In Review: Singular Software PluralEyes
Getting in sync is a snap.
By J.R. Bookwalter
There’s no doubt that Apple granted many a wish when they added the multiclip function to Final Cut Pro — particularly the wishes of video producers who make their living shooting multi-camera productions such as live events, weddings and music videos. As liberating as the multiclip function can be, however, there’s still a certain amount of labor and teeth gnashing that goes along with using it. That is, until Singular Software came along with PluralEyes (currently at version 1.2 and available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions for Sony Vegas Pro).
Singular's PluralEyes does only one thing, but does it so spectacularly that you'll wonder how you worked without it. That "one thing" is synchronizing your audio and video clips without you having to worry about such nuisances as timecode or clapboards — all you need is $149 in your wallet and you're good to go.
Rather than writing a complicated description of what PluralEyes does, I’ll quote Singular’s online resources, which are as short and sweet as they come:
1. Create a sequence named pluraleyes.
2. Add the clips to the pluraleyes sequence.
3. Start PluralEyes.
4. In the PluralEyes dialog, press the Sync button.
Okay, I hear you — there must be a catch, right? Nothing is ever that simple! And truth be told, there are a few very minor caveats. For instance, clips added to a pluraleyes sequence have to go on their own track in order for the software to do its magic. The synchronization itself is done using audio tracks only, so you’ll need clips with both video and audio in order to use it. Otherwise, PluralEyes delivers on what it promises, and then some.
To put the software through its paces, I captured some two-camera footage from an old Halloween makeup instructional video shot in 1987. The original footage was recorded on Video8 and (years) later bumped to DVCAM. Both Video8 camcorders were using on-board microphones (nothing external) with no sync or slates of any kind, and for the most part the production audio was unusable — a lot of background racket from a noisy shooting location and occasional conversation between the makeup artist and the subject.
I was admittedly skeptical as I captured a few minutes from each tape via SDI using a Blackmagic Design DeckLink card from my Sony DSR-2000 DVCAM. After laying both clips into a new sequence, renaming it pluraleyes, per the instructions, and saving the project (all required steps), I fired up the application. Unlike most Final Cut Pro add-ons, PluralEyes is not a plug-in; rather, it is a standalone application with an accompanying License Manager, where you enter your license key to unlock the program.
PluralEyes itself is the model of simplicity. In a small window that emulates Final Cut Pro’s look and feel, you’ll find four buttons: Sync, Multiclip, Cancel and, at the bottom, a Change button for Sync Options. “Sync” gets the process going, while “Multiclip” skips the step of creating a new sequence and just builds a new multiclip from your existing sequence, which is useful for small tweaks.
The “Cancel” button is grayed out, since it doesn’t do anything until you’re actually running a Sync process. Clicking “Change” brings up four sync options, which may help stubborn clips get recognized easier: "Clips are in chronological order," "Level audio," "Use markers" and "Try really hard" (more on those in a moment). There’s also a small question mark in the lower right corner of the Sync Options window, which brings up extensive help if you get stuck (complete with links to tutorial videos to demonstrate each option).
On the first attempt with my two-camera footage from the late 1980s, I loaded up PluralEyes and, without changing any options, clicked on Sync and let the program do its thing. After a few short moments of “Preparing Data,” the application began “Analyzing,” and in a few short beats it switched to “Finished.” Could it really be so simple?
I’m happy to report that yes, it was. After switching back to Final Cut Pro, I was greeted by a new sequence highlighted with a green tab, and my two-camera clips were lined up perfectly in sync, despite the questionable production audio. PluralEyes also creates a FCP multiclip, which confirms the excellent job it did of syncing the separate clips as I played them back side by side in the Viewer. It’s important to note that it doesn’t matter if your clips have timecode or not — PluralEyes is using the respective audio tracks of each clip to make its magic happen.
Singular recommends that most users try syncing without resorting to the Sync Options at first. If that doesn’t work out (and I’d be surprised if it did, based on my tests), you can select one or more of the Sync Options, which may help your situation, especially for complex sequences with a lot of clips.
The “Clips are in chronological order” option is aimed at live event recording, where you likely have clips arranged one after another instead of all over the place as with a traditional one-camera shoot. If your clips are in order, it helps to let PluralEyes know that via the Sync Options so it can process those clips faster and more reliably.
“Level audio” is useful for sequences with a lot of clips whose audio levels might be all over the place, particularly if one camera is using an external mic while another is using the on-board mic. Since Singular is also responsible for the free and excellent Levelator software, which is aimed at podcasters, you know the results will be worth the little bit of extra processing time it might take with this option turned on.
“Use markers” is helpful in cases where PluralEyes might be off on the sync of two clips that you’re sure should actually be in sync. You can use Final Cut Pro markers to identify those spots, and PluralEyes will respect that manual override as it analyzes your media. You’ll need to assign matching markers in all of the relevant clips, complete with identical names, for this option to function. Finally, the “Try really hard” option (got to give a company props for such creative naming!) lets PluralEyes work five to 10 times longer than normal, useful for those insanely stubborn clips where nothing else works.
PluralEyes is the brainchild of Singular Software founder Dr. Bruce Sharpe, who has a Ph.D. in mathematical physics. Plural Eyes requires Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later and Final Cut Pro 5.1.4 or later.
If there’s any potential downside to PluralEyes, it’s the $149 price of entry, which might put it out of reach for casual or infrequent users. Thankfully, potential buyers can download a free trial version from Singular’s Web site to try it out before they buy. The company offers a sample project to run the trial version through its paces if you don’t have footage of your own. The company’s Web site also features extensive how-to and video tutorials that demonstrate what it’s capable of better than anyone could ever describe here. Lastly, some users might lament the fact that PluralEyes is a standalone application rather than a dedicated Final Cut Pro plug-in, but for me it was never an issue and the program likely works more efficiently as a result of that decision.
If you often find yourself editing multi-camera footage, PluralEyes is without a doubt worth the price of admission. It will spare you from the tedious and time-consuming nightmares of syncing your footage and will let you get down to the business of doing what you do best: Editing your clips and getting paid. Can you afford to put a price tag on that?
Pros: Fast, simple interface
that does what it promises and does it well, offers advanced features
tucked away for a small percentage of users and situations.
Cons: Some may feel the price of admission is too steep, standalone
application rather than dedicated plug-in.
Bottom Line: The closest
thing most of us will probably ever come to real, actual magic.