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Joshua Carlon
Hardware vs Software Encoding:
on Oct 1, 2008 at 9:23:25 pm

Hi everyone --

I'm in pre-pro on an hour-long commercial install video and we're having a discussion about whether or not to do the encode and dvd creation in-house or not. The show will be shot digital, edited in FCP and output (anamorphic) to standard DVD.

I've gotten a lot of conflicting information on whether or not a software encode can be as high-quality as a hardware encode. Our DVD creation house tells me the best method is to output to digibeta and have them do a hardware encode. Our dup house thinks a high-quality software encoder will be fine. We've got Compressor but would certainly purchase a new program if it would allow us to keep the show (and future shows) in-house, but not if the hardware encode is going to give us a noticeably better result.

Is hardware always better? Is there a software solution that's close?

Thanks for any expertise.

Josh


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eric pautsch
Re: Hardware vs Software Encoding:
on Oct 1, 2008 at 10:41:36 pm

Hardware is no longer a better option now that compression technology and computing speeds have improved. The skys the limit on pricing - upwards of 70K for a dedicated set up. Compressor is a low end encoder and it shows especially at lower bitrates. These are just my opinions but I don't think you'll find a DVD professional (ie: someone who just does DVD) would disagree with me. It's a "good enough" encoder great for quick one off for clients screeners and thats about it.

Cinemacraft has a new plug-in for compressor I think would work good for you. Its $800. Another option for the Mac is BitVice

http://www.lafcpug.org/reviews/review_cinemacraft.html

http://www.innobits.com/

The PC side as many more options from Cinemacraft, Sonic, Optibase, MainConcept, Pixel Tools. Prices range froma few hundred to 10s of Thousands.




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Michael Sacci
Re: Hardware vs Software Encoding:
on Oct 1, 2008 at 10:55:18 pm

Several years ago I was doing a ton DVD work for a media company and I came to the conclusion that it was a workflow question. If I was making a DVD of an editing project I never went out to tape but if a client sent me a DBeta or BetaSP I used a Sonic hardware system because it was much faster if I was starting with a tape.

Compressor does a very good (if not great) job when you are sending it good clean video and you can keep the bitrates up (5-6.5Mbps) there are now 2 recommend options BitVice and the new Cinemacraft ($800).

The first thing I would do is make a test DVD using compressor. For the best possible encode From FCP timeline Export to Compressor, make a CBR 6.5 Mbps preset, encode the audio to ac3 .192, burn a DVD and test the quality of the video on Macs, PCs and TVs. If you like it stop worrying. In the creative field you can always do thing better, and better normally means more money. I would but the savings of the encoding into better production or more time to color correct. FCP, DVDSP and Compressor can do a great job, if Compressor lets you down try BitVice, if you want to spend the money and get the best buy Cinemacraft. But trust your eyes, if Compressor gives you good results don't look back.



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Patrick Aubry
Re: Hardware vs Software Encoding:
on Oct 2, 2008 at 12:42:47 pm

Just add-up to the subject, I use Grass Valley Procoder 3 on pc side. Not cheap, but flexible and powerfull.



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Dave Friend
Re: Hardware vs Software Encoding:
on Oct 3, 2008 at 8:26:53 pm

[Joshua Carlon] "Is hardware always better?"

One thing to keep in mind about hardware encoders is that they are essentially software on a chip. As such, the software is locked in and cannot be upgraded. IOW, the encoding algorithm is set in stone. At least this is true for the hardware encoders that I'm familiar with. What this means is that any advances in encoding technique are not going to be available to any but the most recently designed hardware encoders - if then.

That's not necessarily a dire circumstance. The creation of MPEG2 is well understood and has been for many years.

In the days when computer power was a few powers of magnitude less than it is today hardware encoders allowed for a significantly faster turn time. A 10 minute video could be encoded in half and hour or less with a hardware encoder while a software encode might take half a day or more.

One advantage for hardware base encode is the ability to do segment based re-encoding. Unless you're willing to shell out serious money this feature isn't available with software encoders. Many software solutions will do multiple pass but it's of the whole file not just sections that could use more attention. Not every hardware based encoding solution does segment base re-encode either. Ask your DVD creation house. Even if they can do it - do they?

Where I work we use a Sonic SD-2000 hardware based encoder. But we also have Cinema Craft software encoders on several of the NLE systems. The Sonic does a fabulous job. When a client sends a tape master we use it and never hear anything but praise for the results.

On the other hand, if a project is coming out of an NLE we use the Cinema Craft software. That too produces fabulous results.

Which do I like better? Most of the time it's impossible to tell the difference. When I do see a difference the other guy in the room will often disagree with me about which looks better. It a highly subjective situation.

Compressor I'm not so fond of mostly because it will, from time to time, create m2v files that our Scenarist system won't accept. I'd tell you why but the cryptic error code that Scenarist gives provides no clues. There have also be issues with out-of-spec data spikes with Compressor encodes. To be fair the SD-2000 can do this too. But segment re-encoding makes fixing this problem easy.

My advice - invest in the Cinema Craft MP encoder.

Dave Friend


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Chris Poisson
Re: Hardware vs Software Encoding:
on Oct 8, 2008 at 3:36:41 pm

I didn't see anyone here mention Episode Pro as an option. Formally known as Compression Master till it was bought by Telestream, it is not only a great encoder for DVDs but does a bazillion other formats as well. It cost about 800. BTW it does incredible standards conversion to PAL or NTSC direct to m2V in one step. Fantastic tool and great support from the Telestream folks.

Have a wonderful day.


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Joshua Carlon
Re: Hardware vs Software Encoding:
on Oct 13, 2008 at 2:46:56 pm

Thanks to everyone for all the expertise. We will be purchasing CinemaCraft. You guys should get commission!

Josh



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Connie Simmons
Re: Hardware vs Software Encoding:
on Oct 18, 2008 at 2:34:19 pm

I have an HD series shot using 2 Sony Cinealta F900s. I am awaiting the results of a hardware encode that my post house is doing for me this weekend. I purchased CinemaCraft Encoder MP and have had BitVice, which I have always liked. Before I encoded all 13 episodes, I wanted to see which looked better to my eye.

I can post results later if you would like.

BEst, Connie



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Max Kovalsky
Re: Hardware vs Software Encoding:
on Oct 18, 2008 at 9:35:50 pm

Hi Connie,

What's the encoder your post house is using? If it's Sonic's SD series, I'm sure you'll be happy with the image. Did you end up making digibeta downconverts? Cinemacraft is pretty good, but produces mpegs that are slightly soft in my opinion. BitVice is sharp, but increases color saturation. It's also tricky to make "legal" mpeg2 streams with it, so if you use that encoder some DVD players may display black instead of video.

Max
--
Blu-ray producer
New York
Area4.tv


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Anneli Engstrom
Re: Hardware vs Software Encoding:
on Nov 9, 2008 at 10:34:03 am

Connie: I was so curious to know the result of your testing that I registered an account here. Please let us know what you found out.

best regards


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Connie Simmons
Re: Hardware vs Software Encoding:
on Nov 15, 2008 at 4:18:04 pm

Sorry it took awhile to respond.
I started with a 40 gig ProRes HQ Quick Time movie. We then output the program to HDCAM tape for HD for delivery to the television station. This HDCAM tape was used as the master for my DVDs. (We also delivered an SD digibeta tape which was created doing a hardware downconvert from the HDCAM master.)

I ended up preferring the hardware downconvert from HDCAM tape to SD which was then encoded using the encoder in Sonic Scenarist ("Final Encode"), which my very very excellent post house Pillar to Post completed for me.

I also tried this encoded by Digital Rapids transcoder, and the following software encoders: Bit Vice, CCE MP Encoder, and Compressor. I did not try the Cinema Craft Pro Hardware encoder.

The main difference for me was: the text on my opening segment was jagged on everything but my Final Encode, the resolution was MUCH clearer - by a big factor, and there was less trailing during motion shots.

So that was my experience.

Best, Connie



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