An Analogy for Video Bit-Depth

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the April, 2010, issue of
Larry’s Monthly Final Cut Studio Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

Tim Kotthoff writes:

For several years I have enjoyed your analogies and explanations as I have read books, newsletters, and watched videos that you have authored. I am currently enjoying your guidance in my MacProVideo account.

I recently read this article and I am still processing the information.

May I ask for some clarification in the area of bit-depth in the world of video?

I understand that bit (binary digit) depth is the measurement of gray scale (shades of color or gray) in an image (how realistically an image is represented)…. or as you explained the number of steps between our lowest low and highest high (between black and white).

My question relates to 8 bit video. With banding being a problem with mastering (color grading) and output, when HDV/XDCAM are converted to ProRes, how does 8 bit video become 10 bit video? I understand that a lot of consumer/prosumer cameras are recording codecs for spacial efficiency that are then transcoded for editing efficiency (from long GOP to I-Frame). It makes sense that there is an interpolation that occurs to go from long GOP to I-Frame.

Larry replies: Tim, this is a great question.

The easiest way to think of this is that 8-bit video is like water filling a one-quart container. 10-bit video is like water filling a 1 gallon container.

Converting 8-bit video to 10-bit is like pouring the water from a one-quart container into a one gallon container. You haven’t added more water, or changed it in any way, but you have given yourself more space to do other things with it.

The benefit is that when you start to add effects or do color correction, you have much more space in which to work, with the final result being higher quality, because you are working in a space that gives you much more room to work.


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