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September 2014
Issue: April 1, 2010

SOLVING DCI'S J2K ENCODING CHALLENGE

Over the past few years, the major Hollywood studios have been rapidly making the switch from video to digital files as the preferred medium for archiving film and television assets. That change has proven challenging for post houses seeking to meet those studios’ mastering needs, as they now must deliver masters in DCI-compliant file formats. A large part of the problem has been a lack of an efficient means of encoding media in JPEG2000 format, a requirement of DCI.

DVS’s recent release of the third generation of its Clipster DI workstation has, for a growing number of post facilities, resolved that problem.

Clipster, which combines tools for editing, color grading and encoding, has been a popular choice for mastering work and its latest version extends its capabilities through the ability to encode J2K media at nearly double real-time speed.

For post houses, that means they can complete virtually the entire DCI mastering process through one system and deliver digital source masters, employing mandated J2K encoding, to their studio clients for archival purposes, digital cinema distribution, and the generation of downstream deliverables for home entertainment, television, online and other channels.

“Clipster encodes JPEG2000 at 500 Mbps — twice the resolution of digital cinema files,” notes DVS GM Erik Balladares. “An inability to encode media to studio specifications was a big reason that file-based workflows hadn’t really taken off — it limited the kind of mastering work facilities could do. The new Clipster has been a breakthrough for those companies — they can now deliver DCP packages in the format studios require.”

Burbank-based FotoKem was an early adopter of Clipster and currently has more than a half-dozen workstations, three of which feature the new JPEG2000 accelerator board. The latter are primarily used for mastering projects for Universal and other studios. “We use it for DCP generation and also for JPEG2000 deliverable packages,” explains FotoKem senior VP of technology Paul Chapman. “Studios have all gone to file-based archives, so projects that previously went out to tape are now all file-based. And we rarely deliver on a drive; it’s all electronic.

“Clipster is one of the few pieces of equipment that actually shows up in studio specs,” Chapman adds. “They cite it as a piece of equipment that you have to have, because it is the only system that can do that level of work.”

ADS (Advanced Digital Systems), Hollywood, originally focused on duplication and standards conversion, but has broadened the scope of its services over the years. Now, studio mastering and re-mastering projects constitute a large part of its workload. The facility has three Clipsters and uses them both as an all-in-one solution for file-based mastering and as a digital disk recorder for restoration projects. “It’s flexible, offering different services in one box,” notes ADS director of engineering Russell Ruggieri. “That makes it a value-added asset to the facility. The box is like a Swiss Army knife.”

ADS is currently using Clipster to re-purpose assets from Showtime’s library for HD and electronic distribution. “We are able to encode media one time and incorporate it into any workflow — all from the mezzanine file on our SAN,” says director of technical operations Tom Sehenuk. “As one of our most dynamic and reliable tools, it allows us to handle anything they throw at us.”

While Clipster has provided post houses with renewed ability to perform mastering work, it has also opened the door to other revenue streams. 2G Digital Post acquired the system primarily to master films. “We had clients that required J2K files and Clipster was the only way to do it in a high-volume environment,” says 2G founder Chuck Filliettaz, “but once it was in-house we realized there were a lot of other uses for it.”

Recently, 2G used Clipster to perform complete a hybrid 2K/HD finishing project for an independent feature. “Before Clipster, we would have pulled it into an Avid DS,” Filliettaz notes. “It’s a more complicated process…we needed something simple and easy to use, and that’s Clipster.”

From the point of view of FotoKem’s Chapman, the development of Clipster has mirrored the changes that have been sweeping the film industry in general and post production in particular. “Clipster has been in a state of continuous evolution,” he observes. “If it doesn’t do it now you can be pretty sure it will do it in the near future.”