Cineform was one of the earliest companies to create solutions catering to the emerging HDV workflows, lowering the budget requirements for projects desiring to produce higher resolution images. Their solution AspectHD involved a separate high quality wavelet compression format that is scalable to even higher resolutions than HDV. Combining this compressed format with a realtime rendering and effects engine in Adobe Premiere created a very efficient workflow. By adding support for the AJA Xena HD-SDI cards, they had a professional-level I/O solution in ProspectHD.
The original ProspectHD supported compression of 1080p/i 10bit 422 data into a variable bitrate codec that only required around 15MB/s or 1GB/min. Lowering the datarate had two significant benefits, both related to lowering the cost of disk storage. Data rates at that level can be supported by a single hard disk drive, removing the need for expensive arrays, and much more HD content can be stored on a given drive. The catch was that the amount of processing power needed to compress the data required the fastest CPUs, which at the time, meant dual processor AMD Opteron systems. In the two years since then, processing power has greatly increased, and many more capable options are available.
Capture and playback over HD-SDI is supported in realtime using Premiere Pro. Motion and opacity effects are realtime, as well as limited color correction and transitions. The performance of these features scale with the power of the system, with many tasks being multithreaded to utilize multi-core CPUs.
The Cineform codec itself has many inherent advantages. Wavelet codecs can easily be viewed at lower resolutions in an efficient manner. As far as quality goes, Cineform is hard to beat, especially for their file size. Another advantage I find significant is that their files perform well in After Effects, unlike many other compressed formats I have tried.
Cineform also includes a stand alone utility called HDLink. HDLink can convert capture and convert files into the Cineform format with an efficient multithreaded encoder. It currently supports HDV, Firewire, HDMI, SDI, P2, XDCAM, and a number of other formats. The recommended Cineform workflow is to convert all of your footage from different sources into the Cineform Intermediate codec, for realtime online editing in Premiere Pro. I will include more details on HDLink in a future review, which hopefully will coincide with the release of an OSX compatible version of the utility.
As with any workflow, Cineform is not perfect. It can capture and playback in realtime, but file exports to and from Cineform compression tend to take much longer than one would expect. You may also find their default settings in Premiere and AE need a bit of tweaking, and are rarely persistant upon reboot. Certain systems may experience a color shift between stills and motion video with Nvidia cards, although their recent development of an RGB overlay processing option seems to have largely aleviated that problem. Another minor frusteration is how they hand AE imports, since their custom importer is not compatible with other AVI formats.
(EDIT: As pointed out by David Newman, this seems to have been fixed in CS3. I just imported CF, CF RAW 2K, Matrox 10bit, BMD444, DPX, HDV, and DV into my my AE project one after the other. This would have saved me a considerable amount of time a few weeks ago, but I was working in AE7.)