Video Formats

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Video Formats

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Video Formats

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Pandoras Box supports many video formats. For optimized playback, we recommend using the HAP or MPEG2 codec. Please see the Performance Sheets how many files can be played depending on your Christie hardware.

As described below, image sequences are a recommended alternative too, and are of interest especially when looking for uncompressed playback. Other codecs might be used, but it is strongly recommended to test them before using them on a show. That said, please keep in mind, just as with image formats, there is no "the one and only" video format that is perfect for any use. When rendering content, you choose a specific content format and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Some factors can limit the number of possible formats and are easy to decide on, for example the need for transparency or a higher color depth. Other factors are not so easy to decide on or need to be balanced with other needs, e.g. high image quality versus short file transfers or high playback performance. For that reason, Pandoras Box supports many video formats and you can choose which is the best one for your show.

Please note:
When using video content with more than 2048 x 2048 pixels you might need to alter the texture size in the Configuration > Render Engine. Some FX (check their description) and features like Deinterlacing and FluidFrame need to buffer the media file. The memory space for that purpose is limited to 2k per default. Choosing another texture size will enlarge the buffer for all textures, which increases the used memory space. Thus it will consume plenty of graphics card memory. Please use the option only if needed.

Keep in mind that former PB Player versions were limited to a maximum file resolution of 4K regarding video playback.

Codecs

A video codec is a compression / decompression method based on a specific algorithm, optimized for different uses. Please keep in mind that different codecs have different advantages, depending on the exact nature of the content being used. Not all codecs are optimized for synchronized playback.

An important thing about the AVI, Quicktime (MOV) and MXF file format is its kind of container format. This format may contain different video codecs, it is not clearly determined by its file extension. The recommended HAP codec, for example, is used inside a MOV container. Another MOV file could be encoded using the ProRes format. This one can also be played by Pandoras Box, but uses more performance. The File Inspector shows the so called "Frame Type", e.g. HAP or ProRes.

Pandoras Box uses all available codecs that are currently installed on your Windows system.
If a video file may not play in Pandoras Box, please check if the codec is installed. Checking with other media players is not recommended as they might use their own codecs which are installed on the system but cannot be used by other applications.

You might need to re-encode (i.e. transcode) videos before using them in Pandoras Box. The chapter Encoding and Transcoding shows helpful tools for that.

HAP Formats

As said above, the first recommended video codec for optimized video playback with synchronization is the HAP codec. Compared to the MPEG2 format, the HAP format can achieve a higher image quality for most content.

Next to the HAP codec, Pandoras Box can play files encoded in HAP Alpha or HAP Q. All formats are encoded in a MOV container.

In general, HAP is based on the same compression algorithm as the DDS image format. Likewise, HAP Alpha can be compared to DDSA and HAP Q to the YCoCg format. For that reason content encoded as an DDS image sequence (with snappy compression) provides an extremely similar file size as a HAP file does and shows the same playback performance.

For Adobe AfterFX, Media Encoder and Premiere Pro you can download our Adobe Plugin if you like to encode HAP videos or DDS image sequences. This chapter also lists dis-/advantages of using an DDS image sequence over a HAP file.

DDS is a special texture format that can be interpreted by the graphics card directly and thus saves playback performance. In other words, the CPU and the bus have no load regarding the decompression. DDS / HAP compression reduces the image quality. Depending on the content it is more or barely noticeable. But especially if used in a playing image sequence the much higher performance makes up for the loss of image quality.

There is also the option to include transparency using the HAP Alpha format.
HAP Q aims for a higher image quality and is especially recommended when the content shows gradients as for example computer generated (CG) renderings do often. But even then, you might notice artifacts and color banding. See below for uncompressed playback.

Regarding the file size, DDS images with the same resolution have always the same size which in other words mean, that each frame of a HAP file has a constant size independent from its content. HAP Alpha and HAP Q files with the same resolution and length have both a doubled file size which affects directly the band width and hence playback performance.

Optimal Settings for MPEG Files

The second recommended video codec for proper video playback with synchronization is the MPEG2 codec.

Each codec must meet the two demands to encode a file with low file size but high image quality. The MPEG codec still strikes a good balance between the two demands. At the same time it supports the possibility to playback the file with frame accuracy and synchronization.
In general it does not support to have an alpha channel included (transparent information) as it saves RGB information. Transparent parts must be keyed out, for example with a masking effect and an according mask which can be generated using the Image Converter tool.

The MXL format is a proprietary Pandoras Box file type that can be used on video resolutions up to 4K. Basically it is the same as the MPEG2 format. The implemented Encoder Extension enables you to transcode code files to this format and some optional Tools (Splitter, Image Converter) allow you to render MXL files too.

To provide a synchronized playback it is mandatory to encode the MPEG2 files with a constant bit rate (CBR) and as elementary video only! That means that the audio information needs to be split or discarded. Even if the audio level is at 0db, it is still included in the file and will destroy the possibility to play it back synchronized.

The bit rate itself depends on the content. The more pixels each frames has, the higher the bit rate needs to be. The more different color information the frame has, the higher the bit rate should be to preserve quality. Statement in our Performance Charts, e.g "a Server may play four HD files smoothly" refers to the recommended bit rates seen below. If you encoded HD files with a higher bit rate you would not be able to play back four files at the same time!

Recommended bit rates:
PAL or NTSC resolution: up to 8.000 kbit/s with a progressive scan
HD resolution: up to 20-25.000 kbit/s
4k resolution: up to 80-120.000 kbit

Playback with Uncompressed Formats

If you are interested in playing uncompressed formats please keep in mind that those codecs which preserve the best possible image quality also lead to very large files. They draw plenty of performance during playback. We recommend to use uncompressed formats with SSD drives.
Alternative to uncompressed video formats, there is the possibility to playback image sequences in Pandoras Box. You have the choice between compressed and uncompressed image formats. Depending on the image format you can save performance during playback, hence play larger or more files than possible with uncompressed videos. In addition, you can achieve a much higher quality compared to compressed video formats. The chapter Encoding and Transcoding shows examples how to render image sequences.

The first topic described the display and content formats in general. Please click these links, if you are interested in other content formats, such as audio, single images and image sequences.