I’ve been recommending the Cineform codec to video editors for years. Its speed, quality, and efficiency make it an intermediate codec that is perfect for all areas of post production. However, it would also make an ideal acquisition codec, and so, for years I have also been urging camera manufacturers to purchase or license the encoder so we can more easily shoot “visually lossless” video natively in-camera.
At the moment, the only camera system that records using Cineform is the Silicon Imaging line, most famously used to shoot the Bombay scenes from Slumdog Millionaire and currently hard at work on Transformers 3. There is also the CineDeck, a solid state encoding and playback device that can record the video feed from a camera using the Cineform codec, but so far none of the larger camera manufacturers are using it natively. This is all about to change. Sort of. Possibly.
It’s too early to know exactly how this will play out, but GoPro, creator of the extreme sports camera GoPro Hero, has just purchased the entire Cineform company, obviously with an eye to utilizing Cineform tech for existing or future cameras. Essentially, nothing will change for Cineform customers, but Cineform is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of GoPro.
This is an unexpected development that, at first glance, doesn’t make much sense. GoPro manufactures extremely cheap, rugged, fully-automatic HD cameras with limited feature sets for a specific consumer market. The Cineform codec supports a vast panoply of video options usually of interest only to high-end professionals – things like 4:4:4 color, Camera RAW, look up tables, up-conversion color filtering, up-to-8k resolution and an excellent implementation of stereo 3D.
However, that last feature is telling. One of the great advantages of the GoPro Hero is its sheer tinyness, which makes 3D rigs incredibly easy to build. An enclosure that holds two Heroes side by side and includes a custom cable to keep them in exact sync is shipping now, and Cineform is already providing the software that users can use to merge and manage the resulting stereo video files.
So, is this corporate acquisition just the fastest way for GoPro to bring solid 3D support to customers, or will this partnership result in more professional features for GoPro cameras and a wider userbase for the Cineform codec? Only time will tell, but David Newman and the Cineform team are very happy with this development, and the Cineform software packages have already received some large discounts thanks to GoPro’s financial support.
Personally, I’m excited. Professional adoption of GoPro cameras hasn’t been as fast as say, the 5D Mk II, but there is a lot of Pro value in the platform. Our two Heroes functioned extremely well in Egypt, shooting covert stills, timelapse, or HD video footage in cramped locations like elevators, taxis, or under the Nile. A better bitrate or more efficient codec would only increase their usability, and more people using Cineform will only improve support for existing users.
Ideally, GoPro should create a Cineform-powered hardware encoder on a chip, which might find a home with many other camera manufacturers and continue to drive software sales, but for now, I think both companies will benefit from cross-pollination. An extremely promising indication is the easy interoperability of the free GoPro desktop software (which will convert any H.264 mp4 file to Cineform for free) and Cineform’s Neo grading tools.