Multiple cameras, multiple microphones. None starting and stopping at the same time. This is a common scenario for movie makers, and certainly for documentary shooters who are alone or with a very small team in the wild. NLEs (Non-Linear Editor) like Final Cut Pro X have synchronization features, but they’re basic at best. Singular Software’s PluralEyes did a great synchronizing job of even difficult projects. PluralEyes 3 does an even better job.
When Singular Software was acquired by Red Giant, PluralEyes 3 was already in development. Today, I can toy around with a quite stable beta version of this brilliant video audio synchronization tool. When I started PluralEyes 3 beta for the first time, I didn’t recognize it. It now has a proper interface, with the ability to preview video clips and pre-listen audio clips, set options, and do a number of things I previously would have needed my NLE for. It works better too.
The interface is great if you don’t have a NLE on your current system, or if you want to synchronize your clips before ingesting them. It is user-friendly, with bins in the left columns, a central preview window, and a waveform / timeline at the bottom. There are familiar controls and buttons. One remark here: they look like they belong to a Mac OS 9 interface, so please Red Giant, Singular, invest a couple of dollars in better icon/button design. Although it’s a futile detail, I’m sure many users will thank you for it.
Another remark if I may: the preview window doesn’t let you preview the results of a synchronization operation, but choosing different video clips does highlight the corresponding sound clips. The program also has audio level sliders, but some of them have no dB indication, so they’re not as useful as they could be.
I first did a quick-and-dirty test with a camera and a studio microphone hooked up to a Duet. I didn’t use Final Cut Pro X, just PluralEyes 3. It’s great to be able to just import some clips, click the Synchronize button and export the result to a media file immediately. It’s also your only option if you don’t have a professional NLE such as Final Cut Pro 6 or 7, Media Composer, Premiere Pro, or Final Cut Pro X.
If you have one of those, your options dramatically expand. The new PluralEyes 3 imports metadata from any of these editors so you can view and process them using the PluralEyes 3 interface. To try that out, I used three different microphones and one camera. One microphone was continuously recording while the camera and the others were stopped and restarted at irregular intervals with gaps in-between.
Then I imported those clips into FCPX and used only parts of the video clips using In/Out points before dragging to the Timeline. The idea was to see what PluralEyes 3 would do to the project if I just dragged the audio in the correct order but without trying to make it sync myself.
For good measure, I did use Final Cut Pro X’s own synchronization feature on the project, and it failed as expected. The combination of gaps and cut clips with uncut audio proved too much to the system. I then exported the project to XML and imported the XML file into PluralEyes 3.
I hit the Synchronize button and my 2 minute project was synchronized in under a second. Synchronization here means the cut videoclips were relocated along the timeline to match the audio. In my opinion, this is perfect, as I could not export to Final Cut Pro X XML, with an Event and Project created for the synchronized media.
The new Event contained videoclips with synchronized audio, ready to use. The new Project contained my previous Timeline with the clips neatly arranged as what I’d seen in the PluralEyes 3 timeline. If this would have been a real project, I would have cut the audio in Final Cut Pro X and close all gaps between clips, and my project would have been ready.
The beauty of PluralEyes 3 is that you don’t have to create a new event or project; I could also have chosen to just export XML back and use the existing Timeline. If I had used multiple cameras, I could also have created a Multicam clip, and I could also export the lot to a new media file that I could just import in Final Cut Pro X and use as my clip.
In other words: PluralEyes 3 adapts to your workflow, still synchronizes even the most difficult multi-clip projects, and supports Final Cut Pro X MultiCam feature. I sincerely believe no video editor — pro, prosumer, and amateur even — should be without this tool.