FILM DELIVERY FORMATS
If you have to care about all the stages of the filmmaking, from script to final deliveries, I can imagine, that putting time into understanding the video formats, might seem like the dullest task imaginable. You can just forward the list of deliveries from the agent to the post-production studio and get everything taken care of. But what to do, if there is no agent yet and you need to start thinking about the post-production budget? What files will you need? What master should be sent to a remote village which wants to show your film on a small projector? What size of hard drives will I need for my masters? Why should I pay for DCDM master if I will not be able to play it? There is no need to know too many technical details about everything about it but understanding the very basics might ease your post-production process a lot.
Firstly, all of the formats could be described as different size and color boxes. A person can choose from them and decide which box they want to put their file into. They have different features, which help get the best possible outcome in terms of the final purpose for the file. That is why it’s important to have at least a very basic idea of their qualities and differences.
It is worth mentioning that all of the video formats compromise between quality and size. The smaller the size, the lower the quality. This is important when deciding which format to choose. By the way, all the sizes will be discussed having a medium-length feature film (2K) in mind.
Digital Cinema Distribution Master or DCDM
An uncompressed source format for future remastering or localization of the film. It usually stores media data in uncompressed and unencrypted form. DCDM consists of a sequence of 16bit TIFF files for every frame, together with 5.1 sound files and PNG sequence for the subtitles.
USAGE: It’s an archiving master format, which is not build to play the media, it is purely made for archiving purposes only. With DCDM master you will have the possibility to create the best quality masters even after many years and using the technologies of the future. It is our recommendation here at MADSTONE that you would put it in your budget to have a DCDM. Better safe than sorry.
SOUND: 5.1 (+ separate tracks (dialog, Music & Effects, dubbing), if there are any)
SIZE: DCDM can range anywhere between 2 TB and 15 TB, depending on the original footage resolution.
DCP or Digital Cinema Package
This format is used exclusively at cinemas. A person would struggle to play a DCP file since it would require them to have specific programs to play it at home, which can protect your locked project from potential pirating. DCP itself will most likely contain several computer files with video, audio, and subtitles (if needed). It’s easier to understand this format when you imagine it like a suitcase. Inside of it are various compartments with items in them. It can be either not encrypted - available to be played on any DCP player at any time; or encrypted: available to be played only on certain premises and times, for which the KDM (a key) would be prepared. And different cinemas are given different keys, which open different files. Therefore, one cinema in London will receive a key, which will open English titles, audio, subtitles and so on. And then another cinema in Paris will receive a key, for the same film, which also will unlock French subtitles or French audio. In other words, different countries can receive different versions of the same film based on the distributors' choice.
USAGE: DCP is used for cinema projections. Requires specific hardware and software to be played.
SOUND: 5.1 or (very rarely) 7.1
SIZE: The size of a DCP can range between 90 GB and 160 GB.
ProRes aka. QuickTime
First of all, it is important to note that there are different versions of ProRes and since they differ greatly, our discussion here will be about ProRes 422 HQ, one of the more popular ProRes versions. ProRes is broadly used as a distribution format for HD files. It was created by Apple Inc. ProRes can support any frame size (such as 2K, 4K and so on). Can have Stereo and/or 5.1 sound.
USAGE: It is perfect if you want to have a high quality version of your film, which you could open on any computer (but it might be too heavy for a computer to playback properly though). It is used to create lower quality master files (DVD, BluRay, H264, etc) but can even be used to create a DCP (but it is always better quality wise to create it from the sequence of DPX or j2c files). It’s an industry-standard, so you can’t go wrong with choosing it.
SOUND: 2.0 or/and 5.1
SIZE: ProRes 422 HQ can vary between 90 GB and 170 GB.
A digital data storage format. BluRay is the successor of the DVD and thus superior to it. The name BluRay refers to a blue laser that is used when reading the disc and it allows the information on the disc to be stored at a greater density in comparison to DVD discs. Sometimes it has additional footage like “behind the scenes” commentary and whatnot. Therefore, it can be a relatively good video format, which a person can store and, with the right equipment, watch at home.
USAGE: Commonly used as a portable format, which can be physically distributed and bought by the customers at various selling points. This master can also be used for smaller screenings in premises without professional DCP playback software.
SOUND: 2.0 or 5.1
SIZE: up to 25 GB.
A digital data storage format. Frankly, it is quite an outdated format at this point, because of its video quality, especially in comparison to HD video or Blu-Ray, however, some clients choose it because of DVD player popularity in more rural areas. It can also have additional footage.
USAGE: Commonly used as a portable format, which can be physically distributed and bought by the customers at various selling points.
SOUND: 2.0. or 1.0
SIZE: up to 4.5 GB.
H264 is one of the most commonly used formats, often used to create smaller size files. H264 is also more adjustable in comparison to other formats, for example, one can change the compression bit rate if needed to increase or decrease the size and quality of the video file. This is the format, which most clients actually mean, when they ask for an “HD file” or “mp4 file” or “Vimeo file”.
USAGE: We use this format to make small preview files, which one can share via Vimeo, Youtube or similar platforms. It is also a format, which is pretty easy to transfer or watch on a computer.
SIZE: H264 can be as small as 300MB and go all the way up to 60 GB. However, since it’s very common to use this format for uploads to the internet, H264 files end up being around 5GB most of the time.
This format was designed as a successor to H264. However, it is still relatively unpopular to use. It’s not yet supported by every media playback software, which is, of course, changing, however, still worth mentioning. H265 can have even smaller size videos with the same good quality of an H264 file. So for the same 5 GB, one can have an increased quality video in comparison to H264.
USAGE: It can be used in the same way as H264.
SIZE: Again, just like H264 it can be lowered to a smaller size, often around 5GB for the same reason.
These are the very basics of some of the most popular delivery formats. However, one should remember, that this article is only a very shallow guideline about delivery formats. In reality, sizes and quality varies a lot depending on workflows, original source material, various technical aspects, etc.
If these explanations were not enough and you would like to dive deeper, this is what we are reading: https://www.loc.gov/preservation/digital/formats/fdd/video_fdd.shtml