Most reliable or safest way to playback full length feature films

Discussion in 'Multimedia, Projection, and Show Control' started by DC11, Jul 1, 2019.

  1. DC11

    DC11 Member

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    Since adding film screenings to our regular programming, I seem to be running into issues with reliability in regards to playing those films. Our Blu-ray/DVD player is perfectly fine with playing everything we give it. But most independent films are not given to us in that format. I learn a little more here and there each time and due to there being an issue every time we've done this, I'm starting from scratch.

    I think part of the reason is that we use QLab 4 to play those films. I've considering using something else, but most of our film showings have accompanying videos, preshow and door-opening playlists or a slideshow. And when I've tested films using VLC or Quicktime, things pop up on the screen from a mouse movement or the like. We're about 75/25 for standard programming vs film screenings, but we're aiming to bring those 2 closer together.

    For most shows, I'm given a harddrive with the media, load it onto the iMac and into QLab, do the programming and we rarely, if ever, have issues. Thats what we all do. But for feature lengths, there is always something. Either it gets choppy in spots, or the audio acts weird for a moment, but none of those things I can recreate in the same sections where they happened the first time. I've done compressed files (mp4/H.264) and I've done uncompressed (ProRestLT). I've had 6gb files that were 45 minutes long and 10 minute videos that were 30gb, even 10 minute videos that were less then 100mb. I just need something reliable and consistent so I know that what to tell filmmakers to give us.

    Is there a certain format that is best? An application that is better suited? Mac (which we have) or PC (which I'm willing to purchase exclusively for films)? We'll be upgrading our tech computer to the newest iMac in August, but have no problems getting something different if I know it would do what it needs to.

    Thanks in advanced!
     
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  2. AdamC

    AdamC Member

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    In our arts non-profit theater space, we do a huge variety of programming, various events with projections, feature and shorts screenings, meetings, dance, rentals, lots of music shows, etc. and we rarely have very much time to prep or rehearse, so we have to be able to get video working quickly regardless of format. We use VLC for computer projection of video files, running on a fairly fast and new iMac with a large SSD. It is possible to set up VLC so you have the videos full screen on the projector while having the transport controls and playlist on the tech booth iMac screen. This is with displays set to extended desktop and with the projectors desktop background color set to black with no dock or menu bars. It works perfectly for us, with no transport controls or mouse showing on the projected image, and no glitching with all sorts of file types. When you hit stop, the screen just goes to black. When you hit start, it starts playing with no issues.

    It is admittedly pretty tough to set the VLC preferences the correct way for this to work. We had to stick with an older version of VLC for a long while, because I couldn't figure out how to set preferences correctly for the newer version. I finally go it working for the newer VLC, but it was not simple or quick.

    By the way, this set up also works well for Powerpoint, in the same way. Slides go to the projector full screen, "presenter notes" are on the iMac screen. When you esc out of Powerpoint, it goes to black. We can have multiple VLC playlists and Powerpoint slideshows open and ready to go on one computer, and quickly switch between them with no glitching.

    For what it's worth, I've also had great reliability from our Oppo Blu-Ray / DVD players, but more and more of our screenings are from computer files rather than optical disc.
    QLab hasn't been able to handle certain video file formats or codecs without conversion, and we often have no time for that, so I haven't been using it lately.

    I know there are more "pro" ways of doing this, but we are on a tight budget, so our options are limited, and what we do has been working well for us.

    Hope that helps!
     
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  3. DC11

    DC11 Member

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    Wow! Thanks so much for the detailed response. Our space is non profit as well, so I feel your pain on prep time and such. When you're handed files as the audience is being seated... you know you're in for a stressful evening :) If I may ask, what did you do for current VLC to accomplish this?

    Even with the capability of QLab for a large number of shows we do, I was never sure it was supposed to be used for features. Glad to know that my instincts were true!!

    Thank again!!
     
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  4. dbaxter

    dbaxter Well-Known Member

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    As we state in the Help manual for our product for theater projections - it's not easy for computers to play videos. You, yourself, have discovered the variety of formats and decoders necessary. For serious theater work, we recommend not using a laptop or the extra video out of a motherboard, but to plug in a dedicated video card with its own graphic processor unit (GPU) and high speed memory. Easy to do with a PC, maybe not so much with Macs.
     
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  5. DC11

    DC11 Member

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    I'm pretty sure that we'll eventually go the dedicated PC route. The film screening portion of our programming isn't as common as it should be to justify the expense at the moment, but the more I read, the more I know its the best way to go. Thanks!
     
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  6. Milt Hathaway

    Milt Hathaway Member

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    Sounds like what happens when the computer is still accessing (or trying to access) things on the internet, such as update checks, etc. Have you done the setup suggested by the QLab guys? https://figure53.com/docs/qlab/v3/general/preparing-your-mac/
     
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  7. DC11

    DC11 Member

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    Yes, that page and I became very well acquainted last week!! We had a screening on Friday evening, and my Thursday was spent going over that page with a fine tooth comb! I think that was why we were able to pull off that evening's screening with little issue.
     
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  8. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Sherpa CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    Occupation:
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    You should treat video just like you treat anything else in your advance package. You need to state the capabilities of your playback system. You should state what codecs, what frame rate, what the resolution of your playback system. Most often, when I deal with companies that have anything to do with broadcast, they require content to be ProRes Lt 4:2:2 @ 30Hz (no drop frame). Yes, you can be that specific.
    A lot depends on your system as to how well it will playback. What your computer wants does depend on if you are a Mac or PC as each have their optimized codecs. Note that Qlab has codecs that it prefers. Which ones that you have played worked best? Which ones have caused the system to hiccup? Some filmmakers want to stick with 24fps, but the projector outputs 30, so your computer has to compensate. If you can't require the filmmakers to give you content in a pre-determined format, then you need to set yourself up with a machine to transcode to what you need and make sure that you require the content delivered to you with enough time to do the transcoding.
     
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  9. SHCP

    SHCP Active Member

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    Have you considered a digital media player, like a WD player? While I use a Mac Mini and VLC to play videos in our theater. I often have to run them through Handbrake to clean them up and get them all on the right codec and format. In our lobby though we have a large media screen and I am usually given last minute videos of all shapes and sizes to play on it. I have a WD TV Live hooked up to it, and I convert what I am given via handbrake to mp4 and just load it to a USB and have it run in a loop usually.
     
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  10. eadler

    eadler Active Member

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    For such video playback, I would highly recommend a dedicated device. You may get slow downs or choppiness as a general purpose computer does background work. We use a Samsung BluRay player with high performance network attached storage (and a local USB slot) for presentations to staff (it has an on-screen GUI that I would not want to show as part of a performance) and for groups that use the room (it's a consumer device so we have no problem handing them the remote and letting them plug in USB drives or DVDs). We use BlackMagic Design Hyperdeck Minis for most everything else. Being a broadcast facility, we have switchers, graphics generators, and tape decks available as well, but the Hyperdeck Studio Mini can be plugged right into a display system by HDMI. The biggest issue with the mini is that it doesn't have separate audio output, you'll need to strip it from the HDMI or SDI with a disembedder if you need to run it through a mixer.
    There are other purpose-built devices out there. If you have no budget for new hardware but have some on the shelf, I'd even feel more comfortable with a system running KODI than a general purpose operating system (although you may need to go through some pains to make the GUI hidden) or perhaps a very bare linux running vlm/vls (part of vlc) directly to a framebuffer with network control.
     
  11. macsound

    macsound Well-Known Member

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    Biggest thing to keep in mind for using computers as presentation devices is to use them for nothing else. The Figure53 steps are a fantastic way to ready a Mac for dedicated playback, but you should always start with a fresh install on a brand new drive. Do your software updates and unplug from everything except your projector forever.

    I have a stack of Mac Minis for this very purpose.
    One is for video playback and it broadcasts its own wifi network. I use an iPhone app called VLC remote so I can cue up videos in the background.
    Second mac mini has a display and is used for client file transfters, emails etc.
    Third mac mini has a couple 4TB harddrives, final cut, premiere, handbrake and all2mp3. Only the second mac mini goes on the internet and files are transferred with USB sticks or harddrives.

    I'm probably very biassed having taught for Microsoft from Windows 98 through Server 2012, but I'd never use a PC for anything mission critical. Biggest reason is drivers. Apple designs their machines with all the hardware and software together. You don't need 3rd party drivers for audio, video, networking, USB, anything. Second biggest reason is crapware.
    Because of these two reasons, if you bought a great spec PC from the store and it was full of crapware you do a fresh windows install. But then you have to find the drivers for your specific PC from the mfg. Maybe not hard, but nowhere near as foolproof as a Mac.
     
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  12. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Fight Leukemia

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    VLC does allow you to turn off all the pop up/menu buttons and screens, and by putting it onto a second screen you can still control it. You have to dig around a little in the settings but it's possible. Just adding that since it has bailed me out a few times on short notice when various other methods failed to work.
     
  13. dbaxter

    dbaxter Well-Known Member

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    Folks seem to be struggling with using VLC with two screens. So I whipped up a simple application to use as a front end for you. Hope it's useful. IT has two windows - one for control and another with the VLC player you can move around. Right click on the player for full screen options. Feel free to check out the website for other tools.
     
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  14. Jay Ashworth

    Jay Ashworth Well-Known Member

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    QLab, too, has a feature that lets you have it turn off nearly all OS/X background tasks.

    My machine is core i5 mac mini, and I've only ever been presented with something it stuttered to play once in 4 years, and that went away when I closed Chrome (which is usually on to provide situational awareness camera monitoring).
     
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  15. spenserh

    spenserh Member

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    For our film screenings we use a Doremi media server that plays back DCP packages. It is industry standard and plays back HD content with zero hiccups, but getting content for one off screenings is financially prohibitive. I typically render my own DCP packages using content provided by the client, but that is processor intensive (my overclocked first gen Ryzen 5 system can render in approx. half real time, so a 2 hour movie takes 4 hours to render).

    Have you looked at ProVideoPlayer from renewed vision? It might be the solution you are looking for.
     
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