The Sony Catalyst Production Suite consists of two applications: Catalyst Prepare and Catalyst Edit. The applications may be used independently or together to streamline ingest of camera media, first light color correction, edit, transcoding, and even timeline export to Apple Final Cut Pro, Avid or Adobe Premiere Pro.
Prepare and Edit join Sony’s free ingest software, Catalyst Browse. Most of the features found in Prepare are also in Browse, but it is important to note that a user can make only one color correction per session in Browse—that is, any correction made to one clip applies to all of the clips.
In Catalyst Prepare, the first tab in the UI is the Organize window.
If your needs are limited to getting video files and metadata from the camera into the computer and then transcoding, Browse may be adequate. Catalyst Prepare, however, is a complete ingest and one-light tool. It’s a preproduction assistant for browsing camera, deck or card reader, viewing clips, offloading media for backup, viewing and editing metadata, batch copying, batch transcoding and performing first-pass color correction.
Catalyst Prepare natively supports Sony professional formats such as XDCAM SD and HD, XDCAM EX, XAVC Intra, XAVC Long GOP, XAVC S, NXCAM, Sony RAW, HDCAM SR (SStP), AVCHD, AVC H.264/MPEG-4. DNxHD, HDV, DV and ProRes are also supported. (Note that it does not read CinemaDNG files such as may be recorded by external recorders or cameras that record to CinemaDNG.)
Prepare’s use is straightforward, and the software offers the same interface on both Mac OS X and Windows platforms. That interface allows access to all of the important organization and preparation tasks from a single screen. Import clips from camera media or computer drive, or offload, backing up media cards with checksum verification. Specify destination of the imported files and rename the files if desired. Transcode the files to an editing codec (very often this will be ProRes or DNxHD) with the option to include any color adjustments made in the app. Files can then be uploaded to Sony’s Cloud Service, Sony Ci, for collaborative review. Keep in mind that Prepare’s upload capability is limited to Sony Ci. While Sony certainly is entitled to promote its service, the application would gain far greater traction with the addition of other cloud storage services.
The first tab of the UI is the Organize window, which shows any folders designated as favorites, attached devices, recent folders, and user-created bins and storyboards. A typical organizational workflow might include ingesting clips, creating bins as needed, and then beginning work on the clips. Ingest is speedy, but there is often a slight lag in displaying the clip thumbnails.
Within the Edit tab, the second tab of the UI, you can mark in/out points and inspect metadata, and then enter color adjustment mode. The metadata aspect is significant in that Prepare reads all of the metadata recorded by Sony cameras.
The Catalyst family takes advantage of modern GPUs from Intel, Nvidia and AMD to enhance playback and transcoding, delivering a fluid experience on appropriate Macs and PCs. Users of touchscreen PCs will be pleased to note that Prepare is touch-enabled, allowing them to use gestures to start and stop playback, zoom and pan to check focus, select and move files and adjust color controls.
Color wheels in Catalyst Prepare
For critical color work, output to an external reference monitor through a Blackmagic SDI or UltraStudio device.
Prepare’s Adjust Color feature is extremely useful. While this is not a full-blown color grading application, its features are nonetheless useful.
Since Prepare imports all metadata from Sony-shot files, the application will recognize automatically whether a clip is Rec. 709, S-Log2 or S-Log3 (with either of the two S-Log3 gammas). You can then convert that clip to another gamma or apply a 3D LUT (Sony calls these “look profiles”) to a log clip.
Use the brightness, contrast, tone curves, color wheels and color correction sliders to adjust color while viewing the waveform, vectorscope and histogram displays. Transcode files that carry the new color adjustments or save the settings as standard ASC-CDL to apply later in the finishing session. The color grading tools also support the ACES color management system. Set your preview display to a before, after, split or 2-up view to compare adjustments.
The final feature of Prepare we’ll consider is Storyboard mode. Create a new storyboard from contextual or pull-down menus and drag clips into the storyboard. Drag or, if using a touch-enabled device, swipe to arrange clips. Play clips to mark in/out. Then render the Storyboard out in a variety of formats or export it as an EDL with media to send to Sony Vegas Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro, Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro or Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.
Catalyst Prepare color window
The storyboard may also be used in Catalyst Edit, the second component of the Production Suite.
Catalyst Edit may serve as either a standalone editor or a more advanced prep tool for other NLEs. It depends on Catalyst Prepare to ingest and color-correct clips. With both applications open, clips can be dragged from Prepare into Edit, which will maintain all operations performed on the clip in Prepare. Alternatively, an entire storyboard may be imported. (For some reason, the storyboard cannot be dragged—it must be physically located and opened by the Edit-Open Storyboard command.)
Catalyst Edit supports OpenFX
Once clips are in Catalyst Edit, the software acts just like any other NLE. Add audio or video layers, rearrange clips, perform edits (ripple, roll, split) and add fades.
Edit includes plug-ins from Sony, with various built-in filters, effects, generators and transitions. Transitions are a little tricky to apply, requiring the user to first set a transition in/out and then drag the transition onto the clip.
As an added bonus, Edit reads OpenFX plug-ins, with various levels of success. On my Mac Pro system, Edit read plug-ins from Red Giant Universe, NewBlueFX Titler Pro and FilmConvert Pro, but did not read Boris Continuum Complete for OFX.
No doubt owing to Sony Creative Software’s origins as Sonic Foundry, Edit includes audio editing features. In the inspector window, up to eight channels of audio can be assigned. Audio editing allows adjusting output with horizontal VU meters and decibel display, as well as individual channel control.
Catalyst Edit offers audio editing functionality.
Once you have completed work in Catalyst Edit, export XML or AAF and continue the edit within your favorite NLE.
At first glance, the Catalyst Production Suite may seem to be a Sony camera-specific product, but be assured that it is not. Sony Creative Software marketing needs to spread the word that the software is indeed appropriate for all footage, with specific applications for Sony cameras, particularly with metadata.
Product manager Gary Rebholz explains the product’s positioning in the market, saying, “With version 1.0 of the Catalyst Production Suite, we introduced a lean, focused suite for video postproduction, along with the promise to our customers that their input would drive future development. The new version of the suite reflects the input we received. Catalyst Prepare is now far more intuitive, with an extensively redesigned UI that gives users a workflow that speeds up their organizational process. Catalyst Edit now contains several of the most asked-for features, including OFX support, slow- and fast-motion tools, an innovative workflow for J&L cuts and a lot more. And we’re not done listening. Customer input remains the single strongest driving force as we plan how next to make the Catalyst Production Suite exactly what customers need in their postproduction toolkit.”
Both applications may be downloaded from Sony Creative Software’s site for $399. Catalyst Prepare alone is $199, but Catalyst Edit is not sold separately.
With other ingest and grading options available, each user or organization needs to assess whether the software or suite provides value. A free trial is available of each product. There is much to be said for the integration of organization, ingest and editing functions within one package. dv
Pros: Fast ingest of media. Reads all Sony camera metadata. Convenient organization features. Color correction with raw debayer and LUT support. Export to other NLEs from either Prepare or Edit. Full video and audio editing functions within Edit. LUT creation within Prepare.
Cons: Proprietary interface. Does not read CinemaDNG files. Does not detect log or Rec. 709 from Sony-shot footage recorded to third-party external recorder. No drag and drop of storyboard from Prepare to Edit. Pricy when compared to other options.
Bottom Line: A worthy tool useful for on-set transfer and organization of footage, with the ability to create a LUT from a basic grade. Its audio and video editing functions are basic but effective. Easy to use and highly responsive.
MSRP: Catalyst Prepare standalone $199, entire suite $399