In a previous post on another blog I did a quick and dirty comparison of Avid’s DNxHD and Apple’s ProRes 422 codecs. The test was somewhat flawed in that I compared the codecs within Adobe After Effects CS3. This forced a YUV to RGB conversion. In that test, DNxHD outperformed ProRes. In essence all I was comparing was color space conversion capabilities.
In real world usage – ProRes within Final Cut Pro 6 and DNxHD within Avid Media Composer, the two codecs both performed very similarly. In other words, no one’s clients are going to complain about either codec.
So that means the codecs are pretty much the same? Yes and no. There are still real differences that pros in the trenches need to take into consideration.
Obviously my test proved that if you plan on doing anything in RGB space, such as After Effects or Photoshop work, you’re better off with DNxHD since the codec allows you to select the correct colorspace for rendering.
Just as Apple made a big deal about QuickTime being fully MPEG-4 compliant, Avid is working closely with SMPTE to make DNxHD fully VC-3 compliant.
In addition, Avid DNxHD is compliant with SMPTE draft standard VC-3, an HD video compression format in development that enables open media exchange. VC-3 is making excellent progress toward becoming a SMPTE Standard (to be identified as SMPTE 2019) and the effort is nearing completion. Pending VC-3 standardization by SMPTE, Avid DNxHD will be the world’s first codec fully compliant with VC-3 compression technology, and any manufacturer that licenses Avid DNxHD will have confidence knowing that it is working with a SMPTE standard.
That last line is interesting. Avid licenses DNxHD. Word on the street is that many developers don’t like the terms and pricing, but that’s still a step forward from closed and proprietary.
I can’t be talking about ProRes being closed and proprietary, can I? It’s in QuickTime, isn’t it? Yes, it is. But it’s only available on systems with Final Cut Studio installed, making it a $1,300 codec available only in Mac OS X. And that’s where working in ProRes can get ugly. No ability compress ProRes video on Windows workstation for FLV, WMV, MPEG-2, or 3gp. That’s a problem. Compressor 3 is very good, but it’s not the perfect solution for a lot of common compression tasks.
At the end of the day image quality it the most important feature a codec brings to the table, but it’s just one of several factors to consider when choosing a professional post workflow. For a good amount of the work I do, ProRes meets my needs. For a good amount more, DNxHD is the ideal codec.
Wouldn’t it just plain rock if AJA or Blackmagic would license DNxHD for Final Cut Pro capture hardware? Then I could choose an editing system based on the merits of the editor, instead of the codec’s required workflows.