Cut|Color|Post

excerpts, quips, and musings on the production and post-production industry, and other stuff of interest

On why Speedgrade misses the mark...

Open it. 'nuff said.

Adobe is going down the already carved path of Final Cut Pro Studio 1, 2, and 3. Develop a suite of apps that address every aspect of the post-production pipeline. Ingest, editing, graphics, motion graphics/compositing, color grading, encode/transcode, and DVD/Blu-ray authoring. This is a tested approach that Apple pioneered for years with it's Studio.

The newest member of the Adobe family is Speedgrade, acquired from Iridas late in 2011. The software losely "round-trips" with Premiere Pro. CS6 offers a "Send To Speedgrade..." option. However, in order to get your ProRes, DNxHD, XDCAM, h.264 or whatever codec timeline into Speedgrade it must be converted to DPX files. DPX files have great advantages in color depth and reliablity (see Autodesk's Smoke reliance on them), but they are big files. It's also time consuming to render out your timeline into DPX form. While PPro is the Honey Badger of NLE's Speedgrade is the high-maintenance girlfriend your mother warned you about.

Beyond the DPX issue is the problem of the interface. Apple heard it when they introduced Color, and Adobe will (and should) hear it with Speedgrade. The interface is confusing and archaic looking. There was a time when I thought "pro" apps should look like this. It was what separated me from the kid in his basement. I could run these apps whereas the kid in the basement would be utterly confused. That's just stupid thinking in my part. Apps don't need to be confusing to be used by professionals. Look at the success in the last 10 years of FCP over Avid. Or look at what Autodesk just did with Smoke 2013. Or look at what Blackmagic did with DaVinci Resolve. Or where Apple took FCP with FCPX. These apps don't need to be this cumbersome in order to be used by professionals. If anything, making them simpler and easier to use would speed up my workflow and cut down on the amount of training one has to do with a new hire.

My final gripe with Speedgrade is the EDL workflow. I know many people still use them in LA. I'm not in LA and I'm not one of the guys who uses EDL's. I like XML's. I use XML's. I want Speedgrade to take in FCP7 XML or FCPX XML or PPro XML. If Premiere Pro's goal is to be the Photoshop of the video world as Adobe touts, then at least make Speedgrade understand one of the core languages of the post industry.

On another level, Adobe should be congratulated for even getting Speedgrade to work at all with Premiere Pro. They only 6 months or so to actually get the darn thing into the suite and working. So the feat is all the more impressive that it is in there and working.

Ultimately, I don't know if it matters. Blackmagic has taken such an aggressive approach towards capturing a large segment of the post-production world I'm not sure if Speedgrade can erode that traction. When Blackmagic made Resolve Lite they basically offered a Hollywood grading app to any and everyone. Now the pro can use it. The kid in his/her basement can use it. The graphics guy can use it. The editor can use it. And Resolve is powerful. Far more powerful, in my opinion, than Speedgrade. The tracking/stabilization alone in Resolve is worth $1K. Not to mention the scene detection, the database management, the keyer, the power windows, the multiple integrated control color panels, or the simple interface.

Adobe did a smart thing by not changing the price of their suite. They took a page from Apple in 2007 when they just stuck Color into the suite and said, "Hey, it's not as pretty as our other apps, but look what you can do now!" But I fear it's a perfect storm for Adobe. Just as Apple was killing FCS3 and releasing FCPX, Blackmagic was releasing DaVinci Resolve 8. People for the past year (myself included) have been abandoning Apple and FCS3 for other greener pastures. As a result people began to look for something to replace Color. Blackmagic capitalized on that with with Resolve Lite. It was like crack. A free high-end grading app capable of all that Color could do and more. Plus they've made many refinements to it over the past year making it even better and have aggressively marketed the product to that disenfranchised Apple Color base.

Couple what was going on in the post market in 2011 with Blackmagic's aggressive software releases and add in a sprinkle of "what the hell" when you open Speedgrade and I think Adobe has an uphill battle to wage in order for people to migrate from Resolve (or Apple Color) and use Speedgrade. Even if Adobe updates Speedgrade (which would be the opposite of Apple's approach with Color) it may be too little to late. Assuming Speedgrade becomes more user interface friendly, drops the DPX backbone and accepts any codec, and begins playing well with XML who would use it over Davinci Resolve? Especially if the aforementioned updates take until CS7 to arrive, as the half updates on odd numbered years tend to be more bug fixes and stability patches than complete rewrites. Speedgrade can't wait until 2014 to catch up to Resolve 8. Resolve 9 is due out in 2012. By 2014 Resolve X will be out and saturating the market. Blackmagic will have already captured the color correction market by 2014 (especially given their new Digital Cinema camera that comes with the $1K version of Resolve) unless Adobe and Speedgrade can do something Resolve can't do...integrate so well with Premiere Pro that it's actually more work to move your XML into Resolve than it is into Speedgrade. If Wes Plate can integrate the workflow so tightly that it's almost seamless to move between PPro and Speedgrade (dynamic link on sterioids?) then that might make people do a double take and try Speedgrade. But here's where the learning curve has to be low. Once they open it they need to feel like they understand it, like they've opened this app a hundred times before even if they never have. The interface needs to be clean, simple, and easy to navigate. Tabs, rooms, nodes, bins, windows—whatever metaphor they run with it must be easy to understand and happen almost instantaneously for the average user.

Or they could fold Speedgrade into Premiere Pro and take on Autodesk Smoke by doing away with all this round-tripping and dynamic-linking...but that's an entirely different target...