The Desktop DI, Part II

Rob Carroll, President & CEO of Cine-tal, a manufacturer of color-calibration software for television and feature-film production, likes to think long-term. “Our business has been through a lot,” he says. “We spent years understanding and improving compression technology. We’ve been through the format transition from SD to HD and compressed high-def. We’ve digested the various codecs and acquisition options, and now, with a digital ecosystem from acquisition to post and distribution and exhibition, we find ourselves concentrating on color. With such diverse exhibition venues and technologies as home television, digital projection, mobile devices, computer displays, digital signage and even sports stadium screens—there’s no consistent color space. Color correction and digital intermediate (DI) are now the industry focal point, and the challenge is determining your exhibition target.”

In part one of “The Desktop DI,” we proposed a theory of DI that began with the director of photography, passed to the DI specialist and, as a function of economics and creative initiative, is passing to certain NLE editors who wish to augment their income and capabilities. Continuing this line of reasoning, we now explore the tools that may be employed by generalist NLE editors (and future DI specialists) to enter the DI world.

The best portal of entry would seem to be existing NLEs, which, when augmented by the latest hardware and plug-ins, offer an array of tools by which DI may easily be explored.

HP DreamColor Display monitors being used for on-set color correction.

An author’s note on hardware choices here and some full disclosure: The cooperation of hardware manufacturers, particularly IBM, Dell, Canon, NVIDIA, Sony, JVC, Panasonic, Avid, Vinten, Blackmagic, Matrox, Chimera, Lowel and Hewlett-Packard, has been outstanding in producing this series. Many reviewers risk using such products under the pressure of real-life client applications—the best field tests upon which to base a review–because readers will take double that risk by purchasing said products. Therefore, we mention some brands and not others, when such tests have proven the ethics and mission-critical quality of a manufacturer’s craft.

Here, then, is a review of an assortment of DI software, ranging from tools within the most popular NLE programs to various plug-ins, dedicated to inviting the editor to become a true “colorista.”

This article was client-tested on an HP Z800 Workstation, with dual, quad-core Intel Xeon W5590 3.33 GHz processors, 18 GB of RAM, a NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 graphics card (with two DisplayPort outputs) and 3 TB of media storage (starting at $1,799, but about $11,000 in this configuration). Recently, HP introduced the first “hexacore” Z series, which improves the performance-cost equation. Hexacore—six individual processors in each CPU—yields 24 threads when Hyper-Threading is enabled. As an indication of what a dual, quad-core machine can do, imagine being able to watch four simultaneous tracks of full HD video, running live from your machine to a VTR without a single dropped frame.

Such results also require a GPU-enhanced video card (such as the aforementioned FX 4800) mated to Adobe’s CS5 Mercury Engine. Similar performance (three simultaneous tracks) was proven on ivsEdits (first reviewed in the December 2009 issue of HDVideoPro).

I find this criterion useful because color correction and DI often require multiple, effected tracks of video and, if operated simultaneously, can save time and money while preserving the colorist’s stream of thought.

In addition to the mainframe, a Blackmagic DeckLink HD Pro to a 4:4:4 HD-SDI recorder simplified online recording to a VTR and HD monitor. At last, true, real-time results can be seen, evaluated, tweaked and recorded as fast as the operator can think, for under $20,000, using common PC-compatible devices.