Larry David, compressed

Posted by jcblalock 
Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 01:54AM
I'm putting the final touches on a film, and the DVD looks great on my TV. However, when played back on my computer, it looks.... "eh." The picture lacks the sharpness of my TV. And most egregiously, the titles and subtitles all have a bit of strange shadow.

I wouldn't let this bother me, such is life, but...

Last night I was watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the DVD looks great on my TV, as would be expected. Then I decided to watch a second episode in my room, on my laptop, and IT LOOKED EQUALLY GREAT!

What is Larry David's secret? Is this a level of quality that simply can't be achieved with my tools at hand (FCP 5.1, Motion, DVD SP). Please let me know so I can stop trying!

Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 03:17AM
What's "eh"? Could you give a more exact description of what you're seeing? Maybe even a screen shot.

What format are you working in? Most commercial DVDs start as film or high res HD, manu of them at 24fps.
Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 11:52AM
Yeah if Larry David is your bellweather for quality that shouldn't be too hard to achieve. Love the show but it looks like absolute hell in terms of cinematography typically. I believe they shoot on Beta and film look it... Perhaps you mean the quality of the encoding?


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Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 11:57AM
The "eh" is that the picture on my computer lacks the sharpness of my TV--it's pixelated. And most egregiously, the titles and subtitles all have a bit of strange shadow. A "ghosting" might be a better term, as the shadow is the same color as the letter--a subtle pixely blur! Not extremely bad, but not as good as same film on TV... or Curb Your Enthusiasm on my computer.

True, "Most commercial DVDs start as film or high res HD", but Curb is 4:3, which leads me to believe it was shot SD. It certainly wasn't film! And the DVD looks exactly the same on my computer as on my TV. I'd like to achieve that for my film, as it will probably be viewed equally on both. I'd like the QT file to look good on sceen, as the film will be available as a download through iTunes.

I guess my question is, "What is the BEST quality that I can output a Quicktime through FCP 5.1?" here's what I've tried:

- Export Using Compressor "90-minute Best Quality"
- Export Using QT Conversion: DV/DCPRO / Quality: "Best" Frame Rate 29.97
- Export Using Quicktime Conversion: "H.264 / Quality: "Best" Frame rate 29.97

Thus far, all the Quicktime files and DVD tests I've burned look the same. I'm working 16:9 SD. I shot on the Sony DSR-500--a professional SD camera.

Thanks much!
Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 12:00PM
Yes, the Larry David bellweather is a bit tongue in cheek. If Larry can export/encode it, I should be able to as well.....
Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 12:20PM

The "eh" is that the picture on my computer lacks the sharpness of my TV

Well there's your problem. Computer screens aren't designed to display DVD material. Computers have the hardware and software necessary to make a decent attempt of it, but that's all it is: an attempt. In particular, 60i material has to be deinterlaced before it can be displayed well on an LCD, and computers are notoriously bad at that. Not as bad as inexpensive LCD televisions, but still kind of terrible.

What you describe as "ghosting" sounds like an incorrect shutter setting to me. If your shutter isn't set to 180°, you're going to get motion blur that doesn't look right. Either your shutter will be too long, and you'll get too much motion blur, or it'll be too short and you'll get a sort of stuttery, staccato effect.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" is shot on Digital Betacam and deinterlaced to 30p in post. The crew sometimes refers to that in interviews and stuff as a "film look," but it's not in any meaningful sense of the term. If it's destined for 30p, there's a good chance it's shot with a 360° shutter ? or 1/60 instead of the normal 1/120 or 1/125 ? which will contribute to a motion quality that's not entirely unlike film. If that's the look you're going for ? and I don't recommend you do, since I don't know anybody who doesn't think it's just a total @#$%& look ? you can shoot 30p with a 180°, or 1/60 ? shutter, rather than doing the 60i-to-30p-deinterlacing dance they use on "Curb."

As for your camera, I'm not personally familiar with the DSR500. I know the DSR450 a bit, and calling it "professional" is a little bit of an exaggeration. Despite all the bells and whistles, it still only records DV25, which is a long way from the Digital Betacam format "Curb Your Enthusiasm" uses. So no matter what you do, your material is simply never going to look like that. It's got a bigger sensor than most DV cameras, which means bigger pixels and consequently better low-light performance, but it's still DV 4:1:1, which means you have to adjust your expectations accordingly.

But really, do not use "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as your benchmark. It's crappy on purpose, both for budgetary and lo-fi-impulsive-artistic reasons. If you want something that actually looks good, shoot an HD format at 24p, then master in HD at 24p, then let Compressor do the downconversion for you to 480p24 for DVD. You'll get results that work equally well on televisions and computer screens.

All the workflows you enumerated as having tried are the wrong ones, in my opinion. For this kind of work, you never want to use the "Export using" options at all. You want to export out a Quicktime movie in timeline format at the end of your edit ? this Quicktime movie becomes your master ? and send that file through Compressor for encoding to MPEG-2.

The DSR450 has a 24p mode; I'm not sure if the DSR500 does or not. You can give that mode a try, but I'm not sure if I'd recommend it without reservation. DV is a frame-based compression scheme, as opposed to field-based, which means it tends to have trouble with the jitter frames in a 24p 3:2 recording. That's one reason why the 2:3:3:2 pulldown format was created; it's so you only have one jitter frame in five, and that frame is wholly redundant, meaning it doesn't matter if the compressor in the camera struggles with it. But I don't think you have the option of doing 2:3:3:2 on the DSRs.

In short, I'd say first of all your workflow has issues and should be streamlined, you're shooting DV25 which means you need to set your expectations pretty low to begin with, and using "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as your basis for comparison is a little bit of a fool's errand, since your pipeline is totally different from the moment light hits your camera's sensor.

Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 01:02PM
Thank you for the thoughtful answer! Of course I agree, HD is better. I shot this documentary over the course of a few years, before HD was available to me. I'm not quite clear on the ghosting issue being related to shutter speed, since it's titles and subtitles that are ghosting--and I created them in post, using both Motion and FCP title tool.

The Larry David point I was trying to make is that the lowest budget show I watch--Curb--looks the same on my TV or computer, while I am experiencing a quality difference between the two, even with my realistic expectations! I was curious if there is an export that accomplished both.

So based on your solution: "export out a Quicktime movie in timeline format at the end of your edit" (a wise one), here's my question:

H.264 or DV/DVCPro NTSC?

I ask because "export Quicktime Movie using current settings" will actually give me an H.264. But it seems my current settings would be "DV/DVCPRO NTSC."

Which is the way to go for highest picture quality?

Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 02:24PM
Wait, is your timeline set to H.264?? If so then that's the start of your problems! You should be editing natively (DV/DVCPro NTSC) all the way through to your final output. H.264 conversion is something you do AFTER the final output. Did you make your DVD with the H.264 file?


SCQT! Self-contained QuickTime ? pass it on!
Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 02:45PM

You need to export>quicktime

This will default to export whatever your sequence settings are.

*NOT* export>quicktime conversion
Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 02:53PM
WOAH. Yeah, what John said. Your timeline is set to H.264?! That's crazy talk, no offense. Final Cut lets you set your timeline compressor to any format Quicktime on your system supports, including H.264, but that's really kind of a flaw in the application. There's no reason your timeline should ever be set to H.264. Your timeline should be set to (a) the format all your footage is in, or (b) in the case of a mixed-format show, the timeline most of your footage is in, and the rest of your footage should be in other formats that can be intercut with your primary format.

In your case, since it's all DV25, then your timeline should be DV25. Or whatever the Quicktime name is ? DV/DVCPRO NTSC or something like that.

Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 04:05PM
Whoa is right! My timeline is not set to H.264. It's set to DV/DVCPRO NTSC.

Thanks "mattsilfen" and "John K" for the export advice. But let me ask, when I choose "Export > Quicktime Movie" with "current settings" selected, there is no quality information regarding compression given, so I don't know if I'm getting the highest possible output. It also makes a 4:3 squashed version, rather than a 16:9. So I have the option to go into "Custom" settings, and switch it to 16:9, and to crank the quality to 100%. Should I do those things?

When I use "Export > Using Quicktime Conversion / "Default Settings", it wants to make an H.264, which I can boost from "high" to "best" quality. Or I can switch to "DV/DVCPro NTSC" and boost that to "Best." I have heard Quicktime Conversion to H.264 at "best quality" can actually be better. I just made an H.264 "best" test and it looks fantastic. So you can see why I'm tempted.

The possibilities are daunting! If you were me, which export would you use? The film will be compressed for DVD and internet streaming.

Thanks guys... I'm almost there!
Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 05:22PM
There is no quality setting in QuickTime Movie because you get whatever resolution your sequence is. DV is a fixed resolution format. Moving any quality slider is not relevant to it.

All DV NSTC is 720x480 regardless of whether it's display format is 4:3 or 16:9. When you export you export the equivalent of the original file. The DVD authoring application assigns how the media is formatted on the disc. There are various options in DVDSP. The viewer then has options on how they wish to see it, but it's always 720x480.

Exporting for DVD and exporting for the web are entirely different. One size does not fit all. The best option is to export to QuickTime Movie. take the file, reference or self-contained, to that application and make your encoding decisions there for DVD or for the web.
Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 05:30PM

I have heard Quicktime Conversion to H.264 at "best quality" can actually be better.

You have heard incredibly, astonishingly wrong. Converting footage to a non-lossless format will always degrade it, no exceptions. The only wiggle room is that some non-lossless formats are designed carefully to make that degradation as invisible as possible, which is why you'll hear people say that converting uncompressed to ProRes is perceptually lossless. But converting to an extremely compressed format, like H.264, will always degrade the hell out of your footage. It can never, ever, make it better. It's a mathematical impossibility.

Now, that's not to say that there aren't some things you can do to your footage to make it look better, to you. For instance, deinterlacing 60i material can make it "look better" to people who are looking at it on a computer screen. But deinterlacing 60i material inevitably results in a softer, more blurry image. So "looks better" is highly subjective. You might say it "looks better" because you can no longer see the interlacing, while I'll say it "looks worse" because it's all fuzzy now.

But no, converting your footage from one format to another can never improve it. Period. That's just a hard-and-fast law of the universe. Anyone who tells you differently is either lying, or doing you a grave disservice by mis-using the word "improve."

Re: Larry David, compressed
June 24, 2009 08:59PM

You're right that converting codecs won't improve the source footage but going to high quality most definitely improve any effects or title work he has in his timeline as those will render out of FCP into a better colorspace/bitrate. And this is where he was complaining of issues because DV is a horrible effects codec.

Now DV to H.264 to DVD is a total laugh but DV to ProRes/Uncompressed/DV50 and then to DVD is the way to go.

This is why i hate reference movies. Everyone loves reference movies since they are fast and let you keep editing but it locks you into your edit codec. In my opinion, reference movies are good for rough cuts, dailies, personal copies, not for compression. If you want the absolute best quality(not that Larry David is the top of quality), you have to get your assets into the highest quality codec out there, and unless you have a RAW/AVC-intra source and you edit in ProResHQ, it aint your capture/edit codec. So I haven't used reference movies in years, and I shoot/edit all DVCProHD and i export all my Masters into ProRes HQ before compression.

Jason, my suggestion:
Export your sequence not using Current Settings, but scroll down and find the DV50 NTSC preset that fits your source material and check self-contained. This gives you twice the data rate of DV which will help your titles hold up throughout the compression process.

Take this new file and dump it in Compressor using the Best Quality MPEG-2 setting that is appropriate for your run time(60-min, 90-min, etc).

Take it to Studio Pro and you should be in a much better place
Re: Larry David, compressed
June 25, 2009 10:14PM
I use the Canon XL2 and set it to 16:9 60i whenever I have to record company events.

And while I'm on this subject, I sometimes also use the Panasonic DVX100B. But I usually use the 24p mode with this camera.

What settings should I have FCP set on when I capture the footage to get the best quality?
and the on the timeline? and then when I'm ready to export?
I currently capture in DV ----- anamorphic.
and I export a self-contained movie file.
Re: Larry David, compressed
June 25, 2009 10:53PM
In what way is this related to the thread? I'd suggest you start by reading the section in the manual on capturing.
Re: Larry David, compressed
June 26, 2009 12:40AM
I got it. The DV50 NTSC option sounds like the best option for boosting my titles and subtitles quality.

Made it! Thanks all around!

Now, this guy with his XL2....
Re: Larry David, compressed
June 26, 2009 06:42AM
yeah, as i was reading the posts I started thinking about my workflow and getting something to dvd. and I started wondering if I was bringing in stuff at the best quality so that it was consistent when it came time to putting it on dvd.

so that's where my questions came from. so far, stuff I've been putting on dvd look good but if there are better options to keep an eye out for it's always good to know.
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