Blackmagic RAW Codec Turns Cameras into Hardware Accelerators

So Blackmagic has just helped us all make a giant leap into the future of content creation, video editing, and post-production.  In case you haven’t been paying close attention, just days ago at the IBC2018 conference and exhibition in Amsterdam, Blackmagic announced what amounts to a dramatic shift in codec development:  Blackmagic RAW. Throughout the exhibition, Blackmagic demonstrated the new codec—which is in public beta mode right now—and its immediate availability for use with URSA Mini Pro cameras via the Blackmagic Camera 6.0 Beta update.  The DaVinci Resolve 15.1 release, which is also free to download from their website, provides support for this promising new codec too.

What makes this codec so innovative is that it bridges the rather wide gap between the quality and benefits of RAW format and the performance considerations and limitations that arise when working with RAW in post-production.  Blackmagic RAW, which has been a multi-year research and development initiative for Blackmagic, enables much more efficient and effective use of RAW sensor input, resulting in the quality of RAW with ease of use and performance enhancements over more traditional file formats.  As most of us know all too well, more conventional RAW codecs result in very large file sizes that can really tax processor capabilities. This makes RAW more difficult to manipulate in post-production workflows. Because of this, traditional editorial video file formats are quicker, but other issues arise such as color resolution that affect the overall quality.

Blackmagic RAW implements a method by which the de-mosaic process moves into the camera itself, leading to more efficient encoding of the image.  In essence, the camera provides the hardware acceleration upstream from DaVinci Resolve, which no longer has to expend processing cycles decoding files.  The codec enables getting the most from the camera sensor, then enlists the camera to carry out some of the processing load. The outcome of all this impressive innovation is the same high-quality RAW output with increased performance and smaller, more workable file sizes.  This is truly a win-win all around.

OpenDrives has a close working relationship with Blackmagic, so we’re thrilled that they’ve made this announcement and are bringing the codec to market.  We’ve seen over and over again the fear of using RAW or other CPU intensive codecs when deployed into a 4K and above resolution workflow, which means ultimately making compromises that affect either the resulting quality of the video or overall artistic efforts.  OpenDrives focuses an enormous amount of our own R&D bringing to market storage solutions that have high-performance capabilities for production and post-production teams to work more capably with RAW content, so we definitely welcome the positive effect this will have on production, post-production, and turnaround time efficiencies.

Speaking of those efficiencies, Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 15 deployed on OpenDrives storage greatly facilitates multi-user collaboration during post-production.  What this means is that editors, colorists, special effects artists, and sound editors can all work simultaneously on the same project, with the same shared files, without stepping on each other’s toes.  As every post-production team knows, importing and exporting files, translating projects, staging content, and all the time spent managing changes can add up to significant time delays and cost overruns. The collaborative workflow in DaVinci Resolve 15 and shared caching on OpenDrives creates time efficiencies and greatly reduces costs because creatives can all work in parallel without dependencies or transfer delays holding them up.  

Having a robust shared storage infrastructure supporting this collaborative workflow is still extremely crucial in the overall equation.  We at OpenDrives put our focus on speed and performance because when teams using Resolve 15 are working collaboratively on a project, storage can become the limiting factor and potential bottleneck.  We implement our own innovations in OpenDrives storage solutions to deliver the highest level of performance and throughput, limit the negative effects of latency, and preserve data integrity while promoting scalability of the storage solution itself.  From advances in the way we intelligently cache and predictively prefetch data to innovations in preserving the integrity of data itself, OpenDrives makes sure that creatives who rely on and push the boundaries of Blackmagic’s cameras and software suites aren’t disappointed—that they can work collaboratively on RAW content, unimpeded by offline proxy generation or other performance limitations at any phase of their workflow.

We put our Summit storage solution to the test so that we could showcase how we support Blackmagic RAW streams.  For our benchmark tests, we used sample files made available by Blackmagic that included full-sensor resolution (4,608 x 2,592 @ 30 FPS).  We ran a number of individual benchmark tests utilizing uncompressed files and a high bitrate and low bitrate sample of the two types of file compression that Blackmagic RAW supports (constant quality and constant bitrate).  These two compression types allow users to prioritize either image quality (CQ) or file size (CB). You can check out everything you need to know about these compression types in the press release here.

The results of those tests with a single workstation 40GbE attached:

We then tested our Summit storage solution at total throughput:

As you can see, OpenDrives is able to handle the load regardless of encoding, and we conducted this test with our Summit’s configuration at it’s slowest possible level.  It’s a testament to our desire to be a market leader in enterprise-grade storage for organizations with the most demanding and resource-intensive workflows.  Of course, we’re able to perform even better when our partner organizations like Blackmagic are devising new and ingenious ways to encode files while preserving the high quality of RAW.  It enables our customers to do more, to be more creative, and to thrive with the latest technologies from Blackmagic and OpenDrives.

Sign up for a demo today to see for yourself!

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