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3Prong - a review by Dennis Kutchera

COW Library : Avid Media Composer : Dennis Kutchera : 3Prong - a review by Dennis Kutchera
3Prong - a review by Dennis Kutchera
A CreativeCow.net Software Review


Dennis Kutchera reviews 3Prong AVX Plug-Ins for AVID Systems


Ron Lindeboom

by Dennis Kutchera
Dennis Kutchera Post Production Inc., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

©2004 Dennis Kutchera and CreativeCOW.net. All Rights Reserved.


Article Focus:
Dennis Kutchera explores one of his favorite sets of AVX plug-ins from a joint Canadian-Swiss company called 3Prong. The set includes ColorFiX, DirtFiX, FlickerFiX, TwitterFix, WaveScope and SpeedRamP. Dennis finds these plug-ins essential to online editing.


When non-linear editors were first used for the final finish of programs, they were limited in effects capabilities. Although none of them can replace a good compositing program like After Effects or Combustion, there is a lot that can be done right in the time line with the help of plug-in effects from third party developers.

Media Composer version 7 introduced the AVX plug-in architecture for Avid systems.
While AVX has not achieved the grassroots level of freeware and shareware plug-ins written for Final Cut Pro, it has attracted a lot of professional developers who have written some truly brilliant enhancements for the Avid. The only downside to AVX is that unless the application launches into its own interface, as is the case with Boris Red, there are some limitations on what can be achieved with the basic slider controls used in standard Avid effects. The effects are also limited to Avid’s horrendously antiquated keyframing that only allows for one set of keyframes with linear changes for all parameters. But for many AVX plugins, this limitation will have little or no impact.

One of my favourite sets of AVX plug-ins come from a joint Canadian-Swiss company called 3Prong (www.3prong.com). The set includes ColorFiX, DirtFiX, FlickerFiX, TwitterFix, WaveScope and SpeedRamP. All of these are so essential to online editing and in most cases, I cannot even think of an alternative plug-in that you could use in their place that are this fast and easy to use.


WaveScope:



In its most basic form, online editing is about maintaining quality control and adhering to technical specifications. You cannot do this without a decent set of scopes. 3Prong has come up with an amazing software scope that works as a plug-in. You drop the plug-in on a clip or a filler track and you will see a quad split in your program out and record composer monitor that can be set to show a combination of scopes and viewer. It will not play back in real time, but this is also something that you would never render. You drop it on your sequence, make the adjustments and remove it. For a tech stickler like me it will never replace my external scopes, but even for me, it is useful for ensuring my outboard scope is correctly calibrated and my Avid output is spot on. If these scopes look familiar, 3Prong provided the code for the Avid colour correction scopes. They are that good.


ColorFiX:

Now here is my passion – colour correction. If you want to know a lot about colour correction, I suggest you pick up Steve Hullfish's book on the subject. It will open your eyes to a lot of possibilities. Since I cannot afford a Symphony, I have had to find alternative tools for colour correction. Until recently, all Avid gave us poorer cousins is a simple proc amp control with basic RGB control – The Color Tool. Now we have a stripped version of Symphony’s colour correction, but I still find myself using ColorFiX for a lot of work. It has a lot of depth considering its controls are restricted to Avid effect sliders and not very graphical – no curves or wheels. But the control over pictures is absolutely amazing. Most impressive are the colour difference controls for which I know of no equivalent controls elsewhere. With these unique controls, I have been able to perfectly match a PD-150 to Betacam SP

There is an eyedropper white and black balance, full RGB control in 3 ranges and extensive luminance controls including black stretch and white knee. A knee control allows you to reduce the level of super whites while leaving medium whites alone. This allows you to do things like pull down the level of bright clouds while retaining the levels in the rest of the picture. The result is detail in the clouds with legal levels instead of burnout. There is also a de-saturate control so if there is a hint of colour in whites and you are happy with the balance of the rest of the picture, you can de-saturate the whites only.

There is also a 5 colour spot colour corrector that lets you isolate and alter specific colours. Although you can do 5 colours at once, you are limited to basic proc amp or TBC style controls. There is no RGB control as might be found in spot correctors from Digital Film Tools or BorisFX.

And without the legalizer found in Symphony, you will really flip over the legalize controls. Even using the legalize warnings in Xpress or Color and fiddling does not compare to the simplicity and accuracy of the ColorFiX legalizer. Did you ever have reds or blues that drop waaay below sync and fly off the scale on the vector scope? The fully adjustable legalizer will take care of that for you quickly and simply. I recently onlined a show that feature black light theatre. The shots were all chroma and very little luma values. The colour was way off the legal scale. ColorFiX quickly and easily made this show broadcast ready.

Ok, it’s not a DaVinci; but neither is a Symphony. This rendered plug-in will however solve more colour problems than the rest of the available tools for non-Symphony Avids combined and even adds a few tricks you are hard pressed to do on the Symphony colour correction tool. And the accuracy of these controls leaves every other colour correction plug-in available for Avid in the dust. Please see 3Prongss web page for a comparison. (http://www.3prong.com/ColorCom.htm) I concur with their findings. Although the other plug-ins they compare their product with have their usefulness, I have used nothing else that has ever matched the accuracy of ColorFix. If you visit this page, note the results of the legalizer. I cannot achieve these results using the legal video warnings and correction procedures using Avid colour correction.

You need ColorFiX


DirtFiX:

Another problem we all run into is dropouts and film dirt. DirtFiX pairs these by simply dragging a box around the dropout and rendering. It will even handle those huge, mother of all dropouts where the tape literally lifts off the heads. I have never found anything it cannot fix. How does it do it? Magic! Actually, it is just doing what a dropout compensator is supposed to do be getting information from the previous field. If the camera is moving, there are also controls to shift the correction to match. You have to render to see the result, which is a bit of a pain, but since you are only rendering a handful of frames, it is a fast process.


FlickerFiX:

This is amazing. Have you ever had to use a shot that has a level change in it because the shooter decided to adjust exposure at the wrong moment? FlickerFiX takes care of it automatically! You set one to three boxes (one for bright, dark and chroma levels) on appropriate objects in the picture. I find just using the bright controls is enough in most cases. Track that object by creating keyframes as it or the camera moves, then pick a reference frame and click on the little effect box in the upper left of the Avid effect controls. Then click :”OK” in the dialog box that appears and you have now set the reference for the rest of the shot. Render it and prepare to be amazed – the level change is gone. Related to this is TwitterFiX which will get rid of some interlacing moiré. I have not had occasion to find a real use for this other than when a camera was shooting a monitor. I tried it and it did get rid of some of the buzzing there.


SpeedRamP:

And lastly, there is SpeedRamP. You really want to read the directions on this one because it takes a while to master. But as the name implies, you can ramp clip speed up and down very smoothly. It is superior to Avid’s Standard MotionFX, but it must be applied to a clip on the timeline because it is AVX. So you may need to have a sped-up clip that is much longer than the actual video will appear with the speed effect. This means that the next edit may have to be inserted on the track above the speed clip. It is always safer to transition to the next clip on a track above because I found it real easy to break the render otherwise. The proper way to alter the speed of film on video is to remove the pull-down and de-interlace it. SpeedRamP can do this and as a consequence it can even add pulldown simulation to video. I find the effect a little too stuttered for my liking, but by changing the output to Progressive, that gives a very convincing film like motion almost identical to “Frame Movie Mode” on Canon DV cameras.

The one thing you must remember when using this is that you will not see the correct result on your composer monitor. You must look at program out to see the correct results. In Xpress DV and Xpress Pro this means turning off the real time mode by switching your green dot to blue to get your DV output. But in Xpress DV, now the composer monitor will show you the correct results as you work. Like I said, you better read the manual for this one, but it is well worth the read.


COW Rating:



On a 1 to 5, I give this set of plug-ins from 3Prong 5 big mooos! The spot colour corrector needs minor improvement, but everything else is so overwhelmingly thorough and accurate that it is as close to a perfect product as you will find and priced so reasonably that you would be insane not to buy them all. These plug-ins make my Avid Xpress a far more capable online tool because I can fix everyday problems that I used to pull my hair out over. They are available online at www.3prong.com What are you still doing here? Go to 3Prong!

---Dennis Kutchera



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