H.264 is one of the most widely accepted codecs by online platforms. In fact, it’s YouTube’s suggested video codec on their recommended settings page. The problem is, it’s an 8bit codec, and that doesn’t work well with gradients, here’s how to fix that.
For the majority of exports, for online consumption, H.265 is perfectly adequate. However, I have an issue when I’m exporting a video to showcase the visuals of the camera. And because I like to film at golden hour and I film many landscapes, the sky is often filled with these beautiful gradients; from deep blue to a golden yellow.
Filming at 10bit or 12bit RAW keeps this color blends nice and smooth. The issue is that when I export at H.264, the 8bit codec can’t contain the color information throughout the gradient, and instead, we get this color banding.
On the example above, we can see that instead of smoothly blending from one hue to the next, the colours are distinctively separate, and are more visible as individual streaks (also noticeable on the cover photo).
Now, let’s get practical. Often, this banding isn’t going to be noticeable to anyone outside of filmmaking. But to us, as filmmakers and editors, it can be a visual detriment, especially if you’ve paid so much money for your camera.
Additionally as people have different monitors with various color depths, contrast ratios, and monitor angles, the banding may be more pronounced on someone elses screen. Hence, it’s best to just have it gone.
To check how pronounced the banding is, go into Resolve, take both the RAW clip and the H.264 clip, and increase the contrast.
Even though the image is destroyed on the raw clip, you’ll see that the colors still blend somewhat smoothly.
On the H.264 clip, we can see the banding in effect, especially in the top left of the image where the gradient is most visible.
Additionally, you can also see the banding on the scopes.
On this shot from the Blackmagic 6k, we can see information on the RGB parade is very tight.
However, when we flick to the H.264 clip, the parade shows scattered information.
What Settings To Use To Render Banding Free
Running through the list of formats and codecs can quickly send one back to comprehensive school maths class; it can get confusing quickly. Additionally, not all of the formats available are accepted by online platforms. Well, in just a few steps, this is how you get 10bit internet-friendly exports. And we will do that by using the successor to H.264, H.265. But there are a few things we have to adjust.
So, we’re on windows; we can’t export at ProRes 10 bit; what can we do in Resolve?
First, you’re going to have to use Quicktime as the format; MP4 doesn’t show the 10-bit profile. Then go to H.265, which is being widely more accepted by many online platforms; YouTube is one of them. Then we’re going to go to the encoding profile and select Main10. It doesn’t say 10bit, but this is the 10bit profile. It will compress your footage with a bit depth of 10-bits per channel.
Now when we look at our video that has gradient skies, there will be no visible banding. However, it should be noted that if you have filmed with a camera that only shoots 8bits per channel, well, this isn’t going to help regardless. But for those who have filmed with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, for example, you’ll now retain those beautiful skies with no visible detriments.
And if we go back to the example image example used earlier, we can see that the 10bit render holds up very nicely. While it isn’t as smooth as the 12bit RAW file, it’s significantly better than the 8bit H.264 render.