Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why CineForm Rules Supreme

When I first started to approach other companies in the games industry with a view to licensing the Digital Foundry hardware, typically the only negative responses tended to be...

1. Why do you CineForm HD compression? Nobody else does and we want to use Final Cut Pro.
2. Why use compression at all? We want precision quality (this is a common attitude with games developers, who would fall in love with CineForm if they put it to the test!).

Well let's tackle point two first, with a very simply exercise. Take a look at the image below from an Xbox 360 Gears of War cut-scene. One image was captured completely uncompressed. The other was taken with CineForm HD. We've zoomed in on a specific part of the image and blown it up to 200%. This proves conclusively that while not mathematically lossless, you lose virtually nothing by using CineForm and you gain so much - easy integration with multiple editing systems, relatively tiny file sizes (anything up to 15:1 compression), plus you can capture onto a single 7,200rpm SATA drive. No more need for stupidly expensive SCSI RAID arrays.
Want some more quality tests? Download this ZIP package of shots. Open an uncompressed HDMI image in Photoshop. Zoom in to 300%, 400% - whatever you like. Import the CineForm version of the same image, CTRL-A, CTRL-C and CTRL-V into your uncompressed window. Use CTRL-Z to undo the paste, then again to re-do it - rinse and repeat. Now you're switching between the two images at a stupendously magnified rate. Impressive eh?
It's all the more impressive considering the chosen subject matter. Video games have little in the way of natural blurring (eg camera focused on the foreground, background out of focus) so it's notoriously hard to compress. Secondly, there's the sheer level of detail in games these days - another compression nightmare. And thirdly, two of the three games in the test package run at 1280x720 at 60 frames per second. Every frame is different, making compression even harder. But CineForm copes easily with any eventuality. No other codec I've tested can.
Point one now. Nowadays, CineForm HD is now pretty much the only cross-platform HD codec on the market. Digital Foundry HD AVI captures can be losslessly rewrapped into the Quicktime MOV format (the bitstream is literally identical) and now both PC and Intel Mac owners can use our captures. Sony Vegas, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro - now pretty much all editors can make use of superior HD assets, with Avid the only hold-outs.

Gears of War on Xbox 360, cropped and zoomed in to 200% - uncompressed on the left, CineForm on the right - not that the human eye can really tell the difference. And the really scary thing? This was taken at CineForm quality level 'High'... there are two more settings offering an even better quality match. We simply don't need to use them.