We’re based in the U.S. so naturally the majority of our work is produced and finished in the NTSC standard. But sometimes we get requests to finish and even produce projects in the PAL standard for European distribution. There are several ways to do this, with software or hardware.
A lot of folks, particularly small shops, prefer the software way of doing this for obvious reasons. It’s pretty cheap. In fact with our Apple Final Cut Pro Studio suite, the Compressor software includes this conversion as part of the deal so in effect, it’s “free” if I already own the Studio suite. Hardware conversion, on the other hand, generally involves up to $100,000 equipment to do the conversion.
So what to do? Well in my case I much prefer the hardware conversion over software, particularly for HD projects that will be broadcast or burned to BluRay disc. There’s a few reasons.
– Picture clarity. I have yet to find a software solution that can completely retain the picture clarity of the NTSC HD original. There’s always a softening of the image. In some cases it’s subtle, in other cases it’s very noticeable. The home audience would never notice the difference, because well, they never saw the NTSC original and have nothing to compare it to. But it drives me NUTS!
Remember that when we’re converting from NTSC to PAL we are changing the frame rate from 29.97 fps to 25 fps. There has to be some interpolation of what to do with those extra frames from the NTSC frame rate. For whatever reason, software like Compressor and others I have tried, seems to soften the image as it does the conversion. Not really what I want to see.
Efficiency. Hardware conversion is realtime. A 1 hour show takes 1 hour to convert. Depending on the settings and your machine, you could be talking a very long time to do the software conversion.
Cost. Wait, didn’t I say that Compressor is free and the hardware is $100,000 or more? Yes I did. I don’t have to buy that hardware, there are other Post houses that already own it so all I have to do is pay their conversion fee to transfer the project. And that price is very reasonable, especially when I send along my own blank tape stock to master to.
In fact, and this is quite sad really, it’s cheaper for me to ship my masters to PostWorks in New York and have the conversion done than to use any facility here in the Atlanta area. And I have to give HUGE props to PostWorks New York as they have been a great group of folks to work with. They turn around the projects usually the same day and the quality of our converted product is awesome.
So if you really want the best quality conversion, whether you’re going NTSC to PAL or vice versa, and you don’t have the hardware to make the conversion, look for other production facilities that CAN do this for you. It will free up your machine from having to do the software conversion and ultimately you’ll end up with a better product.