If you are an independent filmmaker who has dabbled in film distribution, or read my previous article reviewing CuteDCP, you may be wondering what you can do with these high quality Digital Cinema Packages (DCPs), aside from using them to play back your film in its highest quality at a cinema or film festival. Well, for many, it sits on a hard drive, waiting to be submitted to the next festival or used at a its next screening (should that ever occur). Luckily, we've gotten to the point where both computer hardware and software have given us alternatives to this and allow us to playback DCPs on any off-the-shelf mid-range PC.
Before I begin to discuss how awesome it can be to play a DCP on your computer, it has some major limitations that you should be aware of. These limitations are EXACTLY the reason many colorists & editors suggest you have a professional post house create and test screen your DCP with a calibrated cinema projector. I absolutely agree with this mentality, as a true cinema test screening will give you confidence in your DCP as you've seen it displayed properly. As fantastic as that is, its also a very expensive process that many cannot afford, should they want to participate in festivals or true cinema screenings of their film (meaning NOT a BluRay player connected to a projector). Recent developments in both encoding and decoding technology have allowed developers to create more affordable solutions, such as the one I'll be reviewing today: NeoDCP.
I discovered NeoDCP when I was searching for an affordable playback solutions for DCP playback that allowed me to control the Rec709 conversion, which makes the image look normal on a typical monitor or TV (geek talk for double checking the XYZ color conversion performed during the encoding process). This is simply one of MANY useful features offered by NeoDCP, as I discovered during my testing period with the application. Some of the features that colorists, editors, cinemas, and festival organizers might find useful include:
- Supports playback resolutions of 2K and 4K, along with stereo 3D output
- Playback support for both encrypted and unencrypted DCPs
- Supports both InterOp and SMPTE subtitle formats
- Separate Controller and Playback window, allows for full screen playback with an operator controlling the playlist on a second monitor (VERY useful for public screenings)
- Extremely responsive customer & technical support
- Frequent Updates
NeoDCP's Playlist Editor allows you to queue up multiple DCPs, adding black space in between, trailers, commercials, or whatever you need to automate. It can all be set, saved, and recalled as well, for future use. I imagine this feature being extremely useful for a film festival or theater, where one person could program the entire schedule in advance and it would be all set.
The Color Transform settings are something most people will set and forget. However, being able to adjust the gamma curve, conversion from XYZ, reference white and even adjust the XYZ color matrix manually makes NeoDCP ideal for almost any situation, and extremely helpful when you need to double check the conversion on a DCP. For example, if your film was mastered in Rec709 color space (typical HD) and converted to DCP, it will only look correct if played on a cinema screen. NeoDCP runs a reverse conversion that converts the video BACK to Rec709 so it looks normal when played back on a monitor, tablet, television, etc. If you compare the source file used to create the DCP and the output from NeoDCP on the same monitor and it greatly differs, there was likely an error in the conversion process. There WILL be some differences, but it should not be drastically different. Use your judgement, as your are most familiar with your film.
The Inspect DCP functionality allows you to dissect a DCP, seeing every bit of metadata and more. You can access the total running time, files, XML information, and more. I have found this feature useful when I accidentally misnamed a DCP and needed to determine what it was 100% without playing it back (as it was on a cinema server).
The KDM Manager is where you handle all certificates for encrypted DCPs, which tend to come from the DCP encoding facility. As I did not test any encrypted DCPs nor do I encode encrypted DCPs, I did not get to test this functionality.
The general video settings allow you to set scaling and masking settings, as needed. One unique aspect of a DCP is a higher resolution (4K) DCP can be played back at a lower resolution (2K) and even lower without much additional processing needed to rescale. This cannot be said about H264, BluRay, and most other distributable formats. Lastly, NeoDCP offers a compatibility based "resilient" decoder, which is better at decoding partially damaged DCPs. Overall playback performance on my quad core Intel i5 PC, 32Gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 660 graphic card, running Windows 7 was smooth sailing at 2K, offering smooth stutter free playback on a secondary monitor.
Overall, NeoDCP is an extremely impressive software DCP player. It offers a significant amount of control over the picture, sound, and other technical aspects typically hidden by most media players at a price that is extremely competitive, if not destructive to its more well-known competition. With licenses available starting from $83 for a basic license all the way up to $2166 for a fully-featured 4K public theatrical license, it may be one of the cheapest DCP players I'm aware of that offers high quality 4K playback, numerous options for video and audio customization, and a fully featured DCP toolkit. The biggest limitation is that NeoDCP is only available for Windows, so Mac users will need to stick with EasyDCP, FinalDCP, and QuVis DCP Player unfortunately. Be sure to check out NeoDCP and try out their 30 day trial. You'll be pleasantly surprised, compared to other "budget friendly" DCP playback and review solutions available. I certainly was.
Editors Note: I was provided a temporary license to NeoDCP Professional for the purposes of evaluation, testing and review of the application. The above opinions are my completely my own, uncensored and unbiased. I have no affiliation with NeoDCP or its developer.