Picture Codecs

Inspired by : http://www.elementaltechnologies.com/blog/primer-inter-vs-intra-frame-video-compression

What is the best picture codec for use in Pro Tools?

Many picture houses try to supply us with H.264 codec as this ‘looks great’ and has small file sizes. While this might be true, working with it in Pro Tools becomes a nightmare. Scrubbing fails to operate smoothly, moving round the timeline is positively glacial and altogether it’s more hassle than it’s worth. 

As stated in the above blog post Intra frame images are single snapshots of each frame of the movie. This means that for each second of picture there will be 24 frames of video (assuming a 24frame project, replace this figure with 29.97, 30, 25, 23.976 as appropriate).

Why is this good?

This is good because the computer only has to process that frame. It doesn’t need to think about frame 10 if it’s on frame 23 meaning that scrubbing, timeline jumping… everything about the operation of the DAW is smoother. 

The various QuickTime codecs that are available at this point become reasonably similar, certainly in terms of processing requirements. 

As a company we have tended to stick with DV based codecs for the vast majority of our projects. As stated in a previous entry we use MPEG Streamclip for converting the picture if a picture department refuse/are not able to produce a DV codec for us. The most common codec thast we have been using recently is the DVC PRO NTSC. This is a DV based NTSC (29.97) codec that is well suited for the 23.976 workflows that have been prolific over the past few years. 

In the US they tend to work with Photo JPEG files. These have a higher picture clarity due to each frame being a JPEG image of the video footage. There is a trade off here with file size. a DVC file of 20 minutes comes to around 1.6GiB while a PhotoJPEG comes in at more like 2.8GiB. It’s not a massive difference but it adds up over the course of reels and 15-20 versions (excluding VFX updates).

What else is there?

In October of 2009 Avid released a new codec for QuickTime that has yielded some impressive results in testing. It’s called the Avid DNXHD Codec for QuickTime and it is wonderful. In my opinion it looks much better than the H.264 equivalent and it has NO additional overhead to a system. 

A standard photo JPEG/DVC Pro QuickTime requires 8-10% of a CPU to playback within Pro Tools. The Avid DNXHD codec for QuickTime plays back with maximum (in testing) 8% CPU usage. 

For the next show that we do I’m going to try to specify this as our preferred option as it is closer to the playback specification for the stage. It’s only downside is that files are larger. 20 minute reel will be in the region of 4.5GiB. I figure we’l just keep fewer versions ;)

Omnifocus - How I love thee.

GTD - Getting Things Done.

I rely on Omnifocus by the Omnigroup to manage pretty much everything I do. From the weekly shop to financial tracking. Within a work context however it has become almost indispensable. Large portions of my job require repeating processes over and over using multiple programs, processes and often computers. Omnifocus keeps me on track. 


I keep a set of actions in an on-hold project called Utility. This has a fairly averasge set of actions that I perform over and over regardless of what project I might be on. Turnover Utility Actions

As basic as this action set is without it I’d frequently forget to do the Fx conform of Reel 4. 

Some of the actions are not relevant to every project. For example, on most projects the codec that is requested from a picture department is what we actually receive. So the picture convert part is irrelevant. 

For the record when doing picture conversions the only tool I now trust is MPEG Streamclip it is fast, can deal with batches and reliably outputs the correct codec at the correct frame-rate. QuickTime player on the other hand refuses to output a 23.976fps picture from H264.


Still get really get a handle on these but kind of make it work. The best thing about Omnifocus for iphone (you knew it would have one) is within the contexts you can perform Business Searches. So for example my shopping list has a context of Groceries; within that context it searches for supermarkets. If I ave some time I can check to see what actions are available and as part of it I get a map of the area with all the supermarkets highlighted, pretty neat. I think so anyway. 

All of the mix stages we use also have contetxs so if I need to move files or setup a mix session then I assign that to the action and it searches for Goldcrest/Pepper and tells me what needs to be done. 

It’s my memory Cap’n she can nay take it

Progress bars tend to be a constant part of my day. I set this encoding, that downloading, another thing uploading to a playback system or the server, titan conforming or fixing. Without my beloved omnifocus I’d quickly lose track of where I was at. Did I put the final PB session for Reel 5 onto the FX machine? Quick check, Yes I did. Phew. 

So there it is, my ode to omnifocus. It’s more than I ever need it to be but for what I need it to do it excels. Omnigroup also make some other wonderful programs such as Omniplan (Project Management), Omniweb (where my love for the company started but I’ve had to leave behind :( ) and many others that I can’t really place in my workflows. Thank you Omni!