[Tig] Telecine type overview

David L. Tosh dlt
Mon Oct 1 20:51:30 BST 2001

At 04:30 PM 9/29/01 -0700, Roderick Stevens (on the CML-Basics list) wrote:
>As in what kinds [of telecines] are out there, what brands, what 
>reccomendations, etc. Why choose one type of telecine over another, etc.? 

I put together a reply to this question on the Cinematography Mailing List 
- Basics list but (after it was rejected as being too long) decided to 
start a thread here on TIG.

Please feel free to correct my provincial view, add facts or point out 
those forehead-slapping oversights that are probably present.

The Standadrd Definition Telecines:
Rank (the company is now Cintel) MKIII and various "Turbo" off-shoots:
    The flying spot CRT standard of the 1980 decade. Latest machines with 
the "4:2:2" Digital store should the be base line for this generation of 
machine. Often these machines have been heavily modified by local 
engineering and may be fitted with some really excellent after-market kit. 
The Digital Deflection, FGR, Accuglow and AccuGrade bits from Dave Walker's 
Digital Audio and Video combine to keep this generation machine productive. 
(I don't work for or receive compensation from DAV but do have the products 
installed on our remaining MKIII.)

Rank URSA:
    The standard of the CRT telecine in the early 90s has nearly as many 
after market enhancements. ITK TWIGI ( I refuse to try to write it as ITK 
sales does ;->) is a particularly valuable development. Any URSA will turn 
out standard definition work that is at least twice  as good as can be 
recorded on DigiBeta tape. (That's my opinion and I will stick with it.) A 
good colorist on an URSA can give you anything you can get on any other 

BTS (and other incarnations) FDL-60 and 90 and Quadra:
    The line array CCD pickup telecine family before the Spirit DataCine. 
This is a competent, workhorse telecine but not pervasive in Southern 
California's commercial post production industry. Which is another way of 
saying I don't have much direct experience with them. In 1993, I installed 
one in a new post house and found it to make fine pictures. We had to pull 
it out in favor of an URSA simply because we couldn't sell it to our 
commercial clients. Nothing wrong with the pictures or the engineering.

High Definition Telecines:

BTS FLH-1000:
   The CCD line array high definition telecine that preceded the Spirit. I 
don't know if any survive in operation today. There were fewer HD standards 

Philips Spirit DataCine:
   The line array CCD telecine that dominates HD suites today. It has Kodak 
developed optics and is capable of both standard definition and HD transfer 
in almost any format thought of. It scans film at (arguably) 2K resolution 
and outputs to computer workstations as data files. It produces very good 
pictures (with the requisite good operator) and is extremely reliable. (My 
facility has two. My facility was acquired by a company that also acquired 
Philips. That makes us involuntary "family". That's the extent of any bias 
I have :))

Philips Shadow:
    Spirit-style line array CCD without some of the most expensive bits 
from a Spirit. They are out there but I can't tell you much about the 
differences. There may be less resolution in the (non Kodak designed) 
optical pickup. I believe there is a data scanning option for this machine. 
Ask the facility that has one for their summary on the differences between 
it and the Spirit.

Cintel C-Reality:
    The flagship HD/SD telecine from the company that dominated telecine 
suites in the last two decades. This is a flying spot CRT telecine with the 
ability to scan up to 4K resolution images and output data. I don't have 
one of these but believe it to be a mature machine that should be 
considered for high end work. Cintel is showing some early demonstrations 
of the OSCAR optical enhancement feature that does amazing (as seen on the 
demo tape) things to remove surface dust and scratches (on either side of 
the film.)

ITK Millenium:
   A company that was responsible for the best parts of the flying spot 
telecines (IMHO) has built their own from-the-ground-up telecine. I don't 
have one of these but they look good. Many "neat" technical features that 
intrigue me on these. This telecine also is based on a flying spot CRT and 
will do data scans up to 4K resolution.

Sony Vialta:
    Sony's current HD telecine is a huge departure from the other telecines 
in current use. It uses a three color lamp house that can illuminate the 
film sort of like an optical printer can. The proportion of the colors can 
be varied to "time" the film before it reaches the pickup. The pickup is a 
TV CCD camera. No, that probably doesn't do justice to the engineering work 
involved but my understanding is that the pickup is a fixed resolution CCD 
array. There is (I think) some positioning and sizing capability in optics 
before the pickup. There is some attempt at registration using the film 
sprocket holes. The movement is intermittent. With all those departures 
from the other telecines, The people who have this telecine have always had 
positive things to say about them.

Why choose one telecine over another?
    Don't assume one telecine (or technology) has a "look." You will find 
very few real differences in the final pictures from any telecine. You will 
find that some operators are more comfortable arriving at their signature 
style on one style of telecine and will have to work harder on another 
telecine. Your choice of operator will be more important in nearly all cases.
   You might "really need" pin registration on the telecine. It's rare that 
you would, these days. You either get very good stability on the latest, 
well maintained machines or you can use software stabilizing in a 
workstation after the session. URSAs have two pin registration options. On 
a good day, 10 years ago, they were both good enough. (If you can't tell, I 
am a sceptic on the suitability of mechanical pin registration in telecine ;->)
    You might want optical sound pickup on the telecine. All Rank/Cintel 
product shipped with optical and magnetic pickups. Niether of my Spirits 
have that ($$$) option fitted. You will need to ask if any specific machine 
has a (working) sound pickup if your work requires it.
    Some types of radical picture distortions may be done on an URSA 
telecine. Some simple size, aspect ratio and rotate effects can also be 
done on a Spirit. I haven't seen much of this type work in telecine since 
high end computer workstations became pervasive.
   DATA. If you are sending film resolution scans to a workstation, you 
will be using a Spirit, a Shadow, a C-Reality or a Millineum. If you must 
work at greater than 2K resolution, you will have to use C-Reality of 
Millineum. If you have to use greater than 4K resolution you won't be using 
a telecine.
    Non-standard transfer speeds are easy and repeatable on Cintel and ITK 
telecines. Variable speed on a BTS/Philips line array CCD are easy but not 
precise. I'm not sure the Vialta can do other than a fixed speed transfer. 
Some shoots want 6 frame per second sync sound. I would attempt this with a 
MetaSpeed equipped MKIII, URSA or ITK. The available transfer speeds are 
all "crystal" locked at the same precision as regular 24fps.

David Tosh <dlt at earthlink.net>
Engineer, Complete Post Hollywood, CA USA

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