I love Magic Bullet Editors from Red Giant, I use it to create looks and film effects when editing in Final Cut Pro and have been very happy with the results. Thus, when Red Giant announced Instant HD, a tool for upresing standard definition footage to HD, I was expecting another amazing plug-in but the reality is a little different.
InstantHD works with several target applications: Adobe After Effects (version 6.0 and later), Premiere Pro (PC, version 1.5 and later), or Apple Final Cut Pro (version 4.5 and later). It offers a clean interface with several controls: Input Size, Output Size, Filter Type, Sharpness, Quality, and Antialiasing.
Overall I’d say it does a good job with antialiasing, this is well demonstrated with the example frames that Red Giant has on their web site (it’s the same playground footage that comes with the downloadable demo). On the other hand, if your footage looks good to start with (for example, well lit, properly exposed, shot with the DVX100 in 24p advanced with vertical detail freq. set to “Thin”) then the results are very close to what you can accomplish with a good scaler, for example, the one in Final Cut Pro.
Below are are two DVCPRO HD 720p frames upconverted from standard definition DVX100A footage (plus the original frame for reference). The footage was shot in 24p advanced and ingested into a 24p timeline. It was shot in Squeezed Mode, w/ Cine Gamma, Cine Color Matrix, Detail settings in the middle, Vertical Frequency Detail set to ‘Thin’. The first is a clip that was upconverted with Instant HD using these settings: Best Quality, Sharpness=3, Quality=10, and Antialiasing=2. The second clip was upconverted with Final Cut Pro through simply scaling the image in the Motion Tab (with the Sequence Setting Motion Filtering Quality=Best).
|InstantHD.jpg (JPEG from DVCPRO HD master, 16:9 flat, 1280×720, 210.6K) ScaleFCP.jpg (JPEG from DVCPRO HD master, 16:9 flat, 1280×720, 205.6K)
Original.jpg (JPEG from DV SD original, 16:9 squeezed, 720×480, 233.3K)
Note: there is slight image quality loss going from the original DVCPRO HD frames to JPEG, but it’s really insignificant when it comes to comparing these results.
There are two downsides to the Instant HD plug-in: Final Cut Pro does not allow plug-ins to rescale the image, so the documentation from Red Giant takes you through an awkward two-step process using two sequences, one as the source and the other as the master. Second, the plug-in requires you start with progressive scan footage, so if you’re converting from interlaced footage, you’ll need to de-interlace first (you’ll want to use a smart de-interlacer, not just one that drops the odd or even lines, remember, we’re upresing and we want to preserve as much detail as possible). InstantHD also takes a long time to do its thing, more than 10x real-time on my single processor PowerMac G5, while straightforward scaling right in the timeline with FCP only took 2.4x real-time.
I found the demo frustrating to work with, it crashed several times and also came up with a dialog box more than once complaining that the plug-in was not serialized. So much for the demo letting me get a chance to see how well the software can work for me. I don’t mind the watermarks, however, crashing (PowerMac G5, Mac OS X 10.4.6, Final Cut Pro 5.0.4) and complaining that it’s not serialized and having to re-install the demo several times to run tests really made the trail-run a chore. Add to that the two-step process with the nested sequence, and as far as using this in Final Cut Pro, I was left in a very ambivalent state of mind.
So unlike some of the enthusiastic reviews I’ve read, InstantHD is not performing any miracles. It’s certainly not extracting additional resolution information like the sophisticated uprezing that John Lowry did for the 15/70 IMAX film Aliens of the Deep. His upconversion from HD to film for the giant screen involves sophisticated proprietary algorithms that look at surrounding frames in order to extract additional resolution information which is available over time but not in a single frame. Having seen early clips from the film at the Montreal Science Center theatre, it was hard to believe that what I was watching on that huge IMAX screen was HD video shot with Sony CineAlta cameras (a pair of them with special lenses for underwater 3D) and upconverted by Lowry and then recorded out to 15/70 film. The results are amazing and it’s true, you can actually extract more resolution than any one frame contains. Of course this sophisticated conversion requires a huge cluster of many, many PowerMac G5s cranking away.
Maybe as our workstations get faster we’ll see some sophisticated tools end up on our desktops. I predict that within the year we’ll have quad duo (eight-processor) Intel-based Macintoshes that will arrive with as much fanfare as the original PowerMac G5 dual-processor machines did just over three years ago. With so much power, software tools can do more sophisticated image processing. For now, it looks like I’ll stick with Final Cut Pro’s own upconversion and I continue to look forward to the day that someone really delivers on the promises of “Instant HD from SD footage.”
By the way, the frame is from Log Lines, a short film I directed featuring three fine actors: Danielle Perry (pictured), Chris DeChristopher, and Christine Carron. I still need to finish the editing. Sean Hannan graced the production with his fine camerawork, Tom Robotham assisted him as gaffer, and Chris Boebel wrote the script.