My unfortunate experience with Aero Quartet and Treasured software

I don’t hate many things, but I hate Aero Quartet. If you’ve ever had to deal with Aero Quartet, or come across their software Treasured you probably know what I am feeling. Their perfect etiquette, the cheap price for their service, and the simple fact they can do something that no one else can. They make me jealous – and that is a rare thing to do.

Before you get confused to the title, and the extreme sarcastic opening, I absolutely love Aero Quartet. Now I think it is vital to mention that this is not a sponsored article, or any affiliation with Aero Quartet, I just genuinely have had the best experience with them and want to share their service because they deserve it.

Let me tell you of a story that happened only a couple of weeks ago.

I was apart of a team recording at a conference, using a four camera setup all feeding into either Atomos Ninja Blades, or Shoguns. We had little time to play with the recorders, and we had even shorter time to set them up. The only time we did have was to update the firmware and unlock the DNxHD codec for recording. But we had used the Ninjas before, and saw the Shoguns to be no different apart from the physical screen size and ability to record 4K (which we weren’t utilising).

The day

We recorded the conference, and everything seemed to have gone well. We never intended to change the hard drives throughout the day, only buttoning on and off to reduce ingest time. However, as we begun a test run moments before the actual beginning of the conference, the record button was greyed out on a Ninja and Shogun. We readjusted the HDMI cable and cycled the bitrates, and miraculously the record button lit up so we begun recording. After the first session, we buttoned off only to realise that the record button again had greyed out a second time for the same devices – again a Ninja and a Shogun. Replacing both machines with “new” drives the issue again ceased, and we agreed not to button off to avoid the issue again.

The Ingest

When I brought all the footage back onto the system, I began using Adobe Media Encoder to convert the files into MXF since the outputs of the cameras were all set differently (2x Panasonic ENG, 1x Sony A7S, 1x GoPro) and wanted the editing to be as seamless as possible. That was until I came in the next morning to find that one file did not want to copy locally. I thought nothing more of it than the file size was to strenuous to the USB hub on the CPU, or the cradle was faulty – turns out the cradle was in fact faulty.

After finally getting the file to copy, I tried to play it. Quicktime opened, but only as an audio file. My alarm bells should have begun ringing but I have faced the issue before where the playback is too heavy for the computer it opens only what it can at that instance. But then my worry became worse when I loaded the clip into AME and it only extracted the audio into an MXF. I tried a few other players we have collected over the years, and hoping one of them would play it but not one could do the job.

Unfortunately, as you’ll soon discover, the hard drive for one of the two greyed out machines was the problematic file. But having it previously being recorded on I saw the other clip was the GoPro (our backup cutaway shot) so my panic dithered as I rarely ever cut to the GoPro for the final edit.

Another day passes, and a deadline is set, which I’ve found reasonable yet tight, I begun syncing up all the multiple cameras with the multitrack audio. Thinking I was complete, and ready for the multicam edit, I group the clips and audio together, only to feel my frustration on a missing file. I simply put it down to too many hard drives, and I never actually copied it – we had 14 hard drives, but only 6 used. Long story short, the faulty clip was my missing clip and that missing clip was not GoPro footage but the main lectern camera.

I then began to quote the wonderful book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, “Oh shit… Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.”

Exactly what mastermind mode looks like.

I went into mastermind mode. I needed this clip which wasn’t broken (since it played audio) to now ingest so I could edit it in time. I sought out to find the problem, with my first step opening it in MediaInfo. It told me everything I wanted to hear, and then the news I didn’t. The file was safe, and it had recorded everything – video and audio – only it never saved the codec in the metadata. After various repair tests, and restorations from working files things were looking bleak. How could three lines that told the video player how to decode it from DNxHD be the issue!

But it was the truth, and the simple test was placing the file on another hard drive trying to play it on a Ninja or Shogun. The device just cycled through asking to “Switch to ProRes?” or “Switch to DNxHD?”

Thanks for nothing Atomos

This was frustrating considering Atomos shows if you just put the hard drive back in, it’ll prompt to repair it – repair my ass it did.

Treasured and Aero Quartet

So staying back late one night, and researching nearly every website there is affiliated with video file repairs, we stumbled upon Treasured (an OS X app).

The app itself is pretty amazing. You pick your corrupted video, it goes through and scans it against reference videos (be it actual QuickTime references, or just a small clip) to determine it’s codec pattern.

This isn’t uncommon for standard video file formats, especially consumer grade ones. But once you go towards DNxHD, or ProRes, or cinema standard codecs the basic repair tools fail.

Too basic of a website, must be fake right?

But being a frugal and skeptical 21st century person, I tend to judge a lot of companies based on their websites (which is completely wrong). The website is really basic, and the navigation changes depending on the page you’re on. There are links that are easily missable, and it’s a little all over the place.

Sample result from the Treasured app.

So being very skeptical, and not knowing if the repair was actually the “90% repairable” as they stated, I didn’t jump straight into it. I needed to research both their company and other alternatives just a little longer before I could commit.

Further research

Before committing to Aero Quartet, and their too true to believe offer I went digging for another, quicker alternative. Trolling through many websites (some actually sketchy) I found one called mp4repair.org. Creating a link to the corrupt video, it immediately gave me a still from the video! I was ecstatic. Nothing before had come that close, or even remotely showed an image. I thought, “sayonara Aero Quartet!”

Turns out, obviously, that if the website says its repairs MP4s, the chances of repairing a MOV file are slim purely based on the extension. But it was a huge step forward to see an image from the file, so not an all to bad experience there.

They got an image!!

But what is really the kicker in this little tangent of the story is that the guys who made Aero Quartet, and Treasured app are the exact guys who made mp4repair.org. If that didn’t remove any scepticism I had, I didn’t know what could – they got a freaking image!

The repair process

After I saw that the makers were the same, I contacted Aero Quartet to see if it was possible in our timeline, and the final cost. The snag to this little story, which should have ended here is corporate technical issues – namely two firewalls, two email firewalls, a proxy server, and restriction on uploads.

But I attempted to use their app, and after many attempts I could not get it to send the ~100mb of data. I began two process from here. Firstly, I contacted them. It seemed obvious really. Find out if they are still active from their lack of updated website, and how quick they were to respond.

Secondly, was to find out how to upload the data without uploading more than 35gb to a cloud service.

I waited patiently (or as patient as one can) with a 10 hour time difference it was unbearable. But as soon as it hit 7am Barcelona time, I received an email stating that they had a web app to use if you couldn’t use the app itself.

After confirming my email (and travelling through the worlds of the email firewalls) I had my clip connected and the information uploaded.

From there I had a few conversations with Javier, who is actually really helpful to a panicky email sender! He stated exactly what their app dictated – the file was repairable, and in a DNxHD format. He then told me something that broke me:

We found some problems on the data inside your damaged file. Despite we were able to extract a frame (see attached), the recording mode is somehow out of the usual ones. We found that somehow the footage was recorded as interlaced but with a progressive profile (what makes no sense at all). To be able repairing your file, we would need first de-interlace the frames, repair them and compose a progressive video stream. That means a huge amount of development to success with the repair.Javier, Aero Quartet

What the hell is Atomos doing to my file! How the hell does a progressive file have interlaced segments? That defeats the purpose of the progressive nature, right? I think it falls down to Atomos products recording at whatever signal it is being fed. In this case the feed was 1080p25 or 1080i50, and toggling a little button on the recorder itself changed that input.

So as I sat there to that email, I was about to reply (mind you the day delay) when I received another email in the early hours Spain time:

Hi Mark, we have done a lot of progress in the Repair Kit. I’m sending now a short preview of the video.Benoit, Aero Quartet

By 36 hours, or probably less, Aero Quartet had sent through a sample 2 second clip to ask if the video looked right. It was perfect.

After we paid the service cost, plus the request for the quick turnaround, and then converted it into Australian dollars, I was sent a repair kit to fix the file.

For the 01:57:42:07 file, it took 2.5 hours to repair, but that may obviously depend on how corrupt your file is.

Final words

I think it is fair to say that whatever the guys do at Aero Quartet is nothing short of amazing. I don’t know if it’s hex editing (which I attempted) or if they are just gifted in video restoration. But I can say without them, it could have been a huge disaster – especially for recordings that cannot be re-recorded.

I also want to note that I entered a ticket with Atomos immediately. Chances are they had either had this problem before and knew a fix, or never had and wanted to find a solution. Turns out the company wants neither. It has been three weeks and counting, and my support ticket still stands open. Now before you suggest they might have holidays (which I thought about when contacting Spain) Atomos is quite literally a ten minute drive from my office. They are founded in the same city, and there were no holidays. It was just really disappointing to see a company that makes good equipment fail to even attempt to solve the problem.

Overall, it is really all about Aero Quartet. They are the true heroes, and deserve a lot more money than what they charge! I highly recommend them if you need them. But as I jokingly said, they’re a company you love and glad exist, but hope to never ever need their assistance.

Notes

Our case was simple in my mind, and it was easy to tell the guys the codec it was supposed to be, the duration of the file, the dimensions, and pretty much everything they needed to fix it. They seem like a really swell team, and reply near instantly when in office.

I think that it’ll help your case if you can provide them with as much accurate details as possible to achieve the final output.

And finally, to anyone who can do what these amazing people can – I hate you. Hex editing it ridiculously difficult and I envy that talent.

Aero Quartet, if you read this, I hate you for being better than me.


Update: Atomos did finally get back to responding but added nothing to the conversation. I simply got, “What software are you using to read the metadata? If you open the file with quicktime player after installing DNX codecs from AVID the get info window should indicate DNX codec.”