Comparison of Buffy original and widened HD looks.

Buffy’s HD Remaster Woes

This post on Facebook shows in great detail the disappointing issues with the new HD remaster of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Pivot TV, complete with side-by-side comparisons and video links. (All of the side-by-sides here on the blog are taken from that Facebook article. Thanks, mystery author!)

The questionable 16:9 cropping (or opening the frame up to see crew members and lighting rigs, as above) is bad enough, but the liberties they’re taking with Buffy’s HD color grades are ruining the aesthetic of the show.

Buffy has always been one of the darkest shows (in terms of luma levels) I’ve ever seen on TV. While I understand tiny tweaks to take advantage of the full color information and resolution of the new film scans (and the vast amount of information a Blu-ray can hold vs. the original Betacam master tapes1), brightening every dark scene makes it akin to going through a haunted house with the harsh fluorescents on overhead the entire time — It actually makes it feel more like a cheap soap opera. (And yes, at times Buffy is a soap opera, but at least it was a moody and atmospheric soap opera!)

The new effects aren’t terrible, and I can’t blame them for replacing those, assuming the effects were only ever finished at SD resolution to begin with — the same thing that had to happen for Star Trek: The Next Generation, when they remastered for HD. Kind of weird that the vampire dustings look more like smoke now, though:

I’m not usually one to complain, “you’re ruining it!,” even about a beloved film or series like this, but it’s terribly sad to see Buffy being treated like this for the HD remaster. I hope the producers take a hint from the TNG Blu-rays and reassess their decision not to remaster the show in the 4:3 ratio as Joss Whedon and his crews originally intended. That Facebook post seems to hope that this is a “rough draft,” and that these issues will be corrected for an assumed eventual Blu-ray release, but I fear once these episodes are done, no one’s going to spend the money or take the time to do them yet again. Still, since only seasons 1 and 2 seems to have been done so far, fingers still crossed for season 3 and beyond!

  1. I’d assume it was Betacam SP, given the time in which it was made. Later seasons might have been DigiBeta — or even from the start, if Fox was very forward-thinking. However, from personal experience with the formats, and seeing the very soft resolution on the DVDs, I’m going to assume BetaSP for now. 

Being Welcoming

Since I’m still not terribly happy with Final Cut Pro X, I was looking to attend a meeting of the Seattle Adobe Premiere Users Group, and to do that, they want you to fill out a questionnaire first. The last question took the cake:

Do you think you could make a habit of attending on the first Thursday of every month from 7:00-9:00pm?

That would be a decision I would make after attending one or two meetings and determining what value they have to me, and I don’t think it’s really appropriate to ask when first signing up for the Meetup group. This question also feels very marketing-spammy to be required to answer to join the Meetup group, and sort of turns me off to the group before I’ve even attended a meeting.

Add to that, the organizer chose to change the default nomenclature of group “Members” to “Disciples of video editing,” and I am getting one big negative vibe from this group already.

I get that it takes a certain degree of self-assuredness to organize something like this, but there also needs to be some degree of self-awareness that not everyone enjoys that type of evangelical push, and if you want to be welcoming, you need to account for that.

The Labyrinth of Comcastica

I am on hold with a well known cable internet provider, and they’re playing a tape with promos on a loop, and that tape is constantly being interrupted by another tape telling me how important my call is, back and forth and back and forth, until all of that is interrupted by a person who sounds exactly like the person on the tape, only it seems like it might be a real person, but I’m really not sure, because my brain’s attention centers have been completely burned out by interruption after interruption, all in the same pleasant yet unremarkable female voice.

After a much longer pause than usual between messages and another “Hello?” from the phone, I finally realize that it is a real live person. A sigh of relief.

I tell her this story. She is polite enough to seem amused, and she’s very helpful, and actually listening to the issue that I actually called about in the first place, and then her whole department’s computers crash as one, rising up against their masters, and so I get the choice of going back into a different queue of customer service representatives who won’t be able to help me, because I just came from nearly two hours of back and forth and transfers and being hung up on and apologized to and sorry-we-can’t-help-youd there, and they’re the ones who sent me here, or… I can call back in half an hour.

I stare into the abyss and hang up, defeated, knowing that it will be much, much longer than thirty minutes before I can regain the strength of will to enter the labyrinth again.


I just called again, got through immediately, got a helpful person who quoted me a price $5 cheaper than my previously quoted price, and literally said, “Hold on a moment while I upgrade your service… you have your own modem, correct?” — and then I GOT DISCONNECTED.

So, I called back immediately, and now… on hold forever. Again.

[exasperated sigh]

I’m beginning to think that Comcast has been taking customer service tips from Brazil.

Update update:

Eventually (after 45+ minutes), I had to hang up, because I had to go to aikido.

After, I called back again. Was put on hold and then a few minutes later, disconnected.

Called back again. Was put on hold — this time, no music, just a hissing static sound. Someone picked up, started to help me, but before she even opened the details of my account, I was disconnected.

Called back again. I got a rep on the phone right away, and for the early part of the call, when she needed to ask her boss something, she simply muted me, and did NOT put me on hold, which was a nice change after the previous three calls. She found the deal I was originally offered, got me a discount on my service call, and got me all set up. Yay! I had a question about what would happen during the service call, and so at the end, after ensuring I was completely set up otherwise, transferred me to the tech support team, where I was back to the two tapes interrupting each other, fighting to assure me that my call was important. After half an hour of that, I hung up. Hopefully I get a knowledgeable tech at the house next week, and my question wouldn’t have been a big deal.

Le sigh.

So… At least I finally got someone who was very helpful and willing to search for the deal that I had been quoted. Sounds like she has a great, helpful boss too. Comcast, I’m glad you have people like these, but they are literally 15% of the total number of people that I talked to , who bounced me from department to department, disconnected me repeatedly, and took me nearly four hours on the phone (wait time included) to get to this resolution. Your system is broken.

Vertical Horizon

Ever since the iPhone first started shooting video, people have decried the use of the vertical orientation. Why would you do that? It looks so horrible! It’s unnatural! Hang on a moment while I pass judgement on you.

Stop it.

Let’s take a look at the history of film aspect ratios for a moment. Sure, the first film format was 4:3, just like our old TV sets — slightly wider than it is tall. In fact, TV cribbed the 4:3 ratio from film, and it wasn’t until TV started sucking away some of the film audience that the movies started to get wider and wider and wider.

The point being, aspect ratio is an artistic choice, and mostly a gimmick to get people back in theaters. None of those aspect ratios are “right” — not even 16:9, which was a compromise between many ratios for an acceptable film “fit” when TV stole widescreen back for itself (and pushed the movies into another 3D frenzy, which is a rant for another day). Even 9:16 (the iPhone’s vertical video ratio) is just another choice in a long line of choices.

And why shouldn’t you shoot video vertically? Apple’s own ads show people chatting on FaceTime with the camera held vertically. Our faces our vertical. There are tall buildings, and kids coming down playground slides. I argue that, sometimes, it’s a really good fit.

Most of the arguments against vertical video seem to boil down to one of two things. One is some pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo about how our eyes are set horizontally in our heads, so our natural field of vision is wider than it is tall, and we should obey that restraint. (Yes, art is all about obeying natural restraints, and conforming to convention.) The other is an argument that the way that we share video now, via YouTube and AirPlay-ing to our AppleTVs, demands that wide ratio to fit the screen. This latter theory has some merit, but I would argue that the video sharing sites should accommodate multiple aspect ratios in the way they present the videos, instead of letterboxing things inside a widescreen frame. (At least Vimeo and Flickr seem to handle this properly.)

That leads us to Horizon, a new app that uses the accelerometer in the phone to detect the angle of the phone while it’s shooting video, and automatically crop the video to a level 16:9 horizontal image.

This is super clever, and certainly fills a need — sometimes you do want perfectly level horizontal video, damn the resolution (the crop in vertical mode has only 32% of the resolution of the full image). Probably most people just want a video that looks nice when they play it on their TV, or share it on YouTube. This will do that, and quite nicely.

The more interesting thing to me, is how it enables a unique interface for the zoom function on the phone. Now you can use the angle of the phone to control the crop, instead of clumsily sliding your finger on the screen while you’re trying to hold the phone still.

It’s all about using the camera in creative and unique ways — There is no one “right” way to shoot video. Just a plethora of interesting decisions.

An Open Letter to Final Cut Pro X

Dear Apple,

I just started a new preditor job, and since FCP 7 is never coming back (as long as I tried to cling to it), I had to decide whether to go with FCPX or Premiere CC. Premiere CC seems closer to what I want in an editor, but since it also crashes like crazy, I’ve decided to give you guys the benefit of the doubt and have been using FCPX for the past 8 weeks.

I have a few complaints.

The magnetic timeline, I am slowly getting used to. I realize you’re trying to enable a new editing paradigm here, and I’m trying to learn your ways. However, your ways seem to make it harder than it used to be to get done some of the things I need to do. Which was my complaint the last time I tried it six months ago, and again a year before that — but I’m really trying this time, I swear that I am.

I grant that I haven’t used it very long, and perhaps I’m just missing the magic button that gives me some of the functionality I’m craving below, but in your next version of FCPX, I implore you to consider the following:

  • Timecode. I am a technical editor. I have clocks to meet. I want to know not just how much I selected, but what the start and end timecodes are. I have to replace part of a graphic that starts at an exact timecode. How to I tell what frame I’m on in the source clips I can edit in on the right frame in the timeline? I can’t. I have to eye-match the new clip, which costs me precious time, and is totally unnecessary in this day and age of computers that have been able to keep track of video timecode for nearly two decades. Please give me back my timecode overlays in the viewer, while you’re at it.
  • A source viewer. I realize you’re trying to save space by only giving me one viewer, but I really want to be able to compare what I’m looking at in the source to the place I’m going to insert it in the sequence. I want to set in and out points. I want to match timecodes. This iMovie filmstrip viewer thing feels vague and imprecise, and maybe it would be okay if I were editing a motion picture of indeterminate length, but I want numbers and precision.
  • Frame match backs that go both ways. I want to match back to a frame in the source, maybe add a marker (that ripples back into the sequence), and match frame from the source back into my timeline.
  • A second-screen viewer window that’s resizable and movable. I have two monitors, and my second one is the one I use for my viewer. There appears to be no way to resize the window that surrounds the viewer area, so I can have other things open in that monitor — like say, a chat window with the client, or a copy of the script. I also have that monitor set up in portrait mode, which I grant is unusual, but I really don’t need giant panels of dark gray above and below the actual viewer portion of the window. Let me use my monitor the way that I want — you don’t need to take over the entire thing. If I wanted that, I would pop FCPX into full-screen mode. Which I don’t, because then my second monitor just turns into a giant useless swatch of dark grey linen.

Final Cut Pro, I used to love you. Please let me love you again.

Mark Boszko

Update 2013-10-17: I have been told that there is now a source viewer window, but it turns out it’s not quite what I’m looking for. It’s called the Event Viewer, and it gives me almost no more information about the source clip than the single viewer did before. The only thing it really adds is the ability to see source and edit side-by-side. Which, I admit, is a tiny bit of help, but if I can’t see timecodes side-by-side as well, it’s not terribly useful. Plus, when I use it on my second monitor, it splits my already-narrow vertical monitor in half, so I have two tiny viewer images and vast swaths of dark gray above and below. There doesn’t seem to be any way for me to resize or rearrange these display segments.

HDV Workflow

Quick word of advice.

If you’re ever editing anything shot on HDV: NEVER EVER capture low-rez DV proxies and expect to recapture in HD clean at the end. Yes, I know the HDV decks have that hand-dandy feature to downconvert to DV over firewire. DON’T DO IT. NONE of these HDV cameras seem to record clean time code, and it will never match back exactly. If you HAVE to do it via proxies (and I can’t think of a compelling reason why), crash dub all your source tapes with clean TC to something sensible first, like HDCAM or DVCproHD. Of course, then, you’re adding a generation of compression.

Better yet, just capture the HDV as native HDV to begin with. It’s only about the same data rate as DV. There’s really no reason not to — the native HDV data is the best your footage is ever going to look. If you’re worried about rendering issues, I suggest editing in a ProRes timeline in Final Cut Pro. The HDV plays as a realtime preview, no problem, and all your renders go to ProRes, so no crunchy graphics or chroma resolution issues, and your final master QuickTime gets rendered out as ProRes. Yay!

If you really need to edit in another format because your corporate overlords demand it, capture over SDI, or do a transcode before you start editing. But then, have a load of drive space available and edit in your final format. Trying to match back timecode to an HDV master is just asking for a world of hurt. Believe me, I know.

Enough ranting for now. Back to eye-matching HDV…