Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

to the last, I grapple with thee

Posted by Trixter on August 28, 2011

MindCandy 3 is 99.9% finished.  From January until now, it has crept along from about 98% done to 99.9% done.  Why the slow progress?

It is almost entirely Adobe Encore’s fault.  Encore is the only halfway decent solution to creating a Blu-ray, allowing Photoshop files for menu creation (very flexible and handy), multi-page menus, subtitles including a subtitle editor, and other fun stuff.  It also has a lot of help for the newbie if you need it, including encoding of assets, a library of themes and buttons, and most importantly a clear interface.  Coupled with the excellent Blustreak Tracer CMF, you can produce BDCMF output suitable for professional replication.  This is a lot of money (roughly $1800), but the nearest solution for BDCMF output upwards from this is Netblender’s DoStudio, which is nearly double the cost at $3000.  We are of a limited budget, and already familiar with Adobe’s tools, so we chose Encore+Tracer.

Encore’s blu-ray support, we have discovered, is extremely buggy and almost unusable.  Here’s a few fun showstoppers we’ve had to work around:

  1. You can have only 15 buttons per page of a multi-page menu.  Any more and they’re not guaranteed to show up on hardware players.
  2. You can have only 9 pages per multi-page menu.  Additional pages aren’t guaranteed to show up on hardware players.
  3. You can have around 90 buttons spread across your multi-page menu.  Any more and they’re not guaranteed to show up on hardware players.
  4. Subtitles closer than 5 frames together will choke the project.  (CS 5.5 has an option to fix this, but I refuse to pay $600 for a bugfix, so for CS 5.0 I had to write a Subtitle Workshop script to adjust the subtitles so this wouldn’t happen.)
  5. Any video asset used as a background to a multi-page menu will be transcoded whether it is in a compliant format or not.  This is especially idiotic when you consider that multi-page menus are just graphical overlays on whatever is playing in the background, so no transcoding is even necessary.  Even more hilarious, it forces a transcode to 30fps, even if your asset is 24fps ot 60fps.
  6. Using H.264 video with open GOPs (higher quality in a smaller space, perfectly valid for blu-ray) causes Encore to freak out and decode the entire asset once, causing near lock-up of your computer at 100% CPU across all cores while this is happening.  Working with any timeline greater than a few minutes is impractical because of this.
  7. Encore, for lack of a more eloquent term, fucks with blu-ray player registers it has no business fucking with.  As a result, subtitles turn on when they’re not supposed to.  BluStreak Tracer (mac) or BDEdit (PC) is required to fix this.
  8. There is no way to enable  “title” or “return” remote control button functionality.
  9. Trying to encode a 480i pop-up menu results in a garbled menu (720p and 1080p/i works fine).

Keep in mind that Adobe doesn’t disclose these issues.  (They disclose three of them in the CS5.5 release notes and claim to fix one of them, but like I said, I shouldn’t have to pay an extra $600 for a bugfix that restores advertised functionality.)  So my build process for the last two months has been something like this:

  1. Make changes to the blu-ray project in Encore to work around bugs (1 hour)
  2. Build the project (2 hours, thanks to bug #5 above)
  3. Burn and verify to a rewritable BD-RW50 (3 hours to burn, 2 hours to verify)
  4. Test in a PS3, as these bugs only affect hardware players.  Note bugs and issues.
  5. GOTO 1

This means it takes a minimum of 8 wallclock hours to test a change, and that’s if it happens on a weekend when I’m there to babysit the process and start one step as soon as the prior one finishes.  But, of course, that usually flushes out yet another bug that you need to fix.  I’ve been through at least 20 iterations of this when Encore should have just simply worked as advertised.

Looking back, we should have spent the $3000 for DoStudio.  It was significantly more expensive, and we would have had to probably borrow money to pay for it hoping that the sales of MC3 would repay the cost, but the time it would have saved would have been worth it.  We might have been done months ago.

I wouldn’t be so frustrated if Adobe publicly acknowledged bugs.  Hell, I’d be happy if they acknowledged bug reports, of which I’ve submitted 5 (they don’t even acknowledge if they’ve received a bug report!)  I could have designed MC3 around those bugs a year ago, saving all this time.

7 Responses to “to the last, I grapple with thee”

  1. Germ said

    I, for one, really appreciate your efforts. Thanks for all your hard work!

  2. maz said

    Jim, maybe you would be even more frustrated if you spent the $3000 just to find the same number of bugs as soon as you start working with it in depth … and you would post “… we should not have spent the $3000 for DoStudio … ” :-)

    • Trixter said

      At least DoStudio would have support and respond to email. Trying to communicate with Adobe is like screaming into the wind. The only successful contact I’ve had with anyone at Adobe came through the friend of a friend, who is actually an Adobe employee and was able to check their bug database for me.

      I’m not asking for everything to work 100% magically — I’m not even asking for bugs to be fixed. I’m just asking for a little more communication, like confirmation that bugs exist at all, or that “yes, we did receive your bug report and filed it as bug #19823”. Such behavior is typical of a company that respects its customers.

      I should be fair and note that not all of Adobe’s teams are this bad. The Premiere group is doing a good job: They have a twitter feed and a few team member blogs, so you at least have a target. And occasionally team members will contribute to Adobe Forum threads. Most tellingly, things actually get fixed from one version to the next. So it’s not every product I have a gripe with.

      The thing that drives me nuts about Encore needing so much work in the blu-ray handling is that it is a vital part of the entire workflow. When your video is finished, what do you do with it? You give it to someone else! Content mastering means nothing if you can’t properly deliver it. All this production, only to be beaten with a hammer repeatedly at the very end of the workflow.

  3. Alexandre said

    Good news about MC3 project Trixter (99,9%). Sorry about your dificulties, but it is for a good cause.
    I´m waiting for MC3 since MC2.

    Go ahead, the work is almost finished.

    Regards from Brazil.

  4. Sounds like cause for a lawsuit. The EULA probably has about a million clauses to avoid this sort of thing, but (at least in the US) it might still be possible to sue for damages on account of the product being essentially broken…

  5. Foo said

    I am so excited to get this Blu-ray!

    • Trixter said

      Just as you sent that message, I finished the (what I hope is final) release candidate for the DVD-9. I hope to finish the final release candidate of the Blu-ray by end of this weekend.

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