27
Aug
09

The one and definitive FCP HD to SD downconversion method

READ UPDATE AT BOTTOM:

During our summer recess, i have been experimenting with getting our 1080p HD footage on a standard DVD. This is a HUGE issue and, i assure you, extremely frustrating!

Take that load off your shoulders, throw off your shackles, quit on that Prozac, and follow my workflow to get the best HD to SD conversion possible by software. And… it even beats expensive hardware solutions, but that’s my humble opinion.

Introduction

If you read the many threads on the subject on websites such as DVForum, Creative Cow and the numerous sites dedicated to FCP editing, you’ll get an impression of the frustration that people are experiencing with this issue. I myself tried a number of work flows and methods to get our Sony EX1 and EX3 HD footage to look good on a DVD, without much avail. You can paste a HD edit into a SD sequence, you can export using either Compressor, After effects and other non-Adobe tools. You can resize and sharpen each frame separately using Photoshop and one can use expensive hardware converters…  But each time i burned a DVD and watched it on a normal consumer Plasma television, i was disappointed with the results. The difference in quality compared with other DVDs was significant.

The well known problems are:

  • sharpness -> footage is as blurry as hell; did i buy a HD camera to end up with this crap?!
  • jaggies and noise-> if sharpening the footage using Unsharp-Mask, the down conversion introduces strong jagging and additional noise

I admit that the resizing algorithm of After Effects is much better than FCP’s, but it’s still not what you want.

We are talking commercial DVD and broadcast material here- please,  do me a favor!!! – there must be a way to get this right!! Well.., it took me many many hours and a whole spindle of DVD’s to find a method that produced something worth watching AND comparable to the quality of any other commercial DVD production. Read on – even if you don’t use a Sony EX camera!

Here is my work flow – and i repeat: also if you don’t use a Sony EX camera!

  • Download and install the Sony XDCAM-EX Clip Browser for Mac or Windows from http://www.sony.ca/xdcamex/software.htm
  • Download and install the Sony XDCam Transfer package for Mac or Windows from http://www.sony.ca/xdcamex/software.htm
  • Edit your HD footage in FCP (v6.x)  as usual, in a HD timeline, using Prores or whatever suites you best, and finalize your production
  • Set your audio tracks to Dual Mono – instead of Stereo – in the Audio Outputs Tab (Sequence settings dialog)
  • Select Export from the FCP file menu and select SONY XDCAM
  • CHANGED THIS: Select an export path, MXF as format, leave any other setting as-is
  • INTO THIS: Select an export path, MP4 (XDCAM) as format, leave any other setting as-is
  • Run the XDCAM EX Clip Browser program
  • Locate and load the sequence you’ve just exported
  • Select Export from the File menu and select either Raw DV or DVCAM
  • Click on the Details button on the Raw DV window that has appeared; set aspect ratio as preferred (eg. letterbox)
  • This will bloody well take some time, so sit back and relax…
  • Use the resulting DV file directly in any DVD mastering/burning software, or import into a FCP SD sequence timeline, if you want to do additional grading or sharpening, or whatever…
  • Ready! Pin-sharp, pure gold…

Bottom line

We’ve used Sony’s XDCam technology (program and codecs) to downconvert a 720 or 1080 HD sequence to Standard Definition TV format, for output to DVD or Tape. It does a much better job than any other conversion method (except maybe for converting and sharpening each frame with Photoshop).

4K footage (Red) looks even better if you apply a slight blur to the hole HD sequence before exporting it to XDCam in FCP – this to eliminate jaggies. This was suggested in some newsgroup and it makes sense – maybe it’s not needed if you follow the workflow above.

Again, i apologise for any English errors – i am not a native English speaker – but i hope that my 25+ years of experience with this matter helps you off that Prozac (and Cialis at the same time…)😉

Martin


UPDATE: the amazing little program MPEG STREAMCLIP does the job very very good! Best software downconversion seen to date. For both MAC and PC:  http://www.squared5.com/


27 Responses to “The one and definitive FCP HD to SD downconversion method”


  1. August 27, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Looks like a great tip Martin, but what exactly do you mean by: “Select an export path, MXF as format, leave any other setting as-is”…?
    In Export|QuickTime movie, if I select Sony XDCAM, there is no option anywhere that I can find for MXF… btw, I’m using FCP 7, but I don’t imagine it’s changed so much.

  2. 2 marvelsfilm
    August 27, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Hi Gavin.

    You should not go as far as the Export->Quicktime. One step back: Export->Sony XDCam
    If that file format does not show up, you need to download and install the XDCam Transfer package for Mac or Windows from http://www.sony.ca/xdcamex/software.htm (or any other sony download site). That will install the needed codecs – after that the XDCam export option will appear in the export menu. Please let me know if that solves the issue!

    Cheers,
    Martin

  3. September 3, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Hey
    The exported file will be a SD file??

  4. 4 marvelsfilm
    September 4, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Yes sir!

  5. September 4, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Hi Gavin.

    The export XDcam is there. but no XMF format, also i am using Fcp 7.0.

    Thx,

    Greets From rudy from Holland!

  6. September 5, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    The problem is Fcp 7.0 it`s different. I was using today Fcp 6.0.5 and then you can follow the steps from Gavin!
    But! i have much more better results with compressor.
    Only thing you have to do is, always use FRAME CONTROL on in Compressor!

    Sorry for my english, i come from Holland.

    Greets from Rudy.

  7. September 6, 2009 at 8:12 am

    Galvin
    Do you agree with Rudy??

    I also don’t see the xmf format. I am running FCP 6.O.6 and i don’t see the format.

  8. 8 jim dennis
    September 6, 2009 at 11:35 am

    I followed Martin’s instructions to the letter and, indeed, my FCP has now a XDCAM-EX export fileformat. Don’t look for a XMF format, nobody has said so. There should be a XDCAM-EX option directly after Export in FCP’s menu tree. If not, the Sony software hasn’t installed OK.

    Jim Dennis
    JD Software

  9. 9 marvelsfilm
    September 6, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Hello guys.

    Could it be that this is a Mac thing only? I really can’t answer your questions i’m afraid, simply because i got it working here.
    I managed to replicate the exact workflow on an brand-new iMac last week!
    There is no other software Sony XDCam users install, and i see no complaints from them anywhere on the web.
    I have no clue why it’s not working in some cases.

    Martin

  10. September 7, 2009 at 4:20 am

    Hey
    I was able to export an MXF file. But when I open sony clip browser, I can not import it in. When I double click in the MXF file it opens with the sony transfer program.
    Am I doing something wrong. I have the latest version of sony browser.
    Help please

  11. 11 John
    September 11, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    I can’t open an MXF file in Clip Browser either. It only opens in XDCAM Transfer, which will import it as a .mov file, which seems to defeat the purpose of exporting as Sony XDCAM in the first place. Is there another step in there to get these files into Clip Browser?

  12. 12 Sean
    September 12, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Thanks for your potential downconvert solution. Like the others mentioned, I was able to get my clip in FCP to export using XDCAM HD. An MXF file was created. However, I am also unable to import my MXF file in Clip Browser. I can get it to open in XDCAM Transfer, but that only allows me to re-wrap the files as MOVs.

  13. 13 marvelsfilm
    September 12, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Hello all.

    For some reason unknown to me, Sony’s XDCAM browser does not want .MXF files ON SOME INSTALLATIONS (?!). I ran into the problem myself for the first time, when trying to set up a PC system.

    The solution is simple: “Select an export path, MP4 (XDCAM) as format, leave any other setting as-is”
    So, change the MXF setting into MP4 (XDCAM) in the XDCAM-EX export window.
    That solved the problem.

    Martin

  14. 14 Johnny
    September 15, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    It does work to export to XDCAM EX as MP4 rather than MXF. Just also be sure that you have the most up-to-date versions of both XDCAM Transfer and Clip Browser. Transfer should be version 2.10.0 (that’s 2.ten, not 2.one) and Clip Browser should be version 2.05.01 (008.008). With both utilities updated you should be able to follow this process.

  15. 15 Brendon
    September 23, 2009 at 9:47 am

    I am following the workflow and comments in the thread, but have struck a problem (not unlike some of the others). I have FCP 7. I have installed the latest versions of the XDCAM-EX browser & transfer package. When I I do the export from FCP, I select XDCAM but there is no option to allow me to make an MP4 – immediately I select XDCAM export it exports XML. It then offers a choice of settings, and I chose XDCAM HD 1080i 50. There are check boxes for recompress all frames, and Anamorphic 16:9 – do I need to select either of these?? After then doing this export with these settings, I get an MXF file, which the XDCAM Browser software cannot read. Where have i gone wrong? Any suggestions gratefully received please.
    Ta
    Brendon

  16. 16 Brendon
    September 23, 2009 at 9:55 am

    … so my problem is how to set the export path as described above?? I can’t see how to do that.
    Thanks again.
    Brendon

  17. 17 Brendon
    September 24, 2009 at 2:31 am

    Ah ha. Found out that I did not have the latest version of the XDCAM software; downloaded it, and it all worked fine. Thanks for those above whose contributions helped me.

    Now working on how to get 16:9 images without squeezing into 4:3 which the RAW DV requires. This looks fine when played back on set top players which stretch it back to 16:9, but I don’t want the squeezed look on standard screens & PC’s. That’s today’s mission for me, experimenting with that. In summary, I want the same quality images but without looking squeezed on std screens. Any advice on how I can do it would be appreciated. Thanks again.
    Brendon

  18. October 16, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    I feel you guys can save all that work and just
    convert the XDCAM file to ProRes 422. and then
    import those files. The quality is superb.
    Just use compressor at the end to get a SD file

  19. May 28, 2010 at 9:32 am

    It’s so great that you share this with us

  20. December 14, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Hi

    This looks great – but despite my best efforts, I don’t even get an xdcam item in my export window. I’d love to try this. Got a new imac and FCP 6.0.5

  21. 21 marvelsfilm
    December 19, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Hello Dave.

    This only happens if you did not install the XDCam drivers, that are installed with the XDCam XFER software and can also be donwloaded specifically for FCP from the Sony Professional werbsite at https://www.servicesplus.sel.sony.com/sony-software-model-PDZKP1.aspx

    Let me know if that solves it.

    Martin Beek

  22. December 19, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Thanks Martin

    Mpeg streamclip did an amazing job with downscaling. Crystal clear sd DVD. I exported apple prores hq from Fcp, then opened it in streamclip. This was exported as dvcpro50 with better downscaling selected. This imports directly to DVD studio. Brilliant results – even stretched over my new iMac 27 inch display. Looks great at home on the LCD too.

  23. 23 FactoryFilmsNYC
    January 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Hi All-

    I’m going to try compressor or streamclip. Apologies Marvels, but I just completed a DVD using this method and it was worse than simply converting a straight QT. If you play back the MP4 or the resulting dv file post SONY Browser it already looks crumby – and the DVD just makes it worse. Maybe I did something wrong? I followed the steps exactly. I did notice the MP4 and .dv file sizes were on the small size — around 800MB for a 4 minute piece. I installed THE most recent SONY xfer and Browser.

  24. 24 marvelsfilm
    January 27, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Hi.

    It’s shocking to find that so many people have such varying results. We’re over a year later now and i’ve mastered my recent short through Compressor using the Cram presets. http://www.compressorpack.com/
    It look’s great.

    Martin

  25. 25 Steve
    January 31, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Hi Martin,

    I was hoping you could share your cram presets settings for getting the best Hd to sd conversion. I greatly appreciate any information. Thank you!

  26. 26 marvelsfilm
    January 31, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Hello Steve.

    I used the DVD Polished 70 minutes version. I’ve only produced dvd’s for short movies so far, so that allows for the 70 mins. maximum quality dvd.
    I added a little (“5”) sharpness.

    Cheers!

    Martin

  27. 27 Steve
    January 31, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Hey, thanks Martin! I’m new to this site, so I have yet to try out your one and definitive xdcam method. In your opinion, which has the better result, cram preset, or the xdcam method? Lastly, I own an EX1 and would like to ask you a couple of questions regarding tweaking the cameras picture style, if that’s cool with you?


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