A pro media and metadata inspector that does some transcoding as well
By Brady Betzel
If you’ve ever been in a machine room, or lucky enough to have been employed as an assistant editor, you’ve encountered your fair share of media file formats, from MTS files to Avid MXF files that don’t play nicely with many video player/transcoder apps. Maybe you had Roxio Toast to play or transcode your MTS files, VLC player, MPEG Streamclip or one of the other few playback apps.
It’s about time that someone has released an app that plays most professional codecs in one simple to use interface. Telestream (the makers of the ever handy Episode Pro and Screenflow) has released Switch, a file inspector, viewer, and encoder that plays nicely with most (I say MOST) professional file formats. I wasn’t able to playback R3D files, which would be a nice feature.
When asked if I would take a look at Telestream Switch, I immediately thought this was going to be another app that plays files, I thought to myself “great, but what would set it apart from the other 10 apps I use?” As much as I hate it, I can bounce around between different apps and eventually view or transcode almost anything I need to, although it shouldn’t be that hard. Switch caught my eye because of its ability to playback MXF files. I initially thought that maybe they were talking about Sony’s MXF file format for their cameras, which wouldn’t impress me much. However, what did impress me is that it can play back Avid MXF files outside of Avid Media Composer and outside of the Avid MediaFiles folder structure.
Occasionally editors might create a reference movie… the trouble is that exporting can be tedious for some editors who don’t want to deal with codecs, differing compressions, frame sizes, frame rates and other confusing details, so creating a mix-down (Avid’s internal version of a render) can solve this if you are staying within a Pro Tools, Media Composer or Symphony environment. The only downside is that if you don’t have a Media Composer or Symphony you can’t view these mix-downs natively until you download Switch.
Switch gives us the ability to quickly check audio and video MXF files that you can find inside of the “Avid MediaFiles > MXF” directory. AWESOME! I am not exaggerating… this is really, really awesome. Now you can have an assistant, coordinator, supervisor or whoever needs to see, check out an MXF file to make sure what you are sending is correct.
Other than being able to play MXF files, Switch offers the ease of viewing media files and their information quickly and easily. In the Inspector Window under the Container tab you can quickly see info such as duration, file size, location, creation and modified dates, as well as metadata, such as if there is a proper timecode track and what the starting timecode is. I love it. Further down are the video, audio, subtitles and chapters tabs. All of these tabs have editable fields that can be adjusted when you change from “Inspect” to “Edit” at the right of all the tabs.
Tab, Tabs Everywhere
Under the video tab is where you will find info like codec type, bit rate, subsampling, color space, frame rate and type (progressive or interlace), encoded size, clean aperture info, aspect ratio and display size. When the Edit mode is enabled you can set up your video encode settings, change color space (from sRGB to 601/709 for instance) or even aspect ratios.
I really love the ability to change color spaces easily because many times people create graphics or export files in the wrong color space, and now you can easily fix it without too much technical knowledge. I will say that this is not the program to do frame-rate conversions or container changes. Switch is more of a media file inspector rather than a transcoder, similar to its much more robust family member Episode Pro. However, in the licensed Pro version of Switch you do get the ability to create iTunes store packages (both Windows and Mac version) as well as transcode files to ProRes (Proxy, LT, HQ, 4444) on the Mac version. One day it would be nice to have a cheap way to transcode to the official ProRes codec on a Windows machine, but Switch unfortunately won’t do it just yet.
Under the Audio tab you have some pretty interesting options to edit and inspect, including channel, format, bit rate, duration, sample rate, etc. What I like most is the ability to quickly re-route audio channels, make a mono mix from stereo tracks, make a 5.1, 6.1, or a 7.1 mix, and even add audio from one file to the video of another.
The next tab is the Subtitle tab, which allows you to inspect closed captioning along with your media. SCC is the only supported format at this time but more are coming in the soon to be released 1.6 update which I will touch on in a second.
The final tab is the Time tab. Here you can trim and set chapter markers. Keep in mind that chapters are only created when exporting iTunes packages and not MOV files. This is a great spot to do an emergency trim in a pinch.
In June, Telestream will be releasing a Switch version 1.6 update which will include updates such as additional export support containers (MPEG-4, MPEG-2 PS/TS), video codecs (x264, MPEG-2), audio codecs (PCM, AAC, MPEG 2); external Preview support to AJA devices (Kona 4, Kona 3G, T-Tap, Io 4K, Io XT); additional caption support (STL, SRT); pro Audio Meters (EBU Standard); and more.
I really like how Switch runs. Its simple interface doesn’t overcomplicate what can easily be over complicated. If someone needs to quickly check metadata of a file they simply load it and click the different tabs. If someone needs to transcode video or re-route audio tracks it can be done quickly.
In some real-world testing I took a one-minute-and-40-second 1920×1080, 23.976 FPS QuickTime that I filmed on my GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition and transcoded it to a ProRes QuickTime (no audio transcoding). In Switch it took about three minute and 30 seconds. I tested it against a few other programs and here are the results:
Adobe Media Encoder: Four and a half minutes
EditReady: Two minutes
So while Switch is an awesome inspector, there are other options to transcode your files. In fact Telestream makes Episode, which is regarded as one of the top transcoders around. Maybe one day I will be able to review it. I’ve read it will even allow for closed captioning insertion in its 6.5 release!
After doing some of my testing I noticed that when I opened up Switch after being closed and after transcoding some GoPro footage to ProRes it would crash immediately. I got around this by moving all of the media that appeared in the “Recent Media,” (the first window upon launch) to the trash and thus clearing the Recent Media. Kind of an odd thing to crash a program but it launches a preview of the file in the Recent Media list so something wasn’t having a good time in there. You’ve been warned.
Pro v. Free
Switch Pro ($299) has a few key elements that separate it from Switch Player (Free):
1. Non-watermarked playback of DNxHD, HEVC and AC3 files.
2. Playback support for closed captioning files
3. Advanced inspection of AS11, AS03 and other app specific metadata.
4. Pass-through export (Think ClipWrap — making an MXF into a playable MOV)
5. Switch Player (Free) is limited to :30 or half the file length when doing a pass-through export.
6. Export (Switch Player Free) will add a watermark)
7. iTunes package file (.itmsp)
In the end, Telestream’s Switch is the professional media and metadata inspector I have been dreaming of — it just so happens to do some transcoding too. Switch displays just the right amount of info you want to look at without having to be bogged down by menus and choices.
Here are the highlights: natively plays Avid Media Composer MXF media; can run on OS X or Windows based systems; free and paid versions available.
Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood. Previously he was editing The Real World at Bunim Murray Productions. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.