Only last month did Telestream release Switch, a new professional video player with a full-blown Inspector and Export module. Switch shows you all of the parameters a video has, including actually recorded bitrate and clean aperture size, and has the capability to modify most of these parameters. That’s what sets it apart from other players. It also lets you play movies like a pro.
Switch must be the first video player that plays all commonly used codecs including H.265 v1 and DNxHD, as well as container formats like AVI, HEVC v2 and different MXF formats. However — and strangely enough — it didn’t recognise the CineForm file I exported from the GoPro HERO3+ in Studio Pro for the purpose of this review, nor the “raw” RED Epic test files I downloaded from the web. I can understand why Switch won’t play raw RED files. After all, with the explosion of cameras that can record video these days, you can’t expect Telestream to support them all.
Personally, though, I think the CineForm codec should be supported. Not only is it a codec that’s been in use for a long time, it’s also one of the better codecs in terms of performance/quality ratio. Perhaps an update will add the codec in the near future. A format that looks like it’s not supported but actually is, is the consumer AVCHD format. The way AVCHD is ‘packaged’ when you’re running Mavericks makes it impossible for Switch to recognise the files. You might think it ends there, but it doesn’t. All you need to do is right-click the AVCHD package bundle and keep doing that until you see a folder named “STREAM” inside. In that folder, the AVC streams are located. Switch recognises those with no problem.
When you start Switch, you are welcomed by a dialogue screen that holds the last six or so videos you opened, ready to open again — a button lets you select new clips to play or inspect. Launching a video opens a player window that resembles the QuickTime Player bar the controls. While QuickTime Player shows you a traditional consumer-type playhead, Switch allows you to scrub and navigate a video as with a NLE, so you can use the JKL keys on the keyboard and speed up or slow down the playing speed by repeatedly hitting the J or L keys. The maximum speed is 64x. There’s also a smooth (depending on the frame rate) slow-motion capability. The nicest part of the controls is that the scrubber actually shows you the speed it’s set at to play your movie.
Except for the play window, you can open the Inspector — where you have most of the fun — and the Audio controls. The latter allow you to turn on/off channels and tracks by clicking the speaker icons.
By the way, the Switch interface is an example of efficient, effective and beautiful design. You’ll love working with it because it’s a feast to the eye, but also very user-friendly with controls, buttons and icons all easy to understand and intuitive to use.
Switch doesn’t show you chapter markers from outside the app, but it does support creating chapter markers inside the program. These cannot be exported to your NLE but they are included if you opt to export to Switch’s currently only supported end-user format: iTunes packages. It would be nice to see chapter markers created outside of Switch, but then again that would imply the app should support them from every NLE on the market.
The Inspector is what makes Switch a really powerful tool that every semi-pro/pro video editor should have. The Inspector does double duty as conversion tool. Using a large clearly labeled Inspect/Export switch, you can toggle between the modes. If you’re only trying to find the parameters of a videoclip, it’s advised to leave the switch in the Inspector mode, although the interface secures against erroneously messing up a video in Export mode.
The Inspector has five tabs. The first covers the container format. This tab shows you duration, movie type and dates created and modified. There’s also a panel with metadata. That panel showed me that clips I had recorded with the original Ninja were recorded in a ProRes codec that wasn’t Apple’s, but clips recorded with a Ninja Blade were. This panel will also tell the starting timecode of the clip if there is any. Furthermore, this tab holds secondary audio and subtitles if there is any of that. In Export mode, you can change most of the parameters and add secondary audio and subtitles.
The Video tab is where you’ll find the most important information about the clip, such as the format, the encoder, subsampling, colour space, locale, bitrate and clean aperture. The latter is a region of video free from transition artefacts caused by the encoding of the signal. This is the region of video that should be displayed.
In Export mode, you can change the format and colour space. You can also crop the video, resize it and set the clean aperture manually. Finally, you can change the aspect ratio. Switch supports transcoding to any ProRes format, except the newest ProRes 4444 formats Apple recently released. You can also choose not to transcode by selecting the Video Pass-Through option from a drop-down menu.
If your transcoding needs require you to transcode between wildly different formats, such as from ProRes to DNxHD, you’ll have to buy Telestream’s Episode (or Sorenson Media’s Squeeze, although I prefer Episode because it has no problems with clips that have been shot at high frame rates, while Squeeze currently still does). The colour space selection is a nice option to have. For example, it allows you to change a colour space to Rec.709 (ITU-R.BT709). Obviously, it’s always good to be able to crop and change display formatting parameters — which you can change in this tab.
In the Audio tab, you’ll get to see the audio used in the clip, and with the Export button set to activated, you can remove and add audio and even transcode — but again, if your audio is PCM, you can’t transcode to AAC, for example. Episode will do that for you.
The Subtitles tab lets you see and add them — up to 28 of them, although only the first file will be displayed. You can also set the locale here. Finally, the Time tab provides controls for trimming and chapters. Much of these work like in a NLE.
Switch is a must-have if you’re an active video producer/editor. Telestream released an introduction to Switch on their website and from the explanation it’s clear the first version is only just the beginning.