Thursday, 16 November 2006

FullDome Video

The options for capturing video for the dome

I've just spent two weeks wrestling with a Sony Z1E - trying to get decent video for the dome. Having jury-rigged a Century Optics onto it, in such a manner as to truncate the image for 135º 'in camera' - in an attempt so make the best use of the available pixels. The lens is only producing about 160º , and has trouble focusing to infinity when used in such a manner. Added to this is the HDV codec. I suppose when getting HD video onto the same medium as DV at 25Mb/s something has to give, and the noise of the resultant video is atrocious. Due to the 'long GOP' approach it is also very time consuming to edit and encode this video - this can be mitigated by using an intermediary codec such as the ones supplied by CineForm.

After a lot of cleaning and tweaking this is about the best it can produce

So the search is on for a replacement. I'm looking at cameras from Red, Immersive Media, Arri, Thomson, Point Grey and Silicon Imaging. Many out of our price range. Many it would be impossible to find fisheye lenses for. At the moment, the lead contender is the SI 2K Mini from Silicon Imaging.

I've been discussing lenses and things with their engineers, and checking out their workflow. They have teamed up with a firm called CineForm, who I discovered though a set of intermediate codecs to make the Z1 more palatable. They've developed a 10 bit 4:4:4 video codec called CineForm RAW, which give a 5:1 compression, and Silicon Imaging are employing this in their cameras. I'm stunned by the results, here's a few links you might be interested in:

This is the firm that did the Citroen adverts, they're doing a feature film using the SI cameras - pretty good insight into the camera:

This is SI's main site with links to some light details on the codec:

Here's the griff on the codec:

This cameras is out in the wild, and the 2K Mini is only around £6500 - which is basically a head that you attach to a NAS or a decent laptop via GB Ethernet, and run their control software...and get editing...pretty sweet. It'll take these lenses:

Coastal Optics, Fujinon

For us its a pretty workable solution, the combination of price, easy workflow and lenses makes it the only horse in town...