Taking the sting out of video and sound clip synchronization with PluralEyes

For a long time, video production was the exclusive domain of broadcast companies with deep pockets, specialized personnel, and VEE (very expensive equipment). These days, even professionally done video production increasingly also happens in small offices using a Mac, Final Cut Studio and what we fondly refer to as ‘prosumer’ equipment — the type of camcorders and associated devices that are capable of producing excellent quality output without the broadcast-type of capabilities like timecode. Try synchronizing recordings made with three or four of these camcorders and you’ll immediately understand why broadcast companies have survived up to date — unless you use PluralEyes.

Vancouver based Singular Software‘s founder, Bruce Sharpe, is one of those people who had a vision, developed a product and then kept developing other products for problems in the same vertical market. In 2006, this dr. in mathematics developed the Levelator in conjunction with the Conversations Network. The Levelator is a podcaster’s tool that evens out the levels in spoken word recordings.

At NAB in 2009, dr. Sharp’s company showed the Final Cut version of PluralEyes, the plug-in we’re about to discuss. PluralEyes is said to take the pain out of synchronization.

PluralEyes is useful when recording video with multiple cameras (different angles) or when audio and video are independently recorded, or even when you want your sound to be recorded with a dedicated high-quality digital recorder and your video with a dSLR or consumer camera that lacks the quality you need.

In all of these scenarios you will sooner or later run into trouble when editing your footage in Final Cut Pro. There can be several reasons for this. The devices can have been started and stopped at several, different intervals during the recording session, or there may be a difference between the recording speed of these devices, or even between the recorded clip and the Final Cut sequence settings.

The normal workflow in all of these situations has been to use devices with so-called timecode capabilities. These capabilities typically only exist in broadcast quality equipment. When there’s no timecode to synchronize with, the solution would be to use a clapper (not always possible; e.g. when silence is important), or to find corresponding frames when in Final Cut.

Needless to say these methods are time consuming and not very accurate. Enter PluralEyes, which should synchronize your clips with the press of one button. One button to synchronize them all? Yeah, as if I was going to believe that.

As it turned out, my disbelief made me blind for the results of my first test. I’m relieved to say I always run multiple tests to make sure that what I’m saying has actually been tested thoroughly. I did this with PluralEyes too and found Singular Software’s claims to be true. Unbelievable, but nevertheless, accurate and true.

My test setup was made up of two consumer camcorders. I recorded 3 minutes of myself in action, talking nonsense in my native language to myself. Unfortunately, the voice recordings were terrible and unintelligible. Then I imported those two recordings in Final Cut and did what it says in the manual: create a sequence called “PluralEyes”, start PluralEyes — which is an independent application that thinks it’s a plug-in — hit the “Synchronize” button, and look at the results.

You can dump the two clips anywhere you want in the sequence timeline; as long as all the clips of each camera are dumped on their own separate track. Now my silly brain expected to see the two clips to start simultaneously. I forgot that there was a tiny lag between pushing the recording button on camera 1 and the one on camera 2. That didn’t happen, of course, and I was frustrated and immediately thinking PluralEyes was a hype.

With test number two I decided to create different clips from the master clips and synchronize those. Again, what I got was absolutely not what I thought should happen. By the time I had set up test three I realized I was going to have to check visually what happened to those pesky clips. I set up the sequence, clicked the Sync button and again found clip 1 to start a little sooner than clip 2. This time I changed the composition mode of the uppermost clip track to Pin Light so I could see what the clip underneath was playing.

And lo and behold: the two clips were in perfect sync. Although I couldn’t make sense of it, I saw my mouth moving in perfect sync, across the two camera angles. I repeated the test with one camera and my voice being recorded over an Apogee Duet, and the sound synchronized perfectly with that of the camera (even though the camera’s sound recording system was actually quite broken).

To me PluralEyes has an almost magical touch. It synchronizes tracks that I would find hard synchronizing by finding visual clues for identical sound peaks, for example. Yet, this application succeeds in finding them and aligning your recordings perfectly.

On Singular Software’s web site there is even a tutorial video of a way to create a multiclip of two video recordings and one audio recording. This is normally impossible with Final Cut Pro, but by using a clever trick, the PluralEyes demonstrator succeeds in doing so.

PluralEyes will not always be capable of synchronizing all of your clips. When that happens, it will dump unsynchronized clips in a separate, properly named sequence. Synchronized clips go into the “PluralEyes Synced nn” sequence.

Given the speed at which PluralEyes is capable of synchronizing your recordings, I wouldn’t be surprised that even broadcast pros will want to use the application. They shouldn’t worry about the price: at approx. 120.00 Euros it’s dirt cheap for what it can do.


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