Blackmagic’s new super-efficient BRAW video format offers massive compression & speed
Many of us thought that the big news coming from Blackmagic during IBC this year would be that the new Pocket Cinema Camera 4K would be shipping ontime this month. And while that does appear to be the case, with Pocket 4K cameras shipping from next week, that’s not the biggest news.
Blackmagic has today announced their entirely new RAW video codec, Blackmagic Raw (BRAW). Blackmagic says that the new codec was developed to get around some limitations of shooting CinemaDNG, takes up much less space than other codecs for the same level of quality, and can be edited with much lower spec computers without an external GPU.
Blackmagic are releasing the new BRAW as an open standard. It’s cross-platform, the license is free, and there’s a software development kit (SDK) to allow software developers to integrate BRAW support into their applications for Windows, Mac OS and Linux. The SDK gives access to GPU accelerated and CPU optimised algorithms for deciding the new format.
Yes, that’s right, it can take advantage of the GPU, but the way the codec’s designed, you don’t need the kind of GPUs previously required for working with RAW footage. And you don’t need dedicated hardware acceleration devices like the RED Rocket as you do with some other formats.
We’ve achieved a really great full resolution decode speed. And from our tests, we think that Blackmagic RAW is the fastest non-hardware accelerated RAW format currently available.
It also supports GPU acceleration via Apple metal, Nvidia CUDA and OpenCL. It also works with the new Blackmagic eGPU for extra performance, but we don’t have one plugged in here. It doesn’t really need it. Which I probably shouldn’t say.
I’m overly simplifying things (watch the video for a fuller explanation), but essentially the new codec takes the heavy living of demosaicing and splits it into two processes, one of which is handled by hardware inside the camera. This allows the raw file to be optimised specifically for that camera to produce the best overall footage.
But it also means that as the camera has done the bulk of the processing work, the load is much lighter on your computer when it comes time to edit. This results in massive speed increases. And because the footage is optimised in the camera before the data’s even been encoded, it allows for much higher levels of compression while retaining the quality. Some of the feedback they received from beta testers said that 12:1 compressed files were indistinguishable from much larger 3:1 compressed files.
This higher level of compression means less space required to store the files. That also means your drives won’t choke trying to read huge files that they can’t completely handle. And it also means that instead of hundreds or thousands of individual DNG files, you’ll get single files containing complete sequences.
And it does all this while retaining the complete raw functionality.
It’s a pretty revolutionary development in RAW codecs, if it works as advertised. And it explains why Blackmagic seems to have been so quiet on the topic of Apple’s new ProRes RAW codec.
Blackmagic RAW has been released today as a public beta for the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro and it’s free to download. And it’s also supported by the newest DaVinci Resolve 15.1 released today. The Pocket 4K won’t be released with BRAW support, but they say that it will be coming, along with updates for other Blackmagic cameras.
I’d already decided that I was going to be picking up a Pocket 4K at some point once I could beef up my desktop a bit more. But for working on the go, I was worried about being able to edit 4K RAW video footage on my ASUS ZenBook Pro. It’s a great laptop, with a GTX1050 GPU, but even that isn’t really enough for 4K CinemaDNG RAW video. The new BRAW codec should, in theory, be able to work just fine on that laptop without an eGPU.
Looking at the video, it’s very speedy and efficient. But I’ll give it a test to see how it performs in the real world once I update Resolve and download some of the sample footage.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.