.

Another thing to consider is your digitizing codec. Since you're archiving, you may want to digitize to ProRes instead of DV NTSC. It will take more drive space and can't improve what you have on tape, but if you wind up doing a lot of processing, it's a better codec to work with.

Hope this helps, good luck with your project!

_______________________
David Lawrence
art~media~design~research
propaganda.com
publicmattersgroup.com
facebook.com/dlawrence
twitter.com/dhl
@David Lawrence
by Richard Walton
David -

I want you to know I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my question
in such a detailed way. It's one thing to write a useful and lucid tutorial, another
to respond in a comprehensive way to comments and questions. I thank you. And
if you ever have need of any creepy crawlies (spiders, wasps . . .etc.) or other
critters au natural drop me an email:) I owe you.

Cheers,

Dick

Dick Walton
Natural History Services
http://www.rkwalton.com
Re: Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
by Rafael Amador
Hi David,
great tutorial, but let me tell you about some negative issues with VP.
I bought VideoPurier when was released and after few months using it (and a bitter discussion with the people at VitBice) I stopped using it.
I love the interface and the speed, but VP has a big problem. It clips any highlight at 100%. The reason is that renders at 8b RGB so do not allows any room for "superwhites".
VP legalize the signal in the hard way.
I shifted to NeatVideo which is able to keep the off-specs luma peaks (when rendering in "High Precision" in FC) to be properly corrected.

About the x264 process, the parameter where I don't agree with you is on setting the Key-frames (24 you set). I would leave that always in AUTO.
There is not advantage on going Multi-pass is you set the key-frames. I mean, the main reason of Multi-pass is allowing the application to analyse the clip and setting the optimal number of key-frames and where needed. If you set the data rate and the key-frames, multi-pass makes no much sense. Is like making a "two passes" when you make a CBR LGOP MPEG-2.
Best,

http://www.nagavideo.com
Re: Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
by David Lawrence
Hi Rafael,

Thank you for your insights.

[Rafael Amador] " love the interface and the speed, but VP has a big problem. It clips any highlight at 100%. The reason is that renders at 8b RGB so do not allows any room for "superwhites"."

Out of long time habit, I always set Process Maximum White as White, rather than Super-White so this has never been an issue for me. If you need Super-White I can understand why any clamping would be a problem.

Innobits recommends always using the best 10-bit codecs possible throughout the editorial and processing pipeline. I've found them to be very thoughtful in their overall approach to signal processing so I'd be curious to hear more from them about how they handle whites.

The Neat Video plug-in does an outstanding job on certain types of noise that Video Purifier is not well suited for. The main downside is that because it's a plug-in, it has to render in your timeline. Depending on what you're doing, this can mean extremely long render times.

In general, I find the most efficient way to deal with this is to follow the same workflow I do with Purifier -- render and output my completed sequence as a ProRes pre-master, then import the pre-master back into FCP and create a new sequence, applying the Neat Video plug-in to the pre-master. If different scenes need different settings, just blade the scenes to isolate them. This workflow can save hours of render time.

[Rafael Amador] "About the x264 process, the parameter where I don't agree with you is on setting the Key-frames (24 you set). I would leave that always in AUTO."

Good catch and makes sense. I've seen this setting both ways in various recipes and have gone back and forth between the two in my own settings. Since the guide at:

http://byteful.com/blog/2010/07/how-to-fix-the-h264-gamma-brightness-bug-in...

recommends AUTO and for all the reasons you state, this is a better choice. Many thanks!

_______________________
David Lawrence
art~media~design~research
propaganda.com
publicmattersgroup.com
facebook.com/dlawrence
twitter.com/dhl
Re: Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
by Rafael Amador
[David Lawrence] "Out of long time habit, I always set Process Maximum White as White, rather than Super-White so this has never been an issue for me. If you need Super-White I can understand why any clamping would be a problem.

Innobits recommends always using the best 10-bit codecs possible throughout the editorial and processing pipeline. I've found them to be very thoughtful in their overall approach to signal processing so I'd be curious to hear more from them about how they handle whites. "

Hi david,
Thanks for posting back.
Sorry, I shouldn't have wrote SuperWhites (that's just FC's way for mapping RGB stuff to 16/255 instead of 16/239). I meant any luma value over 100%.

Please make a simple test and run VP on any footage with highlights over 100.
You will see that VP clips everything and whatever the codec you output.
I tried with Prores, 8/10b Unc and even Sheer.

As I mentioned I had a bitter discussion with the people at Innobits.
When I posted about the clipping (my posts should still been on their forum), they didn't wanted recognize the issue.
For months they drove me crazy sending them samples and making thousands of tests.
Some times they said could be a problem with my EX-1 footage (same happens with DV stuff), some times could be my system, or even with my VP version. They even sent me a Beta version (bullshit).
Only when I pointed the issue to few other VP users from the COW (Jeremy and John Fishback among them) and they wrote to Innobits, they recognized that things were just like that.
Is impossible to keep the luma peaks at 8bRGB when processing at 8bRGB.
Is necessary to work in Floating Point to do so.

So I only recommend VP for stuff that has already been CCorrected and legalized to "Very conservative" broadcast specs.
(VP makes sense integrated in BitVice, because anyway the MPEG-2 DVD compliant will slash everything at 100%).
As I said, I wish VP could cope with this issue because is really fast, great interface (where you can see the effect while playing the clips) and works for most camera noise shoot in normal situation.
Best,
rafael

http://www.nagavideo.com
Re: Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
by Carsten Kudra
Thanks for the great tutorial, this looks immensely usefull but I'm one of these bone-headed people who is still using a PC environment...is there any tip you could give me on programms similar to Video Purifier that are available for PC?

Dual Quad Core PC with i7 Processors at 2.93Ghz
8Gb DDR3 Ram
Sapphire FirePro V4800 1GB 128-bit
Re: Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
by David Lawrence
[Carsten Kudra] "is there any tip you could give me on programms similar to Video Purifier that are available for PC?"

The Neat Video plug-in is cross platform and works with Windows PCs. You'll need to experiment to find the best settings for your needs. See this link for a COW video tutorial by Andrew Devis on how to use it.

x264 is also cross platform. The x264 developer's page has links to a number of cross-platform applications that take advantage of it. I recommend Handbrake as it's well documented and has an active support community.

Hope this helps!

_______________________
David Lawrence
art~media~design~research
propaganda.com
publicmattersgroup.com
facebook.com/dlawrence
twitter.com/dhl
@Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
by Herb Sevush
Great article David, I'm printing it out now for future reference. Thanks.

Herb Sevush
Zebra Productions
---------------------------
nothin' attached to nothin'
"Deciding the spine is the process of editing" F. Bieberkopf
Re: Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
by Steve Connor
Thanks David I didn't know anything about this software, I use BitVice all the time for DVD encodes so I'll be trying this out in the new year

"My Name is Steve and I'm an FCPX user"
Re: Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
by David Lawrence
Thank you David, hope you'll find it as useful as I have. Happy holidays and all the best for 2012!

--dhl

_______________________
David Lawrence
art~media~design~research
propaganda.com
publicmattersgroup.com
facebook.com/dlawrence
twitter.com/dhl
Re: Raising The Bar On Non-Broadcast Output: Mastering and Encoding with Video Purifier and x264
by David Roth Weiss
Nice piece David. I'll have to tryout every "bit" of the tutorial for myself soon... Can't wait.

Happy holiday BTW,
David


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