Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NeoScene vs. GoPro Studio - I Want My AVC...HD (NeoScene Downloads)

NeoScene is a discontinued software product. If you were a digital filmmaker a few years back, you may have heard of it. If you were a color corrector a few years back, you may own it. Even if you have not heard of it, I am here to explain why digital filmmakers should be severely disappointed it no longer exists.

What WAS NeoScene?
NeoScene was a product of CineForm that converted certain camera files (official camera list) from an 8-bit colorspace to a 10-bit colorspace. While this had no affect on the shooting of a video, it would greatly improve color grading. The price was $129, and was available until late 2012/early 2013. When GoPro bought CineForm, NeoScene was discontinued.

8-bit vs. 10-bit

While 10-bit over 8-bit seems like a small difference, it actually makes a huge impact. 8-bit is normally shot by cameras that have a chroma subsampling of 4:2:0 or 4:1:1 (which are arguably the same in quality). Without going into great detail, the three numbers denote light and color. The best images are 4:4:4, but this is uncompressed footage and thus requires large amounts of storage. 4:2:2, used in 10-bit cameras, is said to be unnoticeable when compared to 4:4:4 with the human eye. In addition to looking good, 4:2:2 is compressed, which means it saves storage space (which can greatly lessen budget costs).

The above would seemingly be useful for when shooting video, not performing post-production. However, color is involved. When color bit-depth is increased the color palette increases as well. 8-bit colorspace is made up of 256 colors. 10-bit colorspace is made up of 1024 colors. That is a 300% increase! And for a color corrector, this extra amount of colors enables a much wider range of precision on overall color quality.

GoPro Studio Free vs NeoScene
GoPro restructured all of the products offered by CineForm, and NeoScene was the last to go. NeoScene became integrated into the GoPro Studio editions, including its free edition! This was one of the many upsides of the GoPro restructuring. The GoPro Studio Free boasts not only the free bit-depth conversion, but it also gives a free editing and color correcting suite, and it gave the CineForm MOV export codec to 3rd-party applications like Sony Vegas or Premiere Pro.

The GoPro Studio Premium ($299) and Professional ($999) versions state 10-bit and 12-bit (4096 colors) chroma formats on the GoPro website, which I assume means that it can convert 8-bit and 10-bit to larger bit-depths. Knowing all this would make anyone think that GoPro's restructuring was a welcome change...

The NeoScene Legacy
Despite the incredible amount of items offered with the GoPro Studio Free edition, it had dropped one major aspect that NeoScene had provided: AVCHD. Not even the paid GoPro Studio versions make mention of this capability.

This means that any camera that uses the popular AVCHD recording format is now out of luck. There are cameras that can switch between the AVCHD and MJPEG format; but it is widely argued that AVCHD provides better quality (if for nothing else) through less noise. And if someone uses a camera such as the Panasonic Lumix GH2, that can be hacked for extreme bitrates and quality, not having this feature is a huge letdown.

What Are Ya Gonna Do?
If a camera does not use AVCHD, then there is nothing to worry about. If a camera uses AVCHD, but has the MJPEG option, then MJPEG may be a better way to go. This can also be tested by shooting test clips in both formats, then seeing how the color correcting holds up for the 8-bit footage (AVCHD) and the converted 10-bit footage (MJPEG).

The last option is to use NeoScene. GoPro has since rid itself of any download links to NeoScene (which is bad form by any company with discontinued products). I went on a hunt to find any and came up dry. Fortunately, I had saved a few as I always worried something like this would happen:

The bundle includes 4 versions of NeoScene for Windows (1.6.0, 5.5.1, 5.5.4, 5.6.1), one Mac version (5.5.5), ac3filter 1.63 & 2.1 (2.1 has been reported to cause errors), and documentation from the website (from December 2012).

NeoScene Downloads
The NeoScene downloads should have a trial that I believe lasts 30-days. If an old customer still has the activation/serial information, use that and it should become the full version.

For those who were not lucky enough to purchase an activation and serial number while NeoScene lived, refer back to some of my older posts on how to get around trial limits, legally. (Hint: It involves Windows System Restore points and disconnecting the Internet.)