Sony’s X-OCN (X–Original Camera Negative) is a new type of codec from Sony. Currently it is only available via the R7 recorder which can be attached to a Sony PMW-F5, F55 or the new Venice cinema camera.
It is a truly remarkable codec that brings the kind of flexibility normally only available with 16 bit linear raw files but with a files size that is smaller than many conventional high end video formats.
Currently there are two variations of X-OCN.
X-OCN ST is the standard version and then X-OCN LT is the “light” version. Both are 16 bit and both contain 16 bit data based directly on what comes off the cameras sensor. The LT version is barely distinguishable for a 16 bit linear raw recording and the ST version “visually lossless”. Having that sensor data in post production allows you to manipulate the footage over a far greater range than is possible with tradition video files. Traditional video files will already have some form of gamma curve as well as a colour space and white balance baked in. This limits the scope of how far the material can be adjusted and reduces the amount of picture information you have (relative to what comes directly off the sensor) .
Furthermore most traditional video files are 10 bit with a maximum of 1024 code values or levels within the recording. There are some 12 bit codecs but these are still quite rare in video cameras. X-OCN is 16 bit which means that you can have up to 65,536 code values or levels within the recording. That’s a colossal increase in tonal values over traditional recording codecs.
But the thing is that X-OCN LT files are a similar size to Sony’s own XAVC-I (class 480) codec, which is already highly efficient. X-OCN LT is around half the size of the popular 10 bit Apple ProRes HQ codec but offers comparable quality. Even the high quality ST version of X-OCN is smaller than ProRes HQ. So you can have image quality and data levels comparable to Sony’s 16 bit linear raw but in a lightweight, easy to handle 16 bit file that’s smaller than the most commonly used 10 bit version of ProRes.
But how is this even possible? Surely such an amazing 16 bit file should be bigger!
The key to all of this is that the data contained within an X-OCN file is based on the sensors output rather than traditional video. The cameras that produce the X-OCN material all use bayer sensors. In a traditional video workflow the data from a bayer sensor is first converted from the luminance values that the sensor produces into a YCbCr or RGB signal.
So if the camera has a 4096×2160 bayer sensor in a traditional workflow this pixel level data gets converted to 4096×2160 of Green plus 4096×2160 of Red, plus 4096×2160 of Green (or the same of Y, Cb and Cr). In total you end up with 26 million data points which then need to be compressed using a video codec.
However if we bypass the conversion to a video signal and just store the data that comes directly from the sensor we only need to record a single set of 4096×2160 data points – 8.8 million. This means we only need to store 1/3rd as much data as in a traditional video workflow and it is this huge data saving that is the main reason why it is possible for X-OCN to be smaller than traditional video files while retaining amazing image quality. It’s simply a far more efficient way of recording the data from a bayer camera.
Of course this does mean that the edit or playback computer has to do some extra work because as well as decoding the X-OCN file it has to be converted to a video file, but Sony developed X-OCN to be easy to work with – which it is. Even a modest modern workstation will have no problem working with X-OCN. But the fact that you have that sensor data in the grading suite means you have an amazing degree of flexibility. You can even adjust the way the file is decoded to tailor whether you want more highlight or shadow information in the video file that will created after the X-OCN is decoded.
Why isn’t 16 bit much bigger than 10 bit? Normally a 16 bit file will be bigger than a 10 bit file. But with a video image there are often areas of information that are very similar. Video compression algorithms take advantage of this and instead of recording a value for every pixel will record a single value that represents all of the similar pixels. When you go from 10 bit to 16 bit, while yes, you do have more bits of data to record a greater percentage of the code values will be the same or similar and as a result the codec becomes more efficient. So the files size does increase a bit, but not as much as you might expect.
So, X-OCN, out of the gate, only needs to store 1/3rd of the data points of a similar traditional RGB or YCbCr codec. Increasing the bit depth from the typical 10 bit bit depth of a regular codec to the 16 bits of X-OCN does then increase the amount of data needed to record it. But the use of a clever algorithm to minimise the data needed for those 16 bits means that the end result is a 16 bit file only a bit bigger than XAVC-I but still smaller than ProRes HQ even at it’s highest quality level.