By Brady Betzel
Before I became a full-time editor, I spent over four years as an assistant editor. Prior to that I spent four years as a post production coordinator/post supervisor. In those various roles, I have seen tons of tape and file formats come and go over the years. I have also seen the many different workflows people have used to get footage into a system, and most of the time it’s either wrong or overly complicated.
Sony has a solid solution using file-based and tape-based media with the XDCAM format: simultaneously writing low-resolution proxy files and high-resolution files for mastering. While XDCAM had its kinks at first, it’s a pretty proven method these days, at least in reality television production where I work. Once the GoPro camera came along, the file-based camera workflow really kicked into high gear.
Subsequently this also turned the assistant editor world upside down. It caused assistants to go from digitizing tape and importing a few QuickTimes to importing hundreds of hours of QuickTimes. A lot of supervisors and editors who had no clue how long it took to get footage into the system properly would get upset and frustrated at the prospect of QuickTimes taking longer than real time to import, a constant battle. “Why would a file take longer than tape?” was a common inquiry.
I have personally spent a ton of time trying to figure out a better solution in my predominantly Avid Media Composer-based workflow and found that creating new master QuickTimes at the final output spec — Avid DNxHD for my world — would help speed up the preparation for online editing by embracing the fast-import feature inside of Media Composer. In the end, I would have to spend many weeks converting H.264 QuickTimes to DNxHD flavored QuickTimes — ironically in Apple’s Compressor or even Sorenson Squeeze. I would then have a new “master” QuickTime to import into my low-resolution project at DNxHD 36 (maybe even 28:1- AHHH!) or DNxHD 45, depending on the frame rate, storage types and storage capacities available. That’s not even talking about when I would need to convert frame rates, I mean when the show onlines in 1080p/23.976, why not shoot two months of GoPro footage (three separate angles) at 1080i/59.94 right?!
(As a side note, to this day when I watch shows where I can visibly see at least 10 GoPros on top of the normal three or four production cameras, my agita kicks in a little… but I digress.)
The day I saw Divergent Media (@divergent_media) tweet about EditReady saying it was a “game changer” I was skeptical but intrigued. On the surface, EditReady is a QuickTime converter and metadata editor. Their mantra is: if the QuickTime player can play the file so can EditReady.
EditReady can convert to and from Apple ProRes (422, 422 HQ, 422 LT, 422 Proxy, and 4444), Avid DNxHD and H.264-based QuickTimes. It is important to note that EditReady leverages the official Apple version of ProRes and not a reverse engineered version that can sometimes cause quality control issues when delivering master QuickTime files to a network. When converting to Avid DNxHD it gives three options: Low, Medium and High. Each level corresponding to the different bit rates within the DNxHD codec for your particular frame rate, i.e. 23.976/1080p, (inside of EditReady) DNxHD High = 175, Medium = 115, and Low = 36. Because EditReady uses low, medium, and high designations instead of a particular DNxHD codec flavor like DNxHD36, you can throw 1080i and 1080p QuickTimes with differing frame rates in the same batch and walk away knowing you will have the appropriate DNxHD flavor codec for your frame rate and desired quality setting.
In addition, at the moment of writing this review I am using EditReady version 1.0.2, and in its current state you can only convert frame rates if you do not convert the audio as well. I’ve been told that in a future update this will be changed to allow for the audio to be carried with the video, a very welcome addition — some audio is better than no audio! Plus, it’s nice to have the ability to have a fast way of slowing down high frame rate footage outside of an NLE or After Effects.
EditReady claimed to be faster than all other transcoders/encoders out there. So I immediately put it to the test. I had an 18GB, 18 minute, 1080p/23.976- H.264 QuickTime from my GoPro Hero 3+ that I wanted to convert to ProRes 422 as well as DNX 175. I ran it through Apple’s Compressor, Sorenson Squeeze, Adobe Media Encoder and EditReady (at different times), and I was very surprised at the results.
For these tests I was using an older MacBook Pro boasting a mediocre 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of 1067 MHz DDR3 RAM and an Nvidia GeForce 9400M 256MB graphics card. EditReady is Mac-only and requires at least OSX 10.9. If you have a newer Mac system, it can harness Intel’s Quicksync technology that is featured on newer Intel chipsets like the i3, i5 and i7. Oddly enough, the new Mac Pro’s Intel Xeon processors do not support Quicksync according to the Divergent Media website www.divergentmedia.com, some higher end iMacs and MacBook Pros will encode faster than the new Mac Pro’s. I didn’t have a Mac Pro at my disposal so I couldn’t run any tests against that but it makes sense.
When I added my 18-minute, 18GB, H.264, GoPro QuickTime to EditReady I quickly figured out the interface. There are only a couple of options to decide on: metadata, file naming, output directory, if you want to add a LUT to it (will add processing time) and codec flavor. I really like having minimal options in this instance, less potential problems to be messed up.
First, I wanted to convert to an Avid DNxHD 175 QuickTime — it took 37 minutes, which is a little over double real time. To compare, Sorenson Squeeze took 68 minutes, Adobe Media Encoder was 57 minutes and Apple Compressor was 42 minutes. The real surprise to me was the ProRes 422 encode: EditReady took 19 minutes, Squeeze took 36 minutes, Adobe Media Encoder took 32 and Compressor took 22 minutes.
I had to email the guys at EditReady a few times because I just couldn’t believe that a relatively unheard of product was taking minutes off the process compared to the big guys. Their response was that since they aren’t encoding using old legacy formats, they could take advantage of faster technology, including Intel’s Quicksync. Long story-short, they are ditching the old ways to embrace the new ways. I’m not always a fan of ditching the old for the new, but in this case it’s working.
While the discrepancy between Compressor and EditReady is relatively small, the time savings processing hundreds of hours of QuickTimes will give you with EditReady will really start to add up. I’m not saying that EditReady is a true replacement for products like Squeeze or Adobe Media Encoder, but for $49.99 it’s definitely worth the investment. If you strictly look at the cost savings of 100 hours of encoding GoPro footage, 7D footage, etc., you will see approximately 12 hours of time savings just between using Compressor and EditReady, not to mention if you use Squeeze.
At a beginning assistant editor rate of $1,000/week or $25/hour on a 40-hour week (which we can argue about the semantics of hours and pay of assistant editors in the comments below if you want — yes, I know 60 hour weeks are common and yes I’ve worked on a six-day week pro-rated for five days. I’ve seen how many ways a production company can skin a cat), that’s roughly $300 in savings! Pretty sure any money person or line producer who sees $300 in savings (technically $250 by spending $50) will be on board. If you are a one-person company, treat yourself to dinner with your savings, or in my case buy your kid every single Lightning McQueen they make!
While I do think EditReady is on its way to glory, I do have a few wish list items: 1) Encode to Avid MXF media files as well as the DNxHD QuickTimes so that we can save on importing time by simply dragging the .MXF files into the Avid MediaFiles folder and rebuilding the database files; 2) support folder structure media with spanned clips; and 3) support local render clusters.
Finally, if you are in a serious heap of GoPro and other QuickTime-based file transcoding madness, I would at the least download the trial of EditReady from their site and crank out a few tests. As a former assistant editor whose life was 50-percent transcoding hundreds of hours of QuickTimes, EditReady is a time, money and stress saver for any post production.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC, and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.