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Video darkens when converting to MPEG-2 for DVD production — problem and solution

By Greg Pak
I recently noticed that my new short film looked considerably darker on DVD than in Final Cut Pro. I hadn’t seen this problem with DVDs I’d made of other projects I’d cut in Final Cut Pro.
The problem: The project was shot with the Panasonic DVX100 in 24P. The sequence in Final Cut Pro was set at 23.98 frames per second. I had been exporting this sequence directly to NTSC MPEG-2 for the DVDs. Apparently, FCP makes images darker and more contrasty when exporting from a 23.98 fps sequence to an NTSC MPEG-2.
The solution: I exported the 23.98 fps sequence to a 29.97 fps DV/DVCPRO – NTSC Best Quality QuickTime file. I then cut that QuickTime file back into a 29.97 fps FCP sequence and exported to MPEG-2. And now there’s no noticable darkening of the image.
I did notice that the process of exporting the 23.98 fps sequence to the 29.97 fps DV/DVCPRO file seems to have affected the colors very slightly, making them a touch warmer. It’s a faint enough adjustment that it doesn’t bother me — and it’s vastly preferable to the darkening which had been happening before.
System: Macintosh G4 533 MHz Dual Processor running FCP HD 4.5

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