By Brady Betzel
One of the best (and most underrated) tricks in an online editor’s tool kit is to have good image restoration techniques. Removing digital video imperfections — from flicker to digital video noise — is not easy, and not easy to do well. That is, unless you have good noise reduction software like Neat Video.
While Neat Video might not be that well-known, once you see how simply (or intricatly) Neat Video 5 works inside of apps like Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, it will be hard to forget the company’s name.
(While the software was recently updated to 5.1.5 — with expanded GPU support as well as support for new versions of Resolve, Adobe and Nuke — nothing really changes for this review. You can check out a detailed list of the updates here.)
Neat Video 5 is a noise reduction plugin. In a Windows OS environment, Neat Video is compatible with apps like Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve, Avid Media Composer, Vegas, Magix, Edius, Virtual Dub, and the OFX-compatible apps Nuke, Fusion, Scratch, HitFilm, Mamba, Natron, Flame, Baselight and DustBuster. In a macOS environment, Neat Video 5 is compatible with After Effects, Premiere, Final Cut Pro X, Motion 5, OFX, Resolve and Media Composer. In Linux, the software is compatible with OFX-compatible apps and Resolve.
Neat Video 5 comes in three flavors: Demo, Home and Pro. The Demo version works in up to 1280×720 resolution with a watermark. Home is literally made for the home user: It will process video up to 1920×1080 resolutions, it will use up to one GPU, and it is for non-commercial use. The cost is just $74.90 for most apps (Resolve is $89.90). The Pro version has no resolution restrictions, will work on two or more GPUs simultaneously, and can be used commercially. The Pro version starts at $129.90 per app ($159.90 for Resolve). Because Neat Video 5 for OFX works with so many apps, it only comes in Pro ($249.90) and Studio ($349.90) versions. The Studio version adds the ability for a floating license. You can see all of the pricing details here.
If there is one line you should take away from this review, it is this: Neat Video 5 is by far the easiest and best noise reduction software I have used in any application to date. And while this review is focusing on the Resolve version of Neat Video 5, all other apps work in much the same way. You can find Neat Video’s software-specific Quick Start Guides to help. Once you install and register your Neat Video 5 license, removing digital video noise is as easy as applying Neat Video 5 to a node in the color tab, clicking on “Prepare Noise Profile,” clicking on “Auto Profile,” and clicking “Apply.” Then, unless you want to fine-tune your noise reduction, you are done. Obviously, I have somewhat simplified how Neat Video 5 works, but essentially it can be done in as little as three steps per clip, and the results are typically amazing. If they aren’t amazing, you can jump back into Neat Video 5 and manually adjust specifics until the noise reduction looks correct. But I will say that in about 90% of cases, the Auto Profiling will do all of the noise reduction work necessary.
For tinkerers, or for those who need to go far beyond an Auto Profile, you can manually adjust your settings. But taking a step back, Neat Video needs an area of your image that has a uniform color and noise profile to process how it removes noise. The automatic profiling will do its best to find an area, but it doesn’t always work. What you need to keep in mind when building a good noise profile inside of Neat Video is that the area being processed needs to be as uniform as possible (think dark night sky or a wall painted in one color) — meaning no prominent features, a high noise level (something in the high four area is better), the largest possible sample area and no warnings from Neat Video.
So, if your automatic profile doesn’t do the job, you can find an area of your image that meets the above requirements and then build a profile. From there you can use one of the Neat Video 5 features, like “Profile Check.” Profile Check will highlight details that aren’t being affected by Neat Video, giving you a clear representation of what noise is being reduced and whether you need to adjust your profile to better reduce video noise.
At this point you might be wondering where you tweak advanced settings. When you load Neat Video, you will be in Beginner mode. To get into Advanced mode, go to the Tools menu, where you will see a lot of advanced functions that can help you fine-tune your noise profile. And if you still can’t get a good noise reduction profile, you can try out the “Generic Profile,” which can help you build a profile even if your video doesn’t have a large enough area of uniform noise. There are also presets — such as like light flicker, moire flicker, repeat frame issues, dust and scratch filters (including scan lines), jitter of details, artifact removal filter and more — that can solve certain problems.
Neat Video 5 is faster than previous generations. As in previous versions, there is even a tool that inside of Neat Video preferences that will run your CPU and GPU through a benchmark to specify whether you should run on CPU only, GPU only, or a combo of both. In Neat Video 5, if you have trouble with a clip, you can use up to four “Variants” of noise reduction in the new playback window to see how each profile works with your clip.
In terms of playback and rendering, noise reduction is never fast. However, inside of Neat Video the new playback window will typically play back your footage to preview the noise reduction before you jump back into Resolve. Inside of Resolve, even in just 1080p, my sequence would crawl to just a few frames of playback per second. It is one of the most processor- and GPU-intensive tasks you will run on your computer.
In my testing I applied Neat Video 5 to the first node in my color correction tree, followed by a basic color correction in a one-minute timeline. I took those same clips and compared my Neat Video results to Resolve’s Temporal and Spatial noise reduction tools. In terms of visual results, Neat Video 5 was superior. If that’s not the case for you, then jump into YCbCr viewer mode inside of Neat Video 5, isolate each channel and tweak each channel individually so you won’t affect your overall noise reduction if it isn’t necessary. Not only did Neat Video 5 handle normal noise in the shadows well but on clips with very tight lines, it was able to keep a lot of the details while removing the noise. Resolve’s noise reduction tools had a harder time removing noise but keeping detail. Temporal noise reduction really didn’t do much, and while Spatial noise reduction did work it would heavily blur and distort the image — essentially not acceptable.
To get a good example of how Neat Video 5 slams a computer system, I exported 1080p MP4s. Resolve’s built-in Temporal noise reduction took 1:03, while the Spatial noise reduction took 1:05. The Neat Video 5 render of the same one-minute timeline took 3:51 — almost four times as long. I was curious how much longer a 4K render would take. Using 4K (UHD) media, I applied a simple color correction and on a previous serial node that applied Neat Video 5. I exported a 4K (UHD) MP4, which took 52 seconds without Neat Video 5 applied and 16:27 with Neat Video applied — at least 16 times more render time! So while Neat Video 5 is an amazing tool, there is a trade-off in high render times.
To find additional training on more advanced noise reduction techniques in Neat Video, check out the video tutorials. I find myself watching these just because of how much you can learn about noise reduction in general. They aren’t as exciting as watching Game of Thrones or The Handmaid’s Tale, but they will push your knowledge in noise reduction to the next level.
I’ve used Neat Video for a while, so when I was approached to review Version 5 I immediately said yes. Noise reduction is post skill that not many possess.
If you are an online editor or colorist looking to separate yourself from the pack, learn all the noise reduction techniques you can and definitely check out Neat Video 5. Not only can Neat Video 5 work automatically, but you can fine-tune your noise reduction as much as you want.
And when demoing your color correction services, think about using Neat Video 5 to remove camera noise, flickering and chroma issues; color correcting your footage; and, finally, adding some grain back into your shot. Not only will your footage look better, but you’ll have a technical workflow that will definitely impress clients. Just don’t forget to account for the extra render time.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on shows like Life Below Zero and The Shop. He is also a member of the Producer’s Guild of America. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.