Beating the Blu-ray coding blues


Tommy Simonsson runs SitoCad in Stockholm, Sweden, a professional video production company specialising in industrial work, conferences and weddings. He shoots in high definition on a Sony PMW-EX3 camcorder, and finishes his projects using the Grass Valley EDIUS nonlinear editor.
“When I show them what HD looks like, most of my customers choose Blu-ray as the delivery medium,” Simonsson explained. “They see Blu-ray giving them better quality.”
The problem he has is that the authoring tools he uses – Sony DVD Architect 5 and Corel DVD MovieFactory 7 – take an age to transcode from the native MPEG-2 coding format of the EX3 to the H.264/AVC coding used on Blu-ray discs. This is a common problem: AVC encoding is an extremely processor-intensive operation.
“I can import the Sony files direct into EDIUS for editing,” Simonsson explains, “but I do not like the down-time as a result of converting to AVC.”
EDIUS has a thriving online community, sharing information and swapping ideas. It was here that he read a report from someone who had the chance to beta test what was then a new product from the Grass Valley EDIUS family: the FIRECODER Blu.
FIRECODER Blu is a PCIe card which plugs into a Windows-based PC. It uses Cell microprocessor architecture, jointly developed by Sony, Toshiba and IBM, to transcode MPEG-2 files to AVC. Because it is a dedicated board, it does it really quickly – two or three times faster than real time, and very much faster than transcoding using the computer’s own CPU.
“From what I read online it seemed that this was the answer to my problem,” said Simonsson. “The people who had tested it liked the way it worked. When I ordered the system, it was still so new that the dealer had not heard about it. But they got it in and I tried it.
“Using FIRECODER Blu-accelerated encoding saves a huge amount of time on any project, especially if you need to make last minute changes and re-encode.”
He also pointed out another, perhaps less obvious benefit: archiving. AVC is an extremely compact format, and completed projects stored this way take up a fifth of the disk space than MPEG-2 files would use. Projects can be quickly archived using FIRECODER Blu, eliminating much of the time taken on this task.
The FIRECODER board is bundled with a simple software utility to create Blu-ray Discs, but for discs with menus it needs to work in conjunction with third-party authoring software. Simonsson suggested that Grass Valley implement an even tighter tie-in with the EDIUS editor, so that it can encode the media directly from the timeline – something that has indeed been implemented with the latest software release, version 5.1.
For now, he says “working with FIRECODER Blu is very simple and very fast. I have talked to my friends in the business and told them to get it.”

Tags: blu-ray | iss031 | sitocad stockholm | ex3 | sweden | edius | grass valley | N/A
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