December 29, 2014

Transcoding: Should You Be Doing It, or Are You Wasting Your Time?

Transcoding
Post production is a tricky business. With all of the codecs, software options, and workflows available to us, it's hard to know if we're being as efficient as we can be.

One subject that seems to confuse people more than most is that of transcoding. In the past, transcoding was almost always used as an intermediary step before the edit because NLEs like FCP7 and Avid didn't perform particularly well without their specifically-tailored mezzanine codecs (ProRes and DNxHD). However, in the past couple of years, each of the major editing platforms has taken on the ability to natively edit footage from a whole range of cameras and capture formats, which begs the question, is transcoding still a necessary step for most of us to take in our post production workflows? 

The answer to that question is actually more complicated than you might think, and there quite a few things that need to be taken into consideration before making the choice of whether to transcode or not. Luckily, our friends over at Videomaker just put out a helpful excerpt from their post-production course that should shed light on the process.

There are few things to note here. First and foremost, I would not recommend using the Premiere Pro proxy workflow outlined towards the end of this video unless your editing system is really old and decrepit. Why? Most modern NLEs (and Avid too, finally) have a feature which lets you playback your sequences at lower resolutions, which is essentially a built-in way to boost perceived performance while still working with native high-resolution media. In other words, lowering playback resolution eliminates the need for proxies on most systems.

There is one major exception to that rule, however, and it's when your capture format is RAW. Although it is possible to edit natively with certain types of RAW files, you lose much of the flexibility that comes from shooting RAW when you use that workflow. Otherwise, creating proxies and relinking to the original media when you're ready to color correct and master is the best solution.

Ultimately, transcoding your original media to intermediate codecs like ProRes or DNxHD can still save you loads of time in the long run if you're shooting to codecs like high-bitrate h.264 or the new h.265, which is currently only available as a capture format on the new Samsung NX1. These and a few other codecs can be notoriously difficult to work with regardless of resolution, and they'll slow down your editing machines considerably. If that's the case with any particular codec that you regularly use, transcoding to an intermediate might just be the best option in the long run.

What are your thoughts on transcoding, and what role does it play in your post production workflows?     

Your Comment

30 Comments

I recently realized that In fcpx, when importing 4k footage and choosing to use prores proxy, it down converts the footage to 2k.

December 29, 2014 at 6:57PM

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Anthony Vescio
Director/Editor
386

Proxies can be very important when editorial is far away and dailies are being sent via broadband.

December 29, 2014 at 8:25PM

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Thomas Wyatt
DoP/DIT
81

Agreed wholeheartedly. On some high-end commercial shoots, we've actually transcoded to low-res h.264, uploaded massive amounts of footage, and had them transcode those over to MXF. Sounds stupid, but when your turnaround is fast, it actually saves tons of time. And really, most people who work on the high-end of the industry don't care about quality until the end anyway.

December 31, 2014 at 3:03PM

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Russell Anderson
Editor, Programmer
152

Proxies can be very important when editorial is far away and dailies are being sent via broadband.

December 29, 2014 at 8:25PM

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Thomas Wyatt
DoP/DIT
81

So for me to be able to edit quickly and scrub without delay I use prores, usually prores422 proxy. I have a 4 year old computer but the real problem is that dslr stuff(h264) and c100 and the like(mxf) are terrible edit codecs in that they are not intra frame. You really need intra frame codec to edit with adequate speed on older machines. I'm still going to use proxies as long as I can tell a difference when I scrub footage.

December 29, 2014 at 9:17PM

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Peter Staubs
Camera Assistant
491

I really disagree unless you have a pretty low end processor for that era. my 4.1 mac tower with 2X4 2.8ghz zenons does ok with canon h.264 in prem pro. having enough ram, fast drives and a good GPU are all part of the equation and if they all aren't up to speed, then you won't have a good experience on older gear.

proxy workflow on most systems is just a total minefield of problems. if you have never had to manually relink hundreds of clips, you won't understand that proxy workflow is pretty much to be avoided at all costs. there are just too many things that go wrong that can cost days of work to correct.

One of the huge pitfalls is if you don't pre-process your canon DSLR footage thru QTchange. QTchange will write into the mov file a reel name and set the clip TC = to creation time (ToD). thats a HUGE help when you have multiple dslr clips from _different_ cameras and they have the same names because some on thought it would be a good idea to match all the cameras together on a shoot… or you are a busy post place and simply wind up with dupe names because of all the material coming thru.

This can also happen when you clipwrap MXF media into individual new MOV's. Since MXF just names clips Clip_001 ect its very easy to have a dozen clips of the same name. going back to relink to that can be a total utter nightmare if you did not first clipwrap all the media to individual files, and at the very least then bulk rename a cards set of files with at least something like Cam1_Card1_ClipXXXX ( adobe bridge has a great rename utility BTW )… and then maybe still use QTchange to insert matching reel names directly into the files.

if you don't actively do this sort of work up front and just transcode everything to proxy files, your match back will be one of the most miserable post experiences imaginable… and VERY profitable for me to fix your problems

December 31, 2014 at 2:08PM

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Steve Oakley
DP • Audio Mixer • Colorist • VFX Artist
363

@Steve Oakley

Great information here!

This is exactly why I pushed for a switch back to Avid in our production company, after years of suffering through Final Cut Pro workflows. Avid may be clunky at times, but it respects metadata. I have yet to experience a problem (unrelated to some kind of user-error) conforming a show to hi-res in Media Composer 7 and 8. And no need for 3rd party solutions to make it work.

Curious if you've ever done an Avid conform from proxies to full-resolution for colouring?

Round-tripping from MC to Resolve has been a breeze, too. A world of difference from FCP to Resolve. That wasn't for the faint-of-heart!

January 7, 2015 at 7:54PM

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I bought my 550D in 2010 when it came out. My computer at the time was an eight year old desktop with just 2GB of RAM. I was shooting a feature that summer and opted for the offline workflow. I made proxies that were only 240 pixels high and did my offline edit with those. Then I brought in 10 minute reels to After Effects CS4 where I used the Immigration script to conform my online. Graded with Colorista Free, and exported a .tga master. At the time, this was the only way my computer would handle the T2i footage.

December 29, 2014 at 10:28PM

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Chris Tempel
Director
131

Proxies are more efficient than a 1/8 debayer, you will notice this if you ever try to edit a multi cam project with more that fifteen angles on a 3 year old machine. I tried to edit a music video (shot on a 7D) that had over 30 angles in the multi cam clips and it would playback with a horrid stutter in premiere so I had to edit the video in FCPX instead and via proxy and guess what - the same project cut like butter. So no, proxies are more efficient than debayering (which FCPX actually does both). I wish premiere had a proxy workflow as I find it way less taxing on my computer to use that.

December 29, 2014 at 10:28PM

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Brad Jones
Director/Producer/Writer/Editor
436

You can just relink media to do an offline workflow in premiere. Just make sure the file names are the same.

December 29, 2014 at 11:45PM

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Peter Staubs
Camera Assistant
491

Sure, but the amazing thing about the proxy workflow in FCPX, is that you don't do any relinking you click a button and the timeline goes back to its native format. That's way faster and more efficient than relinking in my opinion.

December 30, 2014 at 3:14PM

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Brad Jones
Director/Producer/Writer/Editor
436

This is great if you have FCP, Premier Pro or Avid. But what about the majority of us who can't afford high priced editing software. I use Cyberlink products and they give me everything I need except with a graded clip, which stutters when playing. If I render the graded clip and place it back into the timeline, it plays fine. I'm shooting .MP4 and .MOV file containers on a GH3. What would suggest as a proxy codec?

December 30, 2014 at 11:04AM, Edited December 30, 11:04AM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
887

Which version of PowerDirector are you using? I have been using PD11 for a while and using proxy files is completely transparent. They call them 'shadow files'. You can set Preferences to automatically generate them when using HD clips. If you don't it will ask you if you want to when you import the clips. Either way, a proxy file is generated, used in all editing, and then replaced automatically by the original when the final output is generated. I don't know what codec it uses or the parameters, I don't need to as it is all handled automatically.
Hope this helps.
John

January 3, 2015 at 4:29PM, Edited January 3, 4:29PM

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John Harler
Retired
8

Thanks, John.
I know about the shadow files. But they still don't help when doing round trip grading between PD12 and Color Director. I still get skipping frames and clips. The only solution I found....so far is to produce/render the clip......and insert it in place of the original.

January 5, 2015 at 4:07PM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
887

Hi Jerry,
My laptop has only an i3-350 CPU with an ATI HD5650 graphics card and I share your problem. In PD11 itself I find by juggling the Preview Quality/Display options I can usually get a reasonably smooth playback. Sometimes, counterintuitively, a higher quality setting plays back more smoothly! My last resort is to turn on non real-time preview. This usually gives me a smooth playback, with no sound and sometimes in slow motion, but these do not matter for colour correcting. I have not used ColorDirector a lot, but I use the same technic there with the addition on changing the picture size.
I wish we had the option to choose the codec and resolution of the proxy files but I have not found any way yet.
Good luck. John

January 6, 2015 at 12:52PM

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John Harler
Retired
8

Another consideration to make is in regard to how often you will be exporting. If you are working with a producer remotely, you can save yourself a fair amount of time exporting daily or frequent cuts by transcoding ahead of time. A timeline full of ProRes files is going to export much much faster than with not-edit-friendly codecs.

When still in the rough cut phase, a 44 minute show with just edits will export in about 5 minutes on a modern machine. It will take closer to real time if it's in a heavily compressed codec.

If you are going to be exporting a dozen times to send off for review, it's well worth it to bite the bullet and just transcode ahead of time. Storage space is cheap.

December 30, 2014 at 11:37AM

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Joshua Bowen
Editor
525

When I was editing my last short I started working with the native clips without transcoding. Everything was fine until I import my sequence to DaVinci resolve. Here, DaVinci just keep crashing and I had to do the a simple grading on premiere.
When I ask my teacher about this, he said that the problem was in the fact that I didn't transcode my native clips to ProRes before start cutting on Premiere cs6 2014. The computer was a iMac from this year.

My teacher was correct? Can someone help me here? What are your thoughs on this?

Thank you

December 30, 2014 at 5:07PM, Edited December 30, 5:07PM

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Francisco Miranda
Filmmaker
154

I don't think your teacher was correct here. I have edited many different kinds of codecs nativley using premiere pro. I also use davinci to do my grading, I have never had davinci crash on me because I was using the native files. I have files like R3D. to MP4. files pass through there natively and at times it would be a mix of a few codec all in one timeline. But I have never had any issue with it crashing. Im not sure what codec you were using to edit with or when it was crashing but it seems to me that it is an issue with your XML file/workflow from premiere to davinci.

December 30, 2014 at 8:24PM

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Bert Beltran
Filmmaker | Editor | Motion Graphics | Drone Op
211

I agree. also we don't know if all updates where applied but resolve is normally a super stable app. I'd suspect OS / CUDA / driver / Resolve mismatch and lack of most recent updates as the primary cause. While resolve is sluggish about h.264 playback, it does just fine with canon h.264 files for linking to them.

if your crash was related to importing the XML, its possible. There is NO such thing as Prem P CS6 2014. its either CS6 which is several versions old, or the newest 2014. XML between PP and resolve has been and on and off problem everytime there is a new release. The fix though is : open your XML from PP into FCP7, export a new XML from FCP7 and resolve will be happy. its sad but you probably have to use FCP7 as a ultility to fix / clean up the XML in the middle so that both apps are happy. I have seen resolve crash from XML's from PP and it has NOTHING to do with the media, its a bad XML reader in Resolve and a bad XML writer in PP. again there are specific combo's of those apps that play nice, and several that don't…. apply updates !

December 31, 2014 at 2:18PM

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Steve Oakley
DP • Audio Mixer • Colorist • VFX Artist
363

Thank you! I will try that ;)

January 1, 2015 at 8:19AM

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Francisco Miranda
Filmmaker
154

From my experience DaVinci Resolve tends to play nicer with ProRes files and some raw files like r3d or CinemaDNG. So your teacher is correct in saying to transcode your native clips to ProRes. Also while you can use a iMac, it is really not the best computer for the job. Resolve runs better when two GPUs are used. One for the rendering and one for the graphic interface.

December 31, 2014 at 11:40AM

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Joseph Lindsay
Director of Photography/Motion Designer
158

My (long and drawn-out) process: DMC-GH3 MOV files shot at 1080p, 50fps and 50MB/s. Transcode using Media Encoder CC to 720p 25fps DNxHD MXF OP1a files. Ingest MXF files into Prelude CC for logging and subclipping. Export subclips to Premiere Pro CC for editing. Direct Link between Premiere and SpeedGrade CC for colour grading (and Audition CC for sound). Re-link to the camera files as per the above video. Render. Deliver. Why this workflow? Because my PC is 4 years old and under-spec'd: AMD Athlon II X4 620 quad core CPU, 2GB RAM, 80GB SSD, 10TB storage and backup, GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost graphics card with 2GB GDDR5 RAM and 768 CUDA Cores, 23" LG D2342 3D monitor. It's a great machine for 720p but I switched to shooting 1080p 3 years ago and I'm still waiting for this box to HURRY UP AND DIE!!

December 31, 2014 at 12:53PM

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Brian King
Managing Director
77

put more ram into it. you need a min of 16gb and that will set up back less than $100. the GPU is ok, but for 4K 4gb is preferred but it should work ok for less complex layers / fx.

December 31, 2014 at 2:21PM

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Steve Oakley
DP • Audio Mixer • Colorist • VFX Artist
363

I agree. Next month I'm scheduled to max out my RAM to 8GB on the Gigabyte GA-MA74GMT-S2 motherboard. In April I'll assemble a new system based on the ASUS Z9PA-D8 INTEL C602-A motherboard (although I still haven't decided on which Xeon CPU's to use.)

January 1, 2015 at 2:57AM

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Brian King
Managing Director
77

I use EDIUS because it doesn't need to transcode my 5D h264 videos and works them nearly as good as if they were transcoded to something else. Sony Vegas also works quite well with native camera files without the need to transcode. Transcoding takes time, and storage, unless I throw away the transcodes after I am done. For budget/time friendly video enthusiasts I would never recommend transcoding. If two companies can create software that works with the native camera files efficiently, so can all the others.

December 31, 2014 at 1:37PM, Edited December 31, 1:37PM

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Thanks to Atomos Ninja Blade, for me and my 5d3 it will be Prores all the way...

January 2, 2015 at 6:38AM

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Kayode
895

Also it's important to note that, when doing effects-heavy work, using a codec that does not degrade over generations (such as ProRes or DNxHD) is a must to preserve image quality. Of course, this is more of a problem in low-budget (or bad-camera) situations: last term I had to shoot a scifi-story on my 60D and before starting with grading or compositing, we converted all h.264 originals to ProRes 422 masters (and then some ProRes 422 Proxy proxies for the heck of it).

January 2, 2015 at 12:22PM, Edited January 2, 12:22PM

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EDIUS NLE has been editing in native form anything... I mean anything mixed on the timeline any format and in REAL TIME and in HD !

Edius was doing advanced things before FCP and all the rest were still struggling with transcoding, ETC.
Look it up.
If you ever tried Edius, you'll never go back to Vegas and all the rest.
No, I am not an Edius promoter, I just use it for decades because I don't have the time screw around with time consuming editing.

January 3, 2015 at 11:34PM

0
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P41
149

To efficiently convert MP4 to PowerDirector supported MPEG-2 we recommend you to use iDealshare VideoGO, it can convert MP4 in any codec and any resolution to PowerDirector supported MPEG-2.

November 3, 2016 at 6:00AM

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So do I need to transcode my iPhone footage (4K 100Mbps) if I want to edit in fcpx or premiere?

December 4, 2016 at 7:42AM

0
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Mahmood AlShafai
Student
9