Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An "Intermediate Codec" -- Is that term valid anymore?

Some of you may have seen our most recent announcement that CineForm compression has been selected for a 300-screen digital theater rollout in India. Please check out the press release on While we are very excited about participating in this new market, it has put our codec in an unusual position; our software tools now participate in every part of the film production workflow. Acquisition: We are the acquisition format in cameras like Silicon Imaging and soon Weisscam (see Weisscam press release), we are inside digital disk recorders like Wafian, and we are an output format in the upcoming CODEX recorders. Post-Production: We are widely used natively as an online post-production format on the PC and increasingly on Mac, and now Exhibition: the same format used throughout acquisition and post is now beginning to drive digital theater projection at HD, 2K, and hopefully beyond.

CineForm created its compression technology because codecs designed for tape acquisition or fixed-channel distribution were simply not good enough for the visual quality and multi-resolution workflow demands of advanced post-production. We initially became the “intermediate” between the mediums of heavily compressed source formats and heavily compressed distribution formats. But it turns out if you are good at post, you can also be good at some markets for acquisition and distribution. I need to stop saying that codecs designed for acquisition and distribution “suck” for post, as we are now the exception. :) Now, it is still very true that no one compression format is suitable for all markets, so no one will be downloading CineForm for streaming media; H264 is 10 times more efficient for that market. Yet try editing H264 and you will know why CineForm has its market.

The design parameters for CineForm compression have not changed. It is well known in compression circles that of the three design parameters - quality, speed, and size - you can only pick two. CineForm is one of the few to select quality and speed. Acquisition and distribution formats typically choose size first. In the professional acquisition space, size is becoming less important (except you don't want to store 4k uncompressed; even 2k/HD is a burden for many) as hard disk and flash-based recording systems don't limit to 25Mbit/s as DV/HDV tapes have done--file size can now increase to reach your desired quality. Digital theater markets are also very much quality-driven, and less sensitive to size, as today they are already storing between 80 and 250Mb/s for compressed content delivered to the screen. So why did Cinemeta in India select CineForm? CineForm’s delivered quality and speed together result in a systems cost savings. They get CineForm’s acknowledged “quality”, while the “speed” means it can be played back in software on standard PC platforms without HW acceleration that is required for competing solutions.

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