GoPro CineForm Studio

Posted on 14 June 2012

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In my quest for the best workflow to edit my Z10000 material, I stumbled upon CineForm. They have three versions:

  • free GoPro CineForm Studio
  • $ 300 GoPro CineForm Premium
  • $ 1000 GoPro CineForm Professional

A licence works for 2 computers (desktop + laptop OR MacOSX + WinXP) and there are 15 days trials available. Then it gets confusing, because there are small differences between the PC and MAC versions, and they also have a free decoder, a $ 129 neoscene package, hd-link and a few other things. It seems like Neo3D used to be the name of the software package containing the Cineform codec, FirstLight and Remaster, but now it is only a type of CineForm codec, just like CineForm RAW.
edit sept 2014: the confusion stopped as they moved their Neoscene package to the legacy section of their website.

 

Long story short: CineForm Studio Premium can import the Z10000’s 3D MVC files and convert them to  50MB/s CineForm MOV files. That is: the windows version 1.2.1.129 (win XP or higher) can just convert the MTS files, the mac version 1.2.1.127 (Snow leopard or higher) needs me to point it to the original folder structure of the card. At this moment, preview does only work on the Windows version. So on mac, you might want to use FCP log&transfer or another program (I have finder preview working on my 10.5.8 mac, but not on the 10.6.8 mac, this might be solved by using the panasonic AVCCAM importer or AVCCAM viewer which installs a mtsviewer.app) if you need to quickly select just a few files for conversion, and then only import those clips with CineForm. Note: You want to stay away from the CineForm Techblog as it has not been updated for over a year. Use the CineForm support forum instead.

Conversion

To convert the files, I just need to insert my SD card in my PC laptop, start Studio Premium and choose ‘import and convert’. I point it to the files (windows) or the SD card (mac) and hit convert. CineForm can filter 4:2:0 to 4:2:2 during conversion, and is said to be at least as good as 5DtoRGB.

Progressive / interlaced

I live in Europe so my camera is recording 25p. I am pretty sure that the Z10000 is recording this as 1080PsF, so I set the conversion to progressive. After loading the files into GCS Premium, the windows version is displaying  25 fps, while the mac version is displaying 50i as file information (it’s doing this with the 2D 25p files as well). Now, on the bottom of the screen, I can set ‘advanced settings’. This is where it starts to get strange. I can select ‘progressive’ (I shot 1080p25 which is recorded into a 1080PsF stream) but the files still end up as TFF in my FCP project. MediaInfo is showing me that both the original .MTS files and the cineform file are 25p. But FCP reads the CineForm mov files as if they are interlaced. I’ve asked CineForm and they say it is a known problem in FCP. So to be sure the conversion is really right, I will have to check for CUE myself.

Sound

I can also select audio from Left or Right stream, but I end up with files without any sound. I really can remember though, that I’ve converted a file before and this was with sound. So I checked, and both the old and new files have six channel AC3 sound. But I am sure that that first one ended up with a 2 channel sound stream. It could be one of two things: This time the Z10000 was set to 5.1 surround instead of focus/zoom, or it was another version of Studio Premium and/or codecs on the computer (it was installed on another computer). My workaround was to use FCP log and transfer to import the sound. The log&transfer files are 1 frame longer then the CineForm files (on the end of the file), but it is spot on sync. On another project, I’ve set the Z10000 to stereo LPCM and now the CineForm files did include sound just fine. I installed AC3Filter v1.63 (WinXP) or Perian (MacOS) and AC3 works like a charm now! The CineForm files can even contain the 6 channel 5.1 sound from the Z10k or you can downmix in the AC3Filter, then it’s even possible to set the downmix levels and downmix matrix. Great! See here an example of the L.R.C.Lfe.Ls.Rs track in FCP:

Final Cut Pro

To edit this stuff with FCP, I can install the free Studio version. This works like a charm, I can select viewing type with the icon next to the OSX clock any time I want. To make corrections, I can open Studio and make non-destructive convergence, but also color corrections and safe them in a GoPro database (or as metadata, I don’t know yet, see below). I can even keyframe those (and – as I found later on – open this database in the premium version).

FCP6 on Mac OSX 10.5.8

The free Studio does not work with S3D on OSX 10.5. So I downloaded some outdates software from CineForm. I tried NeoPlayerMac 5.5.5 but this package doesn’t have the FCP RTenabler and it doesn’t support S3D. Then I tested Neo3D Mac 5.5.5.240, but I can’t read my notes on that anymore. I think it has RT and 3D support, and it can be used without a licence. But i’m not sure.

3D mastering

The only thing I don’t like about this workflow is that it’s not made to edit first, and do my corrections afterwards with GoPro CineForm Studio, because – as far as I see – I can’t import my FCP file to CineForm Studio. So I have to do my 3D corrections on the whole source-files without seeing the context of the next and previous shots. One workaround would be to make the corrections in FCP with either the Dashwood or OnSight plugin. In this guide I found that Firstlight will autoselect the clip that is active in FCP. I’ve tested this in CineForm studio, but without succes. Then I opened FirstLight and found the option to import current FCP projects. And yes! It works like a charm: it selects the clip at the exact right point in the clip! It’s still not perfect, but comes close. The only thing I don’t like is that I have to cmd-tab all the time to go to the next clip or to compare between clips, that I need to render everything (including images) to CineForm first before they show up in FirstLight, and most important: that I do not get a warning if a clip is used multiple times in the FCP project. This could be solved by conforming first! So far I only found one problem with Firstlight: if the 3D is really not good, I used to just disable it for that one shot. There is no quick way to do that with CineForm!

Conforming

Then I found this article in the CineForm Remaster help that explains how one can conform files to a FCP XML v.5 file, by importing this XML to ReMaster. I found that this also works with a XML v.4 file from FCP 6. A problem was that – since reel-information is missing – it doesn’t distinguish files with the same names but from different disks: it only loads one of those files, leading to a lot of errors when you re-open the project in FCP. Also,  I’m interested to see if it preserves the 3D files, but unfortunately it only takes one eye:

The conformed files have the same names as the original FCP files, so it doesn’t serve the purpose of getting all files in a nice consecution for Firstlight. All in all, this might be of good use for offline/online work in 2D, but not for my purposes.

FCP MediaManager

The good news is that I found that FCP mediamanager can copy the files (with/without handles) as CineForm 3D (2x full HD) video. This still does not get all files in a nice consecution but it might be a good idea to do this before going into Firstlight. More about this later.

Troubleshooting

Then the other thing is that I can’t get CineForm Studio to change convergence and framing (like zoom or rotation) with some of the files. It just doesn’t do anything when I drag the sliders. Only the two checkboxes for image flip work. The stupid thing is that I remember that I’ve used this workflow once before with the Free mac Studio version and at that time without problems. So now I’m really thinking that it might be a problem with the encoder version of the Windows Studio Premium version that made the source-files i’m using in this project. Could it be that I have to make an AVI file first? Could it be that I’ve used MVC to AVI first? No, because CineForm does not import AVI files. The other strange thing is that I can’t render or export a FCP sequence with CineForm codec, without getting really strange colors like this (the blue bar should really be red): I’ve installed a trial of the Premium version and now it’s fine! I’ve also read that this could be solved by setting the sequence video processing to YUV instead of RGB.

First experience

  • Rendering of transitions and effects when you don’t use the CineForm RT Engine. See this article about using ProRes as sequence codec and this article about using the CineForm RT Engine.  This last one is a great solution.
  • I get a lot of out of memory messages, green preview screens and a few FCP crashes. Restarting the computer seems to have helped, i’ve never seen them again.
  • Preview and export are not always right (sometimes 2D while set to 3D, low framerate etc). I found that this has to do with the rendering: FCP will render the effects (like speed changes or transitions) in the 3D mode that you have selected at that moment in the CineForm codec-status menu (next to the OSX clock). At least this is true for anaglyph modes, as I have ended up with quite a few anaglyph shots in my final export. It seems like it is either 2D full frame, 3D anaglyph or 3D top/bottom. CineForm Studio reads it as a 2D video, not a 3D. This problem is solved by using the above CineForm RT Engine: there will be no render files anymore. If there are: use ‘recompress frame’ when you export the movie.

I also found that selecting ‘fields’ in the codec-status menu will only work with an interlaced FCP sequence, not with a progressive sequence! So with ‘fields’, CineForm means: field interleave. This might be different from their ‘line interleave’ option in CineForm Studio. This might also be a solution to my playback from USB problems on the 55″ TV’s.

Metadata

Cineform does not read the Z10000’s timecode (each file begins with 00:00:00:00), filedate/time and or reel number information from the original files. The only reference is the filename. I have to set reelnumbers manually in FCP, as well as changing the field dominance setting to ‘none’. Which seems to be easily forgotten, for instance if you make a subclip from the timeline. However: this guy states that timecode is taken from filedate/time with Neoscene and GH2. So I guess this might be solved when they update their software.

Exporting

I found that selecting the CineForm 3D codec in FCP export will still result in a 2D CineForm file! So to preserve 2x fullHD 3D you will need to export left eye first, export right eye next and then mux the two in CineForm FirstLight. This works perfect. On june 17th 2012 I’ve exported a cineform file with the CodecStatus set to Stacked, and this resulting videofile reacts to the viewing settings I select in CodecStatus. The file I exported is half the size of the above muxed file, and if I select 2D in CodecStatus, I see a top/bottom picture. So I am pretty sure it is half resolution. But CineForm recognises that it is a S3D file, so I can select anaglyph or fields mode which works great!

Archiving

After the project is finished, I like to archive this project for later reference or additional changes. As the CineForm active metadata system might not store the convergence (and many other) setting in the file itself, but in a seperate database, I would like to archive this CineForm database as well. There is very little information on this in the help files. Next, I did media manage a project (delete unused media) and found that it does save the cineform files as 2x full HD, so that is great. I found that these new shorter videofiles still refer to the CineForm database of the original sequence. I’ve tested this with the original firstlight project and it works great for the media managed files as well. I guess this is the power of the GUID. But then, after deleting the original FCP project and mediafiles, it fell apart. Firstlight asked me to point it to the original files (one by one, which is a lot of clicking for the 100+ files of my edit) and does not accept the media managed files (a necessary data reference could not be resolved). The Firstlight project became useless. But not all is lost: The strange thing is that my convergence corrections even work after I deleted the Firstlight file. Then I read this article in the CineForm support which states that “Active Metadata is stored as data information within your files and is always reversible”. This seems to be very true, so there is no need to store the GoPro or Firstlight database with the project. On the other hand, this article states that “Modifying Active Metadata. Active Metadata created at source file origination always resides inside the file and can never be modified. Modifications to Active Metadata are stored in CineForm’s Active Metadata Database file.” So where is this database file on my computer? Do FirstLight and Studio share the same database? I checked out the options:

  1. Saving the Studio Project as .GCS file. Studio can open multiple projects at the same time. I am really interested to see what happens if a clip is in more files, does the active metadata cumulate, synchronize etc? Also: what happens if I would use firstlight and studio on the same files? Can I import this .GCS file into FirstLight?
  2. Saving the Studio Database (premium and pro) as .CDB file. These seem to be different databases then the .FLPROJECT filesfrom FirstLight. So I will have to dig into this a little further. Exporting a database from firstlight results in a folder with .COLR files with strange numbers. So I guess this is not compatible between the two.
  3. Both GCS and Firstlight can export a sidecar for (a selection of) files: a .FDB and a .CXML file that lives next to the original videofile.

I guess the convergence metadata might be stored in the video files after all. But until I am sure, it might be smart to export sidecar files to be on the safe side.

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Posted in: Codecs, S3d