We live in exciting times and, more importantly, convenient times. It's almost never been easier to get video/audio into your editing/production system than it is today.
Several advances have happened to make the process even more streamlined. Most of the improvements involve speed and bandwidth. So, moving video and audio is not only fast, but also technologies now can take advantage of larger 4K resolutions and 3-D frames, which can be double the size of a normal HD frame. Here are some of the latest video capture technologies and methods poised for the future.
SDI remains a primary force in capturing video and getting it into professional systems. Often known as dual link HD-SDI, its fast 3Gb/s speed allows working in full 1080p and 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 RGB. It's become the go-to format for uncompressed pristine digital content transfers. Most higher-end capture cards not only support the format, but also they include on-board processors to allow dual stream real-time workflow and effects.
But the standard has recently been updated to incorporate 3D-SDI for 3-D work, and capture cards have begun to incorporate interleaved as well as dual stream capture. Interleaved allows combining the two different angles, right and left eye, into one single frame. The only drawback is that most modern editing programs need to catch up with 3-D content editing, so some capture cards contain proprietary software designed to use their own specific capture cards to allow true 3-D video editing.
HDMI is another form of capture used by video cards, and the latest version 1.4 really ups the feature set to create a standard built for today and tomorrow. One of the most notable additions is 3-D, and unlike previous flavors of HDMI, 1.4 actually allows transferring of frame in full resolution. Frames are kept separate for the left and right eye during the transfer process using only the single HDMI connection.
Before 1.4, 3-D would be transferred at a lower resolution because of the limited bandwidth, but now capture cards supporting HDMI 1.4 can capture full resolution of 3-D content. In fact, while previous HDMI variants have focused on current 720p/1080p standards, the new version of HDMI is built for the future, with 4K/2K resolutions of 3840 × 2160 and 4096 × 2160.
The IEEE 1394 FireWire capture interface has served us well. For many, it was the bridge between working in analog and moving to high-end digital. However, with USB breathing down its neck and minimal development over time, unless you must work in compressed video, your FireWire days may be numbered.
The latest version supported is S800T, which is an improvement over the fast FireWire 800, now incorporating Ethernet plus FireWire as a method of capture. This is good in theory, but companies have yet to incorporate or use this new mode and are sticking with FireWire 800 for now. One the plus side, FireWire is prevalent in thousands of different devices, so there is little doubt it will remain an option, even if certain companies may be phasing it out of their hardware (most notably and ironically Apple, which actually developed the standard).
One thing USB 3.0 has going for it is speed and legacy. On the speed side, the new standard has a total of 5Gb/s, which in real-world mode can move data at a nice clip of 3Gb/s to 4Gb/s.
And aside from making FireWire suddenly outdated, the standard is so entrenched on legacy devices, it's sure to be around for years to come. Capturing via USB 3.0 can be fast and efficient, and while the broadcast world will stick with options like SDI, USB 3.0 will certainly have some momentum and be appearing as a capture option going forward.
One of the most intriguing technologies of capture now is that there is often no need for capture. Because so many cameras and formats, such as AVCCAM, AVC-Intra, P2 and DSLRs, have moved to a datafile format, now the only thing to do is simply move the audio/video files over from the camera to the production system. This could happen by hooking the camera up and transferring via a format such as USB, or popping a card out using a reader, but the next wave will be wireless transfers over the network.
SDHC memory cards can now move the files through your Wi-Fi system and drop it right into a bin on your desktop. Possibilities emerge where remote cameras can send it back to the truck, studio cameras can shoot files over to the control room, or camcorder users can just hit a button to move files instead of hooking up and loading capture software. Gone are the days where you had to hook equipment up, grab video, and sort and place the file in some sort of wrapper so your video editing program would be tricked into recognizing it.
Choosing which type of capture method and format used to be a given, because you would only use what your camera supported. Now existing and newer cameras have several options. While you may be using SDI with your HD camcorder, you can also use HDMI or USB. Or, you can even just pop out the card and use a reader. Bandwidth and options continue to improve, and manufacturers always want to have several options to keep professionals happy. While it had seemed back in the day that things were gravitating to one or two standards, these days it's more about options, so you can tailor video capture to your own workflow.
The great part is because all these standards support audio and video, as well as support high-bandwidth larger files, almost any of these options is a good choice for most workflows. However, once you gravitate toward a certain workflow and get into the groove, keep an eye out for that option to be supported on new equipment you buy going forward. Also know that while it does not happen too often, most of these standards are updated periodically, so it's good to have equipment that can be updated to support the latest via a firmware update.
We live in exciting times, and the fact that we can now do 3-D dual stream capture and use resolutions up to 4K on most desktop machines is very handy indeed.
Franklin McMahon is owner of Franklin McMahon Studio, which specializes in broadcast video.
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