Making Movies – Part 5

While the story, as discussed in Part 4, is still the most important aspect of video, there are two technical aspects that are pretty much vital to video post-production (compiling the story), software and hardware (a decent computer). As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been using Cyberlink PowerDirector for a while now because it’s not too bad a video editing suite. It’s well priced and, more importantly, it will run on my nearly 10 year old PC. So with PowerDirector and my old PC I’ve been able to produce all of my YouTube videos, but that old PC (Dell Studio XPS) has really been starting to show its age. It’s frequently rather slow, even when running moderate tasks and often running out of memory when doing several things at once. I knew that it was on its last legs as far as any photographic or video editing was concerned and my fears became more immediate when one of my monitors started to play up, which I confirmed was the graphics card starting to flounder. Getting parts for this PC was becoming difficult, so I was now more or less forced into looking at something new and more capable earlier than I anticipated.

Cray XC 50 Supercomputer - (source: Cray)

Cray XC 50 Supercomputer – (source: Cray)

I could have gone on a search for new or used parts like I did when the power supply died, but by now it was going to be a hit and miss affair to find anything likely to be functional. Dell supplies no spare parts anymore, nor do they list any alternatives. There was an additional decision I needed to make and that was whether to get a desktop or a laptop. A desktop is traditionally a more practical choice because of the features that it can provide, as well as modifications (as long as it’s not too old), but a laptop can be more versatile because it’s portable and not affected by our regular power failures (though not as easily repaired). The more I searched, the more I began to lean towards a laptop and a gaming laptop because of the features, especially as modern laptops that I’ve owned have been pretty reliable. As I narrowed things down, it came to just a couple of options, an MSI or HP brand. I considered a Dell, but they were just too expensive when it came to what I wanted. At the end of the day, the MSI proved to offer the best specifications and value for money.

HP Omen 17-AN061TX 17.3-inch Gaming Laptop - (source: HP)

HP Omen 17-AN061TX 17.3-inch Gaming Laptop – (source: HP)

MSI GF72VR7RF Leopard Pro 17.3-inch Gaming Laptop - (source: MSI)

MSI GF72VR7RF Leopard Pro 17.3-inch Gaming Laptop – (source: MSI)

I was originally looking at a laptop with a 15″ screen, but then saw the 17″ models and, having had a 17″ laptop years ago I felt that it was a better move, especially as the price differences weren’t that great. I did have some reservations about the MSI after reading some reviews, especially where they noted the ‘very loud’ fan noise and the screen not being viewable except almost directly from the front. However, when I visited the store, this wasn’t what I observed from the demo model on display. On getting home and setting up the MSI, I was quite amazed at how quiet the MSI was (inaudible next to the Dell – I think my drone is quieter than the Dell) and the screen was absolutely gorgeous and fully viewable from any angle, and I mean any angle, without losing quality. It’s annoying to find reviews where the reader is led to believe that a product has some major failings, yet in real life it’s quite the opposite. And you might note that the MSI has many more accessory ports than either the HP or Dell equivalent. As a complete aside, going by what my Watts Clever meter shows, the new system has reduced power usage by half from the Dell.

MSI GF72VR7RF Leopard Pro 17.3-inch Gaming Laptop - (source: MSI)

MSI GF72VR7RF Leopard Pro 17.3-inch Gaming Laptop – (source: MSI)

The another important thing when it comes to video production, as well as photography, is to ensure that your monitor/s are properly calibrated for colour. I’ve been using an X-Rite ColorMunki Photo to calibrate my monitors as well as printers for many years and was pleasantly surprised that I could calibrate the MSI screen, something that you can’t always do with a laptop (ones that I’ve owned anyway). And because of the differences between graphics cards from the MSI and Dell, I also once again calibrated the second screen which improved things greatly. While the screen colours etc of the MSI were pretty good out of the box, calibration with the X-Rite still made a surprising difference. Calibration of your screen doesn’t necessarily mean that others will see the same result, as no two screens are the same, even when calibrated (unless of course they are your own); but when printing, it makes a big difference.

X-Rite ColorMunki Photo - (source: X-Rite)

X-Rite ColorMunki Photo – (source: X-Rite)

X-Rite i1 Studio Calibration Software

X-Rite i1 Studio Calibration Software

Now as I pointed out, I’ve been using Cyberlink PowerDirector for some time, but I wanted to advance somewhat and use DaVinci Resolve, an industry standard video editing tool available for free From Blackmagic Design. But the Dell simply couldn’t run Resolve as it was too old though, surprisingly, my Microsoft Surface 3 tablet could, albeit very slowly. Now it works a treat on the MSI and all I now face is a steep learning curve to work out how to competently use Resolve. There are of course other video editing software available and even though Resolve is free, it’s as powerful as the most expensive suites most people would use. You can also see that there are a lot of similarities between PowerDirector and Resolve as far as the interface goes, but under the skin, Resolve is far more sophisticated.

Cyberlink PowerDirector

Cyberlink PowerDirector

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve

Since I started this story, I’ve been using Resolve as much as I can, though still not enough, and I have to say that I’m loving it. To put it succinctly, it’s both complex and simple to use. From what I’ve gathered from many video tutorials etc, it’s an editing suite that’s primarily designed around  sophisticated hardware, but can be more than adequately used with just a keyboard and mouse. While I learned a lot about video editing using PowerDirector and have no regrets about using it, Resolve is so much more effective and efficient. You can do everything within Resolve without having to open another associated program like you have to do with PowerDirector (aka AudioDirector and ColorDirector). General editing, colour editing and audio editing is all done from within Resolve and works much better. Without being demeaning in any way, Resolve is a bit like WordPress, once you get your head around it, it’s easy to use and immensely powerful.

Blackmagic Design Control Panels - (source: Blackmagic Design)

Blackmagic Design Control Panels – (source: Blackmagic Design)

But for some reason I’m currently experiencing some woeful YouTube video quality. The videos are coming out looking like something from the 1990s and I don’t know why. Even when I render the originals in high quality before uploading to YouTube, the results are still unsatisfactory. I’ve tried out different rendering options, as well as converting to much higher quality video for upload and still no improvement. The original video in this example shows detail down to the small stones on the road, but the YouTube result is mostly mush. The screen shots from the respective videos show what’s happening with YouTube.

YouTube Video - Before Uploading

YouTube Video – Before Uploading

YouTube Video - After Uploading

YouTube Video – After Uploading

On the other hand, now that I have a capable PC to process 4K video, I can record in 4k and then extract good quality still images from that video. This is something that I’m looking forward to doing in several forthcoming events where I’d like to just take one camera and video the events more comprehensively and then extract still photographs as required for the particular stories. The still image shown below has been reduced in size from its original much larger size, but left larger than I would normally do to show how well it can come out. One can only imagine what can be achieved with cameras that produce 8K video.

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve - Video Still Image

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve – Video Still Image

Anyway, other than the issues I seem to be having with YouTube, everything is working quite nicely. I’ve only come to grips with a very small portion of DaVinci Resolve, as there is so much to learn, but what I have come to learn is giving me overall much better results and the workflow is a lot better. And as far as the laptop goes, I definitely have no gripes with it whatsoever. Going from a very old PC (an antique in technology time) to something this new clearly makes a huge difference in performance, perceived or otherwise. I guess my only real issue now is that with only 1080p monitors, I can’t really see the full extent of the quality that 4K video produces. I could get a 4K external monitor, but I think I’ll let that one go for the moment, as I’m not likely to post any 4K video for some time. In Part 6 I’ll talk a bit about gear that I’ve found increasingly useful.

Update 1. When it comes to video, disk space is going to be used up far more quickly than with photography. I’ve kept my data (RAW photographs and video) in an external drive, but thought I’d make use of the internal 1TB HDD to store my main blog photographs and video for easier and quicker access. However, I quickly started to fill up that drive, so decided to get a 2TB HDD to give me some breathing space (you can’t get greater than 2TB in the thin 2.5″ form-factor, which leaves me with exactly 1TB free in the drive (I do need to cull some of the video files that I won’t use and the final ones that are posted to YouTube to save space). One side benefit that came with the HDD swap was that the minimal amount of noise the MSI did make virtually disappeared and the laptop is now almost silent.