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May 29, 2006

Table of Contents

The Moving Picture: The Art of Video Noise Removal
16x9 Inc. Introduces TurtleX for Lightweight DV Camcorders
Contour ShuttlePRO Steps up to the Plate for Intel Macs
BOXX Launches Intel Xeon Processor-based 3DBOXX 8300 Series Workstation
NewBlue Unveils Full Line of Video and Audio Effects
Digital Heaven Offers Free Final Cut Plug-ins, BigTime Resizable Floating Timecode Display for FCP
Magix Announces Movies2go

The Moving Picture: The Art of Video Noise Removal

All writers get queries from readers who are attempting to fix one problem or another, and it always feels great when you can actually help them out. This column describes one such occurrence, relating to a noisy HDV frame grab. While on the subject of noise removal, I'll also discuss a tool I used to remove noise from video shot at a recent concert.

I frequently use frame grabs for DVD menus or labels, though with their smaller lenses and CCDs, camcorders handle low light less adeptly than the average digital SLR, which translates to noise that detracts from image appearance. This was the problem that a reader complained of in an email last month, so I requested the image and went to work.

I started with Photoshop, which did a great job removing interlacing artifacts from the image. However, the image was speckled with chroma noise, which Photoshop's Reduce Noise filter didn't eliminate. I hunted around for noise reduction features in Ulead PhotoImpact, but found no help. A friend had recently recommended Noiseware Professional, a noise reduction plug-in that supports a number of image editing programs, including PhotoImpact and Photoshop. So I downloaded the tool from www.imagenomic.com and tried it in both programs.

You start by choosing a "setting" which ranges from artistic looks like Portrait and Film Grain Effect to corrective settings like "Full noise reduction." After choosing a setting, you can further customize operation by focusing noise reduction on shadows, midtones, or highlights, or across different colors (reds, yellows, etc.) or by boosting noise-reduction levels.

You click on a preview window to see before and after views, and once you find the appropriate settings, you can save them for use with multiple images shot under the same conditions. I fiddled with the settings a bit, and then settled on the Default settings, which removed virtually all the speckling with only a slight loss of detail. Though this is going to sound like an infomercial, here's the actual response I got back from the reader when I sent him the corrected image: "Wow! That Noiseware Pro did a great job reducing the noise."

Note that you can download free trial versions of Noiseware ($49.99) and Noiseware Pro ($69.99), though the trial version inserts a visible grid in the image after applying the filter. Or, you can download Noiseware's Community Edition 2.5, which is a free standalone version that provides all presets and most customization options.

The second problem is more complicated and costs more to fix. All of us have shot video under low-light conditions and it can be incredibly frustrating. If the location lighting is inadequate, and you can't add more, the video will be noisy and grainy even if you do a perfect job with every aspect of the shoot.

Such was the case with a recent concert I shot at the Rex Theater here in Galax. I had an all star lineup of cameras and some talented shooters to drive them. The performer was jazz singer (and international star) René Marie who had brought her own sound team, which produced awesome audio. Conditions were ideal for a great shoot except that every other stage light was blown and the producer insisted on a red gel in the spot lights to increase the "warmth" of the concert.

The VX2000 capturing DV video from stage left produced the best-looking image, while the FX1 on right, capturing HDV, showed slightly more grain. However, the JVC GY-HD100 and Canon XL H1 shooting HDV video at high magnification levels from the back were grainier still.

Using Premiere Pro's new Fast Color Corrector for the FX1 and VX2000, and the Three-Way Color Corrector for the back cameras, I removed more red from the videos than a bucket load of Visine. Early on I produced a test DVD to check quality on different television sets, and noticed that while the video was clear and artifact-free, it was covered by a fine patina of noise, which was more noticeable on shots from the cameras in the back.

This left me with two choices. I could try to convince René that it was snowing in the Rex that day, or attempt to remove the noise. Choosing the latter approach, I recalled an After Effects plug-in called AlgoSuite that I had recently tested for another magazine. The focus of my review was scaling between DV and HDV resolutions and also high quality de-interlacing, and the product had excelled at both tasks.

I also tested AlgoSuite's noise-removal function, but only as it related to the ability to improve the quality of highly compressed streaming video, not video bound for DVD. Checking the product documentation, I read that the product's Multiple Type Noise Reduction (MTNR) filter was specifically designed to remove film grain, low-light noise, and compression artifacts, and used adaptive techniques to distinguish between true noise and actual motion, removing the former and preserving the latter.

 This all sounded promising, so I filtered some footage and compared the results to the original. The filter performed as advertised, adjusting to the various noise levels from the respective cameras, and visibly reducing noise without adversely affecting image detail. For my project, it made all the difference in the world.

If you have similar problems with any of your videos, AlgoSuite is worth checking out at www.algolith.com. The entire suite costs $1,185, but you can purchase just the noise reduction functions for $395. Alternatively, for occasional jobs, you can license the entire suite for $59 per week. Budget plenty of processing time, however, as AlgoSuite is incredibly slow, taking 4:34 (hours:mins) to process 45 seconds of video on a dual 3.06GHz Xeon Dell workstation.

If you'd like to see before-and-after samples of my clips using these noise reduction tools, visit www.doceo.com/noisereduction.html.

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16x9 Inc. Introduces TurtleX for Lightweight DV Camcorders

16x9 Inc. has introduced TurtleX from Easyrig, the new portable camera support designed especially for DV and HDV camcorders weighing up to 10 lbs (3kg).

Employing an overhead support arm, back support bar and hip belt, the ergonomically designed TurtleX transfers static load from the arms and shoulder muscles down to the hips, where it is more easily supported. The system also provides lightweight camcorders with extra stability for steadier shots, while at the same time offering the speed and mobility of a handheld camera.

The TurtleX' new integral backpack features a segmented cushioned interior for carrying and protecting the camera, batteries and all necessary accessories. Roomy exterior pockets provide additional storage space for extra equipment such as microphones. Assembly and breakdown of the TurtleX is fast and hassle free. The lightweight support arm simply detaches and folds for easy storage in the system backpack.

TurtleX is available exclusively in the U.S. through 16x9 Inc. For a limited time, 16x9 Inc. is offering the TurtleX at the special introductory price of $1175 (Suggested U.S. List Price is $1385).


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Contour ShuttlePRO Steps up to the Plate for Intel Macs

Contour Design has released the latest ShuttlePRO and ShuttleXpress drivers for the Intel driven Apple Macintosh line. Contour's Shuttles, with optimized settings for Final Cut Pro, Avid Xpress Pro, and other powerful editing packages, are among the first programmable editing devices to be compatible with the new Macs. 

The ShuttlePro and ShuttleXpress both have jog/shuttle wheels and buttons that can be programmed for keyboard shortcuts (the ShuttlePro has 15 buttons and the ShuttleXpress has 5). The driver also includes preconfigured settings for dozens of the most powerful and popular applications, including but not limited to audio and video applications.

The new driver is available at www.contourdesign.com for download and can be found in the download section of the site. Contour Design continues to update their driver to ensure compatibility with all of the most current hardware and software.


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BOXX Launches Intel Xeon Processor-based 3DBOXX 8300 Series Workstation

BOXX Technologies Inc. has announced the new 3DBOXX 8300 Performance Series Workstation. The 3DBOXX 8300 is a high-performance personal workstation which leverages the power of the new Dual-Core Intel Xeon 5100 Series processors running in conjunction with the new Intel 5000X chipset.

With new performance features such as a 1333MHz front side bus, 4MB of cache shared between two cores, FB-DIMMs (a cutting-edge memory technology) and powerful I/O, the new 3DBOXX 8300 Series Workstation provides enhanced workflow for today's VFX professionals.

The 3DBOXX 8300 Series Workstation is the latest manifestation of BOXX's intention to help the VFX artist benefit from trends toward multi-core processing and multi-threaded applications. BOXX is a strong proponent of a fully fleshed-out 64-bit and parallel processing technology eco-system, which allows the company to design high-performance computing platforms that drive workflow improvement for VFX professionals.

The new 3DBOXX 8300 Series Workstation will replace the 3DBOXX 8200 Series Workstation, which has been a mainstay of the BOXX workstation line-up.

The 3DBOXX 8300 Series Workstation will be available through BOXX and its worldwide network of resellers in the next 45 days. Base pricing start at USD $2,995. BOXX offers flexible financing options, and all 3DBOXX Workstations are backed by the company's renowned technical support, which ensures that VFX artists always get the most out of their investment.


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NewBlue Unveils Full Line of Video and Audio Effects

Interactive technology developer NewBlue, Inc. has announced the launch of its first end-user targeted product line, NewBlueFX. The products will be sold directly on www.newbluefx.com and in OEM bundles.

Initially featuring 7 collections of 57 effects plugins, NewBlueFX add simplicity and power to popular digital video editing software packages, such as Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere, ULead Video Studio and Media Studio, Avid Liquid, and Pinnacle Studio.

In addition, the NewBlue is offering "Halovision," a free Sony Vegas video effect to all users who visit the NewBlueFX web site. This video effect plugin creates an aura around objects in the frame. Halovision simulates paint effects ranging from "halo" to "soft glow" to "water color painting."


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Digital Heaven Offers Free Final Cut Plug-ins, BigTime Resizable Floating Timecode Display for FCP

Digital Heaven (www.digital-heaven.co.uk) has announced that two of their Final Cut plug-ins are now available as free downloads. The company also announced BigTime, a resizable floating point timecode display for Final Cut Pro.

The DH_Grid A generator displays a grid with up to ten divisions. The horizontal and vertical divisions can be independently set and the grid drawn over either the entire frame or a custom defined area. DH_Guides Displays left, right, top and bottom guides in three different styles. It also offers the useful ability to scale the distance between the guides. DH_Grid and DH_Guides are available for free download today from the Digital Heaven website at www.digital-heaven.co.uk.

The remaining 10 plug-ins including innovative solutions for fixing dead pixels, creating split-screens and subtitles are available for individual purchase for $20 to $40 each from the Digital Heaven online store.

Working in a similar way to the timecode window found on Logic Pro and Avid software, BigTime is the perfect tool for viewing a Final Cut Pro sequence with a client. The large timecode display makes it easy to note relevant timecodes from across the room and the size, position, text color, background color, and frames display are all customisable.

BigTime for Mac OS X requires Final Cut Pro (v5 or later) and is available for immediate purchase from the Digital Heaven online store for US$49. A demo version is also available for download from the Digital Heaven site at www.digital-heaven.co.uk.

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Magix Announces Movies2go

MAGIX has announced MAGIX Movies2go. Movies2go lets you easily transfer videos and slideshows to all your mobile devices, including portable video players (such as PlayStation Portables PSP and iPods), cell phones, PDAs, and laptops, to experience and show off your videos to friends wherever you go.

MAGIX Movies2go is designed for anyone that wants to create their own mobile entertainment center. Watch videos and TV shows everywhere you go - on a plane, while commuting, or even while standing in line! Movies2go lets you easily transfer and convert videos and slideshows in just a few steps into MPEG4, 3GP, and many other formats compatible with video playback devices or laptops.

With MAGIX Movies2go, you'll always have your favorite TV shows, blockbuster videos, music videos, fun clips, and personal video recordings handy. Priced at $29.99, MAGIX Movies2go will be available in retail stores and online at www.magix.com starting on May 31st, 2006. It includes New MAGIX Online Video Service with over 300 Free Videos Movies2go lets you transfer videos to your mobile devices from DVD, VHS, camcorders, and the Internet. The software provides direct access to the new MAGIX Online Video Service at: www.magix-movies.com. The Magix video site allows you to download a continually updated selection of over 300 free family-friendly videos, including non-copyrighted movies, classics, silent films, documentaries, and fun video clips. You can search the Magix site for the best free videos and clips and you can also upload your own home videos to the MAGIX Online Album for free.

Available in retail stores and online at www.magix.com starting on May 31st, 2006, MAGIX Movies2go is priced at $29.99. For more information, see www.magix.com.

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