RHMG – Bill Werba
The industrial grade film restoration application space is not an overly occupied one. You can count the number of these software vendors on your fingers. Some are well known and well entrenched in the industry, yet others are relative new comers attempting to take a piece of the market pie in this narrow niche. Did I say the tools are expensive? The least expensive with a common set of filters costs $3000 and goes up from there. Not your average pricing for the everyday Joe to buy into. Packages range from software only to combined hardware/software systems bound together to yield the best efficiency and results.
Most old film regardless of its gauge, suffers from one or more effects of poor processing, bad handling and long term environmental stresses. The larger 35mm to 70mm film sizes has and continues to have the benefit of professional restoration services due to the availability of industrial level financing driven by the urgency to preserve for historical reasons. On the other hand the smaller amateur gauges like 8mm and Super 8 being a consumer gauge have been and are largely ignored. Cost being the out of reach factor.
I have been looking into the software tools for professional film restoration and have compiled a list of these vendors along with some commentary.
The hardware platforms needed to run the software, even in its minimum system configuration is at the high performance end of the spectrum and thus will drive cost as well (in most cases the computer platforms cost more than the software).
Ok, so here they are:
A tool from Red Giant software. Target users are consumer to semi-pro. The product is discontinued. It appears Red Giant is working on a revamped version with no indication of when it will be re-introduced. It is a plug-in for After Effects v6 to CS3. I tried this tool in CS3. It’s clunky to use, but it does work quite well when it doesn’t crash. Learning curve is so-so. Render times are long. Adobe and Red Giant offers render farm support, but I didn’t try it. Introduced at about $2K about 5 years ago, but can be found on Ebay sometimes for $125.
Diamant by HS-ART
Based in Germany, these big boys have been around awhile. They have three product lines, two just for dustbusting called Dustbuster (who could have guessed) and Dustbuster+. The other called Diamant-File Restoration IV. The latter has a sizeable set of restoration filters which can operate in automatic, semi-automatic and manual modes. The tool is resolution independent (SD, HD, 2K and up and handle multiple bit depths) and works in Windows on moderate platforms. Cost is unknown. Offers free trial download for Dustbuster+ only. Fully functional but cannot save your work.
Cinema Craft – ReNeat
Another big boy based in Japan, $50K for a typical system (software/hardware solution). The associated US web site is better. It looks like a limited number of filters. Resolution support only to 2K. Operates in Windows on a specially configured platform using their software to take advantage of SIMD (Single Instruction Multiple Data) computing techniques. Let’s just say SIMD works very well for this type of computing.
Another big boy, if price is any indication. This product is distributed and supported by Pixelfarm in the UK. It costs about $20K. Has a powerful, but in my view a limited set of filters when compared to DaVinci Revival. The claim to fame in support of the price I guess is the power of the algorithms in doing a superior job in defect removal. Going to the forums however suggests otherwise.
Black Magic Design bought this long known venerable brand. It comes in two flavours, one for about $1.5K, is limited to manual operation and has only one filter, Dustbusting. The pro version is about $10K and has a lot more filters and offers automation. Only MAC and Linux support. If you want the Linux version it must be bundled with a custom configured hardware Linux box, (did I say the cost just went up?). The turnkey hardware systems are sold by Film Systems which really drives the cost up beyond the advertized software only sticker price. You can’t buy just the Linux version software from Black Magic. The MAC version is sold as software only by Black Magic Design and FilmSys. Marketing blurb looks glossy.
Pricing on this product looks really promising for the many useful filters it offers, about $3K to $5K depending on frame resolution. But their web site is way short on information and no one seems to be home when contacting them. No blogs or forums, yields much info on these guys. I wonder how they intend to sell this product without basic support!! Laying out 5 grand for a piece software without any key information to make a confident decision is just plain dumb.
Open source software with many plugins, though have limited set of restoration filters. Have to use a script to integrate filters of your choice. No biggie, easy to learn. Most of all it’s free. Great for command line programming if you like that approach, but can also be integrated into GUI type interfaces for more intuitive operation.
Another open source software with many plugins. This product also has a limited set of filters available. Again, you have to use a script to integrate them for use. It’s also free.
MTI Correct DRS
From the web site, it looks like they have been around awhile. It appears they have a good number of robust filters available for restoration and accepts up to 4K image sizes. No indication that the software must be tied to some recommended hard ware platform. Of course claim to fame is they are the best. The web site is not very clear on the operating system(s) it supports either. Overall from an information point of view, the web site needs more detailed content to make an informed evaluation of the product. Cost was about $20K reduced to about $12K.
Moscow State University has developed and offers a great number of image processing modules. Many are compatible as plugins for AVISynth and VirtualDub. Require a licence agreement if commercial end use. Many filters are free for the individual experimenter. Some of the more fancy filters require MSU approval for use. Cost between Free and license $$
This company has some powerful yet low cost image processing solutions. The product in question is the Stoik Video Converter Pro, a stand alone application for Windows. Buried within this tool are some useful and effective filters. Denoising, scratch removal and rudimentary dustbusting. I do have a beef with some annoying aspects to the user interface, but this tool offers a lot of functionality and is very reasonable in price, just $29, yes just $29 bucks. There is no HD support, other than an up-scaling feature.
From Neat Video. Not really a film restore product, more like video de-noiser, but does bang up job on noisy video. A Premiere Pro plugin, supporting versions 1.0 through CS5, 32bit or 64bit (ok, also supports Final Cut, Pinnacle, SONY Vegas, Virtualdub and OpenFx). Supports SD and HD size files. A very nice and effective denoising and smoothing tool for many formats of video. I tried it out with stunning results. You do need to tweek settings for best outcome to eliminate the effects of motion compensation. Just drop the filter on your video loaded timeline and go. To access the full filter set and its controls a little button is available (not overly obvious) and takes a little investigation to find out where it is. Read the Help notes dummy. Render times are about 1.5x to 3x normal. The product is very easy to use. Cost is just $49US.
Magic Bullet Denoiser
Another piece of software from Red Giant Software – they got some neat tools, you should check them out. The cleanup tool features lots of flexibility in dramatically reducing video noise particularly in the image shadows and mid-tones as per its claim to fame. The tool is a plug in for Adobe After Effects CS3 through CS5. For what you get, $99 is a great deal. Supports both Windows and MAC machines.
If there are more film and video filters out there not mentioned here please let me know, I’ll add them to the list , credit your name and post them with some comment if applicable.Tags: After Effects, Black Magic Design, DaVinci, denoising, dustbusting, film restoration, filter, Pixelfarm, Premiere Pro, vendors