24 Nov 2019

Why can't there just be one, really good, codec?

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Why can't there just be one, really good, codec? Why can't there just be one, really good, codec? RedShark


Ut Video Codec

Recently, I've been using the Ut Video codec, which is a much more recent and actively-developed project, as a lossless intermediate to solve some compatibility problems between older versions of Premiere CS and four-channel audio files produced by Atomos recorders (the bug, I should point out, is Adobe's). Developed by Takeshi Umezawa, Ut Video emerged in 2008 and probably isn't as widely known as Ben Roudiak-Gould's earlier HuffYUV project. However, Ut Video does support truly lossless encoding in both YUV and RGB formats with various colour subsampling.

It does, however, lack support for anything other than 8 bits per channel, and as such Ut Video it is not ready to be put into use as either an intermediate or acquisition codec for high end work. In this brave new world of 8-bit cameras it is still not without application, although 10-bit support, and more, would obviously be great. Windows users can install it and have all applications which are aware of the Video for Windows codec management system become Ut Video-aware (strictly speaking it is a VCM codec, or rather a collection of them targeting different pixel formats). It is already supported internally by the free encoding tool ffmpeg, although VLC Media Player has yet to implement Ut Video for playback. Mitigating this is the fact that even modern versions of Windows Media Player are perfectly happy with VCM codecs and will handle Ut Video AVIs without modification.

Compatibility and Image Quality

To return to our original concerns over both compatibility and image quality, it's not yet obvious that this sort of codec technology is the answer; in the first place, whether there will ever be a need for uncompressed codecs before solid state storage becomes big enough to accommodate uncompressed footage is uncertain. If there is, this solution is still difficult not because it's hard to generate a codec that would be suitable for use as a standard, but because it's difficult to get people to use standards. In the case of proprietary mezzanine codecs, there's a motivation to pursue vendor lock-in, and in general the issue of patent protection has been putting nontechnical limitations on new codecs for some time. The commercial imperative is an increasing problem in acquisition, where the explosive proliferation of flash card formats and file formats to go on them is something that will doubtless be looked back upon with horror by future generations. The increasing capability to quickly develop and deploy new technologies as largely software- or firmware-based entities since the early 90s has allowed the problem to grow enormously, and there's no sign of this easing in the near future.

So if there's a conclusion to draw here, it is that the problem with achieving good image quality on inexpensive equipment with easy workflows is not, and has not been for some time, much to do with technology.

More from RedShark on compression:

Why uncompressed is better

Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes is a Cinematographer, Technologist, Writer and above all Communicator. Never afraid to speak his mind, and always worth listening to, he's a frequent contributor to RedShark.

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