The music industry is a fast paced and highly competitive business. As record labels struggle to adapt commercially to an era of digital downloads, television and radio still play a significant role in showcasing the talents of international stars to audiences all over the globe. However, with broadcasting standards varying from one region to the next, it is necessary for music labels to convert footage before local distribution.
Level, operating in Paris, are specialists in video conversion. Level was founded in 1999 by myself and Jérôme Chesneau----two creatives with a passion for music. We met when I, as a freelance sound engineer, was drafted to mix a production for Jérôme. Several further collaborations later and we established Level, offering services such as music creation, mixing and CD duplication. In 2004, Level expanded with the introduction of a video department offering services including DVD authoring, Beta/DigiBeta duplication, and video conversion.
We’ve been doing this type of work for years now and have seen more than our fair share of bad frame rate conversions, when movie producers have attempted using software tools that just aren’t up to the job. That is why labels such as Sony, EMI and Universal trust Level to create broadcast-ready video files suitable for French television. We recently completed conversions of ‘Look Around’ by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Flo Rida’s ‘Wild Ones’, which have both now aired on channels such as MCM, MTV France, and NRJ TV.
To handle the large number of different conversions and media types, including handling the conversion of 23.98 and 25 frames per second (FPS) media that would not impact sound or picture quality, Level purchased the Blackmagic Design Teranex VC100.
The previous hardware converter we had just wasn’t up to the job, severely limiting the type of format and frame rate conversions we could handle. Having had an opportunity to test the Teranex VC100 (thanks to Magic Hour), we quickly came to the conclusion that it was a powerful piece of kit, providing us with a far more extensive array of conversion standards along with some particularly difficult frame rate conversions, including 23.98 FPS to i50.
The video clips we work on typically originate from the US and Canada, either as a 720p or 1080p23.98/25 ProRes file, or from a tape deck source such as DigiBeta or HDCAM. Typically, we’ll download a 5GB file from our clients FTP server, and then use that file in the conversion process.
Using the VC100
There are four primary instances where we use the Blackmagic Design Teranex VC100.The first of which is frame rate conversion from 1080psf 23.98 to 1080i50, as well as 1080i59.94 to 1080i50.
We achieve this by exporting the file onto an HDCAM and then playing the HDCAM tape at 23.98 frames per second (FPS). The output is then converted to 1080p and 50i using the Teranex VC100 and then captured using an Apple Mac Pro2.26 GHZ Quad Core INTEL Xeonas a ProRes file. This provides our clients, such as Warner, Sony Music and EMI Music, as well as independent labels, with a ready-to-broadcast video in HDCAM 1080i50.
Secondly, the VC100 is used when we need to do cross- and frame-rate conversion from 720p 23.98 to 1080i50, or to cross convert from 720p50 to 1080i50 or p25.
Level is also reliant on the Teranex VC100 for downconverting content from HD to SD 16:9 anamorphic or 4:3 letterbox. In France, we currently have to work with both SD and HD formats side by side, making the VC100 ideal for this type of work. In fact it serves so well with HD files, whether they are received in 1080p25 or converted upstream by the VC100, that we are able to achieve superb results with our down conversions.
In both instances, the files are read from Final Cut Pro 7.0.3 and then converted using the Teranex VC100 and subsequently recorded in either DigiBeta or HDCAM, which provides Level with footage that can be shared with clients that is ready to broadcast.
Finally, the VC100is also used for converting content with a 4:3 aspect ratio. In some cases customers will send a 4:3 file on DigitBeta or Beta SP. In this scenario we convert the content from 4:3 to 16:9 anamorphic. The initial file is played out on a Beta SP and DigiBeta through the VC100 and then captured in Final Cut Pro with 16:9 aspect ratio.
We were really impressed by the ability of the Teranex VC100 to convert 50i to 23.98 and vice versa, a particularly difficult conversion when working with scenic shots and edited content where there are a lot of fast cuts. The downconversion quality coupled with the enhancer and sharpness functions can almost make an SD picture look like it’s HD.
Christophe Frère is a sound engineer and co-founder of Level.