Everyone that has tried experimenting with shooting video in stereo 3D and then trying to do some simple editing and adjustment has faced the problem of the lack of more consumer oriented software solutions that can make his life easier when working with stereoscopic 3D video. There are already a few of course, with Sony Vegas Pro 10 probably on top of my list, although it it also not perfect, it still comes at a quite affordable price considering that besides stereoscopic 3D features you also get a quite powerful video editing software. And being a 3D enthusiast that is just experimenting and shooting 3D video just for fun, paying thousands of dollars for professional hardware and software is just not an option…
Of course that does not mean I’m not curious how other more professional solutions work and what features they offer, despite their significantly higher price, if they are the perfect thing you need, then sometimes they are worth the higher price. With that said, after shooting some test 3D video footage of a test drive BMW 740d automobile, I decided that it is time to try the Cineform Neo3D as a tool for preparing the raw video footage for further editing in a NLE editor like Adobe Premiere or Sony Vegas. And by preparing I mean converting the raw H.264 footage (MTS file container) from the two Sony SR11E cameras I’m using to capture the video in the not so demanding but bigger in size Cineform compression format and a more compatible AVI file container for more comfortable editing later on. Then after changing the format to do some adjustments to the left and right video material in order for them to match better and to provide more comfortable depth for the viewer. These two things are pretty much the main purpose of the Cineform Neo3D software package, and note that I’m not calling it a plugin as it is not designed to work with specific video editor, but instead stays completely transparent and independent from the software you open the output video with. This is exactly what is making it, at least in theory, the perfect solution for your stereoscopic 3D video editing workflow as you should be able to apply changes to the output video pretty much on the fly and do corrections as needed.
Being a professional product, the Cineform Neo3D is available in separate versions for both Windows and Mac platforms and does support a very wide range of professional video formats, features and non-linear video editors such as Premiere Pro, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Media Composer etc. Aside from allowing you to do pretty much all the needed stereo 3D adjustments for both the left and right source material, separately or together, you can also do some color correction and even add text and graphic overlay over the 3D video footage. That sounds pretty much exactly what one would need for preparing his source video material before importing it into a video editing application to maybe add some effects do some cuts and so on, however it comes with a quite high price of $2,995 USD. Now this maybe nothing to a professional who is working with 3D video, but for an enthusiast doing this for fun and for non-commercial purposes it is quite expensive actually. The good thing is that Cineform offers a 15 day fully functional trial version of Neo3D that you can download and test to see if it will fit in your workflow and do exactly what you need done to your source 3D material, and that is exactly what I did…
Even before starting, I’ve heard some professionals recommend the Neo3D, so I’ve had very high hopes for it. The latest version available that I’ve downloaded and installed was 18.104.22.1689 and it seems that Cineform is quite actively developing the software as there are new builds released quite often. During the installation I got a waring that I don’t have a suitable AC3 decoder and QuickTime installed and was directed by the software to download them. So far, so good, but before installing them I wanted to see if the software will run or not… well it did not want to properly start without QuickTime, it was just showing the loading screen and after a while ti disappeared without any warning or message, after installing QuickTime it was starting properly. At first I needed a few minutes to familiarize with the FirstLight interface, I’ve tried a few things and I managed to crash the software quite a few times before getting to know the basic stuff, not that it is that hard. Then I went in to Cineform’s Techblog for some interesting articles with additional information, you can find useful tips and tricks there, but the information is a bit unorganized for newcomers and in general people new to Cineform’s products.
The thing that was most important for me while testing the Cineform Neo3D and using the FirstLight software that is a part of the package was to get a proper set of tools that will allow me to do the needed corrections to the 3D source video that I’m shooting with a custom 3D camera rig. The 3D Corrections available in the software were actually quite good and allow a lot of flexibility in fixing not so big issues with a flawed shot. However if the flaw you need to fix is a bit more serious than the average small misalignment you might have some issues using the tools that you have available. For example you have sliders for the most common types of corrections that you might need and those sliders are limited to some maximum positive or negative values. The standard limits are pretty much Ok for smaller issues, but if you have had a more serious misalignment and you want to salvage at least some usable material, then you cannot just type the higher values in the boxes after the sliders as they are not being saved as values after you exit the box. Using the plus and minus buttons at the end at least works to override the sliders limits, but they increase/decrease with a very little steps and it would mean a lot of clicking to get a higher value set. In Vegas Pro 10 the 3D adjustment FX for example works pretty much the same way, but there you can just type in the higher number you need in the boxes after you reach the limits of the sliders.
So next I’m moving to the 3D Display types. I know that Neo3D does support 3D Vision, but only if you have a Quadro card and use the OpenGL Quad-Buffer 3D mode (OpenGL 3D), however using the Side by Side output and opening the video in the 3D Vision Video Player in theory shoud’ve worked even with 3D Vision and GeFroce for some sort of a preview. Unfortunately the video player crashes a few seconds after opening the video, so it did not work as expected, making it harder to do a quicker preview with 3D Vision unless you have a Quadro GPU. Another issue for me personally is due to the fact that the Side by Side and Over-Under modes are with respectively half width and half height and not with full frame resolution for both eyes. So if I have a video with 1920×1080 resolution for the left and another one with the same resolution for the right eye, the output in these two modes will still be 1920×1080 with the two frames squeezed in that frame resolution. This of course also works quite nice, but will sacrifice some of the fine details and I may not want that to happen, so a workaround with two copies of the file and settings for the left and right eye only output is required to get a full resolution output in an external software for playback or editing.
So what is the verdict? Well, Cineform Neo3D is a good and quite powerful professional solution, but it apparently still needs a bit more fixing of small issues and some more attention to the finer details that make all the difference in order to make the software more functional and flexible. I haven’t gone into too much on other features, besides the most important that are related to the 3D adjustment, because these are the ones I needed working as best as possible. And most of the “problems” I’ve faced why trying the software I was able to overcome with a simple workaround, however if I had to pay three thousand dollars for that software I would expect not to have to use workarounds to do the things I need to. But anyway, I’d recommend you to download and try the trial version of the software, it might work better for what you need and you may not have the issues I had. For me personally, I’d probably stick for now with Sony Vegas Pro 10 for my 3D video editing needs, although it comes with a bit more limited features as opposed to what Neo3D has in terms of adjustment options. I haven’t given up on Neo3D, but I’ll wait a few more builds before trying it again.