GoPro today announced a new version of its CineForm Studio lineup that it hopes will help build a bridge between professionals of all stripes and the enthusiasts who embrace its rugged $300 HD cameras. With the latest revisions, the free version of CineForm Studio adds features like support for H.264 footage from non-GoPro cameras using an MOV or MP4 wrapper (this works in 2D only; 3D is only enabled for GoPro cameras in the free version)  and automatic recognition of 3D formats for YouTube uploads. The $299 "Premium" version adds all of the functionality from CineForm's First Light color-correction application plus support for a much wider range of video cameras, including 3D modes, and the $999 "Professional" version expands support for pro stereo rigs by adding independent eye control to the mix.
Cinematographers will remember CineForm as a key player in early HD acquisition, as inexpensive HDV cameras that recorded to MiniDV tapes were widely used by shooters as a bridge from SD to HD cinematography, frustrating editors whose gear wasn’t able to handle the new, highly compressed video format. A lot has happened since then. CineForm developed a robust lineup that included color-correction and 3D image-manipulation tools before being snatched up by GoPro, which got to know the company when it used Neo3D to cut together a stereoscopic demo shot with HD HERO cameras for NAB 2010. But CineForm’s David Newman, now GoPro’s senior director of software engineering, told StudioDaily that what CineForm does really hasn’t changed that much.

“In the early days of HD, we at CineForm were trying to solve what was not being currently serviced by Avid, Adobe and Apple, providing a solution that would allow independent filmmakers to produce content with the cameras they had, even though they had to wait some time for their NLE to add native support,” Newman said. “The funny thing is, we continue to deal with next-generation cameras. For the new single-body cameras that shoot MVC [Multiview Video Coding] 3D, we can transform that into CineForm 3D, which works in any NLE. You have an editor, you have a new camera, and you need a way to marry those together. That’s where CineForm comes in.”

The first thing to change under GoPro’s leadership was the market being targeted. Instead of what was essentially a set of middleware tools, CineForm was asked to develop a solution that would work for GoPro users. That meant building a much more friendly user experience – without sacrificing the functionality that high-end CineForm users rely on. “It used to be that, when CineForm worked, you didn’t know we were there,” Newman recalled. “But now, we’ve produced tools that customers like to use. They look good, they perform well, and they work with the Adobe Premieres and Final Cuts and Avids of the world.”

For now, First Light is being kept alive as a maintenance product because there is some edge-case functionality that has yet to be migrated to the Studio suite of products. Once all of those functions have been duplicated in the new software, which is slated to happen with the next release, First Light will go away. And, because the new code base has been developed in a true cross-platform fashion, Newman says the experience should be consistent between the Mac and the PC. As CineForm continues to develop high-end tools for users working with a variety of professional cameras, some functionality will have direct application to GoPro users, and Newman said those functions will be incorporated quickly in the free version of the software.

“We’re trying to centralize a lot of things,” he explained. “We will continue to have batch utilities and tools that are used to move one data format to another. For exmaple, on the PC, if you’re doing a lot of DPX or CR2 or NEF still-image conversions to CineForm files, the process is shell-based. But a lot of people never use the shell. That appeals to the facilities it was originally developed for, but we’re going to be putting much more into the pro products. You’ll be able to pull in a Canon CR2 5.6K 18 to 21 megapixel image sequence and make CineForm RAW video sequences right out of Studio. You can set in and out trim points and batch lists visually. That will be added going forward, along with more support for still sources to simplify time-lapse video creation.”

Another effect of the new products, Newman hopes, will be to encourage people to spend more time with the CineForm toolset, rather than doing a quick transcode and heading into an NLE system with the footage. CineForm’s active metadata structure allows elaborate, non-destructive image scaling, time remapping, and color-correction. “But if you still just need to use it as a transcoding environment, it works better than before,” he clarified.

As far as the new relationship between CineForm software development and camera designs for GoPro, Newman said it’s a two-way street. Some characteristics of GoPro’s cameras have driven new software features – like the need for smart and elegant ways to dynamically scale images from the 4×3 aspect ratio some users favor to 16×9. But on the other hand, being closely tied to a software developer like CineForm gives GoPro the advantage of a unified vision for acquisition and post-production. “Previously, we had tried to encourage camera companies to do interesting things – change their resolutions to go beyond HD or experiment with frame rates and pixel formats, all the things CineForm had the ability to do and map into the editing environment,” he said. “Now, we can tell them exactly: we can do this in camera and this in software and give the user an enhanced experience. It’s a wonderful combination.”

Asked whether the roadmap for GoPro cameras might include pro versions of the gear, Newman snapped to the defense of existing GoPro models as pro tools. “GoPro cameras are professional cameras, used by professionals,” he said, citing the company’s penetration into TV production. “We want to deliver professional quality experiences to everybody. We’re giving a large number of GoPro users access to those tools. Rather than having GoPro move into the high-end space, we want to give more people access to tools that allow them to produce very flexible content with very flexible cameras.”

For more information, read the official press release or visit the GoPro website to download the software.