Transcode your clips for faster *Export* times

Palacono Posts: 3,423 Enthusiast
edited January 2018 in General

It might seem obvious that you'd want to transcode your footage to a more "editing friendly" format so that editing is faster - Cineform, Norman AVC, DNxHD, etc. - but it also has other benefits.

I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but I took an .MP4 file and just exported it and noted the time it took. I then transcoded it to .MP4 again, to the same quality/bitrate, but adjusted so it would run faster in the editor.

The first clip was a little jerky when playing at full resolution, but the second one was as smooth as butter when I dragged the playhead forwards and backwards (which is more work to decode than forwards).

Doing nothing else to it at all, I then exported it with the same settings as the first clip. It took less than half the time to export. I loaded both clips back in and zoomed in to detailed areas to examine them and the quality of both clips was identical. Being able to load the clips in faster meant Hitfilm was able to write them out again faster too. Yay!

So, if you're going to be exporting multiple revisions of something: it makes sense to help Hitfilm get those files in faster, to get them out faster.

Don't just struggle along with jerky files when editing, as everything else (presumably even RAM Preview and Proxy creation, although I didn't time those) and making 'test renders' to see the result at a decent speed will all be slower. Double bad news. :(

But...double good news if you transcode first. ;)


  • BobDiMarzio
    BobDiMarzio Posts: 630 Just Starting Out


    Interesting.   I often say that for hobbyists like me, there is no NEED for a high end cinema camera ie Canon 300, black Magic anything  Red etc. since I make fun little videos that usually only my close circle of friends will see via Youtube.   

    Therefore even if there is some difference most of us would not notice in a million years.   

    But it would be fun to see if there really is no difference.

    Since you probably still have the clips you can easily prove that they are still the same.

    Would you  place one clip on track 1 and the other clip on track 2 and set the blending mode on track 1 to Difference?  If the video is completely black there is no difference.




  • tddavis
    tddavis Posts: 5,095 Moderator

    @BobDiMarzio Well, now, that's mighty interesting.  I had no idea you could do that.  It could be very useful under the right conditions.  

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,066 Ambassador

    @BobDiMarzio @tdd5

    Chances are there would be some differences. Cineform and mp4 are both lossy codecs. A decode/re-encode should produce artifacts. Hopefully minimal. 

    Terry, stacking two different versions of an "identical" file is a good and typical way to measure how much a file has been mangled. Great for photo/video forensics engineers. Blend modes can do some neat things, but are often overlooked in favor of newer techniques. Putting a daytime shot over itself in Multiply used to be step one of digital day-for-night. 

  • BobDiMarzio
    BobDiMarzio Posts: 630 Just Starting Out


    I became aware of using the  difference blend mode from a Davinci Resolve 12  tutorial series.  The Author was discussing steps to take if you are the colorist and receive  the project from the editor. The purpose was to insure the EDL conformed to reference video.

    My suspicion is that since MP4 is not lossless,  it will deteriorate a little every time it's rendered out.  I do not think my eyes will detect this, but I thought it would be an interesting exercise. 

  • BobDiMarzio
    BobDiMarzio Posts: 630 Just Starting Out


    We responded at the same time.  I did not know multiply was used for the day to night conversion.   cool!

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,066 Ambassador


    "My suspicion is that since MP4 is not lossless,  it will deteriorate a little every time it's rendered out.  I do not think my eyes will detect this, but I thought it would be an interesting exercise."

    Correct, as I noted in my prior post. Depending on settings it probably takes 3-4 generations to really see it, depending on bitrate. But, well... Camera Source->transcode->Hitfilm render->YouTube's transcode... Comparing source footage to what YouTube shows, you'll probably see the difference. 

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,066 Ambassador

    @BobDiMarzio I don't know if that's part of the Hitfilm day-for-night filter, but footage over itself in Multiply increases midtone and shadow contrast leaving highlights mostly alone. After that, one would use curves to bring down highlights, then add another layer with a blue gradient overlaid in Color Blend Mode at (say) 25-50% opacity. 

    That's the late-90's/early 2000's method before dedicated plug-ins were created. 

    I forget who I steal the sentiment from, but many plug-ins/filters are specialized tools that make it easier to do things that could be done with basic curves, color correction wheels, blurs, glows, masked planes, add noise/fractal noise,  and blend modes--using a lot of manual steps and multiple layers. 

    A "fun" exercise might be to approach a specialized filter and analyze what basic corrections it contains...

    So cinestyle stacks a blue/orange duotone with a (preset) curves adjustment with added noise and a masked plane for letterboxing. All basic stuff, but in a single easy interface!

    Heat/smoke/energy/fluid distortion? Three of those require an add-on in Express--or, create a Composite Shot with the corresponding Fractal Noise and use that as the Source Layer for a Displacement effect. And as a Set Matte for a grade layer of blur for Diffusion! 

  • tddavis
    tddavis Posts: 5,095 Moderator

    @Triem23 Wow!  Another useful thing I did not know about.  Thanks for that info.  I've always just tweaked the built in but sometimes it wasn't really what I needed and knowing this will come in handy.

  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,423 Enthusiast

    @BobDiMario Ah yes, I've used the Difference method to confirm Hitfilm was drifting off when loading in a Handbraked 23.976 fps file and calling it 24fps compared to an original 23.976 fps file.

    I just tried the original .MP4 file and the speed trancoded .MP4 file and Difference blended them and....not a pixel difference and a completely black screen.

    I then made it full screen on a second monitor (as the Viewer is obviously smaller than full resolution, so would blur the result) and...still all black.

    So I slid the top layer over by 1 pixel and yes, there was the 1 pixel offset halo, so it was working.

    This was of the two different source files, I didn't compare the Exported files because I only have one of them now, and I'd expect Hittilm to do: same in = same out for each.

    So, while .MP4 is a lossy format: at the same bitrate/quality settings (10Mb/s in this case) it's lossy in the same way for the same file via two different encoders, so nothing is necessarily lost by transcoding.

    Either that or the changes in R,G,B per pixel between the two versions are so small they only register as almost completely black when Differenced, so...close enough. :)

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,066 Ambassador

    Add a curves grade after your difference layer and boost your shadows. That'll boost noise. Or, Threshold set at 0.01

  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,423 Enthusiast

    Well, I could. But I'm not going to :) because the whole point is: I'm going to use the Speed trancoded version anyway, so don't care if it's slightly changed from the original. Just like anyone else who transcodes.

    If it's changed so little, then the output will also change by a similarly small amount - compared to the original - and I still wouldn't care because: speed and I'm so over the slow original anyway. :)

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,066 Ambassador

    @Palacono Agreed. I just don't know if you wanted to pixel peep out of curiosity. 

  • NormanPCN
    NormanPCN Posts: 4,081 Enthusiast

    For pixel peeping transcode differences to the original I've used the Difference blend mode and add a massive exposure increase to actually see the diffs. Using a gamma of 2.0 typically makes the diffs more visible than a +5 exposure. If you can see the diffs with just the difference blend mode alone then the transcode is really losing quality. With difference, pure black means no diff.

    Doing an invert at 50% opacity you can get a gray comparison if that is desired. Middle gray is no diff. To see diffs with this method you need to boost contrast with something like curves.

    A screenshot of my test project comparing various transcodes with different codecs.

  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,423 Enthusiast

    I see a path leading into some trees and a sky behind it. :)

    Obviously don't know what settings you use for your transcode, but if I'm losing even that much (TBH, I played around with Curves and couldn't see anything on mine; but if I have to try too hard: it's insignificant) I'd be happy.

    I'm so much more likely to transcode than before, now I know it's a double bonus to do so, as everyone (including me) is always complaining about final render speed.

  • NormanPCN
    NormanPCN Posts: 4,081 Enthusiast

    That is not a lot of difference. It is really tiny given how dim the diffs are. There will be diffs, but the question is how visible (bright) are they. Even withresult bitrate higher than source, and both same codec (ie AVC), there can and likely will be diffs. Macroblock differences. Even if all data is "perfect" but the macroblocks are computed/arranged different, then you can get diffs.

    Here is the original.

    The following are diffs, with a 5 stop exposure push. You can read SSIM as a percentage. 1.0 = perfect.

    Here is Cineform High.

    SSIM Y:0.992710 (21.372952) U:0.996456 (24.505039) V:0.998065 (27.132121) All:0.994985 (22.997565)


    Here is a NormanAVC fast decode example. crf 20. Bitrate a touch higher than the original GoPro AVC. 35Mbps.

    SSIM Y:0.974030 (15.855299) U:0.985922 (18.514501) V:0.993903 (22.148900) All:0.979324 (16.845385)

    Here is Prores Std. Slightly higher bitrate than Cineform High.

    SSIM Y:0.994892 (22.917785) U:0.997974 (26.932934) V:0.998919 (29.660694) All:0.996669 (24.774619)

    Of course there is always the rapid fire comparison. Put the original and   source on a layer. Viewer to 100%. Then rapidly turn the upper layer on/off looking for "movement".

  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,423 Enthusiast

    Oh, very nice. :)

    Considering the amount of detail in the leaves that it would be 'tempting' for the codec to remove/blur,  - and it is in the treetops that there is the most difference - they're all pretty impressively minimally different. On a simpler image there would presumably be less scope to lose detail in the first place. Which is what my test image is - just a talking head - hence possibly why I see no difference.

    Might some of these images be useful in your transcoding thread?

  • NormanPCN
    NormanPCN Posts: 4,081 Enthusiast

    I don't have any experience with more "normal" footage. Normal being people standing around talking to each other. I have GoPro footage around high frequency backgrounds. A lot of first person view as well. I can envision normal footage could fare better in a transcode.

    First person movement with high frequency background is really hard on transcoding. You don't get much of the "good" kinds of compression that you get/find with relatively static scenes. I think it is the "zoom" factor of the first person movement making it hard to reuse parts of one frame in the next. Static or panning like movement is easy to find reuse.

    I came up with the crf 20 for fast decode AVC because it gets an SSIM of around 97.5% with my GoPro stuff. Seemed good enough. Honestly one can push it more but that is a personal thing.

    I did not put this in the previous post but Cineform Medium gets

    SSIM Y:0.987070 (18.884044) U:0.995474 (23.442535) V:0.997342 (25.753643) All:0.991739 (20.829588)

    There is some interest in Cineform Medium in this forum.

    I also did not mention that this test clip is 55 seconds long and it is first person GoPro. The SSIM is the average over the whole duration.

  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,423 Enthusiast

    I might give Cineform another go (I had other issues with noise from the 'wavelets' in the past), but I'm getting good speed/quality results with .MP4.  I'm loathe to change for (possibly) minimal benefits, while the file size is small enough to keep my HDD happy (ingest) and not take up a lot of room too. :)

  • NormanPCN
    NormanPCN Posts: 4,081 Enthusiast
    edited January 2018

    Nothing wrong with AVC. People like to blast it as not an 'edit' codec. It does have higher decode overhead than anything. Even with compute heavy features turned off. Like CABAC. CAVLC still compresses better than the bit encoders other 'fast' codecs use. Always a cost for something.

    Wavelets like macroblocks have their own compromises. Wavelet artifacts will be different than macroblocks and some may not like one verses the other. People with a Bionic eye like yours are probably a tougher audience to please.

    I once tried an All-I AVC fast decode but ran into bugs in Hitfilm. Got support to reproduce, with a Canon DSLR file, but it was a low priority given the low incidence of obvious/immediate issues. I would not trust it even without obvious effects unless I knew it was fixed.

    Anyway people use AVC to keep disk consumption under control. So just let AVC, be AVC, but use a GOP that is super short. Like the 8 in my NormanAVC settings. It works damn near as well as All-I AVC scrubbing and it eases Hitfilm's GOP ignorant way of doing things. Heck, even shorter than 8 could have performance benefits in places in Hitfilm. At the same x264 CRF the shorter GOP should raise the result bitrate which of course raises decode overhead. Balancing act.

    It would be nice to have 422 available in AVC in Hitfilm. 


  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,423 Enthusiast
  • Hi

    I wondered if anyone might help a 'video codec' noobie with a few questions?

    I try to do my own research thats what the internet is for but I think I need a few pointers.

    I am mixing footage taken with a Nikon SLR 1280 x 70 with various scenes composed mainly of stills. The video will be around 5 minutes long - monochrome.

    I tried out Handbrake for the first time, I could find no reference to Norman AVC so I am a bit puzzled about that one?

    Since I know little the best thing seemed to be play.


    Original - mp4 direct from Nikon d300s SLR - 38.4MB - 14 seconds length.

    Handbrake transcode 1:

    MP4 - H.264 (x264) frame rate 24 constant

    encoder preset superfast - quality 22

    Filesize 4MB !!!

    Handbrake  transcode 2:

    Settings as above but encode present taken to other extreme - very slow

    Filesize 2MB !!!

    What surprised me was that both transcodes were at least 10 times smaller in filesize than the file direct from the SLR (mp4).

    I am game for blind experimentation but I feel it might be wise to ask where I might find more on Norman AVC (in handbrake) and also to ask for reactions to the massive filesize difference between the handbrake output and the SLR files?

    My eyes do not detect much difference between any of the files - quite a lot of static background - tripod used, good potential for compression I would have thought.

    My driver for transcoding is curiosity, efficiency and export speed ups if possible.



  • NormanPCN
    NormanPCN Posts: 4,081 Enthusiast
    edited February 2018

    NormanAVC is a term coined for some settings I proposed for use with the x264 encoder applications like Handbrake use. Here is my thread on the subject.

    It is not unusual for an encode from a quality PC encoder to be a lot more compressed at a visually lossless quality than a camera encoder when both are using AVC. The PC encoder is just that much better. Cameras must encode at real time speeds and they do not have much computer power relative to a PC.  The PC encode might be much slower than real time but it can be compressed better. The PC encoder does a lot more analysis to try and find compression without loss. It's variable thing. All that analysis may, or may not, find the "good" kinds of compression which reduce size with little to no quality loss. Because of this cameras typically need higher bitrates to achieve high quality. It all depends on what is being shot. Static stuff and predictable moving stuff is easily compressed with little loss.

    Some of these AVC compression settings while good for compression, cause a lot of overhead on decode. This is what my fast decode settings are about. Turning those features of AVC off. This will result is files a bit larger than when using the full AVC settings. The files will decode in Hitfilm much faster.

    The faster x264 presets do less analysis and the slower ones more. The CRF setting is a rough constant perceptual quality bitrate encoding setting. So a fast vs slow preset at the same CRF should have similar quality but the slow preset will result in a smaller file. Smaller bitrate files always decode faster, all else being equal.


  • Jonnie45
    Jonnie45 Posts: 39


    Thanks so much for the reply and sorry for the tardy response.

    Your comment about camera compression rings true, I played with the compression in Handbrake and pretty much achieved the same file size as the files direct from the camera simply by winding down the compression to almost nothing.

    Now looking for a window of free time to encode the video files in my project and then hopefully I will see downstream efficiencies.


  • lostcowboy
    lostcowboy Posts: 12 Just Starting Out*

    Hi, I have a geforce gtx 1060 gpu and I never could get Handbrake to use it. So I went looking and found XMedia Recode there is not much instruction on it but it does use the newer Nvidia NVENC api for encoding. Recently I had to join two avi files together and output them as mp4, I was having trouble getting it done until I found MediaCoder , at the time I did not try the gpu encoding. Just went with the default settings, that were software. I don't know if it automatically set the bitrate for the output the same as the input files, or I just got lucky. I have a AMD FX- 8350 cpu that most software doesn't load down at all. But this software did 95% on all eight cores, it also was encoding at about 240  fps, and the file was about half the size of the two files combined and I could not tell the difference watching the movie. Oh to join files you bring them in and shift select them and then right click them and select group, that's what they call joining. I have not tried translating to a larger bit rate, so I don't know how well that will do with ether software. But you can select two pass encoding on both software.