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PDPlayer Review

At first glance PDPlayer may seem like a basic frame sequence player, but after exploring the myriad of features you will soon realize that this is a very powerful tool. This review takes a look at what PDPlayer is capable of.

Reviewed by Torgeir Holm

Overview

At its core PDPlayer is a basic frame sequence player. By this I mean an application that will load sequence of numbered frames - like file0000.tga, file0001-tga, file0003.tga etc. - and cache them in RAM for playback, much like the RAM Player in 3ds Max. However, the "Player" part of PDPlayer's name is quite an understatement, as it is so much more than a straight frame sequence player. It has an extensive amount of extra features that turns it into a real time compositing and color grading prototyping tool, a very fast image viewer for floating point image formats and stereoscopic content, an on-set monitoring tool, a means to quickly show work in progress to clients over the internet and a lot more.

Frame sequence playback. (click to enlarge)

Basic usage of PDPlayer has you opening frame sequences, which are cached in RAM and subsequently played back. The performance of PDPlayer is nothing short of amazing. You can have multiple copies of a 2k file spread out over your workspace at the same time with different variations of color corrections applied to each clip, and they still play at full frame rate while you are able to pan around and zoom in and out making further adjustments. The only time you don't experience real time performance is when PDPlayer is loading new frames into RAM, which for the most part depends on your hard disk speed. If you have a fast RAID, PDPlayer also will be able to do real-time playback straight from disk. Of course the amount of frames PDPlayer can cache also depends on the amount of memory in your system. If PDPlayer runs out of memory for caching while playing it will empty other frames from the cache to make room for the new frames. If you have a low amount of memory, or need to work with long sequences you can enable half or quarter resolution for the caching. PDPlayer comes in a regular 32 bit version and also 64 bit version, to let you take full advantage of large amounts of RAM.

PDPlayer is CPU based, not GPU based, so the faster your CPU the better. For this review I have been using two different systems: An older Intel Q6600 with 8GB RAM and an Intel i7 920 with 6GB of ram. PDPlayer performed very well on both systems, so any new-ish computer with a decent amount of memory should be able to handle PDPlayer without problems.

Features

PDPlayer has a huge feature list, and way too many features to cover in detail in this review, so I'll cover some of the highlights. The full feature list can be seen by clicking here.

A very quick frame sequence viewer: Because of its almost instant start-up speed it is even a perfect viewer for stills, and especially EXR and HDR files that you intend to use for Image Based Lighting. The added benefits of color correction, exposure and basic compositing makes this works so well that since starting to use PDPlayer I have set it to be the default file handler for almost all image file types.

Using PDPlayer as an OpenEXR viewer. (click to enlarge)

Supports most image formats: EXR, HDR, PNJ, JPG, DPX, CIN, TGA, SGI, IFF, PIC, VRIMG + more. Sound files are also supported through the .wav format.

Composition prototyping: Lets you set up a composition prototype while rendering. New frames can be added to the comp as they are done rendering. The comp can be exported to After Effects as a JavaScript that builds your comp, or as a Nuke Script.

Composition prototyping. (click to enlarge)

Color correction tools: PDPlayer provides controls for exposure, soft clip, lift, gamma, gain, brightness, contrast, hue and saturation. PDPlayer allows you to apply corrections to a layer individually, or through adjustment layers (Like many will be used to from Adobe After Effects or Photoshop). All color corrections play back in real time without rendering.

RED support: PDPlayer natively reads .r3d files from the RED One camera.

Color correcting R3D footage. (click to enlarge)

Live Layers from DirectShow: This is great monitoring solution when on set. This feature lets you composite live footage from any DirectShow source.

Built in primary and secondary chroma keyer: Very useful when combined with DirectShow sources on a green screen set.

Keying. (click to enlarge)

Stereoscopic viewing: Support for anaglyph, checkerboard and interlaced stereoscopic playback. Stereoscopic sequences can be detected when a layer is added, with a stereo composition being built automatically, or the Add Other Stereo View can be used to add the matching layer.

Link to V-Ray Frame buffer: As of V-Ray SP4a the V-Ray Frame Buffer has a PDPlayer button that will open your image with all the current render elements in a PDPlayer comp.

Web server: PDPlayer has the ability to serve an image of your comp through its built in web server. With the correct network setup making this available from outside your network this can be very useful for discussing work in progress and making color corrections while on the phone with clients. The image in the web browser will not play back in real-time, but will updater every few seconds. Combined with the brush layer it's very quick and easy to use brushes to mark areas or make quick paint-overs.

PDPlayer Webserver

PDPlayer with web server button enabled.
(click to enlarge)

PDPlayer Webserver

Opening the PDPlayer web server through Firefox.
(click to enlarge)

3D Lookup Table support: Apply LUTs to film footage (for instance Cineon files) for accurate color reproduction.

Video out support: through DeckLink, Bluefish444, VideoToaster, Fire wire IEEE1394 or through a secondary or tertiary monitor on your workstation.

Extensive command line support: you can basically build a PDPlayer comp through a command line script. This is a very powerful feature that lets you integrate PDPlayer into all sorts of pipelines and workflows.

The User Interface

PDPlayer has a timeline based interface that anyone familiar with After Effects should be comfortable working with almost immediately. Sequences are added to a layer stack, and can be moved around on the timeline as you please. Layers can be trimmed and looped, and the most common blending modes such as add, multiply, screen etc. can be applied to the layers. Alpha interpretation and opacity can be set by right clicking the icons to the left of each layer.

The user interface of PDPlayer.(click to enlarge)

The preview area above the timeline is where all your images are placed. The workspace of the preview area is unlimited. This means you can position as many clips as you want around the workspace, move them wherever you want and pan/zoom in and out. A mask can be applied to the workspace that will hide whatever is outside the mask area. The mask can also be used to determine which area is rendered to video output devices, saved to files, shown through the web server or copied to the clipboard.

The Info bar and the playback and display controls sits between the preview area and the timeline stack. The Info bar will display info such as frame rate, memory usage, zoom level, aspect ratio, the current frame number, mask size and footage dimensions. The display controls lets you easily switch between viewing the different color, alpha, luminance or depth channels. As well as stereo views, grids, background color, resolution etc. This is also where you can turn the web server and external displays on and off.

The Layer Properties window is a floating window where all properties for the current layer are set. Everything from footage interpretation, lookup tables, version selection to color correction is done through this window. The Layer Properties window has eight different modes which you switch between by clicking the arrows at the bottom, or through a menu that you access by right clicking on the mode name.

This shows the various modes of the Layer Properties window: Color, Placement, Blending, Brush, Text, Effects, Source, R3D. (Click image to enlarge and for further descriptions.)

There are keyboard shortcuts for almost every feature, and even mouse gestures to quickly start playback etc. Once you learn the shortcuts working with PDPlayer is incredibly fast. Shortcuts are also user customizable, so you can set it up just the way you want it.

PDPlayer and the V-Ray Frame Buffer link

Like mentioned above, as of V-Ray SP4a the V-Ray Frame Buffer has a PDPlayer button that will open your image with all the current render elements in a PDPlayer comp. The link will stay active, so when you re-render your PDPlayer comp will update with the latest image.

VFB

V-Ray Frame Buffer with link button enabled.
(click to enlarge)

PDP

PDPlayer showing the contents of the VFB.
(click to enlarge)

The Frame Buffer to PDPlayer link can be a very powerful feature, especially when lighting objects for integration into an existing back plate. You simply load the back plate into a layer below the V-Ray frame buffer link, and you can instantly check your rendering in a composition prototype as soon as the frame has rendered. Combined with the color correction tools in PDPlayer this lets you quickly and efficiently check integration of 3D objects into existing footage.

Licensing

The regular version of the PDPlayer license is locked to your workstation, and is non-transferable. However, if you start the accompanying License Server it will go into floating license mode, letting any other computer on your network (or even remotely through VPN connections like Hamachi) access the license, as long as it isn't in use. There is also a separate PDPlayer build available that is compatible with the Chaos Group dongle, which could be more convenient if you already use V-Ray and would like less license servers to keep track of. The dongle build is always in floating license mode.

Documentation

PDPlayer comes with a comprehensive PDF manual that explains most of the features of PDPlayer. This isn't updated to the latest 1.0.4.14 version at the time of this review, but covers everything through version 1.0.2. Newer features are covered to a certain extent through text files in the installation directory, but will probably find their way into an updated manual for a later release.

The user manual. (click to enlarge)

Limitations

The current version of PDPlayer has a few limitations:

The 64 bit version does not support QuickTime, because of the lack of a proper 64 bit version of QuickTime from Apple. The 32 bit version has QuickTime support, and both versions can be installed side by side.

There is no key framing support for color corrections or positioning. While this is an advanced feature, it could be very useful for some shots.

IEEE1394 output is a bit problematic with some units. When testing with a Canopus ADVC 110 that works fine with After Effects and Premiere Pro I could not get it to work. However, PDPlayer worked fine through other units such as Sony DV cameras.

The biggest limitation is that compositing internally in PDPlayer is done in 8bit SRGB. This means that if you work with linear space files (gamma 1.0) they will not composite the same way as when composited in Nuke or After Effects, and you will get artifacts, especially around the edges of objects. Because PDPlayer's main focus is playback speed and real-time performance, it is not currently possible to do the compositing in linear space.

Linear footage comped in PDPlayer.

Linear footage comped in PDPlayer.
(click to enlarge)

Linear footage comped in After Effects.

Linear footage comped in After Effects.
(click to enlarge)

Linear footage comped in Nuke.

Linear footage comped in Nuke.
(click to enlarge)

There is a workaround for this limitation provided by Peter Dimov of Asynthetic. You will get lower color precision than in Nuke etc, but the following should be good enough for a composition prototype: Switch the EXR layers to the sRGB color space, then overlay an adjustment layer on top and switch it to Linear color space. This will effectively map the EXRs into 8 bit linear, do the compositing, then convert to sRGB as a final pass.

Linear compositing workaround. (click to enlarge)

One final gripe is that at times there is a lot of switching between the different sections in the Layer Properties floater. It would be nice to be able to detach the various sections so that you could have more than one open at the same time. An option to have multiple versions of one floater, where you could lock each version to a certain layer for quick access, would also be welcome.

Conclusion

The limitations and problems mentioned above do in no way mean that PDPlayer isn't a great piece of software. It's a very responsive, feature rich toolbox for working with image sequences that continuously amazes and impresses with its ability to handle massive amounts of data while applying corrections to them in real time. PDPlayer speeds up the process of reviewing rendered sequences and preliminary compositing in a big way, and should be a part of the toolkit of anyone working with 3D animation and compositing.


Note: Because of ethical reasons it is important to mention that the VRay.info Shop carries PDPlayer. We strive to provide unbiased reviews where both positive and negative aspects of the product are discussed, regardless of the product being carried by the VRay.info Shop or not.


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Version Reviewed:
1.0.4.14

Developer:
Asynthetic Ltd.
Distributed by Chaos Software
www.chaosgroup.com

Price
1-4 licenses: 249 EUR
5-9 licenses: 200 EUR
10-19 licenses: 175 EUR
above 20 licenses: 150 EUR

Pros
Very extensive feature list
Instant startup
Real-time work flow
V-Ray Frame Buffer Link
Command line and scripting support

Cons
Lack of keyframing support.
Due to PDPlayer working in sRGB space, you will se slight differences between comps in PDplayer and Nuke

Rating

4.5 out of 5
4.5 of 5


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