Neat Video Review

Neat Video is an absolutely incredible noise reduction plug-in for just about every NLE platform around. I’ve used this quite a few times on a number of clips with different types of noise and found great success every time. For this review I took a stock footage clip with a particularly weird noise pattern that looked similar to a poorly de-interlaced clip, rather than standard “grainy” noise. I tried the plug-in in both AE and FCP X with similar results.

To start, I opened up the clip in After Effects and from there launched the plug-in in an external interface. To get right to work you can load previously created profiles or create a new one. To do the latter you simply drag a box over a completely uniform area of noise and then hit the “auto profile” button. That’s it, you’re done – seriously. You just go over to the “noise filter settings” to immediately see the results of your 5 seconds of work. The initial results are truly incredible. Rather than most noise reduction plug-ins where you have to strike a balance of removing so much noise that you completely destroy detail and are left with a smoothed out image, and leaving some noise behind but keeping enough detail, Neat Video really looks like it just removes the noise and preserves all the detail. There’s a nice preview button so you can toggle the filter on and off or you can just click directly on the image to do the same.

You can stop there and be completely happy with your results or you can go several steps further. The most basic options you have are changing the amount of noise reduction on your luminance and chrominance channels and adding sharpening to your image. If you go up to the “tools” menu, you can switch to the advanced mode where you’ll be presented with a slew of additional options to further refine your settings. You can also choose from several really good presets such as “remove only half of noise,” “sharpen slightly out of focus video,” and “filter more of chrominance noise.”

One of my favorite features of the plug-in isn’t even directly related to noise reduction. Make sure to head into the preferences and over to the “performance” tab. There is an option to allocate any number of processing cores to do your work. However, more is not always better, so there are benchmarking and optimization features to help you out. You can benchmark a single frame or you can go straight to the optimization feature where you pick your desired frame size and bit depth and the plug-in will calculate how many frames a second it can process with each of your cores. On my quad-core i7 iMac with Hyper-Threading, the optimization feature suggested using 5 of my 8 cores for best results at about 3.11 fps. Run this test a few times with nothing else open because you could get different results. If you have a CUDA-enabled card, Neat Video will supports the technology, but I don’t so unfortunately I can’t delve into how much faster performance is when a GPU is added. I can say that I cranked up the noise reduction to 100% on both the luma and chroma channels and I also added sharpening and it took 1m55s to render a 7s stock footage clip with a lot of weird looking noise. The results on playback were absolutely incredible though.

Neat Video is supported in Premiere, After Effects, FCP 6 through X, Motion, Vegas, and a few other platforms. I tried both the After Effects and FCP X version. Each platform is a separate purchase with the exception of the FCP/Motion one which covers both applications under one license. You can either purchase the “home” version for $50, or the “pro” version for $100 (with multi-user options for both versions). The home version limits you to a maximum frame size of 720p and a bit depth of 8 bits per channel, and the pro version can handle an unlimited frame size and supports 32 bpc.

Noise reductions an incredibly processor intensive task so hopefully OpenCL support will come to future versions of the plug-in; however, I imagine that the NLE would also have to support not only OpenCL, but also the card in your machine for Neat Video to take advantage of the hardware acceleration. Premiere Pro CS6 supports only two OpenCL ATI cards at the moment.

Because of the time it takes to remove noise, I would only use the plug-in on something that really needed it and I wouldn’t drop it on all of my footage (my thoughts might be different if I had a CUDA card), but for the clips that I truly needed it for recently, it was nothing short of a miracle. Don’t think of this as a solution for removing just noise from low-light footage, it also works great for artifacts when scaling up clips.

I would love to see support for pixel aspect ratio correction. HDV is 1440×1080 and the plug-in shows those clips without PAR correction so the image appears to be squished. This would be a nice convenience to have so I don’t have to leave the plug-ins interface to check what the clip will truly look like.

All in all, this is easily the best noise reduction plug-in I have ever used and the $100 is without a doubt worth it. Check it out at http://www.neatvideo.com