NewBlueFX is located in La Jolla, Calif., and has been in operation since 2001. The company produces an exhaustive array of audio and video effects, transitions, and filters that operate as plug-ins for many popular editing systems on Windows and Macintosh. I’ve recently had the opportunity to test a set of filters called Video Essentials 1.0. This product runs on both Macintosh and Windows platforms and sells for $79.95 direct from the company’s website (www.newbluefx.com).
What Video Essentials Is … and What It’s Not
Video Essentials claims to be a Swiss Army knife of postproduction designed to enhance, optimize, and accelerate your productivity. It includes 10 tools that serve a variety of effects needs. Sometimes you need to fix a problem, and sometimes you want to enhance an image. Video Essentials includes tools designed to do both.
Video Essentials is not a substitute for good camerawork or a cure-all for bad shooting. Any time you can do something to make the video better while you’re shooting, it’s always advisable to do so rather than try to “fix it in the mix,” to borrow an old expression from the audio-recording world. That said, some of the tools included in Video Essentials are indeed “essential,” no matter how good a shooter you are.
How We Tested
Video Essentials was installed on an Intel Quad Core workstation running Windows XP Pro Service Pack 2. During the installation you are asked to choose the editing system host with which you want to use Video Essentials (Figure 1, below). A cool feature of this installer is that if you have multiple NLEs on your workstation, you can reinstall Video Essentials once for each NLE you use without having to purchase additional licenses.
You can install a trial version of the software to try it before buying. Doing so will place the NewBlueFX logo bug on any footage you apply a Video Essentials effect to, but it still gives you a great way to test-drive the package before you buy it. Once installed, Video Essentials shows up as 10 different effects in your NLE. Figure 2 (below) shows the Video Track Effects plug-in chooser in Vegas.
Let’s have a look at some of the most useful effects in Video Essentials, beginning with Color Fixer. Color Fixer is designed to be a simplified front end to color correction, and it does a darn good job. To use it, open the Color Fixer dialog, click the eyedropper, and click a point in the preview window that is supposed to be white (Figure 3, below).
Color Fixer is the closest thing I’ve seen to a one-button “Fix My White Balance.” You can adjust the amount of color correction to apply, and you also have parameters for Saturation, Brightness, and Film Gamma. Once the eyedropper is applied, bumping up the Saturation and Film Gamma provides a very nice look, as shown in Figure 4 (below).
As with all of the tools in Video Essentials, you can save your Color Fixer settings as a preset for later recall, and any Color Fixer effect is keyframeable over time.
Now this is cool. Have you ever had a shot ruined by someone’s camera flash? (And, as an aside, have you ever noticed how churches don’t allow the photographers that the bride and groom have paid for to use their flashes, but every Uncle Charlie with a digital camera is just flashing away? But I digress.) Flash Remover simply removes the flash from the shot. I was very skeptical about this one, but sure enough, it works.
It works by using information from the frame before the flash. In the before and after shots shown in Figure 5 (below), each framegrab is from frame 34,192. I generally like the look of flashbulbs popping off, especially with different degrees of slow motion. But if you ever wanted to remove a flash, this tool takes about 10 seconds to do so. I’m told it even works on “multiflash” events such as cake-cutting.
Video Tuneup provides controls for the Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Hue adjustment filters to allow for some broad color grading. I don’t usually use effects that go far beyond basic enhancement; for example, I haven’t worked on projects where I thought it was a good idea to give everything a green cast.
I’ve seen some cutting-edge clips in which these kinds of color effects are employed, however, and this is the type of tool that can do that—and very quickly, as shown in Figure 6 (below).
Since Video Essentials is a plug-in of effects and filters, and it serves in many cases as a more specialized alternative to similar filters in the host application, one issue that’s relevant to editors considering integrating the NewBlueFX filters into their workflow is render times. Some popular effects packages such as the Magic Bullet film effects filters do remarkable things to video that come at a heavy price on the rendering end. I decided to compare render times between three Video Essential effects and analogous filters in Sony Vegas. The source footage I used is NTSC-DV, rendered to the same. In my testing there was little difference in render times. On the same 10-second piece of footage I got the following render times (naturally, lower is better):
• Sony Color Correction: 4 seconds; VE Color Filter: 3 seconds
• Sony Gaussian Blur: 12 seconds; VE Soft Focus: 11 seconds
• Sony Pixelate: 5 seconds; VE Pixelator: 7 seconds
Other Effects in Video Essentials
Space prohibits me from providing screen shots of every effect, but here are some more details on the rest of the 10 effects that round out the Video Essentials collection:
• Pixelator is a very easy way to put a moiré pattern over an area in your video (think COPS) and keyframe it over time. This is possible with the standard filters and controls of Vegas, but with Video Essentials, it takes seconds. You can adjust the size of the blur over time as well.
• Crop Borders gets rid of borders that frame the video. This could be useful when rendering to formats that don’t need overscan.
• Detail Enhancer brings out the lines and edges of your video. It can help improve slightly out-of-focus footage.
• Sharpen is similar to—and works well with—Detail Enhancer to define slightly blurred video.
• Soft Focus puts blur back into the video. This is a nice effect for bridal walks or dream sequences.
• Touch Up introduces just the tiniest hint of blur to help offset the harsh realities of HD images.
• Tint is another quick way to color grade video by selecting a color with the eyedropper and dialing in how much to tint the video with that color (Figure 7, below).
As of this writing (early December), NewBlueFX is developing 64-bit versions of all of its plug-ins including Video Essentials. I’m told that when the 64-bit version ships, it will be a free upgrade for existing customers. This is a great opportunity for any user of an NLE that will eventually be upgraded to take advantage of 64-bit processing. We’ll all be there eventually, so kudos to NewBlueFX for jumping right in. In addition, NewBlueFX is very receptive to user input, as anyone who posts to the Sony Vegas forums can attest. I can only assume that the company takes input from Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and EDIUS users as well. It’s nice to actually get support from a company, even on evenings and weekends.
Not everyone will make full use of all of these tools. That is the nature of a package like this. But, while there are no new whiz-bang effects or 3D exploding transitions in Video Essentials, this package truly turns necessary, complex video chores into child’s play. With Video Essentials, you can do in seconds what would normally take minutes or hours.
If you haven’t done much with color correction or other video filters in your NLE—or even if you have—do yourself a favor: Get Video Essentials and make better video now.
David McKnight (david at mcknightvideo.com) is half of McKnight Video of Houston. He is vice president of the Houston Professional Videographers Association (HPVA), has Sony Vegas and HDV certification, is the technical editor of Vegas Pro 8 Editing Workshop (Focal Press), and is a contributor to TheFullHD Book (VASST). He and his wife, Christie, are winners of multiple HPVA awards.