As higher resolutions and bitrates push the limits, and new formats pop up to challenge our systems and software, you may need to transcode your footage to make it compatible with your system.
In a perfect world, we could all just drop footage into our editing software and start working. And in many cases, we can do just that. But as higher resolutions and bitrates push the limits, and new formats pop up to challenge our systems and software, you may need to go a different route. Transcoding is the process of converting footage from one encoding to another. This could be converting the actual format of a file, adjusting specific parameters while keeping the format the same, or changing both the format and parameters. This may be a feature built right into your primary editor, or a standalone program. So, how do you decide what to do with your footage? There are basically 3 possible workflow options. Using your native footage, transcoding to an intermediate codec, or transcoding into proxy files. Let’s start with native footage. Native is the term used to describe the the original footage that records to your memory card or drive. The advantage of using the native footage is that you don’t have to spend any time transcoding, you’re not creating additional files that take up room on your hard drive, the workflow is simpler, and there’s no potential for quality degradation. So, why would you ever want to transcode? There are two primary reasons. The first is if your software doesn’t support the native format of your footage. The second is if the native footage is too demanding on your system resources to edit efficiently. Let’s tackle the first reason. If your primary editing software doesn’t support the native file format of your footage, you’ll have to transcode it to an intermediate codec. Intermediate codecs are specifically designed to preserve the quality of the native footage, while simultaneously being easy to work with in an editing program. Two of the most common are apple prores, which is most often used in final cut pro, and dnxhd which is most often used with avid media composer. In many cases, simply importing footage into these programs will offer the option to transcode. Let’s take a look at an example. FINAL CUT OR AVID TRANSCODE Now for the second reason to transcode. Even if your editing software CAN work with the native footage, it may be taxing your system to the point where the editing process is being hindered. In these cases, you can transcode the native footage into proxy files. A proxy file is basically a converted version of the native footage, that uses lower quality video to reduce the demand on your system and software. Working with this low quality footage is known as offline editing, while working with the highest quality version of the footage is known as online editing. The basic workflow here is to transcode native footage into proxy files. Edit with the proxy files, and then relink to the high quality originals before you export your deliverables. This obviously adds steps to your workflow, but may save you time in the end. Let’s take a look at a simple example of this process. PREMIERE PROXY EXAMPLE If you’ve got the right computer setup, and the most current software, transcoding may not be necessary. But if you find yourself frustrated by dropped frames or sluggish performance, Transcoding may be the solution you’re looking for.