COVID-19 Pandemic Creates New Emphasis on Remote Post Production – Editorial by Dave Van Hoy, ASG President

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Over the past few weeks, as the world has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, the BIG topic we are addressing is enabling remote production and post production. Whether it’s running a virtual conference, providing emergency messaging to employees, or finishing projects in post, everyone is doing their best to do it from home. Before we evaluate potential solutions for remote editing and color grading, it’s important to understand the technical challenges you’ll face when you leave the office. 

Today’s editing software and computer hardware are so powerful and sophisticated that we’ve become used to buying a hard drive from anywhere, plugging it into our computer, and editing in a pretty unlimited way. We take for granted that editing software requires the data for a frame of video at your frame rate and raster size (resolution) for every stream (track) you are playing simultaneously in real time to avoid the dreaded dropped frames. Remember, when you are editing with four streams of ProRes 4K at 60 frames per second, that totals 8 Gbps – and virtually any current hard drive you have does that all day long.

Let’s put this in the context of working from home. More than likely, you have an asymmetrical connection, since up and down are not the same, with somewhere between 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps download and only about 10 Mbps upload at your home. Even if you are one of the very lucky people who has a nominal 1 Gbps fiber connection at home, you’re definitely not going to fit your already compressed 8 Gbps video stream into the 1 Gbps pipe. 

Now that you understand the challenge, let’s look at the most available solutions. 

One way or another, the data necessary to play and edit your video has to reach the computer processor fast enough for your computer to make the computations to process in real time at your frame rate. When the video files reside on a central video storage system at work, most often it will be a fast SAN (storage area network) or NAS (network attached storage), it enables you and your coworkers to work just like your data is stored on a local hard drive.

Why not just share that storage over the internet using a company VPN? There are several stumbling blocks: 

  • lack of bandwidth availability will make real-time processing impossible.
  • your security team will most likely not want your storage system (with its valuable assets) directly on the Internet.
  • in many cases, your high-performance storage system is not vetted by your security team to be on your company intranet directly because media storage is highly specialized. 
  • firewalls to protect your assets that are optimized for multi-gigabit bandwidth and low latency are very expensive (upwards of $250,000).

So, how do you get around the current limitations of using the Internet to transport your data? There are three general approaches:

Move the data to local using a data transfer accelerator.

First, you can move the data using a data transfer accelerator. As we know, moving large data files across any Internet connection is painfully slow. Most data transport applications are not optimized to take advantage of modern Internet data paths with sophisticated data routers and switches. They assume you have to move the data in small packets – and frequently check that the packets arrived. This is typical for FTP and HTTP style transfers.

You can solve for this by using software that uses an alternate protocol like UDP, which is designed for streaming large data files. The best software looks across the Internet and not only finds the best routes to send the data, but provides high degrees of encryption to protect your files. 

Companies that provide this kind of performance include Aspera, FileCatalyst, JetStream, and Signiant. Costs and advanced features vary widely, but the underlying tech is similar. How effective are they? We did a test at a client site moving a 100 GB file from Silicon Valley to New York City. Using standard FTP over a 1 Gbps network, it took 36 hours. With Aspera, the same file transferred in an almost unbelievable 13 minutes and 56 seconds!

Make the data smaller.

Another option is to make the data smaller. This is what is commonly known as proxy editing. You compress the files even more (and maybe shrink the resolution and frame rate) so the files you have to move are much smaller and are good enough for editing, even if not for a deliverable.

This can be a great workflow when you have the time to plan and deploy the right tools, such as a compression engine from Telestream or Elemental (or others), as well as a media asset management system to keep track of the relationship between the editor, proxy files, and full resolution files. Of course, you then get all the other advantages of a MAM in workflow management. Unfortunately, this can be a long process to deploy and adopt.

Don’t move the data at all.

Finally, you can choose not to move the data to you locally by using a form of VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure). The idea is that your off-site computer becomes a “thin client.” The “heavy lifting” of video editing happens on a computer at another location, while your off-site computer essentially works as a remote control. 

VDI exists in many forms, ranging from Citrix servers to running applications in public or private cloud to sophisticated remote control of your machine back at the office. Once again, professional video applications generally exceed the capability of these systems because of our real-time requirements and latency issues. VDI is definitely part of the future, and it can be implemented successfully today in many applications. For real-time video, it requires a virtualization platform that attempts to move the least amount of data to represent the changes in the host computer display.

Video professionals who want to control existing workstations should explore products such as Teradici or MXFserver Remote. If you want to push your assets to the public cloud for VDI in the cloud, consider Avid Cloud, Bebop, or Blackbird.

At ASG, we continue to explore the strengths and limitations of each of these methods. There are plenty of tools to enable your workflow, and we are here to help you move forward…remotely.