Friday, March 12, 2010

Software review - Frameline 47

Here as promised at the last meeting are my first thoughts after a week or so playing with Frameline 47.  A fuller review will appear later in another place - to be advised!

Frameline 47 is the latest software product to offer an answer to a problem you don’t realise that you’ve got yet.   As media content and delivery systems proliferate and as storage costs fall, the amount of audio/video content we’re storing on our personal computers, either at home or in business, is rising, and it may well be an exponential rate of increase.   The problem comes when you want to find that movie file you produced or bought 18 months ago, you know, the one you shot in France, where was it now, and when did you make it?  What did you call it, even?
If it’s a matter of finding your personal photos or your iTunes tracks, it’s no big deal if you need to rootle around the folders in your personal directory.   But what happens when you’re using shared, networked storage, or removable disks?   And what if you’ve no idea what the file was called?   And what if your business depends on locating that set of media?  That’s when you need help with the organisation - cue Frameline 47 .
The premise is simple - the app scans all the connected discs you want it to, detects the media files, and displays the list with thumbnail pictures.   Other data in the file, such as timecode tracks, or Quicktime annotation entries are also shown.   Frameline 47 then allows the user to add information (let’s give it the proper name, metadata) to each file.  The built-in editor follows the familiar Who? What? Where? format of entries for a start, but it’s considerably more subtle.   The software distinguishes between ‘Content Notation’ fields such as Who, What, Event, Place, Time, and Word notation which includes Keywords (as in Aperture or iPhoto), description, Transcript or just Notes. 
The metadata you enter is written into the media file itself, as well as being stored in a Frameline 47 database - fairly obviously this can be used to sort search criteria for file location.  Other file operations are available too on different screens:  media files can be edited (after a fashion in a simple interface), output as h.264 (mp4) proxy files with matching timecode.  Clips can be scanned for shot changes and marked up, and best of all (as you would hope) the metadata can be exported in an XML form suitable for use within Final Cut Pro.  The figure 7 in the name refers to the mpeg-7 standard for metadata interchange, to which the programme will comply.  (As anyone who’s had experience with TV data ‘standards’ will know, this appears to me to be currently a looser description than expected, with plenty of customisations for consumers, eg broadcasters, to adopt, hence diluting the standardisation).
After proving trials over the last week for this review, I can verify that it works as advertised, has been stable on my Leopard OSX installation (it is Snow Leopard compatible, I believe), and looks to be a useful addition at the modest price for single users.   The challenges it’s designed to address are real enough, and if the metadata / XML outputs it produces are adopted as world standards (or, let’s face it, they’re what your customer is demanding) it’s well worth investing the time inputting the data.
The software is still under active development in the UK. One drawback that struck me is the lack of availability of thumbnails etc for disks that are temporarily offline - I’m told this will be addressed in a later update.   There are some annoyances in displaying 16:9 anamorphic footage (which, except for mp4 files, will show up as 4:3):  this I assume is because of the familiar limitations of the QuickTime engine which is used by Frameline 47.  Similarly there are some constraints in the way FCP will initially display customised column headings in its browser (this is an FCP ‘feature’ rather than a limitation of Frameline 47) but it’s modifiable thanks to a clear and comprehensive Help system in Frameline 47.  
The software can also do more, such as generate html code for web pages (complete with thumbnails and inbuilt links to media files for display), consolidate files, even generate enhanced podcasts.   I can’t imagine that I would use it for editing if I’ve got FCP available, and the latest FCP7 will itself export mpeg-4 files (for ‘sharing’) in the background.   But as a solid stand-alone archiving app, Frameline 47  has much merit as the new kid on the block.
There’s a 30-day free trial available for download, as well as online purchase, at the company website
Currently it’s priced at £89, €99, $139 for the single user version, £799, €899, $1099 for the network edition.